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A year without a synagogue? J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on August 31, 2020

In 2004, a controversial mockumentary-style film was released. A Day Without a Mexican, directed by Sergio Arau, offered its take on immigration issues facing the United States by imagining California without its crucial Latinx workforce. Crops are left unharvested, restaurants are left unstaffed and households are left unmanaged. In this 100-minute dystopia, the viewer cant help but notice how every aspect of our states day-to-day lives are touched by the absence of Latinxs, be it on a personal or economic level.

As Reform rabbis, we recently heard from colleagues around the country that some families are considering a temporary break from synagogue life.

Families arent quite sure where synagogue in general, and Jewish education in particular, fit into their lives as we all try to prepare for a year of unprecedented realities. This year has become the year of unknowns; distance learning in secular schools, hybrid models, canceled sports, virtual extracurriculars. With these concerns as a baseline for families, it is simply too difficult to also imagine virtual High Holidays, reimagined Jewish education and a Jewish community that doesnt gather together in person.

Many rabbis are terrified that we will hear in our own synagogues, I think well just have to take this year off Can we wait and see what happens in January? Im not sure we can manage anything extra right now.

These are sentiments expressed by families who are clearly struggling, stressed and holding so much disappointment.

Before anyone in our community considers this response, we hope they will consider a broader picture:

Quite simply, if everyone were to have A Year Without a Synagogue, would there be synagogues when people are ready to return? This is a serious concern. As nonprofit organizations that rely on the support of our members, all synagogues, big and small, are concerned about sustainability.

Your congregation remains a place of gathering virtually or in person. We are a community. We hold sacred space. Supporting a synagogue is completely different from utilizing a fee-for-service institution. We are not providing after-school care or tap lessons or physical fitness. Our value cannot be measured only by programs.

It is precisely at this moment that members need to support the most important things in their lives. This is the moment to show up in larger numbers than ever before.

Synagogues are extensions of our homes where Jewish life is marked and celebrated. Synagogues are the people who show up at your door with a meal, the phone calls when you have lost someone you loved, the rabbi who is there to listen.

For our children, synagogues are the place where they are nurtured and loved without the pressures of secular school. Synagogues are where we grapple with big ideas. They are a place for identity experimentation and self-expression. A place where ethics are upheld, and love and kindness prevail. Through our synagogues, the world is healed. Synagogues bring families together to honor sacred time. During hard times, they are where we learn to handle challenges and where resilience is built.

And, yes, we cannot hide the fact that synagogues cost money to run. Like many small businesses and nonprofits, our doors have been closed during Covid-19, but our operations are running. Mortgages, staff and infrastructure all cost money and all are necessary to support Jewish life.

Without membership dues, tuition from religious schools and donations, we simply would not exist.

The attitude of taking a year off implies a diffusion of responsibility. It says it is someone elses job to support the ongoing expenses of synagogues while washing ones own hands of the obligation. When Rabbi Hillel taught, Do not separate yourself from the community,he reminded us that each is responsible for our community.

Jewish synagogue life is not here to add additional work or stress to ones life. It is here to be a place that holds emotion, whether joyful or disappointing. Yes, it takes commitment. Those commitments come in the form of time, money, energy and emotional investment. Ideally, what one gets out of belonging to a synagogue cant be measured by any standard metric. It can only be measured in feelings of love, community, and connection to each other and to the Divine (or to something greater than ourselves).

Some families still may consider pausing and taking A Year Without a Synagogue.

But we hope this is not the case.

If families do pause, we can hope that when they are ready to return, our synagogues will be here, having weathered the harsh realities of the pandemic. In the meantime, synagogues will persevere by teaching, praying, grieving, celebrating and hoping. We will continue to be places of thriving Jewish life.

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A year without a synagogue? J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

The rising Islamic terrorist threat in Austria strikes a synagogue – JNS.org

Posted By on August 31, 2020

(August 31, 2020 / JNS) On a summer Sabbath day, Elie Rosen, president of the Jewish Community of Graz, spotted a suspicious man hanging around the synagogue. The synagogue had recently been vandalized and the man had a backpack full of rocks that he was about to start throwing at it.

After the synagogue was vandalized a few days earlier, Rosen had warned that the Austrian city faced a stronger left-wing and anti-Israel anti-Semitism,

Rosens concern was understandable since some of the graffiti smeared on the wall around the synagogue read, Free Palestine and Our language and our country is Palestine. A second attack by the same perpetrator on Friday had smashed the synagogues windows.

The wall that the Islamic attacker had vandalized was made out of bricks from the ruins of the original Graz synagogue that had been destroyed by the National Socialists. The synagogue, which had been rebuilt only two decades ago, serves Grazs tiny surviving Jewish community.

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Austrian Jews know better than to take such slogans lightly. One of the worst episodes of anti-Semitic violence after the National Socialist period was an assault by two PLO Islamic terrorists on a synagogue where a bar mitzvah was taking place. The terrorists opened fire with machine guns and threw hand grenades into the synagogue. A woman who had rolled on a grenade to protect the children died. A number of other congregants were wounded.

When Rosen asked the man what he was doing, the vandal attacked him with a chair leg and fled on a mountain bike. When the police caught him, he expressed no remorse.

The Syrian Muslim refugee justified his actions by citing his religion: Islam, and Islamic law.

The Syrian refugee had come to Austria in 2013 during the height of the so-called refugee crisis by traveling through Turkey. The Islamic tyranny which had once besieged the gates of Vienna with an army has dispatched a different kind of army against Vienna. And that army, sent by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan, has often been welcomed with open arms by European countries like Austria.

When the migrant who attacked the synagogue came to Austria, he was granted asylum.

His capture didnt just solve the mystery of the attack on the synagogue, but also an attack on a church and a gay club.

There were a total of seven attacks committed by this single refugee.

This has become the new normal in Graz, an Austrian city the size of Pittsburgh, which has seen a surge in violence.

There was an arson attempt at a church in July when a nameless perpetrator threw burning newspapers into the building after smashing a window with a rock.

Last year, an Iraqi migrant started multiple fires in government buildings in Graz.

In 2015, a Muslim refugee killed three people and injured 36 others when he ran his car into a crowd and then got out and began stabbing the survivors. The dead included a seven-year-old boy.

The mosques of Graz have been used to recruit Islamic State terrorists. Some of ISISs killers died in its wars against its enemies, but others came back and are living in Graz.

After multiple police raids and arrests that involved as many as 800 officers, part of the network of ISIS and al-Qaeda recruiters was broken up, only to be reunited in prison.

A Muslim Brotherhood prison imam from Graz who was brought in to help deradicalize some of the prisoners instead plotted a jailbreak by the terrorists.The Brotherhood imam had planned to have the terrorists pray in the yard as a distraction, and then attack the guards with shivs.

The arrested Syrian refugee adds to the growing Islamic population in Austrias prisons.

Three years ago, it was estimated that a quarter of Austrias prison population is Muslim. Thats a startling number in a country of almost nine million with a Muslim population of around 700,000.

While Muslims make up less than 10 percent of Austrias population, theyre filling up its prisons.

The situation is so bad that Austrias top prison imam wrote a book warning that the prison system was a breeding ground for terrorists and urged putting Islamists in solitary confinement.

One of those prisoners, an Albanian Muslim from Graz, has been accused of continuing to recruit for ISIS from prison using a smuggled smartphone and his Instagram account.

The terrorist, who is already serving a nine-year prison sentence for encouraging a 12-year-old boy to plant a nail bomb in a Christmas market in Germany, allegedly had links to Abu Tejma, the Islamist preacher in Vienna, whose large family had been living on welfare, while he drove a sports car and recruited some 160 Muslims, including teenage girls, to join ISIS.

The blonde mouse, the Austrian, should be torn apart like a bag of crisps, Tejma had bragged.

The Albanian Muslim from Graz had plotted his own attack on an American military base.

In prison, DERAD, a Confederation of European Probation project to deradicalize jihadists, claimed that he was being successfully deradicalized, while he continued recruiting for ISIS.

All of this makes Austria in general and Graz in particular into ticking time bombs for terror.

A survey of Muslim refugees in Graz conducted by a professor of Islamic Religious Education at the University of Vienna found that about half of them had strongly anti-Semitic views.

It was noticeable that more than half had internalized anti-Semitism as part of their religiosity, observed professor Ednan Aslan.

He also noted that a number of Graz mosques were controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Austrian authorities are trying to belatedly withdraw their asylum to the Syrian refugee who attacked the Graz synagogue.

Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna, warned that Muslim anti-Semitism is a serious threat. He also pointed out that the Jewish community spends three million euros a year on security for synagogues and schools.

Anti-Semitic incidents in Austria doubled in the last five years, and while many of the perpetrators have National Socialist motives, the Jewish communitys report noted that Muslim anti-Semitism is conspicuous when it comes to incidents with a high threat potential.

The Austrian government has announced that its dispatching uniformed and undercover police officers to protect the countrys handful of Jewish synagogues. But the anti-Semitic violence is part of a larger trend of Islamist attacks against both churches and synagogues. And against the symbols of non-Islamic values and political life.

The Syrian refugee believed his religion gave him the right to attack anything un-Islamic.

Susanne Raab, Austrias Minister of Culture and Integration, urged a campaign to stop the overlap of political Islam and anti-Semitism. But that overlap is innate to Islam.

The act shows that you have to take Muslim anti-Semitism seriously, warned Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna.

But truly taking it seriously would mean hitting the brakes on Islamic migration into Austria.

The attack on the Graz Synagogue is grimly symbolic. The synagogue had been destroyed in the year of the Anschluss by the countrys new National Socialist masters. It is ominously fitting for the countrys new invading theocratic Herrenvolk to once again target the synagogue.

A new Islamic fascism is rising in Austria. When the National Socialists marched into Austria, they were often met with cheering crowds of supporters. The cheering crowds who met the migrants marching into Austria are allowing a dark history to repeat itself one more time.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

This article was first published byFrontPage Magazine.

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The rising Islamic terrorist threat in Austria strikes a synagogue - JNS.org

Kenosha’s rabbi on graffiti at her synagogue: ‘What’s happened these last few days is not about us’ – Jewish Post

Posted By on August 31, 2020

(JTA) In early June, as anti-racism protests swept the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wisconsin, signed onto an interfaith letter supporting peaceful protest and condemning a broken societal system which disproportionately affects communities of color.

This week, Kenosha became an epicenter of renewed protest after a police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. And on Wednesday night, the 93-year-old synagogues driveway was graffitied with the words Free Palestine.

Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement have cited similar vandalism as evidence that protests have devolved into rioting. But has the graffiti changed the synagogues support for the racial justice movement?

Absolutely not, said Rabbi Dena Feingold, who has led the Reform congregation for 35 years. Thats a trivial matter. Whats happened these last few days is not about us and whats happened to us. Its about the issues of systemic racism that plague our society. About police policy, about implicit bias, white privilege and those bigger issues is what this is about. It doesnt change anything at all.

Feingold said the protests have felt like theyre happening in the synagogues backyard. Beth Hillel Temple is in Kenoshas downtown, a block away from where two people were shot dead following protests on Tuesday, allegedly by a teenaged gunman from out of state who saw himself as having responsibility for protecting local buildings. It is also near two churches, at least one of which was also graffitied on Wednesday.

I wouldnt be looking for particular sympathy, Feingold said. All of our buildings have been tagged.

Feingold said the 125-member family congregation has a long history of standing for social justice. The oldest items in the synagogue archive, she said, are newspaper clippings about how the synagogue participated in National Brotherhood Week during the 1920s.

Earlier this year, the synagogue started a subcommittee on racial justice, and it has also been active on issues like immigration and voter rights. Its part of a larger faith-based community organizing group that addresses racial justice issues.

Soon after speaking with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Feingold headed to a meeting to discuss racial justice.

We can clean up graffiti, she said. Its not something that lasts, like the killing of a human being or paralyzing of someone, and people of color living in fear when they go about their daily lives.

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Kenosha's rabbi on graffiti at her synagogue: 'What's happened these last few days is not about us' - Jewish Post

Swastikas found spray-painted in East Cobb spur action from synagogue – Atlanta Journal Constitution

Posted By on August 31, 2020

The Anti-Defamation League said last year that it documented its largest number of anti-Semitic incidents around the country. Vandalism increased 19 percent from 774 incidents in 2018, to 919 in 2019, according to its Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.

Dr. Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice-president of the Anti-Defamation Leagues Southern Division, said waking up to see anti-Semitic vandalism spray painted throughout ones neighborhood is never easy to swallow.

They always spark a lot of emotion and anger and fear, and I think they make people feel pretty uneasy and alienated, she said.

The Cobb County Police Department is investigating another report of racist vandalism in the same area. An East Cobb resident reported early last week that a swastika and MAGA 2020 were spray painted overnight on the fence in the 2500 block of Holly Springs Road, according to an incident report shared by the agency. MAGA 2020 is the abbreviation for President Donald Trumps campaign slogan, Make America Great Again. A swastika was also painted on a street sign, the report adds.

Sernovitz said the East Cobb community has experienced anti-Semitic vandalism over the years, but its important for residents to come together and say that these incidents are not OK. The Jewish community, like other marginalized groups, have learned over the years that when they are dehumanized it can lead to acts of violence against them. Its easier to kill you, he said. Refusing to speak out against hate allows that dehumanization to continue, the rabbi said.

Its not enough to have a token person in your life, he said. Once you get to know someone, its really hard to hate them. And in the broken world in which we live, we must all come together and see the humanity in one another.

Link:

Swastikas found spray-painted in East Cobb spur action from synagogue - Atlanta Journal Constitution

Kenosha rabbi on graffiti at her synagogue: it’s ‘not about us’ – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on August 31, 2020

In early June, as anti-racism protests swept the country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wisconsin, signed onto an interfaith letter supporting peaceful protest and condemning a broken societal system which disproportionately affects communities of color.

This week, Kenosha became an epicenter of renewed protest after a police officer shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. And on Wednesday night, the 93-year-old synagogues driveway wasgraffitiedwith the words Free Palestine.

Critics of the Black Lives Matter movement have cited similar vandalism as evidence that protests have devolved into rioting. But has the graffiti changed the synagogues support for the racial justice movement?

Absolutely not, said Rabbi Dena Feingold, who has led the Reform congregation for 35 years. Thats a trivial matter. Whats happened these last few days is not about us and whats happened to us. Its about the issues of systemic racism that plague our society. About police policy, about implicit bias, white privilege and those bigger issues is what this is about. It doesnt change anything at all.

Feingold said the protests have felt like theyre happening in the synagogues backyard. Beth Hillel Temple is in Kenoshas downtown, a block away from where two people were shot dead following protests on Tuesday, allegedly by a teenaged gunman from out of state who saw himself as having responsibility for protecting local buildings. It is also near two churches, at least one of which was also graffitied on Wednesday.

I wouldnt be looking for particular sympathy, Feingold said. All of our buildings have been tagged.

Feingold said the 125-member family congregation has a long history of standing for social justice. The oldest items in the synagogue archive, she said, are newspaper clippings about how the synagogue participated in National Brotherhood Week during the 1920s.

Earlier this year, the synagogue started a subcommittee on racial justice, and it has also been active on issues like immigration and voter rights. Its part of a larger faith-based community organizing group that addresses racial justice issues.

Soon after speaking with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Feingold headed to a meeting to discuss racial justice.

We can clean up graffiti, she said. Its not something that lasts, like the killing of a human being or paralyzing of someone, and people of color living in fear when they go about their daily lives.

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Kenosha rabbi on graffiti at her synagogue: it's 'not about us' - The Jewish News of Northern California

Today’s Gospel in Art – Jesus went into the Synagogue as He usually did – Independent Catholic News

Posted By on August 31, 2020

Sunday Church Goers in a Boat, by Carl Wilhelmson 1909 National Museum, Stockholm

Gospel of 31st August 2020 - Luke 4:16-30Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, 'This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.' And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips. They said, 'This is Joseph's son, surely?'

But he replied, 'No doubt you will quote me the saying, "Physician, heal yourself" and tell me, "We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside."'

And he went on, 'I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

'There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah's day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha's time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.'

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

Reflection on the PaintingToday's reading starts with the words 'Jesus went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as He usually did' just like we do on Sundays when we go to Church. Our painting by Carl Wilhelmson is set in his native Bohusln, Sweden. It shows a family (painted with great dignity), part of a the local fishing community, crossing the water to get to church, probably 'as they usually did' on a Sunday. The bright, vibrant colours and the attention to detail (see for example the reflections of the boat and textiles in the water) make for a beautiful painting.

Particularly the words in today's reading struck me: 'as Jesus usually did'. He was a man of habits and so today's reading invites us to participate in Jesus' habits. It is something we can easily participate in by simply emulating regularity in worship and prayer. If we emulate Jesus' habits, then we shall start to resemble Him and grow closer to Him. Christ is the person we should ultimately seek to emulate in all the things we do, think or say.

So what is a habit? The Oxford Dictionary defines a habit as follows: 'a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up'. Whilst we can learn a lot from what Jesus taught His disciples and us, we can learn even more from practising what He actually did and devote ourselves to emulate Jesus' habits...

LINKS

Today's story - https://christian.art/en/daily-gospel-reading/530

Christian Art - http://www.christian.art

Tags: Christian Art, Patrick van der Vorst, Carl Wilhelmson

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Today's Gospel in Art - Jesus went into the Synagogue as He usually did - Independent Catholic News

Seeing the Synagogue in 20/20 – Jewish Exponent

Posted By on August 31, 2020

By Rabbi Jason Bonder

For so many of us, the pace of our lives before 2020 was like a runaway train racing forward on a track with no end in sight. On the rare occasions when we had a moment to look out the window of our speeding locomotives, we would see blurry images of our world whizzing by.

Along came this global pandemic and, for many of us, our trains came to a screeching halt. Living in these times have been chaotic and unsettling at best and for some of us it has been a time filled with extreme pain and loss. Yet as we adjusted to our new normal, something amazing happened. We looked out the windows of our newly stagnant trains and saw the world in a new way. This year of 2020 is really living up to its name. What was once fuzzy at best, we are now seeing with 20/20 vision.

Among the many things caught up in the blur of our pre-2020 lives was the American synagogue. Over the past few decades, without a moment to slow down, the synagogue withdrew into the background of all the other places along our track where we momentarily slowed down to pick up passengers. I can imagine the conductor of our trains saying, This is the train to home, stopping at: religious school, soccer practice, dance lessons and the school play. The next stop is religious school. Please feel free to do your homework in the quiet car between stops. As passengers on our ride through life, all the stops have looked and felt similar for a very long time. The synagogue became yet another place where I got off my train, picked up a good or service, and got back aboard.

In this time of renewal and candidly, I do not mean the renewal of the Jewish calendar; I mean the renewal of synagogue membership and religious school tuition I hope that this newfound pace of life restores a 20/20 view of our religious communities. Houses of worship are not like other businesses. Every time I pay at my gym, cleaners or grocery store, and each time I order from Amazon or Audible, I immediately get something tangible in return. So its understandable that if I pay my dues to my synagogue and I get nothing back instantly, I may be inclined to think that its not worth it.

If youre thinking that way, its not your fault. Our trains have not only been traveling at blinding speed, but they have been traveling in a direction away from President John F. Kennedys era of Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. We have been moving away still from the era of the famous Israeli saying Livnot ulehibanot to build and be built. Our trains have been moving toward lives of increased isolation and instant gratification on a track that was built in our consumerist society.

Our pre-2020 pace precluded us from seeing the distinction between our synagogues and the rest of our stops along the track. If your train has come to a halt this year and you are in the process of reevaluating your habits, routines and memberships, please remember to take a look at your synagogue through this new, clear lens. The question when considering being a part of a synagogue is not, Does my synagogue provide a particular good or service from which I, or my family, immediately benefit? The question is, As a Jewish person, what are my obligations to my community and to the greater world?

Jason Bonder is the associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen.

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Seeing the Synagogue in 20/20 - Jewish Exponent

Crain’s editorial: More than a game – Crain’s Cleveland Business

Posted By on August 31, 2020

"We are not just a polarized society. We are increasingly a confrontational society."

That's how Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, described the state of the country to The Washington Post, and regardless of where you fit on the political spectrum, that feels accurate.

A summer that started with protests, riots and violence in the wake of the George Floyd killing is coming to an end with more unrest after police shot a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis. This time, the protests extended into the big-money world of professional sports, most prominently the NBA, which postponed playoff games as players staged wildcat strikes to call attention to racial injustices.

The country needs efforts to unite its citizens those who are lawfully and peacefully protesting and have deeply held concerns about social issues, and those who are rightly concerned about the looting and vandalism hurting our cities and curtailing economic opportunity. There doesn't have to be an unbridgeable chasm for people of good will.

One promising effort is coming from Cleveland, where the Cavaliers, Browns and Indians announced the formation of an alliance "to develop a sustainable and direct strategy to address social injustice facing the city of Cleveland and all Northeast Ohio communities." The focus will be on "improving the relationship between law enforcement and its citizens, encouraging nonpartisan voting activities and increasing the opportunities for quality education for everyone."

Each team's general manager and head coach will participate, and players will be invited to get involved "to coordinate activities that invoke a call to action and positive outcomes."

It's easy to critique athletes as "spoiled millionaires." But it was moving to listen to many Black players and former players last week as they described the pain they have felt, and continue to feel. It's on all of us to find ways to address social ills without violence. The teams deserve credit for trying.

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Crain's editorial: More than a game - Crain's Cleveland Business

Vigilante group activity on the rise, worrying law enforcement and watchdog groups – WDJT

Posted By on August 31, 2020

By David Shortell, Christina Carrega and Josh Campbell, CNN

(CNN) -- Kevin Mathewson founded his militia, the Kenosha Guard, in June, as massive demonstrations against police brutality grew across the country, bringing with them spurts of violence.

A former alderman who's raising two children in the lakeside Wisconsin city, Mathewson said in an interview that he wanted to "start a spark that let people know there are others out here that want to defend ourselves, our lives, our neighborhoods."

For weeks, the group's charge to defend the community reached only a few dozen followers online and mustered no real-world activity. Then on Sunday, a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times in the back and the epicenter of the summer's reckoning over racial injustice shifted to Mathewson's backyard.

Over two nights of protest and unrest, with chants of "Black Lives Matter" and buildings burned to the ground, the Kenosha Guard's online membership ballooned. On Tuesday, a renewed call to arms on Facebook from the group drew thousands of responses. Just before midnight, amid a jumble of protesters, law enforcement, armed citizens and citizen journalists out past a mandated curfew, a 17-year-old who'd been standing guard outside a car dealership shot and killed two men, seriously injuring a third. Kyle Rittenhouse, the alleged teenage gunman, now faces multiple counts of homicide. His attorney says it was in self-defense.

While there is no indication that Rittenhouse was a member of the Kenosha Guard (Facebook has said that it has no evidence he was connected to the group online), the bloody escalation follows a striking emergence of gun-toting amateur groups at protests nationwide.

Driven by a patchwork of ideologies and enflamed by the Trump administration's often misleading messaging on far-left agitators, analysts say, the groups are fueling concern among law enforcement and hate group watchers that they could be the cause of more violence. Legal experts are also warning that the militias, with their embrace of high-powered weapons and lack of police training, are on shaky constitutional ground.

"Law enforcement officers go through months of training in the use of force, de-escalation of force, defensive tactics, and the use of a firearm to defend themselves and the citizens they are sworn to protect," said Thomas O'Connor, a retired FBI special agent who spent much of his career investigating domestic terrorism. "A civilian with a firearm on the street during a volatile situation may have the legal right to have that weapon, but that does not always mean it is the wise decision."

Sometimes armed citizens at protests are welcomed by law enforcement, like at early protests in Kenosha where police were seen giving apparent militia members water and thanking them, but Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth has also said that the groups raise tensions.

"Part of the problem with this group is they create confrontation," Beth said at a news conference Wednesday after Rittenhouse's arrest. "If I put out my wife with an AR-15 or my brother with a shotgun or whatever it would be walking through the streets, you guys would wonder what the heck is going on. That doesn't help us."

Many established militias, or civilian forces, have long aligned with anti-government causes in pockets of the US and groups like the Oath Keepers first became an antagonizing presence at protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.

Since April, according to researchers who track hate groups, more decentralized and organic outgrowths of the movement have increased in visibility, first at "reopen" rallies that challenged coronavirus shutdowns, and later at the site of racial justice demonstrations, where they say their patrols meant to deter criminal behavior have led to varying degrees of confrontation.

One survey, by social justice think tanks Political Research Associates and the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, documented 187 appearances of paramilitary and other far-right actors at rallies nationwide from late May to early July.

Armed citizens have squared off with Black Lives Matter protesters in Salt Lake City and stood outside of looted stores in Minneapolis. Hundreds of militia members and far-right group members gathered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, propelled by a threat of flag burning that was likely a hoax.

In Albuquerque, violence erupted and one person was shot when protesters calling for the removal of a statue of a controversial conquistador squared off with members of the New Mexico Civil Guard, a militia. The militia group denied the gunman was a member of the organization, but local leaders roundly criticized the armed group for inflaming tensions that led to the shooting.

"It's the logical end of a years' long path that we've been on of normalizing the idea that vigilante justice is not just justifiable but is necessary," said Howard Graves, a senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which studies hate groups. "It's not an accident that this resulted in death -- that is what's going to happen based on what these groups envision themselves doing."

Shared among the variety of groups, which are mainly comprised of White men, is often a disdain for the Black Lives Matter movement and a misplaced emphasis on its ties to radical left-wing violence, though some have more explicit, extreme and at times racist ideologies, said Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism who monitors the groups' activity online.

Many are also inspired by disinformation they read online about violence and organized looting campaigns tied into the Black Lives Matter movement. President Donald Trump and the leaders of the Justice Department have regularly aggrandized the role of the anarchist group Antifa in the summer's unrest without providing much evidence.

"There's this disconnect between what is real on the ground and what people are reading on the internet, where everyone is sharing messages about George Soros paying for buses to go out into the towns and all these types of things that are totally not true," Friedfeld said, referring to the billionaire philanthropist at the center of many anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The Oath Keepers, which draws its members from the ranks of the military and law enforcement, and adherents to the Three Percenter militia movement organize to confront conspiracies about an overreaching federal government.

Members of the Boogaloo movement range in ideology from anarchists to White supremacists, but have proved to be some of the most violent extremists this summer. The FBI has arrested several this summer, including a pair charged in connection to the murder of a federal security guard at an Oakland, California, courthouse in May amid protests in the city. They have pleaded not guilty.

Mathewson, of the Kenosha guard, denied any ties to an ideological movement and said he's in favor of elements of police reform, like the installation of body cameras, which he advocated for in his time in city office. He said that a teenager like Rittenhouse who may not have been legally able to openly carry a rifle should not have come to Kenosha. Rittenhouse has been charged with illegal possession of a dangerous weapon while under the age of 18. He has not entered a plea to any charge against him.

"To me, I guess I hoped it would be common sense that I'm not looking for children to come out," Mathewson said.

Facebook later took down the Kenosha Guard's pages on the website and admitted that it should have been removed earlier under the company's policy on "dangerous groups." Mathewson told CNN he was disappointed in that decision.

While gun laws in 44 states make it legal to openly carry a long gun in public, armed citizens would generally not have a right to use deadly force while protecting someone else's business.

Their ability to band together as a militia and advocate for the use of force is also legally dubious, said Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department official who is now the legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Despite language about a "well-regulated Militia" in the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court has long said that the right to bear arms belongs to individuals alone, and does not prevent states from writing laws that bar the creation of citizen militias.

All 50 states now have similar laws or constitutional provisions that prohibit private military activity, according to McCord, and after the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, her Georgetown group won court orders that barred 23 individuals and organizations from returning to the city in groups of two or more with anything that could be used as a weapon at a rally.

In a letter sent Wednesday to law enforcement and political leaders in Kenosha, McCord pointed to provisions in Wisconsin law that "prohibit private paramilitary and unauthorized law enforcement activity" and offered to consult with them about "how to protect public safety while preserving constitutional rights during public protests and demonstrations."

"The Kenosha Guard were falsely assuming this function to protect property that they don't have," McCord said.

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Vigilante group activity on the rise, worrying law enforcement and watchdog groups - WDJT

Are my friends giving me bad advice about conversion? J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on August 31, 2020

Dear Dawn: My father is Jewish and my mother is not. I had no religious upbringing at all. Neither of my parents is interested in religion. However, as I get older, I am now in my 30s, I am more and more longing for a spiritual life. I am drawn to Judaism because of what little I know of it. I like the concept of questioning and challenging. I like the idea of a personal relationship with God that is not facilitated by Jesus or clergy. My problem is that a number of my Jewish friends tell me to just come to synagogue with them. They say I dont have to convert; I can just join in. But I know for a fact that not everyone accepts patrilineal Jews like me. I dont want to feel like an imposter or like I have to hide my identity. I am feeling really pressured by my friends. I know they mean well, but they wont tolerate me asking about conversion. It seems to trigger them. They tell me I can just stick to a Reform environment and avoid more traditional Jews who would question me. How can I get help approaching Judaism on my own terms? I need more information. Struggling To Find My Place

Dear Struggling: Your friends do indeed mean well, but unfortunately they are putting their own viewpoints ahead of yours. They are talking instead of listening.

I suspect that in addition to the attraction you feel for the methodology of Judaism, you are also drawn to aspects that are familial. Half your family is Jewish and thats not a nothing. Being heard out on all fronts is essential for you to clarify what you want and then be able to determine how to get it.

Your friends have a ticket for the Jewish train. They are saying, Come along. Well find a way to get you aboard. But you know that you dont have a ticket, and if anyone gets left behind, it wont be your friends.

Sadly, this self-absorbed viewpoint is not uncommon. So many people want the world to bend to their will and act as if they can make that happen.

As you have deduced, in a more traditional Jewish environment you will not be perceived as a Jew. Your friends are suggesting that you self-isolate from the traditional parts of Jewish community. So while they can pass freely through any synagogue or gathering no matter how Orthodox, you cannot.

They are failing to see that they are suggesting that you live a constrained life. Thats just wrong.

The question you have to answer is, What part of Judaism do I want? What will my observance be? What do I believe about Jewish laws and texts? Do I want to be shomer Shabbat? Keep kosher? Pray in Hebrew? Jews who meet you should be helping you to unravel these questions rather than deciding for you based on their own choices.

As you have found, some Jews cant tolerate the idea of conversion for patrilineal Jews. Often it is because they want to be welcoming. How ironic that their welcome is a refusal to listen to you or to honor your questions. What you are triggering in them is their own sense of who they are and how being Jewish should be expressed in their minds. Move on.

Dont rely on your friends for help; they cant give it.

You deserve to learn all you can about this critical life question you are asking yourself: Do I want to convert to Judaism? Lets start you off with a basic Judaism class. There are several online classes you can take. Classes are typically taught by a rabbi, so you will also gain access to a rabbi for additional questions.

Id like to have you speak to several rabbis and attend services (virtually) at several synagogues as you develop your Jewish proficiency. I can also put you in touch with other patrilineal Jews who have made this journey. Their experiences will give you a richer understanding of your choices.

Finally, this is a big decision. Embrace the process. Delight in the time you take for learning, getting to know new people and new ideas. Even if you decide to not participate in Jewish life, you will come away with valuable insights. One of the nice things about conversion is that study typically takes a year. You dont have to feel rushed. This is just the beginning.

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Are my friends giving me bad advice about conversion? J. - The Jewish News of Northern California


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