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COVID Isn’t the First Heroic Battle This Ukrainian Rabbi Has Fought – Rabbi Mendel Cohen has quietly devoted himself to people in trouble –

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Rabbi Mendel Cohen was not looking to be a hero when he and his wife, Ester, established Chabad-Lubavitch of Mariupol. But as he battles COVID-19 in an Israeli hospital bed, its clear to me that he is one and has been for many years now.

There was nothing glamorous about the mid-sized Ukrainian port city where the Cohens, both originally from Israel, chose to settle back in 2005. Aside from the gray waters of the Azov Sea, which connects to the Black Sea, Mariupols most notable features were the two mammoth steel and iron works that dominate the citys skyline, their countless smokestacks spewing heavy black smoke and making Mariupols air the dirtiest in Ukraine. But none of that mattered to Cohen and his wife. They had come to Mariupol to do a job and serve its Jewish population, and thats what the couple set about doing.

They opened a preschool, Hebrew school and teen club. They gave Torah classes to men and women, operated a soup kitchen and a social-services center. The rabbi, a trained and practicing mohel, established Mariupols only synagogue; Ester ran the mikvah they built. In short, they created a vibrant Jewish life in what could only be described as yet another grimy post-Soviet town.

I remember that Mariupol, the one from before the war. I saw it in 2007, when the Jewish community celebrated the first completion of a new Torah scroll in town since before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. At the time, I was a rabbinical student in Kharkov, and the six of us headed south to Mariupol to celebrate the joyous occasion together with the young rabbi, his small community and guests from throughout eastern Ukraine. Locals stared as we danced and sang the new Torah down the streets to its new home in the little synagogue. There was an unmistakable excitement in the air that day. Jewish life was returning not only to the big and famous places, but to the furthest reaches of the former Soviet empire.

That was Mariupol until the war came. And then everything changed.

In February of 2014, amid the turmoil in Ukraine, Mariupol became the scene of street fighting as the city was captured by pro-Russian separatists. In early May of that year, Ukrainian government troops attempted to retake control of the city, culminating in a bloody offensive on a rebel-held police station. The city would only be recaptured in June.

But peace remained elusive. In January of 2015, a Shabbat-morning massive rocket attack left 30 dead. The whole synagogue was shaking, Cohen told me at the time. There were congregants in the room who had come from the neighborhood where the rockets had landed. You can imagine what it sounded like here; there were screams, we had to calm people down.

Mariupol, a strategically important industrial port city, has been a flashpoint in Ukraine's war in the east since early 2014 when heavy street fighting took a toll on the city. In this file photo, Cohen stands outside of the burned out building that served as local police headquarters.

The new Mariupol was a place where masked armed men could roam the streets one day and rockets could land on another. The boom of artillery became a regular feature of life in the city, the orchestra they called it. You hear it every day. Some days, its constant , Cohen told me in 2017. Soldiers are dying every day. How should I explain this? Nobody here wants this war. Nobody knows why we need it.

Nevertheless, there was work to do. Jewish refugees from parts of the country that were even worse off came and went, and the rabbi and his wife were there for them. More of Mariupols Jews needed helpspiritual, emotional and financial. The synagogue became fuller, people coming together to feel the comfort of community. The soup kitchen fed even more people, and more packages of basic staples were being sent out to even greater numbers.

I got a glimpse of all this in the summer of 2015. It was my second visit to the city, but worlds away from the place I had been eight years earlier. Ukrainian military checkpoints dotted the dark highway to Mariupol. The city streets lay deserted at night, while a tension filled the air by day. The burned out remains of the city's police headquarters and a central administrative building served as a vivid reminder of what had just recently occurred, and a warning for what could come next. In the morning, I prayed in Cohens synagogue, then watched as the adjacent dining room filled up with supplicants. That afternoon I saw one Jewish familys homemade missile bunker, a tiny dugout they sometimes had to spend the night in.

We are so busy with the work that there is almost no time to pay attention to the rockets, never mind the politics, Cohen once told me. We have a job to do here.

Over the years, Ive gotten to know him well, and I can tell you that he never wanted any of thisnot the guts, not the glory. Each time Id call him or meet him in Ukraine or New York, hed express his hope that things would finally settle down. The violence, the tension, the feeling of sitting on a powder kegnone of it was for him.

Yet through it all, he has never once considered leaving Mariupol. It is his and his familys home as long as there are Jews who live and breathe there.

Mariupol Jewish community member Natasha Ralko's windows were blown out while she was sitting in the living room of her apartment with her daughter and 8-month-old infant in a January 2015 rocket attack that left 35 dead. (Photo: Jonathan Alpeyrie for

Mariupol sits mere kilometers from territory under separatist control, and the war in the east, while relatively quiet, is still not over. If that werent enough, just six weeks ago an axe-wielding intruder attempted to break into Cohens synagogue shortly after morning prayers. The security guard posted outside managed to disarm the man, as the rabbi and a few others escaped through a back exit. Baruch Hashem, Gd saved me today, he messaged me that evening. It was a long day .

Last week, he and his wife both fell ill with COVID-19. While his wifes symptoms soon got better, the rabbis grew worseto the point that he was having a very hard time breathing. Prior to Shabbat on Sept. 4, Rabbi Cohen was flown by emergency medical transport to Israel, where he is now hospitalized and in serious but stable condition.

As he battles the coronavirus, Cohen is already thinking about what the future holds for Mariupol. He wants to move the synagogue to a new location, a permanent one, where they can host even more people. The axe attack has also made him determined to find a suitable building in a safer neighborhood.

For there is no doubt in his mind, nor of those who know him, that he and his family will, with Gds help, be back in Mariupol soon. War, terror or pandemic notwithstanding, there is work to do, souls to touch and a mission to complete.

To assist the Cohen family in their time of need please follow this link.

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COVID Isn't the First Heroic Battle This Ukrainian Rabbi Has Fought - Rabbi Mendel Cohen has quietly devoted himself to people in trouble -

Jews around the world to observe High Holy Days in new ways – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Jews across the globe are adapting their prayer services to limit the spread of COVID-19 during the High Holy Days, which begin with Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, at sundown on September 18. The second High Holy Days, Yom Kippur, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and begins at sundown on September 27. Both holidays draw far larger crowds than other days. This year, Jewish communities have to find ways to make prayers and customs safe during the pandemic.A spokesperson for the Jewish Community of Turkey, an Istanbul-based affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, told The Media Line: Mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing and cleaning rules will be strictly followed.At the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, the rabbi emeritus, Dr. Raymond Apple, told The Media Line that the new measures include running an array of services with limited numbers at each one and a [shortened sermon]. The synagogue choir will not be singing.In Krakw, Poland, the Jewish community is small enough that social distancing in the large synagogues is not a problem. However, at the Jewish Community Center [JCC] of Krakw, their social hub, people will be divided into smaller groups to protect older and sicker members.We have a special dinner just for Holocaust survivors, and then the next night is the regular community, and the next day is children and families. Instead of having the whole community together, well have to split things up this year, Jonathan Ornstein, executive director at the JCC Krakw, told The Media Line.One of the strengths of our community is its intergenerational aspect. In larger communities, you normally have things more divided [into groups, but] because of the recent re-emergence of Jewish life [in Poland], we try to do everything together. I think that Krakw is resilient, especially our Holocaust survivors, who have been through the Shoah [Holocaust] and Communism, Ornstein said. Theyre not especially worried or pessimistic about whats going to happen with corona because theyve lived through difficult times. cnxps.cmd.push(function () { cnxps({ playerId: '36af7c51-0caf-4741-9824-2c941fc6c17b' }).render('4c4d856e0e6f4e3d808bbc1715e132f6'); });While Orthodoxy is the predominant stream of Judaism outside the US, Reform and Conservative Jews are more commonly found in the US.All of them have to adapt their services for the coronavirus crisis, and the most frequent change is a shorter prayer session. Yosef Ote, the community rabbi of the Orthodox Hazvi Yisrael synagogue in Jerusalem, said services were being reduced from four hours to slightly more than two hours.Amy Schwartzman, senior rabbi at Temple Rodef Shalom (TRS), a Reform congregation in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Virginia and the largest synagogue in the state, said that the services will be virtual and are being cut to one hour instead of two and a half. Normally crowded congregations most of them at this time of year -- are mandating social distancing and masks.At Hazvi Yisrael, the gabbaim, who make sure that the Torah is read correctly, will also check that worshippers are wearing their masks properly the entire time.Noses and mouths will not be the only things covered to prevent the viruss spread.Senior Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun (KJ), an Orthodox Synagogue in New York City, said that the shofar, a rams horn sounded on the High Holy Days, will be tested for the coronavirus and will have a mask placed over its end to prevent tiny droplets from spreading while it is being blown. Steinmetzs congregation is limiting attendance to those ages 12 and older because it can be difficult to get children to comply with guidelines.Changes in ritual customs are more limited for Orthodox Jews, who strictly observe Jewish law, known as halakha. This includes not using technology on the holidays, so services cannot be shown online.Synagogues must pre-determine how many people are coming, so they can hold enough prayer sessions to accommodate more, smaller groups instead of a large crowd in order to comply with health regulations.We will make sure to find a service for anybody who says theyre coming to synagogue them even if it means that we have to rent another space or pray outside with the tarp, Ote said. This can be a logistical nightmare as health rules change. Israel has been discussing a possible total lockdown, lockdowns in some neighborhoods and curfews.Its difficult because you also have to find service leaders, Torah readers and shofar blowers, Ote said. As of now, we have enough space [but that can change]. We have two weeks to figure it out. Congregants who are not physically present will miss services at a time when Jews pray for God to write them down in the book of life for the coming year, and synagogues are trying to facilitate a meaningful experience for people who cannot attend. Steinmetz, the senior rabbi of KJ in New York, told The Media Line: We are telling people that if they dont feel comfortable attending this year, they should not. Weve decided that if you cant come to KJ, KJ will come to you. The synagogue, or shul, will send members commentaries and guides that go along with the High Holy Days prayer book. KJ is also creating a High Holy Days website for pre-holiday viewing, with sermons and concert quality videos with Rosh Hashanah prayers featuring the cantor, who leads the singing, and the choir.For us, it really is about being an Orthodox synagogue and still trying to reach out to members in accordance with Jewish law.Not all holiday-related events are hi-tech. Rabbi Ote in Jerusalem said: Those who cant attend will get a phone call from me and well provide a shofar on the second day. I also send out all the halakhot [Jewish laws], the rules and regulations about how congregants should pray at home, so they know what they can and cant say without a minyan of 10 men, he added.Jewish law requires hearing the blowing of the shofar during this period, so Ote, his wife and some volunteers will go to neighborhoods around Jerusalem on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, blowing the shofar for congregants.TRS in Virginia belongs to the more progressive wing of Judaism and is laxer about observing Jewish law, as illustrated by its safe shofar solution.On the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah, we have secured the big 600-car parking lot at Wolf Trap [a vast outdoor concert venue in Northern Virginia] for two services, Senior Rabbi Schwartzman told The Media Line.What follows is a shofar tailgating party of sorts.We bought a shortwave radio station for the day that works within a one-mile radius and people will pull in with their cars and turn on the radio. In the middle of the parking lot, well have these flatbed trucks where the half-hour service will take place, she added.Orthodox Jews would not drive or turn on the radio on the holiday.Technology is key for Reform and Conservative virtual services, which will be pre-recorded and/or livestreamed. For many of them, tashlikh, the symbolic casting away of sins by throwing bread into a body of water, will also take place online. Reform and Conservative shuls have been avoiding in-person events during the pandemic. However, TRS, will have smaller, in-person sessions between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, including a 25-person maximum, pre-recorded meditation in the sanctuary, which can hold up to 900 people. There will be tzedakah, or charity, events from vehicles in the synagogues parking lot. Even the cars will be socially distancing. People who attend must wear masks and sign a statement saying they do not feel sick and have not been around anyone with COVID-19. Participants will also have to leave their cellphone numbers so they can be notified if someone in attendance becomes ill.Conservative synagogues, which do not follow halakha as closely as the Orthodox, are also making modifications for the new reality.With just three in-person events during the High Holidays, Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Texas, exemplifies this approach. Its holiday schedule includes a moment in front of the open ark, which holds the Torah, and a pre-Kol Nidrei event outside in vehicles followed by a drive-in movie-style screening of the service. Kol Nidrei is an Aramaic declaration recited before the evening service at the start of Yom Kippur.Like their Reform counterparts, the synagogues other services will be livestreamed in a Choose-Your-Own-Experience observance. No matter how it is marked, Rosh Hashanah is a chance for a new beginning.TRSs Schwartzman said: Renewal is something we are desperate for. We are trying to create a spirit of hopefulness and resilience.Hazvi Yisraels Ote added, Rosh Hashanah, unlike Yom Kippur, is all about the world and togetherness. Thats where our focus should be: not for ourselves but for others.Am Yisrael [the nation of Israel] is there for the world but [internal ]unity is our main challenge. We have to accept and respect people that dont have the same opinions and live a different type life, he said. I think that if we can succeed with that, theres no stopping what we can do as a nation.Read more articles from The Media Line.

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Jews around the world to observe High Holy Days in new ways - The Jerusalem Post

How risky are these High Holiday activities during Covid-19? – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on September 11, 2020

When Passover arrived just a few weeks after the pandemic set in earlier this year, it was clear that seders with families and friends would not be happening.

Five months later, as Jews across the countryprepare for the High Holidays, calculating risk has become much harder. The pandemic seems under control in parts of the country but is still raging in others; some people are staying home as much as possible while others have practice going out safely; and the costs of disruption and isolation are beginning to feel more acute.

That means the questions surrounding how to observe the holidays have murkier answers: Is it safe to do Rosh Hashanah dinner with the grandparents? What about our annual Yom Kippur break-fast with the neighbors? Can we still go sukkah hopping?

We spoke to two epidemiologists who have been advising Jewish communities during the pandemic about the risks involved in these classic High Holiday traditions and more. Heres what they told us.

While most non-Orthodox synagogues are planning to hold services exclusively over livestream, some synagogues,including many Orthodox ones, are planning to gather for in-person services,often truncated or otherwise adjustedto minimize disease risk.

Among the most important ways to keep these services safe are maintaining distance between people, requiring masks, screening for illness or exposure to the virus and ensuring proper air flow.

Eili Klein, a professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, said he wont be attending in-person services this year. But for those who are, he said, outdoors is better.

Klein cautioned that large tents erected by some synagogues to allow outdoor services might carry similar risks to being indoors. You want to be sure youre not gathering in a place where the air flow might not be very good, he said, and the center of a large tent can easily be one.

This gets into fluid dynamics and all these things where, if youre getting to that level, youre probably getting to a place where thats not a good idea, Klein said.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, a large Orthodox synagogue in Long Islands Nassau County, said he would feel comfortable praying at an indoor or outdoor minyan if theyre done properly.

How can an indoor service be done properly?

For Glatt, that means screening participants for illness or exposure to the virus, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between people and keeping masks on while indoors.

And its not just about keeping to the guidelines while the services are taking place, he said. The safety of the in-person services depends on people adhering to safety guidelines in their lives outside of synagogue as well.

If you wish to be in public places like a minyan then you have to take the guidelines seriously, which means youre masking and social distancing as best as possible at all times, Glatt said.

Hearing the shofar blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is considered a sacred commandment, so some synagogues are offering standalone shofar-blowing services outdoors to accommodate those who do not feel comfortable attending services in person.

Both Klein and Glatt agreed that a short, outdoor shofar-blowing service would be relatively safe. But keeping people distanced and wearing masks is key.

Some have suggested covering shofars with masks to prevent the virus from being dispersed when they are blown. Glatt has suggested that having someone blow the shofar who has already recovered from Covid-19 would be ideal, but he said the actual blowing of the shofar is unlikely to be a major risk.

Do it in the street, do it outside, have a set number of people showing up so you dont have more people than you expect, he said.

Klein believes that outdoor situations with proper social distancing and participants largely wearing masks would be a fairly safe environment, even with a somewhat large gathering.

The problem becomes, in any of these situations, if you have people violating those things, then that puts everyone at risk, he said.

Risks are involved in getting together with people outside of your immediate bubble, according to Klein and Glatt. But there are ways to gather in small groups safely, beginning by keeping the gathering outside and guests from different households far apart.

Outdoors is better than indoors, Klein said. That reduces the risks dramatically.

Both Klein and Glatt said the main problem with big meals is the gathering of people, not the sharing of food.

Theres been a lot of evidence that this does not seem to be spread by food, Klein said, meaning that giving gifts of food could be a way to celebrate the holiday without gathering in groups.

Glatt said he would have one family, not a lot of different people.

Assuming the parties are all responsible, an outdoor meal is doable, he said.

Still, if you live in a part of the country where the virus is still largely uncontrolled or if someone youve invited may have been exposed to the virus, its best for everyone to stay home. And people who may be particularly vulnerable to the disease, including the elderly and those with other medical conditions, may want to avoid any risk at all.

Most Jews dont include travel to Ukraine as part of their High Holiday traditions, but every year tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews belonging to the Bratslav Hasidic sect head there for a Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav.

Last week, Ukraine decreed that foreigners would not be able to enter the country until the end of September, in part to keep out the pilgrims (some have already arrived in the country). But some lawmakers in Israel and the United States arepressing for a small number of pilgrims to be admitted.

Should I go to Uman? was one item in Glatts latest update to members of his community. His answer: NO. Absolutely no. Uman could be the worlds worst Covid-19 super-spreader event.

Theres no reason to avoid fasting on Yom Kippur during a pandemic if you are otherwise able to do so, Glatt said. But the calculation would be different for someone who has the virus, as it is for anyone with special medical conditions.

Theres no evidence that if somebody doesnt have Covid that fasting is a problem, he said. If somebody does have Covid, they should discuss with their doctor.

When it comes to sharing a Yom Kippur break-fast with friends or neighbors, the same guidance would apply as to a Rosh Hashanah dinner: Outdoors is better than indoors, distancing should be in place and the groups of people who do not live together should be kept to a minimum.

This may be more challenging at break-fast, which often features buffet setups. The danger in a buffet is less likely to be sharing utensils although offering hand sanitizer probably isnt a bad idea but in the waydiners are encouraged to congregatenear each other. If youre hosting, you probably want to think about how your guests will get their food.

For some communities, sukkah hopping, in which people (often kids or families) visit several sukkahs and eat something in each one, is a classic Sukkot holiday ritual.

Sukkahs would seem to be perfectly designed for the pandemic because they are not enclosed. Still, because many sukkahs are small in size and sukkah hopping often involves many people, Klein and Glatt said the activity would need to be seriously modified to be safe.

Any activity which has mixing with a large group of people either serially or in a big group is not a safe activity, Klein said.

Klein suggested keeping the time spent inside the sukkahs to a minimum so people arent crowded in small spaces for prolonged periods of time. If that cant be done, sukkah hopping should be avoided.

Its not something that its going to be terrible if we dont have the children go to a sukkah hop, Glatt said. Its a fun thing, but sometimes we dont do fun things because pikuach nefashos [saving a life].

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How risky are these High Holiday activities during Covid-19? - The Jewish News of Northern California

Where to attend Selichot services in Northeast Ohio – Cleveland Jewish News

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple will hold virtual Selichot programming beginning at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

Featuring the temples newest clergy member, Cantor Vladimir Lapin, he and Rabbi Joshua Caruso will begin with a Havdalah ceremony. The virtual and evening service will also focus on the High Holiday liturgy.

To watch the service, visit at the service time and click Live Streaming on that page.

For more information, call 216-464-1330.

Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is in Beachwood.

Bnai Jeshurun Congregation will hold virtual Selichot programming at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12 via Zoom.

Featuring Cantor Aaron Shifman and guest Neshama Carlebach, attendees will participate in an evening of song and reflection. Carlebach will join the programming via a pre-recorded message.

Those interested in attending should visit or call the temples office at 216-831-6555 to obtain the meeting ID and password.

Bnai Jeshurun Congregation is in Pepper Pike.

Beth El-The Heights Synagogue will begin Selichot programming at 9:30 p.m. Sept. 12 via Zoom.

Havdalah will be followed by a pre-High Holy Day learning session with Rabbi Michael Ungar on How to Thrive (not just survive) Through the High Holy Days at Beth El-The Heights Synagogue This Year. The service will follow around 10:30 p.m.

For more information and for meeting log-in information, visit or call the temple office at 216-320-9667.

Beth El-The Heights Synagogue is in Cleveland Heights.

Beth Israel-The West Temple will hold its Selichot program at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 via Zoom.

Led by Rabbi Enid Lader and Larry Sheir, A Taste of Mussar Like the Sweet Taste of Honey will feature Greg Marcus. He is a practitioner, facilitator and innovator of American Mussar, a 21st century spiritual practice for an authentic and meaningful life. He is also a rabbi-in-training.

For more information and meeting log-in information, visit or call the office at 216-941-8882.

Beth Israel-The West Temple is in Cleveland.

Chabad of Greater Cleveland will hold Selichot services at 1 a.m. Sept. 12, and at 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Sept. 14 to Sept. 17.

Services will be held in person, with outdoor and indoor seating available. Seats need to be reserved by emailing Tracey Berger at

Chabad of Greater Cleveland is at 2479 S. Green Road in Beachwood.

Congregation Shaarey Tikvah will participate in The Conservative Movements Selichot programming at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

Called Selihot Night Live, the program will be live-streamed via Zoom. Over 60 rabbis and cantors will present, and participants have the option to join six different services, several musical presentations and over 30 different classes.

For more information, visit or

Congregation Shaarey Tikvah is in Beachwood.

Fromovitz Chabad Center will hold its Selichot service at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at 23711 Chagrin Blvd. in Beachwood.

Services will be held in person and are free, but RSVPs are highly recommended. No tickets are necessary.

For more information, visit

jHUB will hold its Hearts and Crafts: A (socially distant) Selichot Experience from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at Edgewater Park in Cleveland.

Participants will take part in pottery decorating and mindful reflection for young adults. The group will celebrate Havdalah and engage with kintsugi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in brokenness. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own dinner and picnic blanket or towel. A $5 fee will cover all of the needed programming supplies.

Attendees are required to wear masks when not eating or drinking.

For more information, email Rabbi Chase Foster at Those interested can RSVP at

Kol HaLev, Clevelands Reconstructionist Jewish Community, will hold an online Havdalah and Selichot service for its members at 8 p.m. Sept. 12.

The link to join the service can be found in members weekly email update. This service may also be live streamed, so those interested can visit closer to the service date for updated information.

Kol HaLev is in Pepper Pike.

Park Synagogue will hold a Selichot service from 8 to 9:15 p.m. Sept. 12 via Zoom.

Titled Sneak Preview of the Music of the High Holy Days, the service will also feature guest speaker Ohio House District 37 representative Casey Weinstein on The Challenge of a Jew in Public Office.

Members will receive a Zoom link.

For more information, visit, or call the synagogue office at 216-371-2244.

Park Synagogue is in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike.

Temple Beth Shalom will hold a Selichot Zoom discussion and service at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12.

The service will originate from the temple and be broadcasted to Zoom, with Rabbi Michael Ross and Cantorial Soloist Robin Selinger leading the service. All congregants will participate remotely.

For more information, visit

Temple Beth Shalom is in Hudson.

Temple Emanu El will hold its Selichot service at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 12 via Zoom.

To get the meeting ID and the password, visit or call 216-454-1300.

Temple Emanu El is in Orange.

Temple Israel will host a drive-in Selichot service at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at 91 Springside Drive in Bath Township.

There will also be a gift bag and prayerbook pickup opportunity. To physically attend the drive-in service, attendees must register for one of the 48 available parking spaces. One ticket means one parking space for a car, truck or SUV. The only exception is one parking space for two motorcycles ridden by members of the same household. An email message with registration information will be sent days prior to the service. Attendees must remain in their vehicles, which should have members of the same household. Ridesharing is not recommended, and restrooms will not be available.

The service will also be livestreamed. For more information on the livestreamed service, visit

For more information, visit

The Temple-Tifereth Israel will hold its Selichot programming from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 12 virtually via a livestream.

Titled A Special Selichot Experience, the evening was organized by the Racial Justice Task Force of The Temple-Tifereth Israel. From 7 to 8:15 p.m., Deborah L. Plummer will speak on Becoming a Better Anti-Racist. She is an international leader in the field of diversity and inclusion, as well as an author. Her most recent book, Some of My Friends Are... will be available to temple members at a discounted price.

Following the conversation with Plummer, there will be a Havdalah and Selichot service from 8:30 until 9:30, featuring music on the theme of racial justice presented by the temples clergy and members of the racial justice task force.

For more information or to view the livestream, visit

All are welcome.

The Temple-Tifereth Israel is in Beachwood.

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Where to attend Selichot services in Northeast Ohio - Cleveland Jewish News

New presidential task force charged with fostering Jewish inclusion and the prevention of anti-Semitism at CSU – Source

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Earlier this summer, Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell established a Presidential Task Force on Jewish Inclusion and the Prevention of Antisemitism. The task force, which the Presidents Office has just announced to coincide with the start of the Fall semester, is co-chaired by Carolin Aronis, special advisor on prevention of anti-Semitism and affiliate faculty in the Department of Communication Studies, and John Henderson, assistant dean of students and director of Parent and Family Programs in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. Thirteen faculty, staff, student organization advisors, and student leaders as well as a representative from the Fort Collins community are members of the task force.

Per McConnells charge, the task force will provide a detailed action plan on how to address anti-Semitism and how to build a positive, Jewish-inclusive university community. The group will also refine and build upon the Action Plan for the Prevention of Antisemitism at CSU that was shared with the president last fall and, at her request, submitted as a proposal during the first phase of the universitys Race, Bias and Equity Initiative.

The task force has been meeting since June to explore and uncover historical and systemic facets of anti-Semitism experienced by Jewish students, faculty, staff and community members at CSU.Among its first efforts was documenting some of the bias incidents, ignorance and exclusion experienced by Jews in the university community and anecdotally reported.

CSU does not feel like a place that values and appreciates the rich history and diversity of the Jewish community, said Henderson. The many attestations shared with our group of the harmful microaggressions and violent acts experienced by students, staff and faculty who identify as Jewish was alarming. There is an overall sense that the general campus population is not aware of the depth of the problem of antisemitism and actually dismisses it.

Formation of the task force comes at a time when anti-Semitism is surging nationally and globally and attacks on the countrys Jewish population, including mass shootings in synagogues, have reached all-time highs. According to a 2019 audit conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, the state of Colorado had one of the largest increases in anti-Semitic incidents in the country, with Fort Collins ranking third in the state in hate crimes. Last year, a plan to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo was thwarted by federal agents.

Aronis and Henderson say their hope is that CSU will be a place where members of the Jewish community feel both safe and proud to be on campus, that the university will embrace and support them, and where a Jewish Studies program, Jewish center, and Jewish culture will be part of the daily life on campus, as they are at other universities across the United States.

The Jewish community on campus has lived in fear, has suffered from humiliation, and too often prefers to hide their Jewish identity, Aronis said.

A Communication Studies scholar who has previously taught at CSU as a visiting faculty member and who was the leading author of the original Action Plan, Aronis explores communicative practices of power dynamics, identity politics, and Jewish culture within the media, everyday life, and in academia. Her current research focuses on practices of anti-Semitism and racism on U.S. college and university campuses and their institutional responses.

Since 2017, Aronis has taught extensively at CSU and CU Boulder about notions of intersectionality, privilege, and the oppression of marginalized groups in U.S. society. Aronis has experience in bringing about policy change for human rights and inclusivity in academic settings. Since Spring 2019, she has worked together with CSU One Health Institute Program Leader Magdalena Serpa, CSU Chabad Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik, and CSU Hillel Director Mariah Kornberg DeGear in addressing the situation of the Jewish community at CSU.

Looking ahead, Aronis says the task force plans to submit its preliminary recommendations to President McConnell in December 2020 and an in-depth report in June 2021. The latter will provide a roadmap to institutional and systemic change specific to preventing anti-Semitism and promoting and supporting a Jewish-inclusive campus.

Our work, along with all of the other efforts on campus to support minoritized populations across diverse identities, is absolutely necessary for our land-grant institution, she said.

President McConnell agrees.

I am deeply grateful to the task force for convening so quickly and with such energy and purpose, she said. Their work is absolutely aligned with our commitment to equity and inclusion. Sadly, we all know of incidents that speak to the persistent and painful power of anti-Semitism in our community. For me, this was driven home by a student who told me that her mother didnt want her wearing her Star of David necklace on campus because she was afraid for her daughter. No one should have to think twice about denying any part of their heritage or identity as a member of the CSU community.

McConnell emphasized the name of the group as deliberate.

Weve created a task force because we feel a shared sense of urgency to address these issues through action that produces demonstrable, lasting change, she said. I know that this group of incredibly committed, thoughtful individuals will make recommendations that can truly help CSU create a more Jewish-inclusive environment for all.

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New presidential task force charged with fostering Jewish inclusion and the prevention of anti-Semitism at CSU - Source

Lecture on booze as a gateway chug into rabbinic thinking J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Jordan Rosenblums first whiff of the Talmud in college was intoxicating. Now 41 and a professor of Jewish studies and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rosenblum is the author of Rabbinic Drinking: What Beverages Teach Us About Rabbinic Literature a sort of backdoor introduction to the basics of Talmud and the classical rabbinic mindset.

Hell bring that approach to San Francisco State University on Sept. 15 as a guest lecturer in professor Rachel Gross Introduction to Jewish Studies course. During the fall semester, with SFSU entirely online, the Jewish Studies Department is making the courses guest lectures available to the public for free. Rosenblums is titled The Talmud Walks Into a Bar.

J.: Of all the subjects the Talmud touches on, why alcohol? What makes it such a good introduction to rabbinic texts?

Jordan Rosenblum: My book isnt just about alcohol. Its about all drinking. But mostly beer and wine.

One of my main audiences is undergrads. I teach Intro to Rabbinic Literature. I couldve written about a variety of things, but thats my point; rabbinic texts talk about the most profound things right in the middle of a discussion of the most mundane things. So I couldve just as easily written a book called Holy Crap: An Introduction to Rabbinic Literature Through Excrement and Urination. But I happen to think the lens of beverages is particularly relatable to a college student.

But the rabbis also have a lot to say about other beverages, like breast milk.

And what do they say about breast milk?

I have a son whos about to turn 6. Right after he was born, he and my wife were figuring out breastfeeding, and I wondered: What do the ancient rabbis have to say about this? So one example is this: The rabbis believed that a biological father is obligated to feed his child, and his wife is obligated to feed her husbands child. But a biological mother has no rabbinic obligation to feed her own child. So if they get divorced, hes still obligated to feed the child, but she isnt.

And already, right there, you have a window to so many other things. From there, you can talk about gender, family structure, contract law, all kinds of things. To talk about anything specific, we have to also talk about all these major broad themes in rabbinic literature.

You write that your first encounter with rabbinic literature, which came as a college freshman, was reminiscent of drinking a little too much. In both, I experienced a feeling of euphoria and pleasant disorientation, followed by a splitting headache.

Its just that theres so much to get your head around. It was so different from other things I had read, and it presumed so much knowledge. Keeping it all straight was difficult. It was like the first sips of alcohol where you look around and think, People like this? As I got it, like the acquired taste for alcohol, I started to realize why people liked it.

What was that first piece of Talmud you encountered?

One of the first ones I studied is right at the beginning of Berachot [the first volume of the Talmud], where theyre discussing the correct time to say the Shema, how late at night can you say it and in the middle of that, a bunch of sons come back from a party, presumably drunk, and they ask their dad a technical question about reciting this prayer.

What kind of experiences did you have with Jewish learning before that?

I grew up going to a Conservative synagogue and had a bar mitzvah, but I learned liturgical Hebrew. I could read and rattle off prayers, and had read some things in translation, but had never sat down with Hebrew or Aramaic in a fluid way and hadnt really interacted with a page of Talmud.

What are people going to hear about if they tune in to your lecture?

There are a variety of ways to talk about the rich and varied experiences of the Jewish people. There are ways to do it that are dry and boring, and there are ways that are engaging and direct. I want people to get an introduction to rabbinic literature, because all of Judaism that came after is engaged with rabbinic Judaism, even if its just to reject it.

About two years ago, right before Passover, Orthodox authorities declared that almost all beer in New York was nonkosher. The main beer distributor for the whole New York area was Jewish but not observant. So the Orthodox view is that an observant Jew can sell their hametz (leavened food, which includes beer) temporarily during Passover. But the owner of this distributor was a nonobservant Jew who still fully owned his hametz. What that showed is that even today, to understand basic business practices, you have to understand debates that began 2,000 years earlier. What Im hoping to do is give people an understanding and an interest in this literature.

To wrap it up, give us a colorful rabbinic drinking story.

Take Purim. Theres the famous rule that a Jew must drink on Purim ad lo yada until they dont know good from bad. But if you look at that text, theres more going on there. Theres a story about two rabbis getting drunk on Purim. One of them kills the other. In the morning he realizes what he did and he prays to God, and God brings him back to life. The next year on Purim, the guy who got killed doesnt want to drink with his friend again because he might kill him again, and God might not bring him back this time. And thats right next to this thing about drinking ad lo yada, a reminder that there are limits.

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Can we be pious and ambivalent? – Forward

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Still Small Voice is a collection of 18 interviews with clergy and scholars tackling 18 questions about God, published during the month of Elul, a time of Jewish reflection and accountability. Click here to read the introduction to the series.

Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer is a self-described, kippah-wearing, Shabbat-keeping father of three who teaches Torah for a living.

But he said in our conversation that his own faith is on rickety foundations.

I am not a God person, he told me, acknowledging that this might be very confusing to people who know he is observant. I guess this interview is my coming-out party.

It may not be a revelation that there are observant Jews who carry doubt about God. What was new, at least to me, was the idea that even our ancient rabbis might have considered doubt to be a sign of authenticity.

Thats the teaching that I heard from Kurtzer, a longtime friend and the president of Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. When I asked if hed be part of my exploration of the divine, Still Small Voice: 18 Questions about God, Kurtzer told me he wanted to talk about ambivalence.

Admitting even valuing ambivalence about God feels a lot less radioactive to me now, after spending the last six months discussing all aspects of the divine in Judaism with various religious thinkers. There has been a lot more candor than I thought from people of faith about the hurdles of faith.

But Kurtzer took it a step further, saying that maybe hurdles of a faith are not just a sign of realism, but true Judaism.

The Hartman Institute is a 50-year-old education hub founded in Jerusalem and now with a hub also in New York. It serves both clergy and laity, and is widely admired for the rigor and depth of its seminars and a pluralistic approach to theology. Ive been a member of study groups in which Kurtzer taught, and I interviewed him for a public Zoom event in April about his new anthology, co-edited with Dr. Claire Sufrin, called The New Jewish Canon a provocative collection of essays and speeches that roiled the Jewish conversation between 1980 and 2015.

I was struck then, as I was in this more recent interview, by his dependable mix of candor and adroitness when it comes to our texts and tradition.

Our conversation is below, edited for clarity and length.To read other interviews with other rabbis in our series, Still Small Voice: 18 questions about God, click here.

Abigail Pogrebin: For years I have watched you adhere to strictures around Jewish ritual and calendar. Where is God operating in that fidelity to tradition, if at all?

Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer: Abby, I dont know. I think if somebody comes to a rabbi and says, I accidentally used this meat fork with milk food, they want an answer. They dont want to be told, Here are the books to look up and come back to me in two weeks.

But I think that the work around faith is not the kashrut of a fork. The work around faith is, Why are you struggling? And whats making this hard? And what are the sources or resources where you can feel not comforted by the answers, but comforted by fellow searchers and seekers? How do we build a community of people who struggle?

AP: Especially since the very religious seem to be very certain.

YK: I know. I envy the certainty of some people. But I also cant relate to it.

AP: Whats one example of where you think the unambivalent perspective is problematic?

YK: One of the themes we hear all the time is that our moral obligations to human beings are because other human beings are created in the image of God, right? You could put it on a sign. But there is critique of this that I very much identify with, which is: why am I obligated to you because of a triangulated relationship to God? Isnt it more powerful to say Im obligated to you as a human being because you are a human being and not because youre an image or a mirror of God?

I dont know what it means to see the face of God. I dont. I dont want to claim that I do. Im scared sometimes when people think that thats what theyre doing.

AP: Lets start with the text you chose when I asked you to pick one that elucidates your thinking. Why did you go to Gemara rabbinic commentary?

YK: Part of the reason Ive always been drawn to the Talmudic texts more than biblical texts is because I think the classical Rabbis share more ambivalence about Gods presence in their lives than the bible does.

AP: And this particular excerpt were about to cover why does it resonate for you?

YK: Because even the Sages of the Talmud are telling you that theyre searching, theyre lost, they dont know where God is. And one of them is willing to lean into it and say, you know what? Thats what makes you a Jew. There are those in the world who talk about themselves as being in intimate connection to God; thats not us. We are the people who dont have a sense of intimacy right now with God. Thats what makes you a Jew.

Then My anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. (Deuteronomy 31:17).

Rav Bardela bar Tavyumei said that Rav said: Anyone who is not subject to His hiding of the face, i.e., whose prayers are invariably answered, is not from the Jewish people, as the verse states about the Jewish people that God will hide His face from them (Chagigah 5a)

AP: Just to make the context clear: the Sages here are parsing verses in Deuteronomy in which God threatens to disappear.

YK: Yes, its the worst threat that God makes in the Bible: not that Ill get mad at you, but that Ill be hidden from you. Its the same way with children, where the worst thing a parent can do, especially with little kids, is to ignore them. It creates deep anxiety and insecurity. And thats the worst curse that God makes in the Bible: Im going to ignore you, and youre not going to know whether Im there or not.

AP: Okay, then the Talmudic Rabbi, Bardela bar Tavyumei, quotes his teacher Rav, the 3rd-century scholar Abba Arikha who contends that anyone who says God is not hiding is not an authentic Jew?

YK: Yes. Rabbi Bardela says anyone who does not identify with Gods hiddenness is not a member of the Jewish people. In other words, to be a Jew, is to not be sure of Gods presence.

AP: And that was a radical read?

YK: In reading Jewish texts or hanging out with religious Jews, one absorbs that to be a Jew is to be a person who feels Gods presence, and any condition of Gods hiddenness is only temporary either we havent reached presence yet, or were going to get past the hiddenness. I think what this rabbi is saying is, no, thats what it means to be a Jew: to be a person from whom God hides.

AP: Or put differently, to be a Jew is to be unsure where or if God is.

YK: Yes, but later in the same text, different rabbis try to rehabilitate Bardelas assertion by saying, No, no. Gods not really hiding. Gods there in the dream, in the shadow. You just might not be able to see God. Heres that excerpt:

Rava said that the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: Even though I hid my face from them and My Divine Presence is not revealed, nevertheless: I speak with him in a dream (Numbers 12:6). Rav Yosef said: His hand is outstretched, guarding over us, as it is stated: And I have covered you in the shadow of my hand (Isaiah 51:16) (Chagigah 5b)

But I want us to look really hard at the first idea in the first text that part of what it means to be a Jew in relationship to God is to actually be really uncertain about a relationship with God. And then to ask, how are we then obligated?

AP: How are we obligated, absent God, to act in the world?

YK: If its because youre terrified of God that youre really observant and believing, fine. But show me what commitment looks like when it cant be reduced to the logic of certainty, when its not because youre so obviously being held accountable. Thats what my conviction and commitment comes from. Genuinely religious people should not be certain people. They should actually be ambivalent people. Thats what generates humility. If youre a religious person with absolute confidence in the things you believe in, how could you possibly be humble? Lets hold up the ambivalence, our struggle; lets make that the posture of religion in the world.

AP: But weve seen what happens when people dont believe that God exists or is watching; there are no reins on behavior.

YK: You think thats true? I think the scorecard is pretty even between people who perpetrate violence and immorality in the name of God and people who perpetrate violence and morality precisely because they think theres no God. You can be an immoral person who believes in God, and you can be a moral person who doesnt believe in God. I dont think God is the shortcut for us to be better human beings.

AP: Do you worry about airing the realities of doubt within the Jewish community?

YK: Oh goodness, no. If its not only the Talmudic Rabbis who think this about their own ambivalence, but that the editors of the Talmud included it, that shows they were also struggling. Thats good. The flack I get that makes me more nervous is when people ask me, Can you share ambivalence about God with young people? Arent you supposed to inculcate God into your children?

My answer is no. I think were meant to raise children and teach Jews who are searching. I dont think educators are meant to be exemplars of a faith, especially if we dont have it. Theres something very holy and moral about trying to model seeking, as opposed to certainty.

AP: Where, in this framework of uncertainty, do you put the daily pastoral work of our clergy today the oft-used language of healing and a sense that God is walking with us? I know youre not standing at gravesides as regularly as those who have to guide us through grief. But when clergy tell us God is near, in our hardest moments, is that just convenient for those looking for consolation? Or do you believe God is with us in our pain?

YK: I want to be clear: As much as I am concerned about dogmatic faith, I dont want to come across as dogmatic in my lack of faith. Thats where the atheists and humanists lose me.

Its one thing to say we want to create space not just for people who are really certain, but for people who are uncertain.

But its another thing entirely to say, were going to build an ostensibly religious doctrine around certainty of our own atheism; thats the same idolatry.

And its true: I dont have the job of comforting the afflicted in the same way that rabbis do. I understand that form of comfort. But I will tell you personally, there are plenty of people who are left cold by that pastoral comforting. As though the existence of God should help make sense of unspeakable tragedies. There are a lot of people for whom that is not a satisfying answer.

So if a rabbi is coming up with words of certainty in spite of their own ambivalence because they think its going to work, then were not talking about faith at all. Thats just marketing God to solve for discomfort.

AP: So finally, if someone asks a very basic question: Yehuda, are you a person of faith?

YK: Umm.Probably not. I would rather be a person of commitment.

AP: To what?

YK: Judaism and the Jewish people.

Abigail Pogrebin, author of My Jewish Year; 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew,is a Forward contributing writer. Follow her on Twitter. @apogrebin. Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer is President of Shalom Hartman North America.

Image by Angelie Zaslavsky

Still Small Voice: 18 Questions About God is a special project for the month of Elul, a traditional period of reflection and accountability. Click here to read the next interview in the series, and here to browse the collection.

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Can we be pious and ambivalent? - Forward

The Trickle-Down Effect – Song of the Soul –

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Its a daunting task. To pray, to think aboutthe pertinent intentions, to feel the feelings appropriate for prayer. Butsometimes, Gd helps us out.

There are times that you think about Gd. Hisoneness, His greatness. And your soul is ignited and drawn to Gd. It almostfeels like youre getting more than you bargained for. Who is pulling your soulwith thick cords of love?

The words before the Amidah prayer shed somelight.

A-dnaisifatai tiftach, ufi yagid tehilatechaGd, open mylips, so that my mouth can declare Your praise.

In a Chassidic discourse, Rabbi Schneur Zalmanof Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, explains these words, turning their meaning on itshead: When my mouth declares the praise, when I invest effort to learn aboutGds oneness and feel love towards Him through my own efforts, then Gd will open my lips. I will feela level that is not commensurate or proportional to my efforts, but so muchmore than that.

I need to put in effort, to make myself into avessel to hear and connect to higher levels. Its like tipping a bucket ofwater, and only then does the water spill over on its own. My mouth is acatalyst, tipping the bucket, and the emotions overflow. I feel it in my soul.I dont only create feelings for Gd, but I draw them down and allow them toflow.

What is this higher level that my soul tapsinto? My soul is tapping into the source of all Jewish souls, called KnessetYisrael (see Step Zero). This soul levelis constantly in a state of desire to reunite with Gd, like a fetus thatcraves the comfort of the womb. It sings, so to speak, about its intensedesire and yearning for Gd Himself.

While we might not consciously feel that waybefore the prayer process, once we put in effort, we can be granted access tothat higher level. By enunciating Gds praises and thinking thoughts that willlead us to feeling passionately about Gd, we cause a trickle-down effect to our soul. We put in alittle bit of effort to merit the overabundance flow of yearning for Gd.

I do a little; Gd does the rest. When I praythis way, I dont only hear the song of my own soul, but the song of the source of all soulsthesong of Knesset Yisroel above that shines brightly into the songs of all Jewsbelow. That is why prayer is called the song of songs.

As the Talmud says: Open a door as tiny asthe eye of a needle, and I will open your gates wide enough to let carts andhorse-drawn carriages drive through.

I use my own abilities to think thoughts aboutGds greatness, and Gd gifts me with the ability to feel emotions that arebeyond my natural capacities.

(Inspiredby Shir Shirim Likutei Torah, as expounded in Chassidut Mevueret, AvodasHaTefillah Chapters 3 and 4.)

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New year cometh – Cleveland Jewish News

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Let the old year and its curses end; let the new year and its blessings begin (Babylonian Talmud).

Its been a weird year. Hard to believe that last year, on Rosh Hashanah, we all gathered together by the hundreds and prayed, not socially distanced, no masks, no Purell. As a community, we sang the following words: Our Father, our King, renew for us a good year ... remove from us all harsh decrees ... hold back the plague ... send a complete healing to the sick of your people ... renew us for a good life. ...

Who could have foreseen that a scant three months after those prayers, a virus would emerge in Wuhan, China, that would render all those prayers newly rarefied? I suspect that our prayers this year will hold a renewed urgency, bronzed with the patina of suffering and mortality.

Judaism teaches that everything that happens to us each year is predetermined on Rosh Hashanah. So, what happened this year since last Rosh Hashanah?

In fall 2019, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg emerged as a climate activist and was named person of the year by Time Magazine. The first all-female spacewalk outside the International Space Station finally took place. Vaping was linked to dozens of deaths across the United States. A New Zealand volcano killed 16 people. In December, President Donald Trump faced impeachment hearings.

In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency. By mid-March, we were on lockdown. Schools, synagogues and businesses shut down in an unprecedented emergency measure. Also in March, two suicide bombers deployed bombs near the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. Israel held no less than three sets of elections, leading to Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu sharing the premiership.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was rumored as dead, which turned out to be greatly exaggerated. In May, George Floyd was killed, sparking protest and riots across the country and the world, and opening many new conversations about race. In June, 81 people died after a suspected Boko Haram attack in northeast Nigeria and Beijing faced its second lockdown. On Aug. 4, a giant explosion in Beirut killed 135 people and injured another 5,000. This month saw Joe Biden announce Kamala Harris as his running mate, and the U.S. Post Office continues to face mail delays as the election looms.

What about internally?

Our sons bar mitzvah took place in February, with hundreds of guests (hard to fathom now), which was a dream come true for our family. Our other son got married in May in a corona ceremony in our backyard with attendance of

20 people, and we welcomed our very first daughter-in-law to the family. Many of our friends and relatives participated over Zoom, which was a wonderful way to be connected when we couldnt be connected.

We spent many days in lockdown singing together, walking together, praying together and enjoying family game nights and movie nights. I already miss it.

And now the kids have gone back to school (shout out to the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland in Cleveland Heights) and I am back at my office, hoping and praying that the good parts, the silver linings of the Jewish year 5780 will remain, while the curses, the attacks, the plagues (killer hornets, locusts, etc.), the killings, the natural disasters and those inflicted by humans will be stopped. Reflecting back on the year is vital. Its chilling to think of all that hung in the balance a year ago.

What will you be praying for this year?

Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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New year cometh - Cleveland Jewish News

Iraq’s Jews fled long ago, heritage struggles on – The Jakarta Post – Jakarta Post

Posted By on September 11, 2020

Growing up in Iraq, Omar Farhadi would heat up dinner for his Jewish neighbors when they rested on the Sabbath. Few are left, and their heritage risks fading away too.

Across Iraq, Jewish roots run deep: Abraham was born in Ur in the southern plains, and the Babylonian Talmud, the central text of Judaism, was compiled in the town of the same name in the present-day Arab state.

Jews once comprised 40 percent of Baghdad's population, according to a 1917 Ottoman census.

But after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, regional tensions skyrocketed and anti-Semitic campaigns took hold, pushing most of Iraq's Jewsto flee.

In the north, the Kurdish regional capital of Arbil was once the heart of the ancient kingdom of Adiabene, which converted to Judaism in the 1st century and helped fund the building of the Temple of Jerusalem.

Today, Iraqis have fond memories of Jewish friends and neighbors, including 82-year-old Farhadi, whose father owned a shop in a Jewish-majority district of Arbil.

Farhadi himself had several Jewish classmates at school and learnt English from a Jewish teacher, Benhaz Isra Salim.

"One day in early 1950,Professor Benhaz came to say goodbye to our Arabic teacher. They hugged and began to cry because Benhaz was travelling to Israel," he recalled.

"All of us students started to cry as well. That was the end of Jews in Arbil."

Fading ties

The roughly 150,000 Jews still in Iraq in 1948 fled fast: by 1951, 96 percent were gone. Staying meant defying growing discrimination and property expropriation.

Following the US-led invasion of 2003, some Jews were flown to Israel on special evacuation flights while others left during the ensuing years of sectarian warfare.

By 2009, there were only eight Jews left in Baghdad, according to diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks.

The internecine violence did not grip the Kurdish region.

A 2015 law in the zone recognized Judaism as a protected religion and created an official representative, a post now held by 58-year-old Sherko Abdallah.

The law, and the lack of sectarian bloodshed in the zone, created an environment of "more coexistence" compared to federally-run areas in the south, he told AFP.

Still, of the estimated 400 families of Jewish descent in the Kurdish zone, some have converted to Islam in recent years.

"Most others practice in secret, because admitting you're Jewish is still a sensitive issue in Iraq," said Abdallah, adding that his "connections" within the Muslim-majority community had helped keep him safe.

A real sense of identity, however, was still missing.

He applied for official permission to build a Jewish community centerbut had not received official approval.

"I want a Jewish leader to come teach us the proper customs, but that's not possible under the current conditions," Abdallah added.

And the link between the few families left and the roughly 219,000 Jews of Iraqi origins in Israel -- the largest contingent from Asian origins -- is fraying.

"Now, the Iraqi Jews who left to Israel in the 1950s still find ways back into the Kurdish region with their Iraqi ID cards," Abdallah told AFP.

"But within five years, they will pass away and the whole relationship will be severed."

Read also: Istanbul Jews fight to save their ancestral tongue

History in ruins

There is already little to see.

Many Jewish homes were seized by the Iraqi state before 2003, and Jewish schools, shops and synagogues across the country are mostly crumbling from lack of maintenance.

In the north, heritage is faring slightly better.

Arbil's Museum of Education, housed in the city's oldest primary school, includes a room dedicated to Daniel Kassab, a well-known Jewish Kurdish art teacher and painter.

Residents of Halabja, Zakho, Koysinjaq and other parts of Kurdistan still refer to old "Jewish neighborhoods" when giving directions in their hometowns.

In Al-Qosh, the Jewish prophet Nahum's tomb is being restored through a $1-million grant from the US as well as funds from local authorities and private donations.

Baghdad and Washington are in talks to return the Iraqi Jewish Archives, over 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents whisked away to the US after the invasion.

Such initiatives could save Jewish heritage across the country, including the Baghdad home of Sassoon Eskell, Iraq's first finance minister under British mandate.

Eskell established Iraq's first financial system and indexed its currency to gold.

"He was one of the columns in Iraq's history. You don't get two men like that," said Rifaat Abderrazzaq, an expert on Baghdad's Jewish heritage.

But today, Eskell's home on the banks of the Tigris River in the capital lies abandoned and partly ruined.

"Almost none of the beautiful, widespread Jewish heritage of Baghdad is left," lamented Abderrazzaq.

"There is hardly anything but memories."

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