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Why this LGBT synagogue is moving beyond its 40-year mission –

Posted By on August 24, 2017

At Congregation Shaar Zahav in San Francisco, Rabbi Mychal Copeland leads Shabbat services with a rainbow tallit around her shoulders. The synagogue newsletter is called The Jewish Gaily Forward.

But the shul that has been known since its 1977 founding as San Franciscos gay synagogue is now reaching out to a broader community and de-emphasizing its identity as an LGBT-specific congregation.

That reflects the Reform congregations changing demographics as well as the evolution in attitudes toward LGBT people in the greater Jewish community, in which other local shuls now also welcome homosexual, bisexual and transgender congregants and clergy.

This year were marking 40 years, and thats a significant number in Judaism, said Michael Chertok, Shaar Zahavs president and a member since 1993. Its hard to say weve come into the Promised Land, but were really in a new place as far as LGBT rights in this country.

Shaar Zahav while retaining its queer values core is focusing on how to serve a congregation that is increasingly of mixed gender, including residents of the Castro who are not gay.

Arthur Slepian, who joined Shaar Zahav in 1989 and served as its president from 2003 to 2006, said hes proud of the synagogues leading role in the move to greater inclusiveness in the Jewish community and happy it can now broaden its appeal.

I think that there are always going to be people that feel a bit marginalized or not completely at home at other places, and I think Shaar Zahav is striving to always be the home for that part of the community, said Slepian, founder of A Wider Bridge, a S.F.-based nonprofit that supports Israels LGBT community. And I think its a great thing for the Jewish world that people who are not LGBT will walk through the doors of Shaar Zahav and celebrate its history.

The changes dont mean Shaar Zahav is ready to toss out its rainbow flags or stop participating in Pride week events. Occasions such as the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance will continue to be a congregational focus.

The stained glass on one side of Shaar Zahavs ark has the Hebrew inscription: Hinei mah tov umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad (How good and pleasant it is to sit together as brothers). On the other side of the ark, the inscription is the same except the word achot (sisters) replaces achim (brothers).

So much has changed in 40 years, especially in the Bay Area with regards to inclusion of LGBT people, said Copeland, whose tenure as Shaar Zehavs spiritual leader began July 1. At the same time, I see this as not necessarily a break in any way in what this community has been doing for so many years.

I want to be sitting with and praying with and learning with anyone who wishes to be in a Jewish space exploring life together.

Founded four decades ago as a home for gay and lesbian Jews, the synagogue was a leader in the 1980s in caring for those with AIDS and in recent years has openly welcomed people who are transgender.

Leaders of the 250-family congregation decided in 2012 to begin a strategic planning process to guide it forward in a Bay Area that had become younger, less religious and more diverse using surveys, town halls, discussion groups and brainstorming sessions.

In 2015, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund awarded Shaar Zahav a grant to further explore its evolving identity and the synagogue hired interim Rabbi Ted Riter, who specializes in transforming synagogues, to lead it through the process.

When we look back at our history, we recognize that our synagogue has committed to a multigenerational exploration of what it means to be queer, reads a case study of the changes. The Shaar Zahav that is emerging is nourished by our LGBT-specific roots, while also recognizing that what unifies us runs so much deeper than sexual orientation and gender identity.

Both Chertok and Copeland say queer values emphasize a refusal to conform and a questioning of authority, even while honoring tradition. Those values include support for refugees and reaching out to interfaith families.

Its hard to say weve come into the Promised Land, but were really in a new place as far as LGBT rights in this country.

Queer values overlap with some deep-seated Jewish values such as otherness, always looking out for whos not being treated well, whos being oppressed, Copeland said. Those values were imbedded in the founding of Shaar Zahav as a place where gay and lesbian Jews could come and pray at a time when that was very difficult.

The changes at Shaar Zahav epitomize an evolution taking place around the country.

For example, high-profile Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York City now identifies itself as an LGBTQS shul with the S standing for straight that serves Jews of all genders and sexual identifications, according to Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum. The synagogue was founded in 1973 as a home and haven for LGBTQ Jews, according to its website.

But Kleinbaum, who has served Beit Simchat Torah since 1992, said focusing on self-identification misses the point: Shaar Zahav doesnt have to worry about gay Jews flocking to other San Francisco shuls, she said. The big problem is that most LGBT Jews avoid synagogue altogether. So in struggling to create a spiritual home that is meaningful and appealing, Shaar Zahav is in the same boat as any other synagogue.

Our competition is not other synagogues that are opening to LGBT folks, Kleinbaum said, our real competition is the fact that most LGBT folks dont care about synagogues. So the issue is how were going to make ourselves relevant for the 90 to 95 percent of LGBT Jews who dont go to a synagogue.

Though there have been changes at Shaar Zahav such as the fact that all three new board members installed this July do not identify as LGBT that doesnt diminish the role the synagogue played in helping lead an evolution within the Jewish community.

Shaar Zahav was born out of a sense of necessity that there wasnt any other place LGBT people could go and feel included, Slepian said. But out of that necessity, something holy was created. Shaar Zahav and many other gay shuls really elevated the Jewish world by setting an example of what it meant to be inclusive.

I think [de-emphasizing its identity as an LGBT-specific congregation] is just whats needed today, and I think it is a sign of progress that there are many places that LGBT people can go in the Jewish world and feel welcomed and celebrated, he continued. I dont know many LGBT people in their 20s and 30s who feel compelled to be part of an all-LGBT community. We live in a very different world.

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Vandal Shatters Windows At Alameda Synagogue – CBS San Francisco Bay Area

Posted By on August 24, 2017

August 18, 2017 12:51 PM

ALAMEDA (CBS SF) Windows at an Alameda synagogue were shattered by a rock-throwing vandal who was recorded on security cameras, authorities said Friday.

Temple Israel officials said the damage to two classroom windows was discovered early Thursday morning. By Friday, work crews had boarded up the shattered windows, but congregation members were still stunned by the attack.

The congregation is wonderful, said Linda Chase-Stoud, Temple Israels administrator. They are very open and loving. I just dont know what type of a person would want to do this.

Congregational president Genevieve Pastor-Cohen has sent an email letter to members of the synagogue warning about the possibility of vandalism as a by-product of the kind of violence seen in Virginia last week.

During our Weds. Aug 16th Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the possibility of our synagogue being a target in our small town of Alameda especially with the ongoing expression of bigotry and anti-Semitism, the email read in part. It breaks my heart and soul to be exposed to this type of mindless and senseless action especially aimed at the community I (we) love.

There was no immediate cost estimate of what it will take to repair the damage.

The Alameda Police said they were not investigating the vandalism as a hate crime because there was no anti-semitic graffiti associated with it.

Investigators have taken into evidence one of the rocks used and have surveillance camera video of the vandal.

The congregation was set to hold a vigil Friday night at 7 p.m. at the synagogue. Several hundred people were expected to attend.

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Vandal Shatters Windows At Alameda Synagogue - CBS San Francisco Bay Area

Rabbi claims he was vilified for welcoming non-white members – New York Post

Posted By on August 24, 2017

A Westchester rabbi who sought to diversify his synagogue was panned by its racist board members for turning the congregation Spanish and Black, according to a federal discrimination complaint.

Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Vias, a Sephardic Jew who trained as an Orthodox rabbi, claims the board at Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers has a long history of discriminatory practices against non-Whites.

Vias explosive allegations are laid out in a complaint recently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Racist members employed subterfuge and sabotage against not only Rabbi Vias but new Latino and African American members, the complaint said. They have attacked any bi-racial or non-white member as not really Jewish.

Vias, who joined the synagogue in 2003, claims one board member, Helen Schwartz, commented, Wouldnt it be terrible if the darkies took over the synagogue? without realizing the rabbis Cuban background.

In 2011, Schwartz also allegedly complained to a director that Vias wasnt actually Jewish because of his Sephardic/Hispanic background.

Board members allegedly spread rumors that the rabbi was out to turn the congregation Spanish and even accused him in 2008 of stealing from the rabbis discretionary fund to change the congregation to Spanish members.

An investigation revealed that the funds were properly distributed, the complaint said. However, the very same false allegations arose again several months later, again with no finding of wrongdoing.

Vias accuses the board of doing nothing when a White congregation member with a Dominican spouse and biracial kids complained of racist treatment in 2010.

Specifically, board members raised her biracial background, claimed she didnt look Jewish and said the family was creating the wrong impression at the congregation, the complaint said.

The boards retaliation against Vias has included cutting his salary, docking his pay and manufacturing criticisms that he chased out more members than he brought in to the congregation.

He also claims the board forced him to sell his rabbi residence and charged with finding a buyer, promising a three-percent bonus that was never paid out.

Vias is seeking compensatory damages for the boards unlawful discrimination and retaliatory practices, which he claims caused him significant financial ramifications, humiliation, outrage and mental anguish.

A message left at Lincoln Park Jewish Center wasnt immediately returned.

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Rabbi claims he was vilified for welcoming non-white members - New York Post

Women rabbinical students asked to lift skirts, shirts at Western Wall – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Women blowing shofars at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Aug. 23, 2017. (Women of the Wall)

JERUSALEM (JTA) Four female students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including two Americans, were asked to lift their shirts and skirts for security before being allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza.

The women were among a group of 15 rabbinical, cantorial and Jewish education students from North America and Australia who joined about 200 men and women in an egalitarian service held Wednesday morning on the plaza behind the mens and womens sections.

The four said they were questioned, pulled aside into a private room and asked to lift their shirts and skirts. The Western Wall security did not say what they were looking for, according to the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform movement, or IRAC. Western Wall officials in the past have detained women and searched for Torah scrolls and other religious items they consider inappropriate for women to bring to the wall.

In January, Israels High Court of Justice ruled that women are not to be subjected to intense body searches when entering the Western Wall.

Thousands enter the plaza daily after walking through metal detectors.

There is no reason to do this to these four young women, Steven Beck of the IRAC told JTA. It is purely an intimidation tactic.

The egalitarian service took place following the monthly rosh chodesh service of the Women of the Wall group. About 100 women participated in the service for the first day of the month of Elul. The women were able to bring a Torah scroll into the womens section and read from it during the service, according to the group. Some 15 women sounded shofars at the end, as is traditionally done in the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.

The shofar blowing by Women of the Wall was not a call for repentance and awakening but a call for war among the Jews, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, told Haaretz.

The women generally have been barred from bringing Torah scrolls into the womens section by order of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the rabbi of the Western Wall. The group has held its monthly rosh chodesh prayer for the new Hebrew month in the womens section for more than 25 years.

Protesters disrupted the service about a half hour after it started; the group described them in a statement as ultra-Orthodox women and girls who arrived shouting, whistling, spitting and cursing incessantly. Security guards at the site did not act to prevent the disruptions despite requests to do so, according to the Women of the Wall.

Beck said protesters, primarily men, also disrupted the egalitarian service..

The IRAC said it will submit formal complaints about the body searches on the students.

This is a new low for the Rabbi of the Kotel trying to intimidate, humiliate, and exclude liberal women trying to pray at the Western Wall, Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious ActionCenter, said in a statement.

He added: The Government knows that the only way forward is to implement the Kotel compromise that we all agreed to.

The compromise refers to a government agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections; it would be run by a special committee with no input from the Chief Rabbinate.

In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 as a result of negotiations between the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.The suspension cameafter the governments haredi Orthodox coalition partners pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scrap the agreement. The government has said it plans to go forward with the expansion of the egalitarian section despite the freeze.

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Women rabbinical students asked to lift skirts, shirts at Western Wall - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Kevin Myers withdraws from Limerick talk about censorship – Irish Times

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Kevin Myers: dismissed from the Sunday Times last month. Photograph: Eric Luke

Former Sunday Times columnist Kevin Myers has withdrawn from moderating a talk on censorship in Limerick after his appearance in the line-up provoked a storm of vitriolic abuse.

Mr Myers, who was dismissed from the Sunday Times last month, was due to moderate a talk in Limerick city next month on the subject of censorship, which will be given by Jodie Ginsberg of the Index on Censorship.

Ms Ginsberg, who leads an organisation that publishes work by censored writers and campaigns for free expression worldwide, is the only female speaker in the series of talks organised by Limerick Civic Trust.

The Sunday Times issued an apology following the publication of an article on July 30th by Mr Myers, which contained opinions about why women were paid less than men and appeared to suggest that presenters Vanessa Feltz and Claudia Winkleman were well paid by the BBC because they were Jewish.

David OBrien, chief executive of the trust, told the Limerick Leader he had spoken at length to Mr Myers in recent days, and the latter felt it was best that he withdraw from the forum in the present circumstances.

He felt that his presence was going to take away from the event itself and become an alternative event, and that just wouldnt be right, said Mr OBrien.

Speaking to The Irish Times last week, Ms Ginsberg who is of Jewish heritage said she was happy for Mr Myers to moderate the talk.

I wouldnt be much of a free speech advocate if I refused to debate with someone whose views I disagree with, she said.

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Kevin Myers withdraws from Limerick talk about censorship - Irish Times

How Do Other Nations Memorialize Their Past Atrocities? – HuffPost

Posted By on August 24, 2017

The United States is once again grappling with what to do about public symbols of the Confederacy as they become rallying points for white supremacists.

The debate intensified this month after a woman was killed and dozens were injured in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white supremacist demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen.Robert E. Lee. City councils and universities have since moved to take downseveral controversial monuments, while demonstrators have toppled others.

Although the debate over Confederate statues is uniquely American, the broader question of how a nation should memorialize painful or divisive parts of its past is an issue that numerous countries still struggle to address. Some have chosen to outright remove monuments or notorious buildings, while others have recontextualized them or built new ones in their place. Whatever the outcome, the process is often contentious.

Most countries have been pretty reluctant or just dont know how to commemorate periods of shame or national crimes perpetrated in the national name. No country is very good at it, and we havent been very good at it, either, said James E. Young, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has consulted for governments on how to memorialize their pasts.

In Europe, many post-Soviet states have chosen to take down the statues of Josef Stalin and Vladimir Lenin that dotted their cities under communist rule. Ukraine, for instance, has removed over a thousandLenin statues following the ouster of its pro-Russia president in 2014.

But some former communist states have instead decided to move their Soviet-era monuments somewhere else or alter them to connote new meaning. Hungary keeps many of its communist-era statues in a memorial park, a move Taiwan also favoredfor statues of its former leader Chiang Kai-shek.

In other cases, citizens have taken it upon themselves to respond. In 1991, a young Czech artist in Prague painteda Soviet World War II-era tank monument entirely pink. The artist was arrested for vandalism, but members of Parliament repainted the tank to protest his detention.

In countries like Italy and Spain, where brick-and-mortar remnants of fascist rule are still standing, architectural works and even human remains have been a source of debate. Spanish Parliament passed a nonbindingvote in May urging the removal of former dictator Francisco Francos body from a public tomb something that has yet to occur.

France, meanwhile, bans any monument to its Nazi-collaborating Vichy government, and as of 2013,every street name featuring Vichy leader Philippe Ptain had been changed.

Nowhere in Europe, however, has had to confront its past crimes on the same scale as Germany. The countrys reckoning for World War II and the Holocaust has led to the preservation of some sites, such as Auschwitz, while most other symbols of Nazi rule were systematically destroyed or banned. It is currently illegal for Germans to display any symbols associated with Nazism or Adolf Hitler, with a few exceptions for artistic purposes. Holocaust denial, too, is a prosecutable offense.

Along with the removal of monuments to the Third Reich, Germany has also built memorials and museums that commemorate the victims of Nazism. Seeking to counteract the grandiose monuments the Nazis built, some of the memorials have taken on more experimental forms.

The city of Hamburg erected the Monument Against Fascism in 1986, consisting of a 39-foot pillar upon which citizens were invited to engrave their names in solidarity. When a portion of the pillar was filled up with signatures, that section was lowered into the ground, bringing an unmarked section down and starting the process again until eventually the whole pillar was completely gone. The work took seven years and ended with the erection of a plaque commemorating the monument that stated,In the end it is only we ourselves who can stand up against injustice.

Germany has also created federally funded projects to atone for its past. In the mid-1990s, the country held competitions to design a memorial for the 6 million Jewish people killed by the Nazis. It sparked a fierce debate as artists and politicians argued over how it was possible to properly memorialize the Holocaust.

One of the artist submissions for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe even proposed that Germany destroy Berlins famous Brandenburg Gate and sprinkle the dust over the monument site, then cover the area with granite plates. The concept aimed to memorialize the void left by the Holocaust with another absence.

The design ultimately chosen, created by architect Peter Eisenman, opened in 2005 and features thousands of concrete, tomb-like slabs rising from the ground on an uneven plane.

Meanwhile, across Canada, there are small monuments that focus on healing and understanding of Canadas Holocaust, whichripped 150,000 indigenous children from their families and placed them in residential schools under the guise of education.

The policy which the U.S. also pursued began in the 19th century and continued in some form until the last school was finally closed in 1996. The children died from malnutrition and other horrific conditions, and generations were traumatized by the institutions legacy of sexual and physical abuse.

Recent Canadian initiatives have focused less on building memorials and more on removing monuments or tributes to notorious or polarizing historic figures. In June, Prime Minister Justin Trudeaurenamed the Langevin Block, whichhouses his office. The buildings namesake was Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the architects of the residential school system. The city of Calgary also renamed the Langevin Bridge this year.

In Mexico, sites honoring controversial figures from the countrys past have also become targets for removal or public ire. In 1981, President Jos Lpez Portillo installed a statue of Spanish conquistador Hernn Corts, who carries a brutal colonial legacy, in Mexico City. It lasted a year before the subsequent presidential administration took it down.

A statue of Mexicos former dictator Porfirio Daz,unveiled in 2015, also drew protests, with demonstrators at the ceremony chanting that it would come down. It is still currently standing.

Mexico has also built monuments for its national tragedies. One such site is a memorial in Mexico City for the hundreds of student demonstrators killed by government forces during the Tlatelolco Massacre in 1968, when police and armed forces opened fire on the crowd.

Another, unofficial, monument stands on Mexico Citys Paseo de la Reforma to honor the 43 missing student activists who are presumed dead after they disappeared following an attack by police in 2014.

One of the closest and most recent analogues for the U.S. push to remove Confederate statues took place in South Africa,where a student movement rose up against memorials to historical figures who promoted forced racial segregation.

A groundswell of resistance to colonial and apartheid-era monuments began in 2015, when a student at the University of Cape Town flung a bucket of excrement on a prominent statue of Cecil John Rhodes, a 19th-century imperialist who paved the way for the countrys apartheid system.

South Africas student movement against Rhodes and other colonial figures grew in size and spread to other campuses. The demonstrations eventually prompted the university to remove the Rhodes statue and forced the government to propose a plan to createcommon parks that situated the statues in a context that discussed the countrys history.

South Africas Arts and Culture Department told HuffPost South Africa on Friday that it would comment in early September on that projects progress.

The different approaches to memorializing atrocities and painful national histories show that the U.S. could address its Confederate monuments in various ways. But its possible the country will remain stuck in this debate for some time.

So far, action on Confederate statues and other controversial memorials has been piecemeal and conducted mainly at the local level, given the huge obstacles to a systematic and coherent national process of dealing with them. President Donald Trump has repeatedly opposed the removal of statues and used the issue to rile up his base.

Trump has lamented thehistory and culture of our great country being ripped apart as Confederate statues come down. He reiterated his opposition to their removal during a campaign-style rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. Polls show that the public is also splitover what to do with the statues, with a majority wanting the figures to remain in place.

But the continuous rise and fall of memorials across the world also shows that regardless of their history, monuments are not as permanent as they may seem.

Monuments are never really perpetual or built for perpetuity, theyre built to last as long as the generation that built them, Young said.

They come into being as a cultural production, theyre received, their meanings change and when time is up, they go away, he added. Just like any other human production.

Andree Lau contributed to this report from HuffPost Canada, Marc Davies contributed from HuffPost South Africa, Alexandre Boudet contributed from Le Huffington Post, Sebastian Christ contributed from HuffPost Germany, Alejandro Angeles contributed from HuffPost Mexico.

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This Hasidic Picture Book Teaches Children About Sexual Abuse – Forward

Posted By on August 24, 2017

If you walk into Monseys Evergreen kosher supermarket, somewhere among the extensive schnitzel varieties and Shabbos candy treats, youll see a single childrens book for sale.

Zai Gezunt! is the Yiddish translation of Artscrolls Lets Stay Safe, written by Bracha Goetz and illustrated by Tova Leff, a picture book that talks about childrens safety of all kinds: crossing the road, fire emergencies, bicycle caution. But couched in between these subjects, one finds several pages devoted to the importance of personal space, of staying away from strangers, and of informing an adult when anyone a relative, a teacher, a stranger comes dangerously, inappropriately, close.

Published as a joint venture between Orthodox publishing giant Artscroll and the Karasick Child Safety Initiative of The Center for Jewish Family Life/Project YES, the book project was spearheaded by Monseys Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam.

Safety education is so important because abusers self-select, Horowitz says. Their nightmare is a kid who is educated about personal space. They look for the kids who dont know they groom victims. Once a child knows that no one is supposed to touch them, they react, they project it very quickly.

The original English version of the childrens book, first published in 2011, featured an ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian family a mother in a wig, a father in a white shirt and black pants, a suburban house that could easily be in Lakewood, New Jersey.

But the Yiddish version, released in 2013, not only translated the text the illustrations went through a rigorous translation, too. Here, the family is clearly Hasidic a mother in a headscarf in the home, a father in a black vest and exposed tzitzis, a Brooklyn brownstone, perhaps in Williamsburg.

Our goal as an organization was to take every barrier away from homes, Horowitz said. Modesty was really important here. If the imagery was not congruent to the communitys standards, it could be a barrier.

Goetz is a popular Orthodox childrens writer who had tried to find a publisher for the book for years, to no avail.

When I raised my children, I taught them about stranger danger, but I was unaware that most children are molested by people they know, she says. When my own family was effected by sexual abuse, one of my children begged me to use my childrens book writing abilities to write a book designed for Orthodox children, which could help prevent Orthodox children from being molestedbut no publisher was interested. When I sent my manuscript to Rabbi Horowitz, he was very interested in helping to get it publishedI wrote the book in a sensitive and careful way, so that it would be able to be helpful in every Orthodox home.

The English book, Horowitz estimates, has hit half of English-speaking Orthodox homes, and Horowitz is now working hard to distribute the Yiddish book throughout the Hasidic world, too. 60,000 copies have been sold or distributed. The book is sold in Monsey groceries at a discounted price; in Baltimore, the book is given for free to all parents who sign a pledge to read it with their children, and already 1,500 have been distributed throughout the ultra-Orthodox community there. New distribution projects, working with local donors, are being introduced throughout Brooklyns Hasidic community now. Horowitz has led awareness workshops for parents in the Skver Hasidic enclave of New Square, NY; in Monroe, New York, Satmar Hasidic schools have already bought 2,000 copies and distributed them to families for free.

And its working. In one yeshiva day school on the West coast, Lets Stay Safe was read to the students, and two six-year old girls came forward saying their rebbe touched them on multiple occasions. The teacher was swiftly dismissed and charged on child molestation. Horowitz says his organization is inundated with letters from parents and occasionally children who have prevented abuse, or who have shed light on previous experiences and sought help because they read the book.

Research shows that with just one conversation, with a little follow-up, a kid is five to six times more likely to defend himself, Horowitz says. We worked with psychologists and rabbis on this, Dr. David Pelcovitz and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky. We wanted the parents to be able to sit on the couch and read it to their children while they were relaxed and comfortable, so that the conversation is not anxiety-inducing.

Notably, the book includes illustrations of women, both mothers and daughters something which has become a rarity in childrens books marketed to the ultra-Orthodox.

When I mention this to Horowitz, he laughs, as if he was waiting for me to point this out. We had discussions with Hasidic community leaders about the womens images, and I said, this has got to be there, because it has to be real, and real life has mothers and daughters. Its pikuach nefesh [an issue of self-preservation]Everything is negotiable, but this. Its untenable to produce something that the children dont have in their real lives. And the rabbis nodded immediately.

I try to be an agent for change, he tells me. I am a little provocative, but I dont throw stones, I dont do it in a way thats confrontational, I sit down with the rabbinic leaders.

Watch Horowitzs instruction video for Orthodox parents about how to talk to children about abuse prevention here:

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This Hasidic Picture Book Teaches Children About Sexual Abuse - Forward

Judaism: Ashkenazim – Jewish Virtual Library

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Ashkenaz (Heb. ) refers to a people and a country bordering on Armenia and the upper Euphrates; listed in Genesis 10:3 and I Chronicles 1:6 among the descendants of Gomer. The name Ashkenaz also occurs once in Jeremiah 51:27 in a passage calling upon the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz to rise and destroy Babylon. Scholars have identified the Ashkenaz as the people called Ashkuza (Ashguza, Ishguza) in Akkadian. According to Assyrian royal inscriptions the Ashkuza fought the Assyrians in the reign of Esharhaddon (680669 B.C.E.) as allies of the Minni (Manneans). Since the Ashkuza are mentioned in conjunction with the Gimirrai-Cimmerians and the Ashkenaz with Gomer in Genesis, it is reasonable to infer that Ashkenaz is a dialectal form of Akkadian Ashkuza, identical with a group of Iranian-speaking people organized in confederations of tribes called Saka in Old Persian, whom Greek writers (e.g., Herodotus 1:103) called Scythians. They ranged from southern Russia through the Caucasus and into the Near East. Some scholars, however, have argued against this identification on philological grounds because of the presence of the "n" in the word Ashkenaz. In medieval rabbinical literature the name was used for Germany.

The name Ashkenaz was applied in the Middle Ages to Jews living along the Rhine River in northern France and western Germany. The center of Ashkenazi Jews later spread to Poland-Lithuania and now there are Ashkenazi settlements all over the world. The term "Ashkenaz" became identified primarily with German customs and descendants of German Jews.

In the 10th and 11th century, the first Ashkenazim, Jewish merchants in France and Germany, were economic pioneers, treated well because of their trading connections with the Mediterranean and the East. Jewish communities appeared in many urban centers. Early Ashkenaz communities were small and homogeneous. Until Christian guilds were formed, Jews were craftsmen and artisans. In France, many Jews owned vineyards and made wine. They carried arms and knew how to use them in self-defense. The Jews of each town constituted an independent, self-governing entity. Each community, or kahal, established its own regulations made up by an elected board and judicial courts. They enforced their rulings with the threat of excommunication. The Ashkenazim generally shied away from outside influences and concentrated on internal Jewish sources, ideas and customs.

Ashkenazim focused on biblical and Talmudic studies. Centers of rabbinic scholarship appeared in the tenth century in Mainz and Worms in the Rhineland and in Troyes and Sens in France. Ashkenazi scholarship centered around oral discussion. Sages focused on understanding the minutiae of the texts instead of extracting general principles. The most famous early teacher was Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz. Some of his decrees, such as that forbidding polygamy, are still in existence today. The first major Ashkenazi literary figure was Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, 1040-1105), whose commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are today considered fundamental to Jewish study. The tosafists, Ashkenazi Talmudic scholars in northern France and Germany, introduced new methods and insights into Talmudic study that are also still in use. Early Ashkenazi Jews composed religious poetry modeled after the fifth and sixth century piyyutim (liturgical poems). While prayer liturgy varied even among Ashkenazi countries, the differences were almost insignificant compared to the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi liturgy.

While Ashkenazi Jews occasionally experience anti-Semitism, mob violence first erupted against them an the end of the 11th century. Many Jews were killed in what Robert Seltzer calls a "supercharged religious atmosphere." Many were willing to die as martyrs rather than convert.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, many Ashkenazi Jews became moneylenders. They were supported by the secular rulers who benefited from taxes imposed on the Jews. The rulers did not totally protect them, however, and blood libels cropped up accompanied by violence. In 1182, Jews were expelled from France. Ashkenazi Jews continued to build communities in Germany until they faced riots and massacres in the 1200s and 1300s. Some Jews moved to Sephardi Spain while others set up Ashkenazi communities in Poland.

The center of Ashkenazi Jewry shifted to Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and Moravia in the beginning of the 16th century. Jews were for the first time concentrated in Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe. Polish Jews adopted the Ashkenazi rites, liturgy, and religious customs of the German Jews. The Ashkenazi mahzor (holiday prayer book) included prayers composed by poets of Germany and Northern France. In Poland, the Jews became fiscal agents, tax collectors, estate managers for noblemen, merchants and craftsmen. In the 1500-1600s, Polish Jewry grew to be the largest Jewish community in the diaspora. Many Jews lived in shtetls, small towns where the majority of the inhabitants were Jewish. They set up kehillot like those in the Middle Ages that elected a board of trustees to collect taxes, set up education systems and deal with other necessities of Jewish life. The Jews even had their own craft guilds. Each kahal had a yeshiva, where boys over the age of 13 learned Talmudic and rabbinic texts. Yiddish was the language of oral translation and of discussion of Torah and Talmud. Ashkenazi scholars focused on careful readings of the text and also on summarizing legal interpretations of former Ashkenazi and Sephardi scholars of Jewish law.

Ashkenazim focused on Hebrew, Torah and especially Talmud. They used religion to protect themselves from outside influences. The Jews at this time were largely middle class. By choice, they mostly lived in self-contained communities surrounding their synagogue and other communal institutions. Yiddish was the common language of Ashkenazi Jews in eastern and central Europe. With the start of the Renaissance and religious wars in the late 16th century, a divide grew between central and eastern European Jews. In central Europe, particularly in Germany, rulers forced the Jews to live apart from the rest of society in ghettos with between 100 and 500 inhabitants. The ghettos were generally clean and in good condition. Eastern European Jews lived in the shtetls, where Jews and gentiles lived side by side.

In the 1600s and 1700s, Jews in Poland, the center of Ashkenazi Jewry, faced blood libels and riots. The growth of Hasidism in Poland drew many Jews away from typical Ashkenazi practice. After the Chmielnicki massacres in Poland in 1648, Polish Jews spread through Western Europe, some even crossing the Atlantic. Many Ashkenazi Polish Jews fled to Amsterdam and joined previously existing communities of German Jews. Sephardim there considered the Ashkenazim to be socially and culturally inferior. While the Sephardim were generally wealthy, the Ashkenazim were poor peddlers, petty traders, artisans, diamond polishers, jewelry workers and silversmiths. As the Sephardim became poorer in the 18th century, the communities became more equal and more united.

The Jewish community in England also changed in the 1700s. It had been primarily Sephardi throughout the 1600s, but it became more Ashkenazi in culture as growing numbers of German and Polish Jews arrived.

By 1750, out of 2,500 Jews in the American Colonies, the majority was Ashkenazi. They were Yiddish-speaking Jews from Holland, Germany, Poland and England. The first Jews were merchants and traders. Since then, Ashkenazi Jews have built up communities throughout the United States.

By the end of the 19th century, as a result of Russian persecution, there was massive Ashkenazi emigration from Eastern Europe to other areas of Europe, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Israel. Ashkenazim outnumbered Sephardim everywhere except North Africa, Italy, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Before World War II, Ashkenazim comprised 90% of world Jewry.

The destruction of European Jewry in World War II reduced the number of Ashkenazim and, to some extent, their numeric superiority over Sephardim. The United States became the main center for Ashkenazi Jews.

Over time Ashkenazim and Sephardim developed different prayer liturgies, Torah services, Hebrew pronunciation and ways of life. Originally, most Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish. Ashkenazi and Sephardi tunes for both prayers and Torah reading are different. An Ashkenazi Torah lies flat while being read, while a Sephardi Torah stands up. Ashkenazi scribes developed a distinctive script. One major difference is in the source used for deciding Jewish law. Sephardim follow Rabbi Joseph Caros Shulhan Arukh. The Ashkenazim go by Rabbi Moses Isserles, who wrote a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh citing Ashkenazi practice. There are differences in many aspects of Jewish law, from which laws women are exempt from to what food one is allowed to eat on Passover. Today, many of the distinctions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have disappeared. In both Israel and the United States today, Ashkenazim and Sephardim live side by side, though they generally have separate institutions.

In Israel, political tensions continue to exist because of feelings on the part of many Sephardim that they have been discriminated against and still dont get the respect they deserve. Historically, the political elite of the nation have been Ashkenazim; however, this is gradually changing. Shas, a religious Sephardi party, has become one of the most powerful in the country and individual Sephardi politicians now hold powerful positions. Moroccan-born David Levy, for example, has served as foreign minister and, in July 2000, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav was elected president.

An international team of scientists announced on September 9 2014 that they had come to the conclusion that all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from an original group of about 350 individuals who lived between 600 and 800 years ago. These people were of Middle-Eastern and European descent. The analysis was done by comparing the DNA data of 128 Ashkenazi Jews with the DNA of a reference group of 26 Flemmish people from Belgium, and then working out which genetic markers are unique to people of Ashkenazi descent. The similarities in the Ashkenazi genomes allowed the scientists to identify a base point from which all Ashkenazi Jews descend. According to the scientists, this effectively makes all modern Ashkenazi Jews 30th cousins, stemming from the same population almost 800 years ago. This discovery may help medical professionals treat genetic diseases, because diseases like Tay Sachs and certain types of cancers are more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. In order to treat these diseases doctors will now have a better idea of where to sequence an individuals genome to test for disease succeptability. This discovery also effectively disproves the idea that Ashkenazi Jews were descended from Khazars who converted to Judaism during the 8th or 9th centuries C.E.

E.A. Speiser, Genesis (Eng., 1964), 66; U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 (1964), 192; EM, 1 (1965), 7623 (incl. bibl.). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Holladay, Jeremiah, 2 (1989), 427; P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander (2002), 39.

Sources: Yehoshua M. Grintz, Ashkenaz, Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. Butnick, Stephanie. Study Says All Ashkenazi Jews Are 30th Cousins, Tablet Magazine. September 10, 2014. Ausubel, Nathan. Pictorial History of the Jewish People. New York: Crown Publishers, 1953. Dimont, Max. Jews, God and History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962. Seltzer, Robert. Jewish People, Jewish Thought. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980.

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Not Goodbye, Baku – HuffPost

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Apparently, one is never too old to fall in love again, and I fell in love with Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Actually, with the country of Azerbaijan.

You can walk the city of Baku for hours and not be bored. Every hundred steps you discover a building that stops you from walking. There is the old city protected by UNESCO, over eight hundred years old, then as you walk farther, you encounter buildings that remind you of Venice or Italy. Walk more, and you are in Paris, and a few yards later on, modern buildings that take your breath away. Zaha Hadid, the world-renowned architect, has her most celebrated creation here.

And every few hundred meters, there is a little park with benches and every few miles a big park where you can walk in the middle of the night and not worry. Even if you are a woman. The country has a crime rate of almost zero.

The city is immaculately clean. I have not seen a single piece of paper on the streets of Baku, and I have been looking for it.

The city has many restaurants, and every ethnic group is represented. But I loved most the local cuisine. The first thing they serve you as you sit down is not bread as customary all over the world. They put a big plate of uncut vegetables in front of you. Whole tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and green onions.

Then the feast starts. Small dishes with small portions: a chicken wing, then some grilled fish, then some kebab. You are not eating much. You are tasting a lot. For dessert, Turkish delights, which are sweet pastries.

But it is not just the architecture and the food that I fell in love with. It is the people. I have never been to a more smiling, friendly country in my life, and I have been to many (58 to be exact).

The people here go out of their way to accommodate you, to make you welcome. They take being hosts very seriously. The waiters here literally run to perform their task, not just casually walk.

The Azerbaijani people are just a friendly bunch. That is all I can say. They are very tolerant of others. It is a Muslim country, some are Shias and some are Sunnis, but there has never been an aggression or rejection of each other or other ethnic or religious groups except with the Armenians with whom they have a territorial dispute and with the Russians during the battle for their independence. And never, ever a persecution of the Jews.

I came across a Jewish community here that is over two thousand years old. These are the descendants of the Jews exiled by the Babylonians. They are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic. These are the descendants of the people who made the famous wove, If I forget you, Jerusalem, may I lose my right hand. Verdi had an opera with a very stirring chorus about them. They are the original Jews from king Solomons time.

I came across a community of Muslims that do not work on Saturday. They must have been the followers of Shabetay Tzvi, the false messiah, who converted to the Muslim religion to avoid being executed and all his followers did the same but continued practicing Jewish customs in hiding.

And then there are the Khasars. In the history books of the Jewish people, I learned that along the Caspian Sea there was a kingdom that converted to Judaism. The only one ever to do so. Who are they? Where are they now?

Well, Khazaria was where Azerbaijan is now.

In Cabala, the old capital of the Caucasian Albanian empire that competed with the Khazar empire, I found in their museum a grave with a star of David on it. So they did exist. The guide in the museum called them the fake Jews.

There is a theory, not proved, that when the Khazars, whose empire spread from the Caucasian mountains to the Black Sea and to Kiev, today Ukraine in the north, when they were forced to convert to the Muslim religion, some of them refused and remained Jewish. They are the Ashkenazi Jews of today or at least some of them.

There are no Khazars today; no one identifies himself as Khazar. The Azeris of today are a mixture of many ethnic groups that passed through or lived in this region. There are about thirty million Azeris that speak the language. About ten million reside in todays Azerbaijan. The rest are in Iran where, for generations, they were the Shahs. Persian rugs that are so famous come from the region in Iran where the majority of the population is Azeri.

I was in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, in July and August. I feared the heat. Israel is unlivable during these months. Over 100 Fahrenheit. Europe is not better. Not to mention Gulf states. So I dreaded the time I would be in Baku.

Wrong. It was pleasant. Practically a warm spring.

Because of the wind. A wind that almost blew me away. Baku is called the wind city where the wind blows hard all the time. So the heat is not felt.

Gabala, an hour flight from Baku, the tourist mecca, is heaven on earth during the summer, with clear air and mild, pleasant weather. (It is surrounded by very high mountains covered with forests.) In the winter, it is a ski destination.

The hotels are overbooked by tourists from Abu Dahbi, Qatar, and Dubai, which are unbearably hot during the summer.

I watched the touring Arab women in those long, black dresses, with faces covered and only with a small opening for the eyes. To eat, they need to lift the veil a little bit, put the food in the mouth and lower the veil back. Like they do not exist. Totally covered and silent.

During breakfast, you could witness the clash of civilizations. . The women from the Gulf States, silent, dressed in black dresses, totally covering every inch of their bodies, served by Azeri women, modern, dressed attractively in Western clothes. Alive. Both are Muslim. Both follow the religion, but behavior wise, they are different.

What enchanted me THE MOST, beyond food, architecture, history, or the weather were the Azerbaijani women. I rediscovered femininity.

The young girls here have a pure, shy smile I see rarely in the modern world of the West or the East. Pure innocence. It is not an inviting smile. I can only describe it as a smile of a four-year-old beautiful girl. None of the subtle, angry, aggressive attitude one gets from some modern women. None of the defensiveness. None of the argumentative attitude. They are not afraid of having eye contact, of wide-open smiles that bring sunshine to your heart. I fell in love in elevators as these beautiful, high-cheeked, exotic, loving creatures smiled at me.

Is all in Azerbaijan heavenly? No. The disparity in income is severe. A guard in front of an apartment building earns 6 to 7 dollars a day max. Secretaries 200 to 300 dollars a month. So how do they survive? Everyone needs to be paid tips. This includes government officials. That is called corruption, which is rampant.

Career opportunities are rare, and anyone that can leave the country leaves.

My future involvement with the country will, I hope, address these issues.

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Not Goodbye, Baku - HuffPost

Modern meets traditional at Steingold’s, new Jewish deli in North Center – Chicago Tribune

Posted By on August 24, 2017

Chicago has one of the largest Jewish populations in the United States, and while there are select delis that have thrived here, the deli is not nearly as prevalent as it is in New York City, where bagels and pastrami on rye are as symbolic of the city as the Statue of Liberty.

With their new BYOB restaurant, Steingolds (1840 W. Irving Park Road), opening in North Center at the end of the month, Aaron Steingold (Table 52, Farmhouse Tavern) and his wife Elizabeth Abowd are seeking to both boost the relevance of New York City-style Jewish delis in Chicago and reinvent the deli with modern twists.

The first step in that reinvention is combining traditional Middle Eastern dishes with traditional deli fare. Abowd, who is Lebanese, was the inspiration for the merging of the cuisinesand because of the close proximity of Lebanon and Israel and the similarity between the countries foods, the menu additions make sense. Steingolds maternal side being Greek played a role in the merge as well.

Steingold believes that the inclusion of Middle Eastern foods will increase interest in the deli in Chicago.

We live in a neighborhood with a lot of great Middle Eastern food and we eat it often. Though we are firmly rooted in traditional Jewish deli cuisine, the highlights and influence of (Lebanon) are going to come out, he said.

Lamb and chicken shawarma, a Middle Eastern dish typically served rolled in pita, will be a weekly special at Steingolds. The pita itself will be homemade at the deli.

Labneh, a Lebanese cheese resembling Greek yogurt, will be served on latkes, which will be made with other root vegetables like parsnips, in addition to potatoes. The deli will also serve labneh in lieu of sour cream with its caviar service, one of the aspects Steingold is most excited foran interest which stems not only from his personal taste for it, but also from his Eastern European Ashkenazi roots.

Caviar is such a specialty item, and Ive been a huge fan for a long time, Steingold said. There arent a lot of places in Chicago to eat it. Its a very special occasion (when you get to eat it.) My heritage is Eastern Europeanmy fathers side is from Poland, Lithuania and Bulgaria. We are going to be offering the type of caviar that you cant just purchase at Whole Foods.

Caviar served on blinis, a common food eaten during holidays in Russia and surrounding countries, was popularized in the United States by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Steingolds stock will come from Rare Tea Cellara wholesale company in Chicago selling rare food and drink items. In addition to caviar, Steingolds will also sell Rare Tea Cellars tea and spices.

Rare Tea Cellars isnt the only collaboration Steingolds will have in Chicago. The deli will work with Paulina Meat Market to offer an affordable lunch option, the Urban Achievera wink at one of Steingolds favorite films, The Big Lebowski. The special will include your choice of either a beef hot dog or a traditional wiener on a challah bun with caramelized onions, peppers and mustard. The $6 special also comes with a side of schmaltz potato chips and a Dr. Browns soda.

Steingold is heavily invested in the concept of approachability at his deli, both in price points and atmosphere. The restaurant will be counter service, but with attentive staff walking the floor ready to refill your glass, grab you a coffee or clear your tray. The presentation of the food itself is also an important aspect of service.

Ive worked in several casual dining restaurants and at almost all of them, I tried to bring a lot of elements of high-end, fine diningthe service techniques and models, while still being casual, Steingold said. When you eat here you will get a beautiful tray with your food and deli paper. Just little touches. Very casual counter service with touches of luxury is my goal here.

Steingold wants to reach both the customers coming in for a sit-down meal and a chat, and the commuters rushing to grab lunch on the way to the trainbeing only steps away from the Brown Line, he thought a lot about how to please them.

Of course, when youre not in a rush, Steingold wholeheartedly welcomes you to make his deli your own. He even wants to be present at your holidays and family meals. Besides looking to cater Seders (Passover feasts), weddings and bat and bar mitzvahs, Steingolds will offer a Thanksgiving package, which you can pick up the morning of the holiday. It includes a turkey and sideswith all the hard work done for you so you can enjoy a delicious meal without fret.

Though Thanksgiving isnt inherently religious, some may find it interesting that a Jewish deli would offer a special for the holiday. One look at the menu, however, shows that Steingolds is all about reaching every customer, Jewish or not. An embracement of the long-time stereotype of Jewish people loving Chinese food, particularly on Christian holidays when most other restaurants are shut down, is something Steingold plans to poke fun at around Christmastime.

Theres always some truth in stereotypes, he said. At Christmastime we are going to do a Peking duck special. I think its better to have fun with stereotypes; its easier to embrace the less negative ones than it is to fight them.

The Uncle Paul, Steingolds version of a BLT, may also cause some head scratching. Steingold hadnt planned on offering pork on the menu until he visited a deli in Brooklyn that did so.

If a Jewish deli in Brooklyn can have pork on the menu, surely in Chicago I can get away with it, Steingold said of the controversial menu item. The Uncle Paul is named after my Uncle and my brother-in-law, who is also named Paul. I think a lot of Jewish families have a Christian uncle that married into the family, so thats where we are offering bacon.

Family plays a big part in the rest of the menu items as well. Perhaps the most inventive sandwich is the Sister In Law.

My sister-in-law is Korean, and shes an amazing cook. Im pretty competitive when it comes to cooking, and she blew me out of the water, he said. (The sandwich) is kind of a play on the Reuben, but using kimchi as the sauerkraut and were also using a hot Chinese mustard. I think people are going to be pretty excited about it.

Besides their names, Steingold will borrow a few other things from his family. The matzo ball soup is his great-grandmothers recipe, and the brisket, which uses cola spices, is a tribute to his grandmother, who cooked her brisket in Pepsi. His fathers nannys fried chicken is also on the menu and speaks to Steingolds southern upbringing.

Growing up Jewish in Greensboro, North Carolina was a unique experience. Being Jewish in the South is a huge part of the menu, he said.

For many of us who grew up eating matzo ball soup and our mothers perfected brisket recipe, Steingolds serves as a focal point for both nostalgia and ideals of the American Jewish community. But with modern menu additions and global influence, Steingolds refuses to be put in a corner.

We want to appeal to everyone, Steingold said. We want to appeal to the grandmother that goes to temple every Friday night and the guy that comes to pick a bong up at the head shop next door. If you can get you what you want and get it fast, or be able to order a bottle of champagne and caviar and sit here for five hours, I love that as well. I hope people do both.

Steingolds is set to open Aug. 29.

@AudreyGorden |

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Modern meets traditional at Steingold's, new Jewish deli in North Center - Chicago Tribune

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