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Monday, May 29, 2006

Deafening Silence

Heard about Daniel Wultz? Few have.


It is a perverse human quality, but we are drawn to news stories about human tragedies. Some characteristics of such stories intensify the level of our interest: descriptions or pictures of gore or disfigurement; pictures of grieving loved ones; and some form of personal connection - no matter how indirect - to those at the center of the tragedies. The adage, "if it bleeds it leads," condenses this notion to a pithy directive. Yet the American media has failed to cover a story containing every item on the sure-to-interest newsreaders' checklist. I invite you to ponder why that is.

An Arab Palestinian homicide bomber detonated himself at a falafel stand in Israel on April 17th, during Passover. The murderer killed eleven innocent people and wounded dozens.

A broad range of news sources including USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC, CNN, and the Philadelphia Inquirer included personal background information about the bomber. We learned that he was an al-Quds University drop-out, and, incredibly, that he had been a social worker. In his going-away video, the murderer claimed he sought martyrdom on behalf of imprisoned Arab Palestinians.

Satisfying its compulsion to draw parallels between Israeli and Arab Palestinian suffering, at least one newspaper - the Philadelphia Inquirer - placed on page 1 of its April 18th edition a photograph of an unnamed Israeli grieving over the body of an Israeli victim. Placed directly below that is a photograph of the murderer's mother wistfully holding two photographs - in one he is holding a rifle - of her now-dead son.

Juxtaposing these photographs suggests that there are victims on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East: Arab mothers grieve for their dead sons and young Israeli men grieve for dead Israelis.

I find this moral equivalence repulsive.

But let's take one more step.

If bleeders are leaders, and some kind of personal connection with the bleeders increase consumers' interest in a news story, then there is a follow up story from the April 17th bombing that should have been all over the American media.

Daniel Wultz is a 16 year old Florida teen who accompanied his father to Israel to visit relatives during Passover. On April 17th, Daniel and his father were eating in one of the few kosher Shawarma restaurants in Tel Aviv. Daniel was almost killed by the homicide bombing. In a coma for three weeks, Daniel's spleen and one of his kidneys had to be removed. Then, this basketball-loving teenager had to have one leg amputated at the knee. Finally, after almost a month of valiant fighting, Daniel succumbed; he died on Mothers' Day.

An American teenager, a healthy athletic boy from sunny Florida was transformed in a split second into a shattered vessel, a soul hovering between life and death. More and more parts of his body, instead of providing him with mobility and life support, turned against him, and were pared away in a futile effort to save his life.

Islamic Jihad claimed credit for the April 17th bombing. One of the terror group's leaders immediately expressed sorrow that Daniel had not been killed, according to WorldNetDaily, one of the few media sources to cover the story.

Another Arab terrorist group seeking to share credit for the bombing extolled the double treat of having murdered an American and a Zionist. Islamic Jihad threatened Americans and Jews everywhere, saying they are all legitimate targets.

What American could hear this story, and not become riveted, eager for updates, eager to cheer his progress, or despair any further impediments? But other than the Florida newspapers, such as the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, and an AP story picked up by the Los Angeles Times (but by none of AP's other major subscribers), the rest of the mainstream American media ignored Daniel's struggle to live.

How can it be that an American Jewish teenager whose survival of a terrorist bombing had been called a miracle was something most American media sources considered inconsequential? Why was his story not newsworthy - because Daniel Wultz was a teenager, an American, an amputee, or because he was a Jewish Zionist? Or was it because the media thinks we are only interested in the personal lives of homicide bombers and their families? And whose fault is that?

Lori Lowenthal Marcus



© 2005. Permission is hereby granted to redistribute this issue of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice or (unless specified otherwise) any of the articles therein in their full original form provided these same rights are conveyed to the reader and subscription information to The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is provided. Subscribers should be directed to http://www.pjvoice.com/Subscribe.htm.

Another Revealing Chabad Interview With Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar

These guys also tend to have translations, but I don’t see one for this article in Shturem. Like the last interview, it’s eye-opening not only for what it reveals about Amar’s relationship with Chabad, but what it shows about Amar’s view of the rest of the world’s Orthodox rabbis and his relationship with them.
If you’re interested in this conversions issue, this is a must-read. Note in particular two quotes from Amar, the second in the article where he asserts he’s engaging in “ordination” (yusm’chu) of Diaspora rabbis with his testing (!), and his applying carte blanche to the entirety of the territory under Rabbi Berel Lazar’s control.

“The Rabbinate Recognizes Conversions from the FSU”
The Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Rishon L’Tziyon and President of Heads of Batei Din Rabbi Shlomo Amar shlit'’a, clarified last night to Rav Pinchas Altheus, representative of FSU [Chabad] rabbis to Israel, “Everything I’m saying regarding conversions by Diaspora rabbis, I’m not saying about the beit din of Russia, which is under the jurisdiction of Rabbi Berel Lazar.” Rabbi Altheus met last night with the Chief Rabbi and heard from him words of praise about the work of FSU [Chabad] rabbis.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel this week established that conversions and gittin executed by most Orthodox Diapora rabbis won’t be recognized as kosher. “We don’t recognize these conversions and gittin until these rabbis are ordained by us,” he said in an announcement distributed by the Rabbinate.
Jews converted by an Orthodox process in the Diaspora will have to undergo another conversion in Israel for stringency’s sake, in order to be recognized by Rabbinate batei din as Jews. Also, women who received a get in the Diaspora and want to get married in Israel will need to return and request a get, if her get was issued by rabbis not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.
Last night, the representative of FSU [Chabad] rabbis to Israel, Rabbi Pinchas Altheus, met with Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rishon L’Tziyon and President of the Heads of Batei Din in Israel, the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Amar, shlit'’a.
During the meeting, Rabbi Altheus discussed the issue of conversions with Rabbi Amar, and about this that the Chief Rabbinate of Israel announced that it will require an additional conversion for stringency’s sake from all who complete conversions done by Diaspora rabbis.
Rabbi Amar clarified to him that this condition is not being applied to the special beit din headed by Chief Rabbi of Russia, the Gaon Rabbi Berel Lazar shlit'’a, and since conversions are like all other beit din activitives done by this beit din, they will continue to be recognized as before and respected by the Chief Rabbinate.
The Russian beit din established and led by Rabbi Lazar, founded with a permanent connection to the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, that will from time to time bring in a representative of the Rishon L’Tziyon, the Gaon Rabbi Tziyon Boron (sp?) shlit'’a, head of the beit din of P”T [Petach Tikva, perhaps?] and member of the Beit Din HaGadol, participated up-close in the holy work.
The Rishon L’Tziyon Rabbi Amar further praised in front of Rabbi Altheus the work of the beit din under Rabbi Lazar’s leadership, and said that the Chief Rabbinate appreciates the beit din’s especial stringence in matters of halacha to the farthest end.
Rabbi Altheus related to Shturem that conversions in the FSU are among the most stringent in the world. “The judges don’t adjudicate an approved conversion unless they are one hundred percent sure, after investigation and detailed examination, to where the judge can see with his own eyes that the converts accept Torah and mitzvos,” Rabbi Altheus said, “as is required according to halacha.”

7 Responses to “Another Revealing Chabad Interview With Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar”

  1. Chabad Skeptic Says:

    Its interesting, the Chief Rabbanite is only picking a fight with those groups that it considers powerless and unorganized. They cannot pick a fight with Chabad, because then Chabad will wage a war with them, to deligitemize the Chief Rabbinate. Chabad will then set up its own Bais Din System in Israel which would compete with the Establishment. What this also does, that nobosy realizes is make Chabad worldwide, the defacto bet din for geirut.

    If someone wants to become a convert, they will know that Chabad is the way to go. Is Chabad more willing to take someone on as a convert than other batei dinim, I don’t know you be the judge…..

    The RCA, will not stand up to the Chief Rabbinate, and frankly the other more Chareidi sects in the usa, chassidish, or yeshivish, don’t really care, because they are not really in the business of converting people anyway, and don’t really care for them. If you have to go to Israel to do it, they couldn’t care less.

    Its now conversions, but then will be gittin, and later other things as well.

    As Richard Dreyfus famously told Bill Murray in “What About Bob”, …..”Baby steps, Baby steps, Baby steps….”

  2. Concerned Jewess Says:

    CS, not to sound ignorant or to side track from more important issues, but I want to ask: are you using Chabad as an example?

    I have the understanding that Chabad will not actually perform conversions — they will take the convert after the fact, but not do the conversion so as to not be responsible if it goes “bad.”

    Although this makes no sense to me, given that the candidate spends severel years in the Lub. community, so I would still think the community is responsible, more than some one-day beit din experience.

    Anyway, this is what I was told by several Chabad converts, and one or two Lubavitchers, as well. Is that just a US thing, or was I given false information?

  3. Shmarya Says:

    Last year Amar toured the FSU and was scheduled to make an appearance at a non-Chabad yeshiva. The students, faculty and guests waited 5 hours for him, but he did not show. His companions Lev Leviav and Berel Lazar did not want to go the non-Chabad yeshiva, and Amar complied with their requests, even as his staff was telling the non-Chabad Jews to wait, Amar was coming.

    Amar did not even apologize for this. The non-Chabad organization of European rabbis tried to raise this issue, but were largely ignored by journalists – and by the RCA. What goes around, it seems, comes around.

  4. Gevald Says:

    Chabad Rabbi in the US will not be recognized, only Lazar’s in the FSU..

  5. Yitz Says:

    you misread the interview, the point Rav Amar made was that HE was the one who set up the bais Din in the FSU under Rav Lazar so it is his baby . Lazar has always had close contacts with the Rabbanut here they provide him with funds and many materials, he is their boy and so are the rabbonim under him!
    rav Amar still accepts the geirim of Rav Gedalia Schwartz Shlit’a Av Beis Din of the CRC if they are done by him personally not by others under him withoutout his direct personal participation. Such a situation existed in Boston when there was a Bais Din uof Rav Mordechai Savitzky Z”L, Rav Yoshe Ber Solovietchik Z”L and yibadel the Bostoner Rebbe Shlit”a , when the first 2 were niftar the rabbanut no longer accepted documents signed by Rabbi Fox who was the administrator. In a way Rav Amar is right as in the USA there is no control and no standards and unfortunately there are members of the RCA who have congregations without a mechitza etc. or who have been involved in sex and fraud scandals unbecoming of rabbonim.

  6. Don't look at the US for a reason . . . Says:

    I can’t believe that Yitz could say, “Rav Amar is right as in the USA there is no control and no standards and unfortunately there are members of the RCA who have congregations without a mechitza etc. or who have been involved in sex and fraud scandals unbecoming of rabbonim.”

    I guess the recent indictments of BOTH chief rabbis in Israel would inspire my confidence in Israeli Rabbis??? PLEEEZE.

    Amar isn’t stupid. Amar needs to accept Russia or all the Russians in Israel will bolt and Amar would lose the political majority needed to keep his post. Remember, he has a POLITICAL, not religious, position to uphold, and the Russians hold the majority in Israel right now. The Russians are powerful and Chabad is leading them around by the nose. Hence Amar’s kiss-up to Russian Chabadniks.

    You want to know why Amar is rejecting diaspora bet dinim? Don’t look to the US. That is a red herring planted by the idea that, at first, it was an RCA conversion that was turned down. Now that we know Amar’s decision is implicating the entire diaspora, it is time to look beyond the US.

    Try Taking a look at Amar’s feud with Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of England. Sacks turned down an Israeli Sephardic Bet Din’s conversion in a very public case last year. Amar was in charge of that Bet Din, and Sacks was basically spitting in Amar’s face. Then, to add to that, Sacks wrote a book criticizing Israeli’s Rabbinic system.

    Now, almost one year to the day, Amar won’t accept diaspora bet dinim?

    I am not saying they are directly related; I’ll let you piece it together yourself.

Google Ad blog

Look, I don't think what this guy is doing is the spirit of the Google ad agreement.
What do you think?

Is Chabad part of Orthodox Judaism?

Hassidim petition High Court after local religious council refuses to approve building mikveh with two immersion pools saying Chabad is not part of Orthodox Judaism
Aviram Zino

A seemingly simple argument over the construction of a mikveh (ritual bath) in the community of Elkana is set to reach the High Court, asking it to rule whether Chabad is part of Orthodox Judaism.


Hassidim from the Chabad movement in Elkana who seek to build a mikveh with two immersion pools faced opposition from the local religious council, claiming also that this opposition is part of a growing trend in an attempt to force Chabad people to leave Elkana, a religious community 15 miles east of Tel Aviv.


According to the Chabad petition, the local religious council in Elkana is aware that if successful in preventing the construction of the mikveh by following the Chabad requirements, Chabad Hassidim will have to travel long distances to use other mikvehs.


Chabad also specified in the petition that there are over 100 mikvehs across Israel with two immersion pools like they require, not to mention that the Ministry of Housing and Construction helped in financing them.


The Ministry of Housing and Construction is not opposed to Chabad's requirements, on condition that the local religious council would approve.


The religious council, in turn, said that it is guided by the decisions of the community rabbi and the Chabad movement is not part of the Jewish Orthodox group and therefore it can not use the facilities of this group.


'Local Chabad hassidim are from messianic cult'


Judge Edna Arbel issued an injunction last month, and the construction stopped at the site. The court then suggested that the two sides should take the matter to Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and accept his ruling.


The two sides failed to reach a compromise and the High Court will have to decide whether the Chabad movement is part of the Jewish Orthodox group. If not, Chabad will be entitled to a separate and independent funding of a religious group, like any other recognized group.


Attorney Motti Mintzer, representative of local religious council and a resident of Elkana, told Ynet: "There is mikveh in Elkana since it was established. We moved to the permanent community and decided to build a new mikveh, according to the instructions of the local rabbi, and he ruled according to rulings of outstanding rabbis throughout the generations."


"The local hassidim from Chabad are from a messianic cult and want to force the community to build the mikveh according to their specifications," he said.


In response to Chabad's claims that the religious council does not consider them part of the Orthodox Judaism, Mintzer said: "We don't claim, we never did and we never will. Obviously they are kosher Jews, until they begin acting in a compulsive way, all the while refuting the authority of the community rabbi."


Rabbi Yehuda Stern of Elkana commented: "I have ruled according to our custom on the mikveh issue. We are not a Chabad community and my ruling followed the rulings of outstanding rabbis throughout the generations."

Clark County Chabad to host grand opening of new site June 11

Chabad of Clark County will celebrate the grand opening of its Chabad Jewish Center June 11 with a ribbon-cutting, mezuzah installation, music, food and games for children. Activities will begin at 11 a.m.

Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg said he expects local officials and dignitaries to attend the public event.

"This will be an opportunity for many people to see the Jewish Community in Clark County," said the rabbi.

Clark County is home to a growing Jewish population that has been served for several years by Congregation Kol Ami, a Reform congregation that holds Saturday services in a local church.

The Chabad Jewish Center will be Clark County's first strictly Jewish brick-and-mortar facility, according to Greenberg.

Shmulik and his wife Tzivie came to Clark County and began their work there as Chabad emissaries about three years ago. Until now, they have used their home as their group's central gathering place.

The new 2,500-square-foot facility is part of a larger commercial property owned by Martin and Kate Rifkin. Shmulik said the Rifkins donated the space for the Chabad center.

Shmulik said the center, which recently underwent renovation, will host a weekly minyan, Jewish classes, a Hebrew school and a camp for children 5-12. He said they anticipate 25 campers this summer.

The center is located at 9604 NE 126th Ave. in Vancouver.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Postage stamp honors Chabad

An Israeli postage stamp honoring the Chabad Lubavitch movement is on sale now at the Everything Jewish store on Southwest Capitol Highway.

Rabbi Chayim Mishulovin said the store is selling the colorful stamps in packs of eight for $8.

The stamp depicts the red-brick façade of the Brooklyn house of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. The rendering of the house, widely known by its street address of 770 Eastern Parkway, is accompanied by images of Shabbat candles and tefillin.

When the stamp was first issued earlier this year by the Israel Postal Authority, the Jerusalem Post published a story about the release that noted some controversy among the rigorously Orthodox over the propriety of issuing stamps in the memory of great rabbis.

The problem, according to the Post, was the fact that the back of the stamp has to be licked, which some considered an act of disrespect.

The Post article said that by showing 770 instead of Schneerson, the problem was obviated.

Everything Jewish also is selling a 5-inch-by-eight-inch full-color souvenir postcard depicting the stamp and including the Rebbe's signature superimposed over the stamp cancellation imprint on its day of issue. The card sells for $5.

The Everything Jewish store, which is located at 6684 SW Capitol Hwy., next to the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and across from the Portland Jewish Academy playing field, sells a variety of Judaica for all occasions.

Most days, Mishulovin is on the premises to answer questions about Jewish observance. He also can be reached by telephone at 503-977-9947 or go online at www.chabadoregon.com\giftshop.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fried to perform in Dnepropetrovsk

The Jewish community of Dnepropetrovsk, led by Rabbi Shmuel Kamintezki, is getting ready for a great Lag B'Omer event. Tzivot Hashem of the former U.S.S.R., managed by Rabbi Yossi Glick, helped organize a huge concert starring Avraham Fried. Ten thousand people from all over the Ukraine are expected to fill the concert hall - the biggest in the city.

"Everyone is talking about the American star 'Avremel'. More than 2000 posters have been put up to invite the Jewish community at large," says Rabbi Shmuel Brown, the event's arranger. The entire happening is being sponsored by philanthropist Rabbi Uri Laber from Dnepropetrovsk.


Study of Chabad Houses Finds Jews Seeking Spiritual Growth


By SHLOMO GREENWALD - Special to the Sun
May 26, 2006


The Lubavitcher Chasidim are touting their rapidly expanding outreach programs on college campuses with a new study by a Hebrew University professor.

Many young American Jews are seeking authentic and meaningful Jewish experiences, and are not, as "common myth" would have it, defiantly breaking away from their heritage, said the year-long study, conducted by Barry Chazan and unveiled at the New York office of George Rohr, a businessman who has given tens of millions of dollars to Chabad over the years.

This was the first effort by researchers to examine the inner workings of the campus Chabad house - the Lubavitch movement's Jewish outreach site. The study, "A Home Away From Home," focused on Jewish students who had joined the Chabad rabbi and his wife for Sabbath dinner several times, and recorded observations of the dinners and the students' impressions. Altogether researchers observed 22 dinners on five campuses and interviewed 33 students.

The study did not track the students over time to see if the experience would have a long-term impact. Nevertheless, said Mr. Chazan in an interview with The New York Sun, it demonstrates that "young Jews can be reached, and that authentic Jewish experiences can reach them."

"This study shows that young Jews are hungry, thirsty, and yearning for something authentic and meaningful," said Mr. Chazan.

Jewish philanthropists have focused more intensively on fostering Jewish identity among young Jews since a 1990 population study found about half of Jews were marrying outside the faith, raising concerns that the Jewish population in America would decline because of assimilation, in addition to low birth rates.

The study suggests that young Jews will seize opportunities for spiritual growth. "This age group is not a lost tribe but a seeking generation," the study says. "They aren't lost; we lost them."

The national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, Steven Bayme, said that while he praises the efforts Chabad makes to reach out to unaffiliated Jews, he "never understood why Chabad couldn't be part of the larger Hillel framework."

Rabbi Hirsch Zarchi - the rabbi of the Harvard Chabad house, one of the focuses of the study - said, "Chabad is a full and comprehensive experience with its own unique approach and philosophy."

Hillel has over 250 facilities serving over 500 campuses. There are 112 campus Chabad Houses, serving 179 campuses. More than 40 new campus Chabad houses opened since 2002, including ones at Stanford, Princeton, and Dartmouth.

Although at times particular Hillel and Chabad houses have quarreled, lately the two organizations have been making efforts to cooperate. "We have learned a lot from Chabad," the executive vice president of Hillel's international division, Jay Rubin, said, "and I'm sure that they would say the same."

Mr. Rubin said that Friday night Sabbath dinners, the focus of the study released yesterday, are "not the only way to get Jews in the door." He said that some Jewish students may not be interested in the religious dimensions of Judaism, but in arts and culture or community service.



College Kids Need Personal Attention, Says Study of Chabad Shabbat Programs

By Sue Fishkoff

OAKLAND, Calif., May 25 (JTA) -- Jewish college students crave meaningful Jewish experiences, personal attention from their rabbis and a "home away from home," according to a new study of Chabad Shabbat programs on campus.

The semester-long research project, led by Barry Chazan of Hebrew University, is the first in-depth examination of Chabad campus activities. It's the latest in a slew of recent studies of young Jews and what they're looking for Jewishly.

The 112 Chabad Houses affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in this country serve more than 179 U.S. campuses. Around the world, 238 campuses are served.

Each Chabad House is run by an emissary couple, a Chabad rabbi and his wife, who open their homes to students for classes, meals, holiday celebrations and informal gatherings.

Twenty-two Friday evening programs conducted by Chabad at five U.S. campuses were observed last fall. Students were asked why they attend Chabad Shabbat meals and how they feel about the experience, in order to help Chabad campus emissaries develop better programs, and to model the experience for other Jewish campus groups.

Key findings indicate that, rather than running away from Judaism during their college years, many students seek spirituality and the comforts of a family-centered Shabbat experience, and respond well to a Jewish educator who gives them personal, individualized attention.

Students pointed to the personality of the Chabad emissary as the most significant and influential part of the total experience, mentioning how important it was for them to be remembered by name, brought into a family's home and treated with respect by an adult.

New York philanthropist George Rohr, speaking for the Chabad on Campus National Foundation, said the study will primarily benefit Chabad campus emissaries looking to improve their programming, but he suggested that Hillel directors and other Jewish educators, as well as members of Jewish communities near campuses, can learn from it.

"Anybody who has a home and can expose college kids to a Shabbat family experience on campus can do this," he said.

Researcher Chazan said he became "very taken with the shluchim," or Chabad emissaries, as the study progressed.

"Jewish professionals today have come to serve the Jewish people and the Jewish community, as opposed to being an educator that tries to touch the souls of individuals," he said. In contrast, the Chabad emissaries he met "do what they do from the core of their being, they're total personalities who do this out of a deep belief in and respect for the individual."

The study also suggested that episodic Jewish experiences such as a Shabbat program can have profound impact on a student's Jewish identity.

"Young adulthood is more episodic than it once was," Chazan said. "Sometimes the Jewish model is too locked into the 'full menu,' the total scenario -- marry a Jewish partner, have two or three kids, send them to day school, summers in Israel."

He suggested that Chabad and other Jewish campus groups might branch out from Shabbat and use other Jewish rituals and holidays to reach young Jews in the same way.

At a May 25 panel discussion in Manhattan, Chabad emissaries from the five campuses studied emphasized the non-programmatic nature of their Shabbat "programs" as the key to their success.

"When students come to the Chabad House, they don't want another academic presentation," said Esther Goldstein, emissary at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. "They come for the casual setting. You don't realize how much you can learn informally."

Chazan agreed, saying that Chabad campus outreach, which focuses on modeling a real-life experience, may be more effective than a class or program. "In many ways, the best thing educators can do is let Shabbos happen and get out of the way," he suggests. "It may be something very deep that young people are looking for."

The episodic nature of Chabad outreach is based on Chabad's understanding of the precious nature of each mitzvah, several of the shluchim explained.

Noting that campus rabbis have "many short interactions" with the students they serve, and sometimes never see the same students again, Rabbi Hirsh Zarchi, Chabad emissary at Harvard University, said, "In the professional Jewish world, these interactions don't register, but we think we've touched something."

Hebrew Union College sociologist Steven Cohen, part of a panel that will discuss the study's findings Wednesday afternoon, believes the research has relevance for any Jewish educator. Whereas Chazan "doubts" that a non-observant educator could present students with an authentic Shabbat experience, Cohen, who teaches at the Reform movement's flagship rabbinical seminary, says that it not so.

"There's no one right kind of educator, just as there is no one kind of student," he said. "Teach who you are as a Jew, but be the Jew who you want to teach. You can present your version of Jewish authenticity in a home environment that is personal and welcoming and genuine, that allows for individual autonomy."

Like Chazan, he believes that discrete, meaningful Jewish experiences can have profound impact.

"In our postmodern age, Jews of all ages want to claim Judaism and make Judaism for themselves. This kind of intervention presents young people with a taste of a Jewish way of life, and they can then decide whether they want to appropriate it for themselves."

© JTA. Reproduction of material without written permission is strictly prohibited.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Davening at the office / Rockville minyan growing

by Anath Hartmann

Special to WJW

Tucked into a Rockville office building, not far from the Capital Beltway and across from White Flint Mall, is a beit midrash.

And, each afternoon, busy businessmen take a short break for a Mincha prayer service.

The house of study itself is not new. Jeffrey Cohen, a partner in the BECO Partnership Group, a real estate firm, and one of the buyers of Beco and its sister building, BECO West, had the room built 12 years ago when he and his co-owners were doing some renovation of their new offices.

But now, due in part to the rising numbers of people attending the daily Orthodox Mincha minyanim there, "We're getting ready to write our own sefer Torah," Cohen said. "We're about to commission it, hopefully within the next 30 days."

The beit midrash, roughly 15 feet by 30 feet, contains such items as a Talmud, several sets of Mishnah, books on chasidic philosophy and Jewish law, and transcripts of speeches given by the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, who died in 1994 at the age of 92.

Tax attorney Menachem Ely started to hold regular Mincha afternoon prayer services in the beit midrash in January.

"You can always pray by yourself, but it's better to do it with the 10 people," Ely said.

On the day of an interview last week, Ely's minyan drew 13 others. "We could have even kicked a few people out" and still had a minyan, he quipped. "Around here, there are no Minchas. It's not like in New York, where you always have the critical mass of Jewish people interested."

Along with several partners, Ely, who says people have been finding out about the minyanim through "word of mouth," purchased a tax practice from tax and audit giant KPMG in December. He now sublets an office in the BECO building, so the minyanim, held in BECO West, are a mere hop and skip away from his desk.

"I feel different davening with a minyan," he continued. "There's just more of a presence of God there. ... Now I schedule my day around it. I know not to make appointments or client calls between 1:45 and 2."

Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, visits the beit midrash frequently ‹ especially since the death of his father, for whom he says Kaddish at BECO.

"There isn't any other company in the area with a room dedicated to study and prayer," he said. "We have regular lunch-and-learns there. I have a study group with one of the [BECO] partners there, people who work in the building come in to study there during the day. It's quiet, no one can reach you."

Though the room is not yet open to the public, "Now that we have a consistent minyan, I think the [beit midrash] is going to become available to others as well," he added.

Sina Soumekhian, owner of kosher eateries Siena's Pizzeria, on Woodlglen Drive in Rockville, and Eli's Restaurant, on 20th Street in Northwest, also attends the minyanim daily to say Kaddish for his mother, who died several months ago.

"I'm always between the two places where I work," said the Iraqi-born restaurateur. "It's a good place to say Kaddish in 15 minutes and get out. It's very convenient, the time and the place."

While Soumekhian said he does not use the beit midrash for any purpose other than prayer, he said he does go 15 minutes prior to the start of the minyanim to do some davening on his own.

Yaacov Ben Amou, rabbi at Eshet Torah in Rockville, attends the service daily.

"My reaction is that it's a mechaya ‹ something really great that brings life and energy," he said.

"For all the young professionals in this area, it's very difficult to find time during the day to daven. As a rabbi, I have a hard time finding a Mincha where I can daven. There is one in Potomac, but it's a big schlep ... this is perfect because it's right after lunch, it takes two minutes to get there and two minutes to get back and you can still observe [the mitzvah]. It's a brilliant solution."

While Ely noted that "there has been no interest from any women so far," he said all are welcome at the Orthodox services.

But he added that mechizta, a prayer barrier used to separate men and women, would need to be used in the event that women did join the group.

We Must Treat Others With Kindness

by Rabbi David Wolpe


I often give young people advice on dating, occasionally without their asking. I tell young women not to judge a man by his car, since you will not end up living with the car but with the man who drives it. I advise men, when they take a woman to a restaurant, to sit facing the wall, so their attention will be fixed upon the woman, not everyone who walks into the room.

But my most common bit of advice to men and women alike is this: Don’t pay attention to how your date treats you alone — see how he treats the waiter, how she acts toward the busboy, the valet who brings you car. That is the test of character: How do you act toward the one who is not connected to you. How do you treat those whom you do not have to treat well?

Rabbi Reuven Kimmelman told me a wonderful story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Apparently, the Rebbe once had a meeting with Sen. [Daniel] Moynihan. After the senator asked him for his support, the Rebbe said, “Now I have something to ask you.”

Moynihan, used to the requests of constituents, smiled and asked the Rebbe what he could do for him.

“Well” he said, “there is a population of people in New York who are good people, law abiding, good families, who do not really understand the system. I think they are not being treated as well as they should be. I want you, senator,” concluded the Rebbe, “to make sure you take care of the Chinese.”

That story illustrates a central part of the Exodus lesson — that when someone is oppressed, there is a Jewish responsibility to care. This is true in society and in our own lives.

The Haggadah tells us “you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Here is the interesting thing — because we were strangers, we are supposed to learn not how the Israelites should have acted, but — how the Egyptians should have acted. We are supposed to learn how not to oppress others. Don’t treat others the way we were treated.

The term stranger is mentioned some 36 times in the Torah. It is a central category. The Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen beautifully wrote that in the idea of the stranger, Judaism was born. We are to care for those who are in our power. When you have power over another, you also have responsibility toward them.

Rabbi Israel Salanter saw a serving maid carrying two pails of water on her shoulders to provide water for the ritual washing before dinner. When dinner was ready, he performed ritual washing with a tiny sprinkling of water. When asked why he was so sparse, Rabbi Salanter explained: “One must not be generous with a mitzvah on another person’s shoulders.”

We know what it is to be a stranger: the insecurity, the fear. The stranger is on a tightrope and does not control the wind. So there is a question about Passover that we must, as Jews, ask ourselves:

What if you were an Egyptian? How would you have treated the Israelites? Would you have been cruel because you could be? Or would you have been kind, even though you did not need to?

For at the seder, many of us were the Egyptians.

Of course, we did not enslave someone else. But most of us were served. We had “help.”

Were we kind? How many of us kept housekeepers, maids, others up very late at our seders with no consideration for them, their children, their schedule?

How many of us paid them extra for that work? How many pay less than minimum wage because the person we are employing is an illegal and therefore has no choice? How many of us, in fact, performed the mitzvah on somebody else’s shoulders?

After all, we can do what we like; if we are angry, we can yell. If we are annoyed, we can be snappish, abusive, angry.

When a housekeeper has a sick child, do we encourage her to go take care of her child or is taking care of my child more important than taking care of her own? The Talmud teaches that Israel is “rachamim b’nei rachamim” — merciful people, and the children of merciful people. So at the seder, at our dinner tables, are we Israelites or are we Egyptians?

In the past month, I have asked around, spoken with nannies, housekeepers and people who run placement agencies. I have heard of terrible doings in our community, of Jews — Jews! — who have taken workers’ passports so they cannot leave the country, of those who have hit their employees, screamed at them mercilessly, refused to give them vacations — in other words, acted like Egyptians.

Remember, we have been strangers. We know the fear, the anguish, the impotence. We know what it is to be subject to other people’s emotions, customs, moods. The callous person exploits that fear; the Israelite calms it.

We know that being rich doesn’t make you good. Being rich just makes you rich. In some ways it is harder — because wealth gives one latitude to be unkind. A rich person can speak to employees in ways one would never otherwise speak to another. But to do so stains our souls and dishonors God. And to do so in our home is that much worse.

In 1966, an 11-year-old black boy moved with his family to a white neighborhood in Washington. Sitting with his two brothers and sisters on the front step of his house, he waited to see how they would be greeted. They were not greeted. All the fearful stories this boy had heard about whites hating blacks seemed to be coming true.

He thought, “I knew we would not be welcome here. I knew we would not be liked here. I knew we would have no friends here. I knew we should not have moved here.”

As he was thinking those thoughts, a white woman coming home from work passed by on the other side of the road. She turned to the children and with a broad smile said, “Welcome!” Disappearing into the house, she emerged minutes later with a tray laden with drinks and cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, which she brought over to the children, making them feel at home. That moment — the young man wrote later — changed his life. It made him realize that some Americans could be blind to racial and class differences.

The young man was Stephen Carter, now a law professor at Yale, and he recounts this story in his book, “Civility.” The tale is retold in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ new book, “To Heal a Fractured World.” The woman was named Sara Kestenbaum, and she was a religious Jew.

What Sara Kestenbaum did was what our tradition calls a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. The opposite is a Hillul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.

The children of the people who work in our homes and in our streets will be the professors, the doctors, the teachers, the mayors. What will they learn about the Jewish community? What will they remember of how we treated their mothers and fathers at a vulnerable time? Will they remember our conduct as a Kiddush Hashem? Will they understand that the Jewish community remembers what it is to be a stranger?

Kiddush Hashem is when we act in such a way as to reflect credit on the Jewish community among non-Jews. It is a Hillul Hashem to be unkind to someone in your power.

We were strangers in a strange land — not once, not twice, but hundreds, thousands of times. Often we met with cruelty — but sometimes we met with kindness. We remember those who were kind.

Others will remember if we were kind to them. It is not enough to observe the ritual of Passover and not embody the spirit. It is not enough to have a Shabbat table laden with the work of others. When we open the door, we should open the heart to those who are already in our community and in our homes. Let us demonstrate that we indeed are merciful people, the children of merciful people.

The Talmud insists that one who is not merciful does not deserve the name of Israel. In our homes and in our lives, let us deserve the name of Israel and the blessings of God.

David Wolpe is senior rabbi of Sinai Temple. This article is adapted from a sermon delivered on the first day of Passover, April 13, 2006. You may hear this sermon, as well as Rabbi Wolpe's other sermons, online at sinaitemple.org.

Fox Chapel Chabad signs lease on building in Aspinwall

Chronicle Correspondent

Chabad Fox Chapel has signed a lease on a building that will become the new Fox Chapel Center of Jewish Life.

The newly leased building is located on Freeport Road just past the intersection with Fox Chapel Road, about a half mile from the Waterworks shopping area and near an exit off Route 28.

Chabad, a Lubavitch organization, opened its Fox Chapel branch almost five years ago. Since then it has operated primarily out of the home of its directors, Rabbi Eli and Shternie Rosenfeld.

"From the day we arrived we were already trying to think bigger because the growth happened really quickly," Rabbi Rosenfeld said.

The Rosenfelds' home served as the location for Shabbat services and meals, and some holiday celebrations, such as Simchat Torah and Passover seders. Larger activities, including the annual Purim carnival, day camp and Hebrew school, have been held in various locations throughout Fox Chapel and O'Hara.

The one-story building is approximately 2,000 square feet and provides parking. Rosenfeld said the new space, which is in walking distance to his home, will make Chabad more accessible and visible to the community.

"We don't look at ourselves as a synagogue, but more of a center for Jewish life, whatever that will include, from a small Judaica shop to education classes, to family dinners, holiday events and other programming."

The Rosenfelds still plan to use their home for Shabbat meals and havdalah services, but the primary center of activity will be shifted to the new building on Freeport Road. Hebrew school will remain at FunFest in Harmarville, and it is likely that the annual Purim carnival will stay at the Fox Chapel Racquet Club.

Rosenfeld looks at the new space as a stepping stone until Chabad can purchase a permanent home.

Chabad Fox Chapel has seen rapid growth since its opening, Rosenfeld said, with at least 180 families affiliating with the organization.

Shternie Rosenfeld, the co-director, said that they announced the news about the building following a Friday night service.

"Everyone responded with such genuine warmth and excitement, and that was so meaningful to us," she said. "This is what we did it for. We want people to feel like this place is theirs. They were happy for us, and this will be great for their participation."

Rosenfeld believes that people will be more comfortable using the building for programs rather than his home.

"In order to grow as an organization, you need volunteers and friends to take an active ownership role and make it theirs," he said.

In addition to hired workers, there have been many volunteers from the community who have been helping to prepare the building for the grand opening celebration, scheduled for some time in June.

(Hilary Daninhirsch can be reached at hilarysd@comcast.net.)


Monday, May 22, 2006

Victims project springs into action after suicide bombings

- Stephanie L. Freid
Sunday, May 21, 2006

"No matter how someone describes it, you'll never, ever understand even a thousandth of what it's like. My life changed forever that day. I just want to get some part of it back."

Lying in the hospital bed she has been confined to for more than a month, 50-year-old Hilla Fuchs speaks with determination. She was standing a few feet away from the suicide bomber who detonated in Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station April 17 and she suffered electric shock, a punctured lung, damaged intestines and shrapnel-type wounds to her entire body. A steel girder penetrated her left leg, rendering it paralyzed.

Even with her injuries, Fuchs must raise three daughters while her husband serves out a jail term. She lives in a crime-infested section of South Tel Aviv. Since April 17, she has been unable to work at her office-cleaning job. And although both her employer and the Israeli government are responsible under law for providing her family with severance pay, her boss is refusing on the grounds that victims of terror are the government's responsibility.

Fortunately, Rabbi Menachem Kutner has stepped in on her behalf. The director of Chabad Israel's Victims of Terror Project, Kutner oversees a network of more than 1,000 volunteers who spring into action after a suicide bombing. Aiding wounded, traumatized victims and family members, the volunteers "go wherever we're needed. To hospitals, to families' homes -- we do what we have to," Kutner says. In Fuchs' case, Chabad has arranged for a pro-bono attorney to challenge her employer and give her family a living allowance until government aid begins.

With a worldwide network of 4,000 branches, Chabad -- the Victims of Terror Project's umbrella organization -- houses one of Orthodox Judaism's largest sects. An offshoot of Hasidism formed in the 1700s, Chabad emissaries are widely known for their messianic beliefs and their outreach programs aimed at Jews and non-Jews alike. There are more than 500 branches in the United States, including five in San Francisco.

Formed as an outreach unit for widows and orphans after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Victims of Terror Project provides various services to bombing victims and families. Live-in child care and meal preparation are organized for families with both parents languishing in the hospital. Funerals are arranged for family members too numb to do it, and ritual mourning rites are conducted for those unfamiliar with custom or paralyzed by shock and grief. "The message is: 'We're here to help you; you're not alone.' That's really important to families, especially in the first days," Kutner says .

During recent rounds at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, Kutner described aid provided for a Weston, Fla., man injured in the April blast. "He and his son were wounded and the father's wallet was destroyed. He's a tourist so (he) has nothing: no credit card, money or cash. He can't even buy a can of soda. So we arranged some money for him while he's in the hospital until his family gets here from the States." The father, Tuly Wultz, survived but his 16-year-old son, Daniel, died in mid-May, a month after the bombing. His funeral was held Tuesday in Weston.

The 34-year-old Kutner, born and raised in Israel, signed on to his current position after years of working in special education. In an Oxford-cloth sky blue shirt, black dress slacks and donning designer style maroon-tinged frames, he more closely resembles a Financial District businessperson on lunch break than an ultra-Orthodox rabbi.

"This job is not 8 to 4. It's all day and all night and there is a lot of hardship and emotion but also a lot of fulfillment," he explains. In order to cope with the impact of the work, professional and psychological training and coursework is mandatory for all volunteers.

"Doing this work you look at things differently; life's proportions change. Every night and morning when I come home to my family I bless the almighty a hundred times for what I have," Kutner says. "Even though as human beings we always want more in life, when you see what I see you feel that what you have makes you the happiest in the world."

Sometimes, however, there are difficult moments. After a 2003 Jerusalem bus bombing, one incident drove Kutner to contemplate quitting.

"I was en route to the hospital to meet with the wounded and a California Chabad emissary who happened to be visiting at the time phoned me up and said: 'Menachem, I'm coming with you.' No problem. We got to the hospital and went to one room of a father who had lost his eye in the bombing. When we started talking with him he told us that he had to leave in a few hours to attend his 2-year-old daughter's funeral.

"I felt the blood drain out of me. My California friend started sobbing and left the room and I was left standing there alone. I had to get out. After a few words I quickly exited. At that moment I felt the work was beyond the call of duty and I couldn't cope. You go into a room expecting to meet a wounded person but discover his core problem is much, much deeper."

A few days later, Kutner returned to the hospital, responding to an "inner need to go back." He developed a special relationship with family members and has maintained contact since.

Kutner's job also ushers in optimism. Upon delivering a custom-designed wheelchair arranged through the project for a bedridden, severely injured 59-year-old victim, the man wept openly. "I'm not crying because I'm in pain. I'm happy and I thank you," he said through tears.

Stephanie L. Freid is a writer and TV producer based in Tel Aviv. Contact us at insight@sfchronicle.com.

Jewish group comes out swinging

MOSCOW, May 18 (JTA) — Russia’s leading Jewish organization has called on the community to boycott Reform Jews after a Reform rabbi officiated at what is believed to be the country’s first same-sex commitment ceremony.

“We are calling on Jewish organizations and communities of Russia to relinquish any religious contacts with the people who have committed this sacrilegious and provocative act, as well as with the organizations these people represent,” said a statement released Thursday by the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, the largest Jewish group in the country.

The federation said it expects Russian Jews to support its stand.

“Silence in this situation will be regarded by the society and posterity as a sign of consent,” the group said.

It remains unclear whether the boycott call will have any practical effect in the former Soviet Union, where official contacts between Lubavitch and Reform Jewish activists are almost nonexistent.

But the tiny private ceremony for a Jewish lesbian couple in Moscow could trigger a wider public debate within the Jewish community about gays and lesbians — and homophobia — in Russia.

According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Russians believe gays and lesbians should be criminally prosecuted. Russian Jews are believed to have similar attitudes.

The ceremony took place in Moscow on April 2, but came to light only after it was mentioned Wednesday in a Moscow daily newspaper. Rabbi Nelly Shulman, who officiated, said it was not a Jewish wedding but a dedication ceremony.

Shulman insisted that she conducted the ceremony privately and without backing from her group, OROSIR, the umbrella organization of Reform Judaism in Russia. Alexander Lyskovoi, the group’s leading rabbi, confirmed that the group had not endorsed the ceremony.

Shulman said the federation’s boycott call was unreasonable.

“This was my own initiative, and only I myself carry full responsibility for it,” she said. If the federation “wants to boycott me, I’m fine with it.”

Hostility and bias toward gays and lesbians remain widespread in the former Soviet Union, where homosexuality was decriminalized only with the fall of Communism.

In early May, a group of people identifying themselves as members of the Russian Orthodox Church disrupted a party at a Moscow gay club, shouting homophobic slogans and obscenities and throwing eggs at the doors.

Most recently, there was a heated public debate over a proposed gay pride festival and parade. Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Muslim and Jewish communities spoke out strongly against the festival.

Talgat Tajuddin, one of Russia’s chief muftis, said the Muslim prophet Mohammed had ordered the killing of homosexuals. Tajuddin predicted that if the event takes place, the protests of Russian Muslims would be “even sharper than those abroad against scandalous cartoons.”

Federation leader Rabbi Berel Lazar, one of Russia’s two chief rabbis, also condemned the proposed festival, telling the Interfax agency in February that the event “would be a blow to morality.”

The city government decided Thursday to ban the event.

The lesbian commitment ceremony already has had repercussions for Russia’s Reform movement: In late April, Zinovy Kogan resigned as chairman of the Reform umbrella group to protest the ceremony.

A source familiar with the situation told JTA that though the Reform movement in the United States generally permits same-sex unions, Shulman is the only one of six Reform rabbis working in the former Soviet republics who supports such ceremonies.

The six rabbis likely will take up the issue when they meet in Moscow on May 29. It’s possible that the movement will ban such ceremonies in Russian Jewish communities, the source said.

“We are living in a society that has not matured enough for such ceremonies,” Shulman acknowledged.

Galina Zelenina, who asked Shulman to conduct the ceremony for her and her partner, told JTA she didn’t mean to provoke anyone.

“Judaism allows for a certain interpretation,” said Zelenina, 28, a poet who has a degree in Jewish studies from a Moscow university.

“We didn’t make it a media event,” Zelenina said. “But we didn’t want to make it underground either.”

Growing Orthodox Jewish community, which shuns public education, will look to cut taxes with newly won seats on school board

BY KARLA SCHUSTER AND JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
Newsday Staff Writers

May 18, 2006

Michael Hatten, an Orthodox Jew who won a seat on the Lawrence school board this week, can't wait to see what happens when the new panel - controlled by private school parents and advocates for the first time - takes office on July 1.

"Let's give this a chance," Hatten said of the school board election results. With the victory of Hatten and Uri Kaufman, the seven-member Lawrence school board will have four Orthodox Jewish members, reflecting the community's growing size and influence in the district. "I'm kind of excited to see what happens."

For different reasons, Jordan Robbins, a vocal and frustrated public school parent who has watched enrollment and school budgets go down for five straight years, agrees.

"They've been trying for years to get control and now they have it, so the ball's in their court now," said Robbins, a Lawrence High School alumnus who has a son in third grade, of the private school community. "Now that they're running things, it seems to me they have an obligation to get the budget passed."

The last time a budget passed in this changing and increasingly divided district of 3,400 students was in 2001 - and that was on the second try. Since then, voters have decisively rejected every budget.

At the same time, school board elections have grown more bitterly contested. Private school parents, mostly from the Orthodox Jewish community, have sought a voice on the panel, running on platforms that criticized school spending and performance.

Several groups supporting public schools cropped up in response, and last year the dynamic - and the tension - grew so intense that the district unsuccessfully asked the state to lift contingency spending restrictions, citing the "change in demographics" as the reason for budget defeats.

Avi Dubin, 25, who was born and reared in Woodmere and attended Yeshiva schools, was among those who voted against the budget on Tuesday. "For me, it's like a good deed," he said. "I'm helping the Yeshivas out." He said rabbis in the Orthodox Jewish community urged members to vote against the budget, but at least one rabbi contacted yesterday - Rabbi Shneur Wolowik of Chabad of the Five Towns in Cedarhurst - denied trying to influence the vote.

"We're paying so much taxes here," Dubin said. "The majority of the community doesn't even use the public schools." Over the past five years, enrollment has dwindled by about 8 percent, prompting the district to shut down an elementary school that will soon be sold.

Lawrence proposed a $93.1-million budget for 2006-07, an increase of 5.29 percent over the current budget. It's unclear whether the board will put that plan or a reduced plan up for a revote, or simply go straight to a contingency budget. A contingency budget would be $91.8 million.

"I'm beyond anger," said board member Pamela Greenbaum, whose daughter will graduate from Lawrence High next month. "I'm just sad. We put up a very responsible budget, but the people have obviously spoken. ... It's yours now, do what you have to do and see if you can do it better."

Hatten acknowledged yesterday that the "community is somewhat fractured" but vowed to reach out to public school families and convince them that he and Kaufman don't want to gut the district.

"I want [the district] to be great," Hatten said. "I don't want anything associated with my name that's not terrific."

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

New Torah to arrive amid celebration

Times Staff Report

MUNSTER | Another link in the 3,300-year chain of Jewish tradition will be added as Chabad of Northwest Indiana welcomes its new Torah scroll here on May 29.

The scroll, containing the Five Books of Moses handwritten on parchment, is one of the most scared objects in Judaism. The Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which begins this year on June 2, marks the day that God spoke to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai in the year 1313 B.C. and gave them the commandments of the Torah. The Torah has been written and produced in the same manner ever since.

The specific scroll being purchased for Chabad has its roots in Eastern Europe and has spent the last three decades in Jerusalem. It being restored by a professional scribe, and once done, is considered, according to Halachah (Jewish Law), a brand new Torah.

The ceremony will begin at Grove Park in Munster, behind Munster Town Hall, at 11 a.m. May 29, where the scribe will complete the final touches on the Scroll. The Torah will then be led in a parade-style procession from the park to Chabad on Ridge Road, where the Torah will be welcomed with singing, dancing and celebration.

The scribe will also be giving an educational presentation for those interested in learning how a Torah is produced.

Members of the Tribe / Thriving in China

By Amiram Barkat

In a controversial appearance at the recent American Jewish Committee centennial convention in Washington, author A.B. Yehoshua predicted that Diaspora Jews would move to China if it were to become a world power. Dr. Avrum Ehrlich, a professor at the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at the University of Shandong, says that this process is actually already under way.

"The Jewish community in Hong Kong is thriving," he explains, "and there are at least 3,000 Jews now living permanently in Beijing alone."

There has been a continuous Jewish presence in China during the last 200 years, starting with Sephardi merchants who arrived there along with the British, and continuing with Russian Jews who settled in Harbin (one of whom was Ehud Olmert's grandfather). During World War II many German refugees sought shelter first in Shanghai - one of the only places in the world that was open to Jews at the time.

China's modern history is dotted with Jewish figures like Morris ("Two-Gun") Cohen, a Polish-born adventurer who served as a liaison between the Taiwanese government and China's communist leaders. Another was Israel Epstein, the Warsaw-born Marxist author, who died last year after being honored by all Chinese presidents from Mao to the present Hu Jintao.

Ehrlich says he regrets the fact that current relations between Israel and China are limited to the military and economic spheres, without any significant cultural dialogue. Among the many Israeli and Jewish businesspeople he has encountered recently in China, he says, are ultra-Orthodox kashrut supervisors. "It appears that the whole kashrut industry, the manufacturing of chemicals and raw materials, has moved to China," he explains.

Ehrlich himself owes his current position to the economic boom in the world's most populated country. In 2004, the 38-year-old Australian-born Israeli was on a trip to visit his brother, who runs a factory owned by the family near Shanghai, when he heard about the university center for Jewish studies in the province of Shandong, relatively close by. Ehrlich made contact with the staff and offered to lecture on Messianism.

"I was offered a full professorship right after I finished," he says proudly. The unexpected move to China was not so drastic in light of Ehrlich's somewhat chaotic life beforehand: He immigrated to Israel at the age of 16, studied at four different yeshivas and was ordained a rabbi at the Tomchei Tmimim yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. Later he altered his course in life and studied at the pluralistic Shalom Hartman Institute and at Bar-Ilan University. He finished his doctorate, on Hasidic leaders, at the University of Sydney.

"I found there's great disempowerment in Israel," he explains. "That's why I looked for a place where I could make a difference."

The center in Shandong was established 10 years ago by one of the local professors. According to Ehrlich, in 2004 the center was given a mandate by the Chinese government to set up a curriculum for Jewish studies in China. "It means bringing scholars from all over the world, translating all the Jewish classics and organizing seminars and other activities," he says.

Ehrlich made up a list of 25 Jewish classics for translation, including the Mishna, the Kuzari and the Zohar, as well as writings of such notables as Maimonides, Herman Cohen, Rabbi Kook, Ahad Ha'am and Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. He smiles when asked about the quality of the work, which was done by local students.

"I could say my job is to try and limit the damage," he says ironically. "They (the Chinese students) have been ordered to do it, so they do it, even if they'll be correcting these translations for the next 20 years."

At least eight of China's 300 universities are now offering courses in Jewish studies. Ehrlich estimates about 100 students nationwide study Hebrew each year in comparison to five a year in the 1990s. He says the Chinese see studying the Jews as essential to understanding the underpinnings of Western thinking.

"They see the Jews as mavericks of Western thinking and ideology," he says. But the strongest driving force behind the interest in Jews is not cultural or intellectual, he says, and he noticed it when he first came to China, while looking at the books on the airport book stands. "I saw many books with titles like 'How to be a Jewish millionaire.' I later understood that when most Chinese speak about 'Jewish wisdom,' they mean what they see as the phenomenal Jewish prowess in making money. I don't see this as a negative thing, because I hope it might be an entree for them into other areas as well."

U.S. Appoints Anti-Semitism Monitor

Ron Kampeas
JTA Wire Service

MAY 19, 2006
Washington

The U.S. State Department just added a set of teeth to its fledgling office monitoring anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday named Gregg Rickman, a dogged investigator who has tracked the Swiss banks' role in the Holocaust, as the first special envoy for monitoring and combating anti-Semitism around the world.

Jewish leaders unanimously agreed that the appointment would push the office monitoring anti-Semitism, in existence barely 18 months, to the department's front burner.

"It creates a strong point person that will be able to coordinate all the different parts of our government that deal with anti-Semitism," said Mark Levin, executive director of NCSJ, a group that advocates for Jews in the former Soviet Union and that lobbied for the position. "Without continued U.S. leadership, I'm not sure how much attention will be paid by our friends in Europe and elsewhere to anti-Semitism."

Congressional legislation sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) created the office in late 2004 over the objection of State Department mandarins, who said it would just create an extra layer of bureaucracy and was unnecessary because the issue already was being addressed in the department's human rights monitoring.

The legislation was created amid the most recent intifada, when anti-Semitism intensified in Europe and the Middle East.

So far the office, under the direction of Edward O'Donnell, special envoy for Holocaust issues, has produced just one report, in January 2005. Insiders said O'Donnell already was overworked in his capacity encouraging the rightful distribution of Holocaust assets, and the office sorely needed its own "boss."

Rickman's principal qualification for the job is his stint as a director on the Senate Banking Committee in the mid-1990s under the chairmanship of former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), when it uncovered Swiss banks' role in hiding Nazi loot and keeping Jewish survivors from accessing their pre-Holocaust accounts. Rickman, who is Jewish, wrote an account of the investigation called "Swiss Banks and Jewish Souls."

"Gregg Rickman, working with Sen. D'Amato, is almost single-handedly the one who uncovered the corruption and the immorality of the Swiss banks," said William Daroff, vice president for public policy of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body of North American Jewish federations, and director of its Washington office. Shai Franklin, executive director of the World Jewish Congress' American section, said Rickman understood all sides of the system.

"He's very familiar with how Capitol Hill works and he knows the Jewish community and he knows the Europeans, having opened up a lot of the channels in the Swiss gold issue," he said.

Together with NCSJ, Daroff led the effort for legislation creating the anti-Semitism office when he was congressional liaison for the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Rickman, who also was staff director for former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), succeeded Daroff at the RJC in 2004. The group reveled in the appointment of one of its own.

"It is very exciting to have an RJC alum serving in such an important position," said Matt Brooks, the group's executive director.

Rickman, 42, recently returned to the Hill, where he has directed the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee investigating the "oil for food" scandal implicating U.N. officials and others in receiving kickbacks from Saddam Hussein during the years Iraq was under sanction.

That kind of doggedness will serve him well in his new capacity, according to representatives of groups that liaise between Washington and small, vulnerable Jewish communities overseas.

"Putting someone in there who has the know-how and connections to do the job right at least gives the issue a fair shot," said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs the Chabad-Lubavitch office in Washington.

Some Jewish groups had advocated for a scholar and someone with a less partisan background, but Rickman was the better choice, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

"You don't need a scholar, you need a pragmatic civil servant who will be there, be articulate and be a liaison," he said.

Rickman's appointment will go a long way toward reassuring Jewish groups who were angered by the Bush administration's initial resistance to the Lantos-Voinovich legislation.

"We're very appreciative of the president and Secretary Rice making this appointment," said Nathan Diament, who directs the Orthodox Union's Washington office. "It's consistent with the work they've done to combat anti-Semitism throughout the Bush administration."

Rickman, who will be sworn in Monday, will not simply monitor anti-Semitism; he will inject the issue into every bilateral or multilateral arrangement where it's applicable. Rickman declined to talk to reporters before his position became official.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, cited as an example efforts to get the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to encourage member nations to counter anti-Semitism.

"At a time when we're trying to get some governments to act through the OSCE, it'll be a full-time job," Hoenlein said. "We'll have someone who will privately and publicly express our concerns."

Daroff said Rickman's assignment will be twofold: dealing with official anti-Semitism and encouraging nations to combat anti-Semitism in their societies.

"This post empowers foreign policy and diplomacy," he said. "He can have a tremendous impact on combating anti-Semitism."

This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Russian Jews Have Learning Marathon

JTA Wire Service

MAY 21, 2006
Moscow

The catch phrase on the colorful posters hanging in Jewish institutions across Moscow -- "The entire Jewish world in 12 hours!" -- was only a slight exaggeration.

The organizers of Limmud FSU, an educational daylong marathon, clearly attempted to draw from a variety of Jewish life: "From a rabbi to a rock star," another slogan on the same poster promised.

Held Sunday at downtown Moscow's House of Scientists, a club affiliated with the Russian Academy of Science, Limmud FSU was touted by its organizers as the first-ever networking and educational opportunity for Russian Jews.

It was certainly a special event in Russia.

Several hundred people, mostly elderly, attended the event, some 700 people registered for the next Limmud -- and 100 more registered to help as volunteers, according to the organizers.

The idea was simple, but rare in Russian Jewish life: to get as many people as possible to learn about anything related to Judaism.

"Everyone with an expertise can come and talk. That's the beauty of Limmud," said Chaim Chesler, the founder of Limmud FSU.

The idea of Limmud FSU was based on another event of the same name, an annual conference in Britain, now in its 25th year, that in recent years has been replicated in other parts of the world.

This week's event -- which the organizers unofficially called "pre-Limmud," referring to a five-day conference to be held next February -- offered eight types of activities, ranging from lectures on Jewish philosophy and Holocaust to arts workshops, kids' activities and even Jewish karaoke.

One of the most popular sessions was the well-known Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who discussed Jewish mysticism. His "Kabbalah: Is it for Madonna Esther or Is it for Me?" drew 150 participants into a packed room.

Like almost every other new undertaking in the Russian Jewish community in recent years, Limmud is imported from the West.

Conceived by an Israeli and an American, and funded primarily by Western sources, the initiative also involved a group of younger locals who, the organizers hope, will eventually take upon the entire project.

While the impulse came from the outside, the locals mainly selected topics and speakers for this week's event, said Sandra Cahn, a Jewish activist and philanthropist from New York who headed the organizational committee of Limmud FSU.

The idea of Limmud FSU has already inspired Westerners and Israelis. A host of major Jewish groups and individuals from outside the former Soviet Union helped to fund it: from the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the World Jewish Congress, World ORT or Hillel, to many private foundations and a few local groups.

Like many other Western Jewish leaders who attended Limmud in Moscow, Israel Singer, chairman of the Policy Council at the World Jewish Congress believes Limmud has a chance to provide local Jews "an opportunity to inspire themselves, to invigorate Jewish culture."

There is irony, Singer told JTA, that "this part of the world, where great Jewish culture came from, is now encountering a tremendous amount of Jewish ignorance."

The hesitation of a middle-aged Jewish man who was perusing the 50-page program in the club's lobby exemplified Singer's point.

"There is a session on the differences between Litvaks and Chasidim," said Boris Bramberg, an engineer, referring to a session co-hosted by two Moscow rabbis representing the two streams in Judaism. "I would love to go there, but I don't even know the difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism."

An hour later, Bramberg was involved in a lively conversation with a Chabad rabbi.

Those who helped organize the event say several things help Limmud stand out among other projects in Russian Jewish life.

First is the idea of a transdenominational event not organized by a specific organization.

"Nobody owns it, and nobody has a veto," said Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust studies and Jewish history professor from Emory University who was a member of the project's advisory group and one of the lecturers at Moscow Limmud. Then, there is the notion of voluntarism: Some 30 young professionals from Moscow, Kiev, Minsk and other cities made up the team that helped put together the program and invite people.

Finally, those who came to listen, watch and learn had to pay. The $5 entrance fee for the Sunday marathon was a rather modest amount, even by Russian standards. But organizers said those attending next year's five-day Limmud at a retreat near Moscow will pay $120.

To persuade people to pay for their Jewish education is a step forward for a Russian community used to receiving free Jewish services, said Alexander Pyatigorsky, 25, who coordinated the event on the Russian side. "This is a step to change the way of thinking in people who call themselves members of the Jewish community. People should give their time, money or both, and for that they can get what they want, not what the organizations have to offer them."

This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.