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Friday, October 27, 2006

Chabad thinks big in Pascack Valley

Chabad of the Pascack Valley had such a full house during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur that it relocated to the Woodcliff Lake Hilton. With 150 to 200 people per month attending Chabad events and more than 50 children, other programs have been spread between the Chabad house and other area homes that can accommodate larger crowds.
After six years in a house on Overlook Road in Woodcliff Lake, the group is looking to buy a 3.8-acre property so it can move all of its programs to one address.
"For six years now Chabad has offered all this wonderful programming," said Rabbi Dov Drizin, director of Valley Chabad, who lives in the Overlook Road facility with his wife Hindy and five children. "We’ve been all over the place and it’s been scattered. Now there’ll be one place people can go for programs. It’s a Jewish discovery center that I believe will serve the entire Jewish community."
Drizin announced last week that Chabad’s offer of "$2 million and change" to buy the property from the Hathaway family had been accepted. It has 50 days to make a down payment. Drizin expects to close on the property in the summer. While there is a small house on the property, it will not fit Chabad’s needs, Drizin said. More than half of the $2 million-plus goal to buy the land has been reached — which will more than cover the down payment — but a campaign will be needed to build a new facility to be called the Valley Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery. Fund-raising will continue in stages as part of a long-term project, Drizin said.
"This week and next week we’ll be reaching out to the community," he said. "We get no money from outside the community, no money from Chabad central. We believe very strongly that support will be there for the next level."
Chabad of Woodcliff Lake has an annual budget of $400,000, all of which is raised from within the community, he added. The fund-raising campaigns for the new center are in addition to fund-raising for the rest of the year’s programming.
Plans for the new facility are still in preliminary stages, but Drizin said it would be a modest building between 12,000 and 15,000 square feet that "will very much fit into the character and landscape of the community, not like an institution that overwhelms the community."
Chabad will also create a Gan Israel day camp, a bar mitzvah discovery program, and other programs geared toward children in its new home. The adult education programming will also be rejuvenated, Drizin said, with the addition of a one-on-one study program with yeshiva students and rabbis, which will allow participants to set their own curriculum and schedule.
"Our vision for the Valley Chabad Center for Jewish Discovery is to be the third place," said Drizin. "There are some people who practice or observe at home and many people belong to a synagogue; we want to make something in between."
Outreach efforts will continue to the 13,627 Jews who live in the Pascack Valley, 55.5 percent of whom are unaffiliated, according to a 2002 study by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. Many of the new programs will focus around the word "discovery," Drizin said, which will encourage more nonaffiliated Jews to try a Chabad experience.
"This is the third place in between the temple and the home, where people feel very comfortable," he said. "Every individual has an essential, integral, and unique role."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Bar mitzvah blocked over circumcision

Traumatic row over bar mitzvah boy’s circumcision forces Sydney mother to move her son’s simcha from an Orthodox shul to a Progressive temple at 11th hour
Dan Goldberg

The bar mitzvah Australian boy had been scheduled to read from the Torah at Chabad Double Bay last Shabbat, but rabbis from the Sydney Beth Din (SBD) ruled on the previous Monday that his circumcision was not kosher.
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick and Rabbi Yoram Ulman, two judges at the Jewish court, were at the mikvah in Bondi preparing to draw a drop of blood from the boy to symbolize his Orthodox conversion when they noticed that his brit milah, conducted by a Jewish doctor in 1993, was incomplete.
“We immediately called one of the mohelim to check, and he confirmed a further circumcision needed to be done,” Rabbi Gutnick said.
He said he told the boy’s mother, journalist and author Ros Reines, that her son could either be operated on under local or general anesthetic, and that “hundreds of boys” – many from the former Soviet Union – have undergone this procedure in Australia prior to their bar mitzvah.
“In order to become Jewish he has to be (properly) circumcised there’s nothing we can do about it. We feel terrible it’s devastating,” Rabbi Gutnick said.
“I didn’t want my son to have that trauma (of another circumcision),” she told the AJN this week. “It’s not true he wasn’t circumcised; it’s a question of degree.”

'A kid that bounces back'

The single mother, who had an adult bat mitzvah following her Progressive conversion, said she had to inform the 100 or so guests of the change of venue “due to a technical problem” just days before the simcha.
But she said her son sang his portion magnificently. “He’s a kid that bounces back. It was one of the happiest weekends of our lives.”
However, she added: “To know we’ll never be counted there (at Chabad) really hurts me.”

'Fooling the child into believing he is Jewish'
Temple Emanuel Woollahra – which had a double aufruf and a bat mitzvah already scheduled for last Shabbat – accommodated the bar mitzvah.
Rabbi Kamins said it is the first time he has ever heard of such a case.
“We were able to help the family in a way which they (the Orthodox rabbinate) couldn’t,” he said. “I don’t think they would have made that decision with any lightheartedness or lack of consideration.”
But Rabbi Gutnick told the AJN the temple was “fooling the child” into believing he is Jewish.

“Unless the child goes to the mikvah and is circumcised according to Jewish law, pretending the child is Jewish is ultimately doing a disservice to the child,” he said.
In response, Reines said: “I don’t know how they can live with themselves.”
Rabbi Ulman failed to return several calls from the AJN.

Courtesy of the Australian Jewish News

Education flagged as key to Judaism's survival

It was after the destruction of the Second Temple that educational institutes became a central component of Jewish life. With no Temple to keep Jews rooted to their religion, the rabbis realized that study was necessary to keep Jews connected to Torah.
Today, it is freedom of choice so prevalent in so many aspects of American life that often leads Jews on a path away from their heritage, according to Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, and, again, it is education that will keep Jews rooted.
The Orthodox rabbi was the keynote speaker for last week's Foundation for Jewish Studies annual meeting, which also honored its founder, Rabbi Joshua Haberman. The event, which drew some 250 people and included the announcement of the Joshua O. Haberman Chair for Advanced Learning, was held at Washington Hebrew Congregation, where Haberman is rabbi emeritus. The foundation provides adult learning programs.
At a time when every ethnic group faces a crisis of assimilation, Greenberg, president of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation, said that the only way to "win loyalty," to nurture identity and commitment is through education.
Those faiths that can adapt, that can educate and that can inspire people with the sense they have a meaningful life, will thrive, he said.
Childhood values are not permanent, he explained, and must be reinforced throughout life. It is not the Orthodox who need to be observant and study, Greenberg said, noting they are in an isolated community, immersed in Judaism. It is other Jews "who have to intensify their observance and learning, because they are far more integrated."
Torah, he said, "is our future. Torah is what unites us. Torah is Klal Yisrael," the people of Israel.
In his acceptance, Haberman echoed many of Greenberg's themes, saying, "Judaism is not kids' stuff. Only with life experience and mental maturity can one appreciate the depth" of Torah teachings, of the sages, Jewish heritage and belief.
Lamenting that many homes today are "Jewishly barren," he said that Jews must not let anti-Semitism shake their self-esteem.
"If all you know about Judaism is expulsions, persecution Š you cannot help but develop a victim complex," he said. Studying the Bible, the writings of the sages and others "can give you the self-esteem you need to immunize yourself against the poison of hatred and think of Judaism not as a punishment," but as a great thing.
In honoring Haberman, honorary FJS board member Stuart Eizenstat ticked off a list of the Reform rabbi's accomplishments, saying, for example, that the rabbi was one of the first to reach out to the Muslim community and that, 30 years ago, he "extended a crucial hand of friendship to the Chabad movement when the first Chabad rabbi, Shmuel Kaplan, came to Washington." Kaplan is director of Lubavitch of Maryland.
A portion of the dinner proceeds (the amount was unknown at press time) will go toward funding the new Haberman chair, which will support an annual lecture series. Last week's annual meeting also included the announcement of the lead gift for the Ammerman Endowment for Lectureship Series, in memory of H. Max Ammerman, who was a Washington-area developer, and in honor of his wife, Josephine. ‹ Debra Rubin

EMT dies just after aiding at 1st crash

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
By NANCY H. GONTER and DIANE LEDERMAN
Staff writers

AMHERST - Early Sunday morning, Bradley N. Skikne was traveling along Route 2 in Athol when he came across a three-car accident.
The 22-year-old University of Massachusetts student from Middleton, who was also an emergency medical technician, stopped to help until an ambulance and the state police arrived.
Later that morning the state police, tracking the license plate on Skikne's car, called his home to thank him for his help, said Rabbi Simcha Levenberg who knew Skikne since 2004 when he became program director of Chabad House at UMass.
Police didn't know that a half hour after helping on the scene, Skikne was involved in a one-car accident in which he was killed. Skikne was driving west on Amherst Road in Pelham when he apparently lost control of his 2004 Toyota Matrix, state police said. His car, police said, went off the side of the road, up an embankment, then rolled back onto the road.
The cause of the accident is under investigation, police said.
Skikne, who was not wearing a safety belt, was ejected from the car. He was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The road was closed for four hours.
But helping others was the kind of man Skikne was, Levenberg said.
"It was very eerie (getting that call). But that was Bradley; he was always about helping other people."
Skikne was an EMT at University Health Services and had served in the same capacity in Acton, Levenberg said.
An Orthodox Jew, Skikne was also deeply connected to his religious faith and the Chabad house. The house rents rooms and apartments and offers all kinds of activities and events to Jews and the community at large. "He initially would come every Friday night for Sabbath."
He kept kosher and he and Levenberg led a trip to Israel for 10 days in the summer of 2005. But Skikne stayed on for two more weeks then took a semester off from UMass so he could study at a Jewish school in New York City, Levenberg said.
A biochemistry major, he would have graduated in 2007. He was thinking about becoming a dentist, Levenberg said.
"He wanted to have high quality of life" and he wanted time to spend with his family, the rabbi said. "He had a very large extended family and he was a big part of our family," he said.
"He was also an open, friendly person. He had a lot of friends." The community is crushed "by his tragic death," Levenberg said.
He said there was a caravan of seven vehicles who attended Skikne's funeral in Danvers yesterday.
In the accident in Athol, state police said that Steven P. Harte, 29, of Easton, was driving on Route 2 east when his car crossed the center lane and hit the car driven by Frank W. Wozniak, 86, of Dracut, head on, state police said.
Wozniak was taken to Athol Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Harte was taken to the hospital, then taken by helicopter to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester.
Harte was arrested at UMass Memorial on charges of motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of alcohol, motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of alcohol and with recklessness and failure to stay within marked lanes, police said.
After the accident, Route 2 was closed for two hours and traffic was diverted through a truck weighing station on Route 2.
Nancy Gonter can be reached at ngonter@repub.com Diane Lederman can be reached at dlederman@repub.com

©2006 The Republican
© 2006 MassLive.com All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Healing and strengthening the American family

By Marshall Weiss
The Dayton Jewish Observer

Author and Shalom In The Home host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach opens10th Annual Dayton Jewish Book Fair

Since Shmuley first appeared on the Jewish scene in 1988, he’s garnered his share of controversy. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, handpicked Shmuley as his emissary to England’s Oxford University. The Chabad movement wasn’t pleased when Shmuley began attracting a large number of non-Jewish participants and speakers at his events —among the most successful at Oxford.
The prolific author of books about sexuality, dating and parenting from a Jewish perspective — who has since returned to his modern Orthodox roots — has also raised eyebrows for his public debates with pornographer Larry Flynt and Jewish Playboy centerfold Lindsey Vuolo, and for his friendship with Michael Jackson, which he ultimately broke off.
These days, however, Shmuley has struck a chord with America’s television viewers, who flock to watch his reality show, Shalom in the Home, on TLC, which now enters its second season.
Did you gain your family counseling experience from your work as a rabbi?Much of it yes, but it really started earlier. I tell people, without really exaggerating, that I was the marriage counselor at the age of 6. My parents had great marital difficulty and I was the youngest. Whenever they would fight, my brothers and sisters would shove me into the room in the hope that my presence, this little vulnerable kid, would stop my parents from arguing. They divorced when I was 8.
There are two ways a child of divorce can react to it, to parents’ arguing. First is just to accept it, that’s the way it is — and almost pray that they were divorced, because everyone’s better off. The other way is to ponder: what are the secrets that keep a man and a woman together under the same roof for the duration of their lives, and I chose the latter path.
What is the biggest obstacle to family happiness?I think these days, the biggest obstacle from which everything else derives is simply that people don’t prioritize the best.
Our sense of fulfillment comes from things outside the family. We’re not putting the effort in that could really make a difference. And everything follows from there.
Were parents more effective in previous generations or is this a myth?Well, we are aware of some of the factors that allowed people to remain married in previous generations, not all of which were positive: it was socially unacceptable to divorce, divorce was also expensive and they didn’t have the money.
But aside from those negative reasons, I do believe that marriages were much stronger in the past. I don’t think it’s something nostalgic. I think there are a number of reasons.
Firstly, we didn’t have the same kind of distractions that we have today. I mean, a husband and wife have a television in their bedroom these days — in nearly all American households. What does that mean? It means you almost never speak, even in the most intimate area of the home. There are still all these intrusions.
Also, I think that people defined their success moralistically in earlier generations, such that failing with their kids — their kid ended up on drugs, or if you had five kids, they all ended up divorcing like Franklin Roosevelt(‘s children) — then yes, you were a great man because you were president of the United States, but you were a personal failure. You failed to give your children the skills by which to relate to others longterm.
I think today, we are hellbent on defining success by one criterion only: that is, how much money can you make? How much power did you assemble? And that’s tragic. I am a great believer in a much more holistic definition of success.
How do you suggest parents get back on the right path?By inspiring people to find their inner hero. Heroism in the world is defined as the ability of a human being to exert control over their environment. And heroism in Judaism is defined as the ability of a human being to exert control over their own self.
So a man who is faithful to his wife is a hero. The man who prioritizes his children, who does homework with his kids and reads them bedtime stories — even though that will never get him a promotion at work, even though that will never win him the esteem of his colleagues — that man is a hero.
It’s by inspiring people to become heroic and by giving them an honest and authentic definition of what heroism entails.
I don’t want to be ordinary in my life. I want to be special. So does everybody else. But people define specialness by public recognition. And I now understand that being special was defined principally by private virtue.
What challenges do you and your wife face within your own family?I’m raising eight children. It’s a full-time job. Some of them are better behaved, some of them are not as well- behaved. My beautiful, cute little 5-year-old, the sweetest boy in the whole world, is an incredible challenge —vivacious, very precocious — so I do give him more time.
I try to make sure I’m home — not every night, but most nights, even when I’m filming — to run home and put him to bed personally, tell him a bedtime story, because I know he needs that good interaction with me, as do the other kids, but him especially.
I am challenged like every husband in the world to keep my marriage fresh and exciting. I am blessed with a very loving wife who is a great helpmate to me in everything I do in my life. And I want to be worthy of her. I never want to cause her pain. I only want to bring her joy. And reminding myself what a beautiful blessing she is in my life is very important, because so often, we husbands take for granted what we have on the home front.
Another challenge is I have three teenage daughters and a teenage son. Understanding their transition in the teenage years and not accepting that teenagers have to be indulged or spoiled or rebellious (is a challenge), but also not going so far as to believe that when they are teenagers it’s just like they are 8 or 9, that there are differences. That’s a challenge. And there are many more.
My principal desire in life, honestly, is not to mess up with my children. To really raise good kids. To love my children and make them feel valuable at all times. I think my wife and I share that passion.
The enlightened husband loves his wife even more than he loves his children. Because without his love for her, there would be no children. And nevertheless, he knows his children are more vulnerable than his spouse.
And so my great desire in which my wife joins: let us together passionately raise secure and confident kids who never have to question whether they were loved in life.
I want my kids to know that no matter where I went, no matter what I did, I loved them and showed it, and I didn’t use some excuse: “I was here, I was there, I was busy.” That I always came home, that I always prioritized them. If I succeed at that, I will have undone much of the scarring that is within me.
Do you believe it’s harder for men to be there for the kids?Yes I do. There is a maternal instinct, there’s no doubt about it. I actually believe in men becoming more feminine. I believe in the feminization of the world. I await a time when the world will become more nurturing, more domesticated.
And I think women teach their husbands those qualities. And that’s why King Solomon said, “When a man finds a wife he finds goodness.” It’s almost as if he found his own personal goodness. He discovers all of his potential goodness.
We live in an age of loveless and often platonic marriages and I think for a lot of parents, their love comes intrinsically from their children, from whom they receive unconditional love. They’re nursing so much pain in their marriages, that they make the mistake of prioritizing their kids over their marriages, which is always inevitable. In a healthy marriage, your spouse comes first. In an unhealthy marriage, the children come first.
What will you talk about in Dayton?I would like to speak about why Shalom in the Home has made an impact nationally, thank God, how Judaism and Jewish values are one of the ways we’ll heal and strengthen the American family — meaning Jewish values, even for non-Jews.
An evening with Shalom In The Home host Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: opening event of the 10th Annual Dayton Jewish Book Fair, Sunday, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. at the Boonshoft CJCE, 525 Versailles Dr., Centerville. $18 per person. Tickets are available at the door. For more information, e-mail Information@jfgd.net.

© 2006 The Dayton Jewish Observer

Quebec committee to look into chassidic schools

By JANICE ARNOLD Staff Reporter

MONTREAL — Charley Levy, the executive director of the Association of Jewish Day Schools, has been appointed to a Quebec government committee formed to study the “integration and reasonable accommodation” of children from minority groups within the province’s school system.
It’s expected that one of the issues the consultative body will examine is chassidic schools that are operating without a permit and whose students are not being taught the province’s mandatory curriculum.
Levy told The CJN that the education ministry has told him of three schools that are allegedly not obeying the law: the secondary schools for boys operated by the Skver and Belzer communities, and the Rabbinical College of Canada’s high school, which is under Lubavitch auspices. They have a total of about 400 students, he said.
The Skver school, Toldos Yakov Yosef, in Outremont was firebombed over the Labour Day weekend.
Not only are these schools unlicensed, they are not following the Regime Pedagogique. The Education Act stipulates that all children in Quebec from six to 16 years of age must be in a legal school program and taught the mandatory curriculum. This applies equally to schools receiving government funding or not, and to children who are home-schooled.
At the three schools in question, high school-age boys concentrate on religious studies.
These schools are not affiliated with AJDS, but their boys’ elementary sections, which are in the same buildings, and the girls’ elementary and high schools, have permits and teach the prescribed curriculum, Levy said.
Levy said he has had no personal discussions with those in charge of the three chassidic schools operating without a permit.
The consultative committee was announced Oct. 11 by Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier and is scheduled to have its first meeting Oct. 30. Chaired by Bergman Fleury, a consulant in education and intercultural relations, it includes representatives of school associations, the Quebec Human Rights Commission, teachers’ unions, and the education and immigration and cultural communities ministries.
Besides Levy, the outside experts named are R’kia Laroui, an education professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, and Marie McAndrew, who holds the ethnic relations chair at the Université de Montréal.
Fournier said the main aim of the committee is to come up with guidelines and tools on how to “tactfully” reconcile situations where students’ religious and cultural beliefs and practices clash with “the values of Quebec institutions.” The committee has been also asked to formulate a clear definition of what constitutes reasonable accommodation of religious and cultural differences.
Fournier also alluded to the government’s determination that all children get the education set out in the law.
“It is a question of seeing that all youth receive the education to which they have a right while respecting their convictions, but equally respecting our laws, our democratic institutions and our traditions,” he said.
“It’s a right for them, an obligation of their parents and a priority for the government,” he said in a press release.
The committee is slated to issue its report in June.
Levy said he couldn’t comment on the committee’s mandate or what he would like to see it accomplish because, “at this point, I don’t know enough about it… I can’t even begin to comment until I see what is on our plate.” He expects to learn more at its first meeting next week.
He believes he was named because of his “sensitivity to the Jewish community” and lengthy experience in education.
Before coming to the AJDS in 2003, Levy worked for the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal and then the English Montreal School Board for a total of 37 years, including the last three years as the board’s director-general.
Last month, Federation CJA said it supports efforts to “regularize” the status of chassidic schools that may not be complying with the law.
“It goes without saying that all Quebecers are bound by the laws of society. The situation is clearly a delicate one involving the religious sensibilities of a particular segment of the Orthodox Jewish community,” federation first vice-president Marc Gold said in a statement.
“We are encouraged that the approach taken by the government is one of dialogue and discussion with the institutions and parents and we look forward to a satisfactory resolution of this issue.”
It would appear that the government has been aware of the situation at certain chassidic schools for years and tolerated it until francophone media reports about the schools’ legality appeared after the Toldos Yakov Yosef firebombing.
In fact, the situation likely existed long before the creation of the education ministry in 1964. The Rabbinical College, for example, was founded in 1941 by the late Rabbi Leib Kramer.
Alex Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Outremont Chassidic Organizations, called the whole issue a “red herring.”
With the exception of the Satmar schools, Werzberger said boys at all the Outremont area chassidic schools are following the provincial curriculum up to age 12 or 13.
After that, there are a couple of years where they are not, he admitted. After 15, the great majority of boys leave Montreal to go to New York, Israel and elsewhere to continue their studies, returning to Montreal when they marry, he said. Only a very small percentage remain in Montreal after 15, he said.
The girls of all ages are following the curriculum “to the letter of the law,” except for certain aspects of biology and sex education, Werzberger said.
“There was a deal made [with the government] years and years ago about this,” he said.
Werzberger, who is a member of the Satmar community, acknowledged that Satmar schools have not complied fully with the law at any grade level.
“They have refused, and for 35 or 40 years the government knew it, but closed their eyes. Now we have a problem, and I don’t know what can be done about it.”

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Lubavitch

...The Lubavitch, probably the largest Hasidic sect and certainly the most visible, changed its stance on Israel during the ‘reign’ of the last Rebbe and is now passionately and aggressively nationalist. ...

Hollywood temple's neighbors file federal appeal of settlement

By Ihosvani Rodriguez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

October 21, 2006

Hollywood � City officials made their peace with Chabad Lubavitch earlier this year, but a turf battle between the Orthodox Jewish synagogue and its Hollywood Hills neighbors is not over yet.

Six neighbors have taken their dispute to a federal appeals court, complaining that the synagogue, City Hall and a federal judge each cut them out of the picture when Hollywood in July settled a discrimination case filed by Chabad.

In their appeals brief filed last month, neighbors argued the settlement created a "zoning change" that affects their enjoyment of their homes.

The neighbors, who live within 300 feet of Chabad, claim they were not allowed to oppose such a zoning change when U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lenard denied them a chance to appear before her in July.

Lenard erroneously ruled the case was a religious discrimination dispute and the zoning change was incidental, attorney Vincent Vaccarella wrote on behalf of the neighbors. Vaccarella could not be reached for comment Thursday and Friday despite repeated calls.

Under the agreement, Chabad received $2 million from the city's insurer and was allowed to stay in the neighborhood. Chabad is also allowed to demolish the two houses it now occupies and rebuild a new facility. The synagogue is also allowed to build a parking lot and expand within a two-block boundary without having to seek a special permit from the city.

In their appeals filing, the neighbors said the settlement allows Chabad to continue having "day and evening classes, administrative offices, dinners, classes, weddings, youth group activities, birthdays, weekly newspaper publication, lectures, meals and barbecues" in a residential neighborhood.

"The problems have continued," said neighbor Ed O'Sheehan, whose wife is named as an appellant.

Ihosvani Rodriguez can be reached at ijrodriguez@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7908.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Now is the time to Support Chabad

Send a check to offer your support and encouragement to the lone shluchim out there who have dedicated their lives to the Rebbe's holy work

Chabad Lubavitch of Wellington
12785 W. Forest Hill Blvd. # 8C
Wellington, FL 33414 USA

Let's help the Rabbi put this behind them and continue his good work!

Widow's suit says she gave $18,000 for a $2,000 ark

Widow's suit says she gave $18,000 for a $2,000 ark

By Missy Diaz
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

October 21, 2006

When Loretta Miller's husband of more than 26 years died in October 2003, her rabbi suggested she donate an ark -- a sacred chest to house the Torah -- in his memory.

Miller has sued Rabbi Mendy Muskal of the Chabad Lubavitch in Wellington and claims his family used the $18,000 she donated to boost their lifestyle, take a family trip to Israel and deliver an ark that cost only $2,000.

Sometime before the scheduled October 2004 unveiling of the ark memorializing Jordan Miller, his widow said in an interview, she learned she had been "duped." While at the Muskals' home, Loretta Miller said, the rabbi took her into his garage and showed her a wood cabinet with mahogany veneer on top of plywood.

"It looked like somebody did it as a hobby and it just looked horrible," she said. "It looked like an armoire."

Muskal denies all of Miller's allegations and says he's confident a court will agree he did nothing wrong.

"We'll be proven to be meritorious in this," he said, adding that donations are not spent on a dollar-for-dollar basis. "We need those funds for operating and programming. That's how we're able to provide half a dozen classes a week for free."

On the advice of his attorney, Muskal declined to comment on the cost of the ark or who built it.

The suit, filed in August, names Muskal, 38, his wife, the synagogue and its advisory board members.

The Muskals, Miller says, told her that the cost of a customized ark, including shipping, would be $18,000. An expert in New York would make it, Miller said she was told, and she was promised three designs from which she could choose. She wrote the check and said she specifically designated the funds for the ark, nothing else.

Miller says the Muskals' lifestyle changed for the better soon after she delivered the check.

"He didn't have any money before I gave him the $18,000," she said. "He always gave chicken legs for dinners and suddenly he's giving chicken breasts and putting better wine on [his] table than he normally has. He became very wealthy on my money."

Time passed, she said, and she heard nothing but excuses about the ark. She was shocked when she learned the Muskals and their five children -- they now have six -- had taken a trip to Israel in June 2004, staying for two months.

Mendy Muskal acknowledges the trip, but said that although his family stayed for two months, he was there only 10 days. Miller alleges the Muskals vacationed on the ark money.

She questions how they afforded the international flights when about the same time, a Palm Beach County judge had ordered Mendy Muskal to pay $12,945 to MBNA America Bank for defaulting on his debt, court records show. The judgment still hasn't been satisfied and the case against Muskal was re-opened in 2005, records show.

Muskal declined to comment on that suit, saying it's "a personal matter."

When Miller first laid eyes on the ark in Muskal's garage, she said the rabbi told her his Israeli neighbor, who woodworks as a hobby, built it for $2,000. She said she immediately told Muskal she wanted her money back, to which he allegedly replied: "I'm not going to let my children starve because you want your money back."

At the Oct. 21, 2004, unveiling, Miller claims the ark was still not completed.

"It was stained, that was about it," she said. "He didn't have a curtain on it, he didn't have my husband's name on it and it looked like it needed work. I was supposed to pick out a design and he picked it out. It's not what I ordered. I ordered an $18,000 ark and got a $2,000 ark."

Muskal disputes Miller's allegations, saying she, along with others at the service, "oohed and aahed" at the ark's beauty.

He also adamantly denies the ark was unfinished and presented the South Florida Sun-Sentinel with photographs of the ark he said were taken at the 2004 High Holiday services, underscoring his assertion. He acknowledges the curtain was unfinished but said 2004's active hurricane season caused the delay.

In her lawsuit, Miller also said she was provided a receipt containing the synagogue's Tax ID number, which she planned to use to write off the $18,000 as a deduction on her taxes. But according to the state Division of Corporations, the synagogue's nonprofit status was dissolved from sometime in 2002 until May 2005.

Muskal blamed the dissolution on a "clerical error," explaining that he neglected to file the necessary paperwork.

"The moment we found out about it we took care of it," he said.

Miller reported what she found to the IRS, which she says informed her that "his receipts are worth nothing."

"They said I better not present those receipts or I would be audited," Miller said.

When an organization loses its corporate status, it also loses a shield of protection from liability, according to Palm Beach tax attorney David Halpen.

"The directors, the rabbi and the people who were in charge of the synagogue are the ones who are most at risk if a court agrees that the synagogue was not a valid corporation," he said. "The individual donors can go after the synagogue and the IRS can also go after the synagogue."

In her lawsuit, Miller is seeking $16,000, plus $3,000 for pain and suffering as well as court costs and interest.

"He preyed on my goodness, my grief, my charity," she said. "He and his wife were like a vulture that came down and went after me."

The rabbi said he has worked seven years to build his synagogue from a few families to more than 100 and he hopes Miller's accusations won't affect their good works.

"It's so easy to destroy, yet so difficult to build," he said.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Author looks at how Jewish heritage influenced comic books

By Samuel G. Freedman
The New York Times

October 13, 2006

When Rabbi Simcha Weinstein speaks of repentance at the B'nai Avraham synagogue in Brooklyn Heights, he often thinks of a young man he met decades ago by the name of Peter Parker.

Parker had been walking home after competing in a wrestling match, vain in the aftermath of his victory, and as a robber dashed past him, he did nothing. That same robber proceeded to attack and kill Parker's uncle.

Coming upon the scene, the nephew was struck by such guilt and remorse that he resolved to spend the rest of his life fighting crime.

As any fan of comic books would recognize, Peter Parker is Spider-man, created by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. Parker's moment of moral awakening occurred in the first issue of the Spider-man strip, published in 1962 and discovered by Weinstein during his own boyhood in the early '80s.

Something else that Weinstein came to learn much more recently was that Lee and Kirby were Jewish -- born Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg. So it seemed to the rabbi no accident that their comic resonated with a quintessentially Jewish theological theme.

That insight, among others drawn from Weinstein's study of the classic superhero comics, infuses a new book, Up, Up and Oy Vey! The volume, which has nearly sold out its first run of 5,000 copies, contends that writer-artists of the classic comics, many of them Jewish, were influenced by their religious heritage in devising characters and plots.

"I feel queasy when I read people who use pop culture to try to proselytize," said Weinstein, a member of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect who is the campus rabbi at Pratt Institute. "And I didn't want to enforce my own fantasy.

"But I knew the writers were Jewish. That's a historical fact. And when I bought all the comics, and gave them my rabbi's reading, I saw something there. Judaism is filled with superheroes and villains: Samson, Pharaoh. And it's a religion rich in storytelling and in themes of being moral, ethical, spiritual."

That thesis made sense to another expert in the field, the author David Hajdu.

"Many of the important early comic-book creators were barely adults when they started working," said Hajdu, whose coming book, The Ten-Cent Plague, explores the comics craze of the postwar years. "Nor were they worldly, nor very well read or educated. They drew, literally, from what they knew. That is, the culture of their homes and their neighborhoods, which were mostly Jewish."

Weinstein has gone deep in making the connection between Judaism and the comics. His upbringing gave him a firm footing in each world.

Reared in a secular family in England, he started reading comics as an offshoot of his passion for the movies. He went on to study at film school and work as a location scout for productions. In his late teens and early 20s, though, he also felt the pull of faith and, ultimately, enrolled in a yeshiva in Jerusalem.

Ordained in 2003, Weinstein, 30, wound up being appointed the rabbi at Pratt, the institution devoted to the visual arts. There he found that his knowledge of and ardor for comics provided a common language with the students.

In his research, the rabbi delved into the biographies of comic-book greats. Kirby was the son of an Orthodox father and grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

In the early '60s, when he developed the character known as the Thing as part of the Fantastic Four, Kirby gave the bricklike being a human past as Benjamin Jacob Grimm, using his and his father's Jewish names, and a tough childhood on Yancy Street, a thinly veiled version of the real Delancey Street.

For his home, Kirby even made a drawing of the Thing wearing a yarmulke and a prayer shawl.

Along with those examples of Judaic influence, Up, Up, and Oy Vey! offers instances like the name of Superman's father, Jor-El, with "El" being the suffix to many biblical names. The book also cites the common use of masks and false identities among superheroes, akin to the heroine Esther in the Purim story, who goes by an alias in Persian society.

Since publication, Up, Up and Oy Vey! has brought Weinstein invitations to book fairs, Jewish events and comics conventions in places like San Diego and London.

Trying not to overreach, Weinstein deleted a passage that likened Batman's bat cave to the Machpelah, the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where the Bible says Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah are buried.

"Simcha," he says aloud to himself, "the night you wrote that, you had too much Starbucks."

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The Late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Zt"l

My previous post had a thought from last week's Hamodia. The quote from Hamodia wrote about "The Late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Zt"l." It is kind of funny that Hamodia used the word Late before mentioning the Rebbe and then afterward write ZT"L because the words ZT'L after someone's names means that person died. I never saw any other gadol refered to as being Late. You never see the Late Rabbi Solovetchik. Either way, its obvious why Hamodia wrote it the way that they wrote it.

There were three Chabad references in last week's Hamodia. I was very happy when I saw this quote in Hamodia. I think that Chabad is definetely a mixed bag (like all things in life and in judasim) and I think the good stuff in Chabad is really good and I am always disappointed when I see the moshiach issue and the moshiachist themselves muck up everything, because the moshiach issue somehow extinguishes all the good things about the Rebbe and what his message was. So Hamodia, the Chassidus oriented newspaper (I think?), quoted nice things about Chabad in a few places and if the newspaper feels that it has to stress that the Rebbe is dead before quoting him in order to quote a nice thought he had, then kol hakavod. I think I am going to start referring to the Rebbe in the same way before I quote him.

Now I just have to work on getting Hamodia to deliever my newspaper on time so I don't have to read last week's issue a week later.

Films about Lubavitcher rebbe to be preserved

A grant from the U.S. National Film Preservation Foundation will help preserve three films about the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe.

The $2,500 will go to efforts by Jewish Educational Media, which is affiliated with Chabad-Lubavitch, to preserve the three films featuring Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneerson.

The films date from 1929, 1949 and 1957.

New U.N. head may make body fairer to Israel, groups hope

By Ben Harris

NEW YORK, Oct. 13 (JTA) — Jewish officials are greeting the selection of Ban Ki-moon as the next U.N. secretary-general with cautious optimism, hopeful that the South Korean foreign minister will use the office to push for fairer treatment of Israel and more equitable application of international human rights standards.

The Security Council endorsed Ban, 62, by acclamation Monday, choosing him from a field of seven candidates. The General Assembly confirmed him Friday afternoon.

“If the selection process is any indicator, then the journey of his tenure might be smoother than what we’ve seen until now,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of American Friends of Lubavitch and Chabad’s chief envoy in Washington, who met with Ban and other U.N. candidates. “There’s something smooth, quiet, yet effective about him, and as we get to know him better, I hope it’s going to bring us closer to a better and more peaceful world.”

Ban will replace Kofi Annan of Ghana, who has a mixed record on issues of Jewish concern. U.N. observers say it’s difficult to predict whether Ban will fare any better, particularly given his reputation as a moderate who prizes consensus-building.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based U.N. Watch, says powerful groups like the Non-Aligned Movement — an alliance of developing countries that includes the 56-member Muslim bloc — could obstruct any significant changes Ban seeks to implement.

“It would be naive to expect radical change,” Neuer said. “The most important decisions are made by members states which are organized into certain powerful alliances.”

If the Non-Aligned Movement “wants to play the spoiler role, the secretary-general is limited in what he can accomplish,” he said.

Neuer’s skepticism echoes criticism aimed at Ban ahead of his selection. Some said he was too weak for the U.N.’s top job, chosen more for his inoffensiveness than his potential to reform an organization still tarnished by the oil-for-food scandal and allegations of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers.

As Ban emerged as front-runner, U.N. staff reportedly worried that the career diplomat lacked the mettle to take the organization out from under the cloud of controversy that has marred Annan’s second term. Annan will step down as secretary-general Dec. 31.

Ban earned a B.A. in international relations from Seoul National University in 1970, and holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

Often described as soft-spoken and lacking charisma, Ban rose steadily through the ranks of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, becoming foreign minister in January 2004. His previous postings include New Delhi, Washington, Vienna and New York, and in 2005 he became the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Israel.

“He seems to be a good man and has all the necessary qualifications to be a good secretary-general,” said Aaron Jacob, associate director of international affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who met with Ban in late September.

At the meeting, Ban was noncommittal in response to AJCommittee concerns about Iran, human rights and reports that U.N. peacekeepers in southern Lebanon are narrowly interpreting their mandate. Given the Security Council’s imminent vote on his nomination, however, that reticence was to be expected, Jacob said.

“He said that he understood our concerns, but understandably did not go into details,” Jacob said.

Ban has said he would make reforming the United Nations — a cause close to the hearts of Jewish organizations who say the world body treats Israel unfairly — a top priority. He also has pledged to try to broker a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The U.N. Charter “was crafted to give the member states ample flexibility in adapting the U.N. machinery to respond to novel threats in a changing world,” Ban told world leaders in September at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. “But our tools need sharpening.”

Unlike Neuer, who would like the new secretary-general to take a bold stance on key issues, many of those who have met Ban believe a more subdued approach — unlike the very public pronouncements that have been a hallmark of Annan’s tenure — may be more effective in achieving long-term change.

“Although he doesn’t come across as a high-profile champion of causes, he does have a human-rights background and has been able to advance some of those issues behind the scenes,” said Shai Franklin, director of international organizations for the World Jewish Congress. “It would be a mistake to dismiss his low-key public style as a lack of interest or resolve on human rights or other issues that we as Jews take very seriously.”

“I think he’s going to surprise the skeptics,” agreed Michael Landau, who heads the Coalition of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of the West Side, a Manhattan-based umbrella group representing 27 groups, and who attended the AJCommittee meeting with Ban. We see Kofi Annan “as being more vocal a leader than Ban Ki-moon, who will speak less and do a lot.”

Citrus County Sukkot

Sukkot: Coming to a site near you

A rabbi and his son drive a simple hut around so others can mark the holiday of Sukkot.

By MINDY RUBENSTEIN
Published October 14, 2006

LAND O'LAKES - Ilisa Nickle is Jewish but had never celebrated the holiday of Sukkot.

That changed Thursday, in the most happenstance way.

Nickle was on break from her job at Big Lots. She was sitting in her car in the parking lot, "talking to God," she said. Her mother died last month, and she was asking for help to buy the headstone.

That's when a man in a white button-down shirt and black pants approached her. Yosef Rivkin was his name. He was the son of a rabbi.

Soon, he and Nickle were standing in the bed of a white pickup parked away from other cars in the lot off State Road 54 and U.S. 41. Atop the bed was a makeshift wooden hut with palm branches, fruit, leaves, and other natural materials - a sukkah.

Sukkahs are often used during Sukkot, when believers commemorate the ancient Jews' faith in God as they journeyed through the wilderness using temporary shelters.

Observant Jews usually build sukkahs in their back yards. They study, pray, eat, or even sleep in them. They often perform certain rituals during the holiday to promote unity.

The Sukkot holiday lasts eight days, and ends this year today at sundown.

Yosef's father, Rabbi Lazer Rivkin, is the director of the Chabad House Jewish Student Center at the University of South Florida in Tampa. He wanted Jews around growing areas of Pasco and Hillsborough to experience Sukkot. They have fewer options to connect with each other than Jews in urban areas like Tampa or big cities like New York, he said.

So he rode around with a sukkah on a truck and called it a "sukkahmobile." He and family members parked it in conspicuous places: outside Big Lots, on the USF campus. They went to retirement centers to reach the elderly. They hoped Jews would see them and want to learn about Sukkot.

Some, like Nickle, did.

770: Illustrating That Looks Aren't Everything

By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 17, 2006; C01

NEW YORK Sometimes, all it takes to make good art is to point a finger -- or a camera -- at our world's most telling peculiarities. That, at least, is how many leading artists feel these days: They believe that content, presented as transparently as possible, is what ought to matter most; artsy form can only interfere. Photographers Andrea Robbins and Max Becher have made a career of such telling transparency. Their razor-sharp photographs seem like nothing more than windows open on the strangeness in the world. It's an effect that in itself demands an artful eye.

A few years ago, the pair showed us photos of middle-class Germans who spend their weekends and vacations dressed as Native Americans.

A new project called "770," showing at Sonnabend Gallery in New York, traces a single piece of undistinguished Brooklyn architecture that has cloned itself around the world.

770 Eastern Pkwy. is the address of the Brooklyn headquarters of the Lubavitcher movement, the largest group of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews. The modest brick structure, in a banal neo-Gothic style, once housed a doctors' clinic. In 1940, however, it was bought by Lubavitchers for their sixth rebbe, Yoseph Yitzchak Schneerson. After his death in 1950, it was taken over by his much-venerated son-in-law, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh rebbe, who passed away in 1994. (Some of his followers believe him to be the Messiah, and therefore still "alive.")

Because of that man's fame and his reputed holiness, when Lubavitchers set up shop in other places, they often duplicate his home to house new centers for the faithful.

Robbins and Becher show us a "770" in Sao Paulo, where this little bit of Brooklyn in Brazil has somehow grown an understory parking bay, and sits dwarfed by neighboring high-rises.

In Milan it has been squeezed into a tighter space, between two neoclassical palazzi .

In Los Angeles, the bays of the original facade have multiplied to make the building nearly fill a city block, while at a camp near Montreal it has been shrunk to almost clubhouse size.

Archaeologists of the future, digging up these structures, might imagine that it was their repeated form that held some special meaning and attraction. They'd be wrong: These buildings are all about the content one of them once held.

770 At Sonnabend Gallery, 536 W. 22nd St., New York, through Oct. 21. Call the gallery at 212-627-1018 or visit http://www.robbinsbecher.com/ to see further images of this and other projects by Robbins and Becher.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

HIGH HOLIDAY HOPES:

Rabbi Raleigh Resnick of Chabad of the Tri-Valley has been in town only a few years but has already developed a vast network of friends in the community.

A "Concerned Christian" recently contacted the Times to let us know that the Chabad is in need of a donated car. "Chabad is a shining light to the Jewish Community in the Tri-Valley," the unidentified messenger continued.

"I'm so flattered," Resnick said when I contacted him about the anonymous tip. He confirmed that indeed, the need for the car is great. Apparently the Chabad's old four-door sedan finally stopped working lately, and with the High Holidays approaching, it's feeling the loss.

"We have a Hebrew school every Sunday at Harvest Park Middle School and we need to be able to bring classroom materials," Resnick said. Of note, this is the first Hebrew school to serve the entire Tri-Valley community, not just a specific temple.

Resnick said the car would also come in handy for the new monthly children's service club, Mitzvah, which means "good deed" in Hebrew. "They get together once a month to do a good deed," he said. Upcoming activities include creating care packages for soldiers and visiting senior centers.

If you have a car that might fit the bill, contact Resnick at 925-846-0700 or log on to www.jewishtrivalley.com.

The Seven Laws of Noah and the Non-Jews who Follow Them

By Michael Kress

?Sitting at a table at Mendy’s Kosher Delicatessen in New York, Jim Long pauses to say a blessing in Hebrew before biting into a massive hamburger topped with fried pastrami. “This pastrami is better than bacon,” he declares in his warm voice tinged with an Arkansan accent. The 58-year-old filmmaker—who no longer permits himself bacon—is in the city with his wife Carol, who sits primly beside him. They are here to speak at several Orthodox synagogues about their documentary, Riddles of the Exodus, which examines the biblical account through the lens of Egyptian archaeological finds.

The Longs are an observant couple. Hebrew phrases pepper their conversation—a b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help) here, a baruch Hashem (praise God) there. Back in Arkansas, they keep a traditional Jewish home. “We’ve got blessings in ivrit [Hebrew] hanging on the walls, and menorahs on display,” Long explains. Each year, they build a sukkah and attend a Passover seder. “Our oldest grandson just turned six and already knows his aleph-bet,” Long boasts.

But despite the baruch Hashems, the menorahs, the sukkah, the avoidance of pork and the intimate familiarity with advanced rabbinic texts, Jim and Carol Long are not Jewish, nor do they have any plans to convert. They are Noahides: non-Jews who accept the authority of Jewish law and focus their lives around the Jewish concept of Sheva Mitzvot B’nei Noach or the Seven Commandments for the Children of Noah. This set of laws is intended for non-Jews and, according to tradition, predate the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai. “I believe exactly what a Jew believes,” Long tells me. “My belief system is exactly parallel to that of an Orthodox Jew. That doesn’t mean I am one.”

Unbeknownst to most Jews, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Noahides, and most, like the Longs, are former Christians who’ve turned their backs on the faith. This is not the first time the world has seen a community of “Righteous Gentiles” who center their beliefs around Judaism but it is the first time in history that such a group has begun to organize as a worldwide movement. And that movement is being actively encouraged by some Orthodox Jewish groups—in particular, the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim.

About forty blocks north of Mendy’s deli, Rabbi Yakov Cohen scurries around a second-floor office at the Schneerson Center for Jewish Life, the home of Chabad on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The 30-something Brooklynite with a close-cropped reddish beard, rarely sits still: he devotes his copious energies to helping out with the Chabad center’s core mission—classes, prayer services and other programs for Jewish residents of this tony Manhattan neighborhood.

His true passion, however, lies in reaching out to non-Jews through what are usually referred to as the “Seven Laws,” which he describes as pillars of universal morality that serve as a “balm for a world of conflict and immorality.” Jewish teachings say that God first gave these laws to Adam, then reaffirmed them as part of the covenant he made with Noah after the Flood. Just as the Jews have the Ten Commandments (plus an additional 603 mitzvot), non-Jews—all of whom are technically the children of Noah—have the Seven Laws, which command them to establish a legal system and refrain from murder, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, theft and eating the flesh of a living animal.

“The non-Jews have the full length and breadth of Torah—they just have a different role in it,” says Cohen, his rapid-fire delivery complete with a yeshiva-ish lilt. “The role of every person is to be a good person, to bring divine light, to draw down godliness, Hashem, into the world. To do it as a Jew, as a non-Jew, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same light,” he says. “It’s the same Godly energy.”

Like virtually all Chabad Hasidim, Cohen seeks counsel in the words of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitch rebbe, who died at age 92 in 1994 and is still affectionately referred to simply as the “the rebbe.” “Influencing non-Jews to keep their mitzvos, the Seven Noahide Laws... will assist our task of making the world into a dwelling place for God, and help bring about the arrival of Messiah,” Schneerson said in a 1987 speech during a Purim celebration. In response to teachings like this, thousands of his followers fanned out around the globe to battle what they saw as society’s moral degeneracy, bringing yiddishkeit to non-observant Jews and seeking out and supporting interested non-Jews.

About six years ago, Cohen founded Noahide.org, a website that serves as a sort of Noahide think tank, through which he runs conferences, publishes papers and counsels non-Jews from as far away as Scandinavia. Other Chabad-associated websites such as AskNoah.org and 7for70.com (meaning, seven laws for the proverbial 70 nations of the world) likewise seek to spread Noahide values to non-Jews in English, French, Spanish and other languages. Rabbis from Shimon Cowen in Australia to Immanuel Schochet in Canada offer halachic advice to Noahides and lecture about what Jewish tradition expects of non-Jews. In Israel, Chabad emissaries visit Arab and Druze villages to pass out literature about the Seven Laws and converse with the sometimes bewildered—but often receptive—locals. In addition to preparing the world for the Messiah, they see themselves as presenting moral values that will end the centuries-old animosities between Muslims and Jews.

“We, the Jewish people, especially frum people, have to be a light upon the nations and we have to tell them what Torah says,” says Cohen. “We have the responsibility to shed light on the world.”

Jack Saunders has a snowy white beard of biblical proportions. Back in the 1980s he was a Baptist minister at Frazier’s Chapel Independent Baptist Church in Cohutta, Georgia, near the Tennessee border. But that was before the now 58-year-old Tennessean began to question the fundamentals of his faith and came to the conclusion that the gospel stories of Jesus and the entire New Testament are false.

“It was kind of disturbing,” he says of the experience. “But if you’re looking for truth and truth smacks you in the face, then you have to do something. You have to be able to confront it and say, ‘This is the truth’ and let go of your emotions.”

Saunders recalls how hard it was to express his doubts to his parishioners and admit that he had “been wrong for all those years.” The process was slow. For about a year and a half he preached only from the Jewish Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament. Then one Sunday morning, Saunders recalls, he stood on the pulpit and read from Isaiah 7:14, in which a young woman, interpreted by Christians to be a virgin, gives birth to Jesus. For the first time he let his parishioners know that he saw no hint of Christian prophecy in that passage. “That’s when everything, you may say, hit the fan.”

Some church-goers abandoned Saunders, but nearly half of the congregation’s 70 members were moved by the pastor’s change of heart and stayed as Frazier’s Chapel Independent Baptist Church removed its steeple and crosses. “At the time,” Saunders says, “the only thing we knew was what we were not.” After reading about the Seven Laws and studying with a rabbi, Saunders and his remaining flock became Noahides and redubbed their place of worship Frazier’s Chapel B’nai Noach Study Center. “I wanted to be able to read the Hebraic sources by myself,” says Saunders, who has since learned Hebrew. “I didn’t want to be lied to because I’d been lied to by all those Christians.”

It was Texas archaeologist Vendyl Jones who introduced Jim Long to the Seven Laws. The two met in 1993 when Jones appeared on the Dallas radio show that Long produced. A former Baptist preacher, Jones had grown dismayed with what he considered the anti-Jewish sentiments of the Gospels and sought council from rabbis, studied in Israel and became a Noahide. He is believed to have been the inspiration for the character Indiana Jones in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark and is the founder of the Vendyl Jones Research Institute—a nonprofit based in Grandview, Texas, devoted to Biblical archeology. Considered one of the pioneers of the modern Noahide movement, Jones fondly remembers meeting Schneerson in his Brooklyn home and the rabbi’s encouraging words: “‘Vendyl Jones, you are doing the most important work in the world.’”
Long found himself intrigued by Jones’s spiritual journey. Having drifted from denomination to denomination until he abandoned Christianity altogether, Long “was looking for something to fill the void.” Shortly after the radio interview, he began attending Torah classes and joined Jones on archeological digs in the Middle East.

For Pam Rogers, the break with Christianity was more wrenching. Rogers and her husband, Larry, who live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were members of the Worldwide Church of God, a small Christian movement that observes the Sabbath on Saturdays, before becoming leaders of a Messianic Jewish congregation. In the early 1990s, a Jewish man befriended them and challenged them to prove the validity of the Christian Bible. As the couple tried to defend their views, they came to believe that the New Testament distorted the teachings of the Hebrew Bible.

The decision to become a Noahide threatened to break the Rogers family apart. Pam’s father, a Pentecostal preacher, refused to speak to her for four years. Larry lost his job because he refused to work on Saturdays. The couple almost divorced because Pam made the decision to build her life around the Seven Laws before Larry did. “We lose our children, our spouses, our identities,” Rogers says of the sacrifices that she and other Noahides are often forced to make for their faith.

Despite what might seem an obvious trajectory, following the Seven Laws is not a path to becoming a Jew, says Yakov Cohen of the Schneerson Center. “We’re not interested in membership,” he says. Rather, the Chabad sees Judaism as a “universal religion” that offers salvation to everyone without conversion.
Jews are not known for proselytizing, and most Jews believe that Judaism prohibits it. David Novak—a Conservative rabbi and leading authority on the Seven Laws and what Judaism requires of non-Jews—debunks that idea. “Find me one halachic prohibition against proselytizing,” he says. The popularly accepted notion that Judaism opposes proselytizing, Novak argues, rests less on theology than on the fact that most of Jewish history has been a perpetual struggle for survival. “For most of the time, Jews couldn’t do it.”

Novak, who teaches at the University of Toronto, points to sporadic attempts to convert people to Judaism throughout history. The best-known effort took place during the time of the Second Temple, which stood from 515 to 70 B.C.E. Living under the Romans, Jews actively proselytized, with great success. Some non-Jews converted, others simply took on aspects of observant Jewish life and became part of Jewish communities. Called the “God Fearers” (Yirei Adonai), they are immortalized in the Book of Psalms.
While Jewish law does not prohibit proselytization, it does not call for a world of Jewish converts, either. The traditional messianic vision, as articulated most famously in the Book of Isaiah, is of a world at peace in which everyone acknowledges one God, even if all do not adopt Judaism:

And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares…

Even in a text as familiar as the Aleinu prayer, Jews regularly reference a vision of Jews and non-Jews under a monotheistic ruler—to many, a clear allusion to Noahides:

All the world’s inhabitants will recognize and know that to you, every knee should bend, every tongue should swear. Before You, Lord, our God, they will bend every knee and cast themselves down and to the glory of your name they will render homage, and they will all accept upon themselves the yoke of your kingship, that you may reign over them soon and eternally.

Since the earliest days of Christianity, Jewish sages have argued over whether the Noahide commandment not to worship “false gods” is compatible with other religions. Islam, the rabbis hold, is acceptable because of its adamantly monotheistic stance. Christianity, on the other hand, remains a subject of contention, with many arguing that belief in the Trinity is polytheistic, and therefore out of bounds under Noahide law.
Another critical debate centers around whether the Seven Laws are a set of universal moral imperatives that people intuit on their own or are precepts that Jews must actively bring to the world. The dominant halachic attitude has been that Jews are not required to spread Noahide teachings to non-Jews. Moses Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher and legal authority, disagreed. In his monumental 12th-century work the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides envisioned a society in which non-Jews would be governed by Jewish law, noting that they could choose to convert. “If they do not want to, we do not compel them to accept the Torah and the commandments. Moses did, however, command in the name of God to compel all people to accept the Noahide laws,” Maimonides continued. “Compel” may seem a particularly strong word, but Maimonides’s stance is clear: Jews must do what they can to teach non-Jews about the Noahide laws.
The 19th century Italian rabbi and famed Kabbalist, Elijah Benamozegh, also believed that Jews have a responsibility to guide non-Jews towards the path of righteousness. Shortly before his death in 1900, Benamozegh received a letter from Frenchman Aimé Pallière seeking advice on converting to Judaism. Benamozegh told the young man there was another way. “The religion of humanity is no other than Noahism,” the rabbi wrote to Pallière. “Here is the religion preserved by Israel to be transmitted to the Gentiles. It is the path which lies open before your efforts, before mine as well, to spread the knowledge thereof, as is my duty to do so.” Called the “first and last high priest of the Noahide religion,” Pallière is believed to have been the first modern Noahide. A talented writer, he learned Hebrew, lectured at the Orthodox Rabbinical School of France and urged Jews to follow Orthodox traditions.

Benamozegh believed “that mankind cannot rise to the essential principles on which society must rest unless it meet[s] with Israel. And Israel cannot fathom the depths of its own national and religious tradition, unless it meet[s] with mankind.” A half-century later, Benamozegh’s dream of a Jewish-supported Noahide worldwide movement would be seized upon by Schneerson. “Every Jew has the obligation to ensure that all the peoples of the world observe the Seven Noahide Laws” and that non-Jews, as well as Jews, “acknowledge God as Creator and ruler of the world,” Schneerson declared.

It’s a position that remains controversial. “If Jews are telling Gentiles what to do, it’s a form of imperialism,” Novak says. To him, the Seven Laws are valuable in constructing a moral foundation that enables Jews to speak out on social issues, but not as part of a religion around which non-Jews should structure their daily lives. “Why would any Gentile want to be told by Lubavitch—or any other rabbi—what to do?” Novak asks. “I am suspicious of anyone who wants to live this way.”

Novak isn’t alone in his suspicions. “With a lot of rabbis, there’s still this skepticism and fear that someone’s trying to infiltrate your shul and will end up being some sort of missionary trying to bring people to Christianity,” Jack Saunders says of the reception Noahides often receive when seeking guidance. Counseling Noahides is not the sort of subject covered in a typical rabbinical school education and rabbis tend to confront the issue only if approached personally by a non-Jew.

Barry Freundel, the author of Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity and rabbi of Washington, DC’s Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue, is among the many rabbis who have never been approached by a Noahide. Freundel doesn’t share Schneerson’s belief that Jews are required to spread the Noahide laws to non-Jews—but he also doesn’t believe that Jews can ignore interested Noahides. “Once they are doing it, you are required to help them,” he says.

Carol Long wishes there were many more rabbis who were willing to work with Noahides. “They have to know there are actually people out there looking to them for leadership and spiritual guidance and who respect what they bring to the world.”

Today’s Noahide movement has no prescribed ritual and liturgical life. Even the laws themselves—six out of the seven—are prohibitions such as “don’t kill” and “don’t steal.”

“We need to give more than ‘don’t, don’t, don’t,’” Larry Rogers says. If more people are going to become Noahide, “they have to have a life. They have to know there are life celebrations,” he says. “We’re trying to find our place with Hashem.”

To add greater meaning to their lives, some Noahides have created a lifestyle parallel to that of Orthodox Judaism: They study Jewish texts, pray and follow some of what are known as the “positive commandments”—rituals and other mitzvot. They’ve adopted portions of Jewish liturgy and prayers, removing all mentions of chosenness, to make clear that this concept only applies to Jews.
But “there are so many opinions about Noahide halacha,” says Pam Rogers. “It’s very confusing for us Gentiles.” The Noahide approach to Shabbat illustrates the difficulty of deciding which Jewish traditions to follow. Rogers and her husband try to avoid work and set aside time for a festive meal and prayer, but don’t refrain from using electrical devices. Others may shun the use of electricity but go out of their way to perform at least one activity over the course of Shabbat that distinguishes them from Jews. Jack Saunders, for example, writes a check. “I always do something that makes it known I’m not Israel,” he says.
From his base in New York, Yakov Cohen is working to bring structure to this mosaic of Noahide spiritual life. He and others are creating a Noahide siddur (prayerbook) to standardize prayers, and a liturgy of lifecycle rituals, such as funerals and baby-naming ceremonies. This year, one of the first Noahide weddings was held in Buffalo, New York, under a chuppa. The officiating rabbi spoke of the Seven Laws as the marriage’s foundation and sealed it with a contract modeled after the traditional ketuba. Rabbis are also working on the first-ever Noahide Shulhan Arukh—a comprehensive book of law pertaining to non-Jews, which will spell out the specifics of Noahide life, making clear which mitzvot are acceptable for them and which aren’t. “We know what they can’t do,” says Cohen. “Let’s see what they can do.”

Noahides are few, dispersed, often misunderstood and they crave community. Lucky ones, like Saunders, find likeminded souls near home with whom to gather together to study Jewish texts, pray, discuss the challenges of the Noahide life and socialize. Local groups, such as the Chavurath B’nei Noach (the Fellowship of the Children of Noah) of Ft. Worth, Texas, serve as an important source of communal life for their members. Organizations such as The Root & Branch Association, Noahide Nations, Rainbow Covenant and B’nai Noach Torah Institute provide advice and support to Noahides wherever they live, often through the Internet.
No single organization, however, is widely recognized as representative of the worldwide movement. That’s partly because of the diffuse and ad hoc nature of Noahide organizations, but it is also reflective of the nature of the movement, which is composed of independent-minded people who have rejected their traditional faith and are willing to follow a largely uncharted spiritual path. “We’re very iconoclastic—we’re all about taking down the idols,” Jim Long says. Saunders puts it more pessimistically: “It seems like every time we try to organize, it doesn’t go well.”

The most recent effort to bring Noahides together comes in the form of High Council of B’nei Noah, an umbrella organization that seeks to fill the leadership vacuum. The High Council’s mission is to provide support for Noahides, educate the general public, serve as a liaison with the Jewish community and standardize Noahide beliefs and practices. Last January, members of the Council—which included Saunders and Long—were inaugurated in Jerusalem, where they recited the following oath:
“I pledge my allegiance to Hashem, God of Israel, Creator and King of the Universe, to His Torah and its representatives, the developing Sanhedrin. I hereby pledge to uphold the Seven Laws of Noah in all their details, according to Oral Law of Moses under the guidance of the developing Sanhedrin.”

The Noahide Council is supported by the respected Orthodox Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, best known for the edition of the Talmud that bears his name, but who’s also the leader of the “developing Sanhedrin” cited in the oath. Steinsaltz’s Sanhedrin is the most recent attempt to revive the Great Sanhedrin of 71 sages who met in Jerusalem until 425 C.E. to discuss matters of concern to the Jewish people and adjudicate disputes. Steinsaltz argues that both Jews and Noahides follow different parts of the same belief system and can even be considered members of the same religion. “Even from simply a utilitarian point of view, we Jews have hardly any friends in the world. B’nei Noah are by definition our closest friends,” he says. “So we should reach out to them.”

Already, the Council has been troubled by internal disagreements and criticism from outsiders. Some Noahides are unhappy that its members were appointed by the Sanhedrin rather than voted on, while others complain that all its members are American. Jack Saunders is among those who have left the Council, tiring of the strife though still supportive of its mission. “For me, it’s a wonderful thing,” he says, but cautions that “working out all the problems is going to be tough.”

Steinsaltz believes the Council—and the broader Noahide community—will overcome these rifts. Long also remains optimistic. A major conference for Noahides in Jerusalem for October 2007, during Sukkot, is in the works and Long hopes it will serve as an inspiration for Noahides worldwide. “We think that we could act as a gesher, a bridge, between Jews and Noahides,” he says.

As a child of a Jewish father, Philip Levy, a 28-year-old Noahide from the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, could walk into any Reform synagogue as a full-fledged member. But after drifting from Catholicism, his mother’s religion, to evangelical Christianity, he found meaning in Orthodox Judaism. Through the Internet and guided by the local Chabad community, Levy came to self-identify as a Noahide. He takes classes and attends services as a non-Jew at a Chabad synagogue and even created a website, novanoahides.org (nova as in Northern Virginia)—in the hope of meeting other Noahides who live nearby. So far, he has only found one.

Why doesn’t Levy take that last step and convert, so he can be considered Jewish according to Orthodox standards and become a full member of the community? Nearly all Noahides grapple with the conversion question, sometimes for years and without definitive conclusion. After all, they adhere to traditional Jewish commandments more strictly than most Jews and many can quote from rabbinic texts as well as yeshiva students.

Some have become Jewish, but they are a minority. For the rest, the reasons for not converting are complicated. “I was raised on bacon and eggs,” Levy jokes, “and if I had to give them up I don’t know what I’d do.” More seriously, he talks about an “attachment” to his “Gentileness” and his respect for his mother.
But for most Noahides the decision not to convert boils down to the fact that they find spiritual fulfillment in what they view as their role in the divine plan for the world: To follow the lead of the Jewish people—not become them. “Israel was chosen to be a nation of kings and priests and a light unto the nations,” Pam Rogers explains. “We decided if everybody converted, who would Israel have to be priests to?”

They believe that they can have a greater impact as non-Jews following the Torah than as Jewish converts, both by encouraging other non-Jews to live according to Noah’s laws and by calling upon Jews to observe their own traditions. “If I just converted and went out to the non-Jewish world talking about the Torah and the prophets and how great it was, then I’d just be another Jew running my mouth,” says Jack Saunders.
To those who take the long view of Jewish history, like University of Toronto professor Novak, the Noahide movement is destined to peter out, as did the Second Temple-era God Fearers. Eventually, Novak reasons, Noahides will return to their original faiths or convert to Judaism. “If you want rabbis to tell you what to do, why not convert to Judaism?” he asks. “It’s an untenable situation.”

A couple of months after meeting the Longs at Mendy’s Kosher Delicatessen, I called them at their home in Arkansas to ask how they envisioned the Noahide future, in 15, 20, or even 50 years. “There will be places in every state and nation where people can go to study and worship,” answered Carol. No other group of Righteous Gentiles has had the tools of modern technology with which to communicate, organize effectively and dispense information. This, Jim said, not only insures the long-term sustainability, but the growth of the Noahide movement. Then he asked me a question: “Do you know what kind of world we would live in if all nations honored the Seven Laws?” He took a quick breath and answered his own query: “It would be transformational. If we were to stop killing, stop stealing, establish real courts of justice everywhere in the world, do you see what would happen? We’d have world peace.”

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Essay by Bob Glickstien

I came across a thought provoking essay entitled "Us and Them".

Although my practice is to archive all my stories in full, this author has requested that his article not be re-published with the full text. Please follow the link provided and read up.

Thank you.

Here is an excerpt:

A short time ago I went to get some lunch at the Palo Alto Mollie StoneÂ’s, a supermarket that happens to draw many neighborhood Jews because they stock plenty of Jewish products (like challah bread, yahrzeit candles, and matzo meal), or perhaps they stock plenty of Jewish products because they draw many neighborhood Jews.

Outside the supermarket, a Chabad Jew stood in his recognizable black suit and fedora with a lulav (a bundle of branches) and an etrog (citron). As I passed to enter the store he asked if IÂ’m Jewish...


Simchat Torah at new Ashland Synagogue

Chabad of Southern Oregon proudly announces the opening of its new Jewish Center in Ashland across from Southern Oregon University at 420 Bridge Street. Rabbi Avi Zwiebel, director of the Center, invites the community this evening to a housewarming at the Center and to a celebration of the joyous Jewish holidays. There will be a buffet dinner, toasts and singing and dancing.

Simchat Torah, the most joyous Jewish holiday, falls on this Saturday night, Oct 14. It is a day when Jews around the world dance with the Torah celebrating the completion of the year-round public reading of the Torah scroll and beginning anew. Simchat Torah has always been traditionally associated with ecstatic, joyous dancing. It is customary to celebrate with the torah as well on the holiday of Shemini Atzeret that falls out this year on Friday night, Oct 13.

"The source for this happiness is the Torah. Yet throughout the entire dancing, the Torah is not opened; we dance holding it wrapped in its covering. Though the Torah is usually associated with disciplined study, on Simchat Torah we approach it differently, singing and dancing in a manner that bears no apparent relationship to understanding," explained Rabbi Avi Zwiebel. "These celebrations reveal that our bond with G-d and the Torah is unconfined by the limits of intellect."

"All reserve disappears in the exuberant dancing of Simchat Torah. Every Jew, learned and unsophisticated, feels a natural desire to take a Torah in his arms and dance. It taps a point in the soul that defies the differences that exist between one Jew and another," continues Rabbi Avi Zwiebel.

The new location is a significant milestone for Chabad. "It is amazing how fast we have grown in our first three years, and we anticipate many more Jewish people being attracted to our celebration of Judaism. Our study classes and programs are expanding and become even more vibrant as more people find our community" said Rabbi Avi Zwiebel.

"We could not have found a more auspicious time to have our housewarming than on Simchat Torah. It's perfectly inline with Chabad's general message that Judaism is full of joy, depth and meaning and our goal is to help others experience that joy and depth that has not been made available to many of them. "

Chabad invites the public for these special evenings of celebratory dancing, eating and socializing. Rabbi Zwiebel's father, Rabbi Elimelech Zwiebel, the spiritual mentor of the Rabbinical College of America, will also be there celebrating with the community.

The event will be held this Friday and Saturday night, Oct. 13 & 14 at 7:00pm at 420 Bridge St. (corner of Siskiyou) in Ashland. Children are welcomed and will receive special Simchat Torah flags and Torah scrolls to dance with.

For more information or for directions please call Chabad at (541) 482-2778 or email chabadofashland@yahoo.com.

Sukkot a time of joy and feasting for Jews

MONROE - Local Jews left the comfort of their homes this week to take their meals within the walls of the largest sukkah in the township.

Sukkot, a holiday that started last Friday at sundown and ends Sunday at sundown, is a joyous time for Jewish people, when they show their faith by taking shelter within a sukkah.

"The sukkah represents a temporary dwelling to remind us that shelter comes from God," said Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky, who led Monday's Sukkot party at the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, Gravel Hill Road.

It is also representative of the Biblical period of the Jews wandering in the desert for 40 years. Sukkot is a reminder that God provided for them, said Zaklikovsky.

"Sukkot is a time when you show your faith to God," said Lissa Sebban, a volunteer at the party. "Even if it's freezing, you go outside for hours and eat, even if you're uncomfortable, and you show your faith to everyone else. It's one of my favorite holidays."

The sukkah at the Chabad center was built by six volunteers with pine wood and a roof made out of evergreen and bamboo. It took two days to erect, the rabbi said.

Inside the sukkah, there is food to be eaten in celebration of the holiday, as well as various photographs depicting the center's activities.

City attorney's advice is called into question

By John Holland
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted October 14 2006

HOLLYWOOD · Dan Abbott has received plaudits and big raises from his bosses during seven years as city attorney. Now a growing controversy involving two of the city's most powerful elected officials is bringing new attention to his legal advice.

The arrest and suspension of City Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom have enveloped City Hall and Abbott's office. Wasserstrom said he relied on Abbott's advice every step of the way while lobbying for a sludge processing company that won a large city contract.



LocalLinks
Wasserstrom, who is also a lawyer and was then partner with Mayor Mara Giulianti's son, is accused of entering an agreement to influence his colleagues in favor of a company seeking an $18 million city contract. Wasserstrom and Mayor Giulianti abstained from voting and saw nothing wrong with the deal, and neither did Abbott, who repeatedly assured Wasserstrom and commissioners that the situation was legal.

Prosecutors disagreed. The Broward State Attorney's Office charged Wasserstrom with felony unlawful compensation and four felony counts of official misconduct. He is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 26 and faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

The investigation also revealed that e-mails between Mayor Mara Giulianti and one of Wasserstrom's business associates in the deal disappeared. Abbott said it is not certain whether the e-mails were public record, since they were generated on her personal computer.

The state Attorney General's Office said the law makes it clear that they are public. Either way, they are gone and can't be retrieved, Abbott and the mayor said.

Now at least one city commissioner is concerned about the future of the affable and well-liked attorney.

"I think he's doing his best right now, but he's really stuck in kind of a triangle," Commissioner Sal Oliveri said. "Mara's using her excuse saying she got all her information from Wasserstrom, and Wasserstrom's saying he relied on Dan. And Dan had to rely on what Keith told him as the truth.

"I'm just thinking it looks like Dan's being set up as the fall guy in all of this," Oliveri said.

Abbott declined to comment on Friday. Giulianti, who has said she would only respond to written questions, did not reply to e-mailed questions about Abbott or his performance.

During his time as city attorney, Abbott has received stellar performance reviews from commissioners who praised his legal advice, courteous demeanor and desire to please his bosses. Abbott can be removed at any time if five of the seven commissioners decide to fire him.

During his most recent performance evaluation, Abbott, 43, received strong marks, with most commissioners giving him 9s and 10s on a scale of 1-10 in most categories.

"Dan continues to give excellent advice to this commission. I appreciate his articulate and comprehensive manner," Commissioner Beam Furr said. "The city has been well served during his tenure."

Giulianti wrote that "You are very bright and competent" and gave him a score of 10 for "giving meaningful advice to the commission" on legal issues.

Abbott, who makes $150,384 per year -- up almost 50 percent since 2001 -- grew up in South Florida and is married with a daughter and a stepson. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1988 and became the city's chief litigation counsel in 1995.

On Jan. 1, 1999, he was named city attorney and is one of the most liked and personable people at City Hall, according to colleagues and employees across the city.

But the office has gone through a spate of losses in high profile cases. In the past two years, the city has lost a federal lawsuit to the Chabad Lubavitch, a $2.2 million lawsuit filed by two police officers who claimed age discrimination, the Mach family's eminent domain fight, and an attempt to evict Sean Cononie's homeless shelter.

Commissioner Cathy Anderson said this week she wouldn't speculate on Abbott's future, but respects what he's done for the city. "There's a lot going on now, but I don't have any problem at all with Dan," Anderson said. "We've had disagreements over things, but I do know he's a good man."

John Holland can be reached at jholland@sun-sentinel.com or at 954-385-7909.

Activists urge local faithful to grapple with death penalty

Geralda Miller (GMILLER@RGJ.COM)
RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
October 14, 2006

A mother whose 7-year-old daughter was abducted during a family camping trip 33 years ago says she used her faith to get to a place of forgiveness for the murderer.

"In the beginning, I readily admit that I wanted to kill him," said Marietta Jaeger Lane of Montana. "With my bare hands and a smile on my face, (I wanted to kill him) for what he had done to my little girl."

However, as a Christian, she said she wrestled with her hatred and became willing to change.

"I gave God permission to change my heart," she said. "If I wanted to stay in good relation with God, I had to get clear of that rage and desire for revenge."

Lane will be in Reno and Sparks Oct. 20""22, speaking at several places of worship and the University of Nevada, Reno campus about her commitment to forgiveness and opposition to the death penalty.

It is the first time Northern Nevada is participating in the National Weekend of Faith in Action on the Death Penalty, said Nancy Hart, president of the Nevada Coalition Against the Death Penalty.

"We hope that people of faith communities will use this time to examine their religious beliefs about the death penalty and their feeling about the death penalty and to learn more about how Nevada's death penalty is actually applied," she said.

It is what Lane said she had to do.

She says it was because of her concern and compassion for the abductor that she talked to him for an hour on the telephone when he called her home on the one-year anniversary of Susie's kidnapping.

"Although his intention was to taunt me and get his kicks," she said. "He was undone and crying by the end of the conversation."

He revealed enough during the conversation, which she taped, for authorities to identify him.

David Meirhofer, 25, confessed to killing four young people during a seven-year period and hanged himself hours later in his Montana jail cell Sept. 29, 1974. It was after he was arrested but before he went to trial. A piece of Susie's mutilated body had been found on an abandoned ranch.

Religious Views

Different faith communities understand differently scripture's position on the death penalty.

"This gets to be a very, very difficult subject for clergymen," said the Rev. George Bratiotis, pastor of Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church.

"The matter of faith and our scriptural beliefs really has to enter into a discussion of capital punishment and the death penalty."

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the Orthodox Church in America joined other Christian faiths in urging the abolishment of capital punishment.

Bratiotis said people wrestle between the Old Testament law of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth and Jesus' teachings to turn the other cheek.

"Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you," he said. "That becomes a difficult concept for people to accept. We always have deep discussions on this."

The recent killing of five girls in the school house in Amish country has prompted Bratiotis' personal reflection, he said.

"I go into a state of anguish over that. I know what I've learned from the Lord," he said. "But when I see heinous crimes committed and the victims are youngsters, I really have an internal, spiritual struggle over that. It causes many of us angst in our lives."

Because of the sanctity of life, Rabbi Mendel Cunin of the Chabad of Northern Nevada said Jewish courts rarely handed down the death penalty sentence in biblical times.

The death penalty is allowed according to Genesis 9:6: "Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind."

However, Cunin said that the verse also is a powerful declaration for life.

"If somebody does something and is found guilty, they can get it," Cunin said of the death penalty. "But the Torah makes it kind of difficult to happen."

Islam allows capital punishment for murder but stresses using forgiveness as an alternative.

"The basic rule is Islam does admit the right of life for every person," said Imam Wael Shehab, who is visiting the Northern Nevada Muslim Community in Sparks from Egypt. "Anyone who harms or takes the life of a person with no right then he is subject to the punishment. If one kills a person, then he can be killed in retaliation."

The state and the judge are entitled to apply the law and individuals cannot take the law into their own hands, he said.

The Quran also encourages alternatives to capital punishment, such paying blood money or forgiveness, Shehab said.

"That is very clear in the Quran," he said.

Lane, who is Roman Catholic, said practicing forgiveness is not easy and requires hard work and diligence.

"Anybody who says forgiveness is for wimps has never tried it," she said.

Second HaKafot Taking Place

21:45 Oct 14, '06 / 22 Tishrei 5767

(IsraelNN.com) Second HaKafot are taking place around the country including in Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell Park. Tens of thousands of people are taking part in the post-festive event, which includes dancing with Torah scrolls and live music and celebrations.

In Liberty Bell Park, a number of Holocaust survivors are dancing with Torah schools that still bear witness to the atrocities, displaying the numbers affixed to their outer covering by the Nazis during WWII.

Second HaKafot are also taking place in Tel Aviv, as well as in southern areas. Thousands of people were reported earlier in the night at Kfar Chabad.

How to break Orthodox's stranglehold

A few weeks ago there were articles on the front pages of virtually every major newspaper in North America and Europe about the ordination of three rabbis in Germany - the first such ordination since the advent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. The Jerusalem Post reported on the ordination in its Sept. 17 issue. In general, however, the Israeli press did not give this milestone event the kind of attention it deserved.

More troubling than the lack of interest on the part of much of our news media was the official non-response on the part of the government. The ordination of these rabbis in Germany was high political drama, an event of historic proportions. The president and chancellor of Germany, the American ambassador to Germany, and official representatives from over 25 nations were present. And yet, the Israeli Foreign Ministry refused to send a representative. The Israeli ambassador to Germany visited a Chabad school in Vienna on the same day.

Why? Because those individuals were ordained at a Reform seminary. The government was seemingly justifying President Moshe Katsav's recent refusal to accept Eric Yoffie, the head of the North American Reform movement, as a rabbi.

THE REASON for this affront is that religious affairs in the State of Israel are controlled by the Orthodox rabbinate, whose discrimination against the Reform movement knows no limits. Last year, this same rabbinate threatened Ethiopian students who were registered to begin their studies at the Leo Baeck High School in Haifa, an educational institution of the Reform movement. The students were told that if they attended a Reform school they would not be allowed to convert. The students disappeared.

My daughter recently got married. Unlike her older sisters, she went through the Orthodox rabbinate. I warned her that the process could be a bit of an ordeal. It was more than she or I could have imagined.

She had to prove she was Jewish. I assumed this would be a simple matter. After all, she was born in Israel to a Jewish mother. We had my wife's identity card as well as my daughter's birth certificate, each stating that her religion is Jewish. What I did not know was that the rabbinate does not recognize the authority of the state in matters of religious concerns, all the while determining matters of religious concerns for the state.

In short, these state documents were not sufficient. Since my wife and I were married by a Reform rabbi, our ketuba could not serve as proof of her Jewishness. But my wife's brother is an Orthodox rabbi who was married in Jerusalem through the rabbinate. My daughter brought in his marriage certificate, his ketuba and his ordination certificate. Upon seeing that her uncle was married through the rabbinate, the attending rabbi, in his best sarcastic tone, asked me how was it possible that in one family someone could be married according to Jewish law, and others - my wife and me - by a Reform rabbi.

He took the documents and consulted one of his rabbinical colleagues, and then asked if my wife was adopted!

ORTHODOXY'S BIGOTRY toward Reform Judaism prevented a group of 25 young Ethiopians from getting the kind of education and care that they need in order to succeed in modern Israel by studying at a high school that is nationally recognized for its academic and social excellence; Orthodoxy's prejudicial world-view toward Reform Judaism humiliated my daughter and prevents hundreds of young Israeli couples from getting married with respect, as they turn to rabbis from non-Orthodox religious streams to perform their weddings, and then are forced to go abroad to have them sanctioned through civil ceremonies for registration in the Ministry of Interior, which kowtows to the rabbinate's outrageous behavior.

How long will we Reform Jews allow the Orthodox rabbinate to deny not only us, but all Israelis the opportunity and equality and the basic right to choose alternatives for their Jewish identity? How long must we acquiescence to this contemptible assault on our dignity? How long must we suffer Orthodox coercion?

How long will we permit pre-emancipation religious views to dictate national policies, whereby we sell our souls for the presumed riches of a promised divine heritage of land and glory, fusing religion and nationalism to a frightening degree? Are we angry enough at being discriminated, ignored and rebuffed? Are we furious enough at their spitting in our faces since the establishment of the state? Are we prepared to take on the rabbinical establishment and by extension the government, not exclusively for ourselves, but for Conservative Jews, Ethiopians, agunot, single mothers and even Palestinian farmers who come under attack from "religious" settlers?

Not only those of us in the Reform Movement in Israel, but also our Reform leaders abroad should tell the Israeli government, the United Jewish Communities and local Federations, which capitulate to this travesty, that it is either-or: Either you recognize our movement, its institutions and its leaders, or we will ask our members to divert their contributions and give exclusively to the development of a large and powerful Reform movement in Israel.

Only an intensely coordinated effort among our Reform leaders here and abroad, accompanied by substantial financial backing, can break the unacceptable stranglehold Orthodoxy has over us, and ultimately free Israel to be religiously, socially and politically tolerant, so that the Jewish state will be inclusive, pluralistic and truly democratic.

The writer, author of Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel, is a Reform rabbi living in Jerusalem.