Archive | January, 2020

Oscars 2020 nominations: Scarlett Johansson enters elite company, Adam Sandler snubbed

Oscars 2020 nominations: Scarlett Johansson enters elite company, Adam Sandler snubbed

Posted on 13 January 2020 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Some critics thought Adam Sandler would at least be a contender for best actor for his performance in “Uncut Gems.” (Courtesy of A24)

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — The 2020 Oscar nominations are out, and unsurprisingly, they’re already causing a firestorm on social media.

The list, announced early Monday morning, didn’t do much to quell longstanding concerns that the awards have issues with race and gender equality. Only one actor of color was nominated — Cyntha Erivo, for her role in “Harriet” — and the best director category is once again all male, despite the fact that Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women” was a massive critical and commercial success.

The Jewish snub of the year goes to “Uncut Gems” — the Diamond District thriller by the Jewish Safdie brothers, starring Adam Sandler, which earned rave reviews. The film, one of the most Jewish mainstream flicks in years, earned no nominations, not even for Sandler, who some critics had picked to win the best actor award.

The full nominations list does include other Jewish names who have a decent chance of bringing home some hardware. Scarlett Johansson is the first actress in over a decade to be nominated in two different categories, and only the 11th ever. Sam Mendes, who already won big at the Golden Globes, is a strong contender in the director category for “1917,” which garnered several other nominations as well.

Here are the rest of the Jewish nominees:

Sam Mendes

Best Director, “1917”

The renowned director’s latest is set in World War I and has been lauded for its cinematography.

Joaquin Phoenix

Best Actor, “Joker”

The acclaimed actor, born to a Jewish mother, is likely a favorite to win for his gritty, dark performance.

Scarlett Johansson

Best Actress, “Marriage Story”; Best Supporting Actress, “Jojo Rabbit”

In Taika Waititi’s anti-Nazi satire “Jojo Rabbit,” Johansson plays a German mother who hides a Jewish child in her home.

Taika Waititi

Best Adapted Screenplay, “Jojo Rabbit”

Waititi, a Maori Jew from New Zealand, said in the film’s production notes that he experienced prejudice growing up for his dual identity.

Noah Baumbach

Best Original Screenplay, “Marriage Story”

Baumbach partly based the film on his real-life divorce from Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

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Patinkin to bring melodies and memories to Eisemann

Patinkin to bring melodies and memories to Eisemann

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Graeme Mitchell
“Getting older is the greatest gift and music is my way of telling stories that resonate deeper every night,” said Mandy Patinkin.

By Deb Silverthorn
Mandy Patinkin, the multi-dimensional entertainer whose fan base and success spans a career of the theater, concert stages, films, television, and as a recording artist will sing out his soul beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at the Charles Eisemann Center for Performing Arts.
As he brings his “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries” to the Richardson stage, accompanied by pianist Adam Ben-David, Patinkin’s recently released solo album, “Children and Art,” is at the core of his concert tour, which is taking him to 28 cities around the world.
“‘Children and Art’ is much of who I am. It’s to be experienced, different in its nature and tempo and I’m so happy to be immersed in it” said Patinkin. The album’s title is a song from “Sunday in the Park with George,” for which Patinkin was nominated for a Tony award.
Patinkin, who won a Tony award for his Broadway debut as Che in the 1980 production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita,” has been heralded for his roles in “Falsettos,” “Hamlet,” “Henry IV, Part I,” “Rebel Women Savage,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Tempest” and many other theater productions.
On CBS Records, the songbird released “Mandy Patinkin” and “Mandy Patinkin In Concert: Dress Casual.” On the Nonesuch label, he recorded three digital albums with pianist and producer Thomas Bartlett: “Diary January 2018,” “Diary April/May 2018” and “Diary December 2018” as well as “Experiment,” “Oscar & Steve,” “Kidults” and “Mandy Patinkin Sings Sondheim.” Patinkin’s most personal project, “Mamaloshen,” is a collection recorded in 1998 of traditional, classic and contemporary songs sung entirely in Yiddish. The recording won the Deutschen Schallplattenpreis (Germany’s equivalent of the Grammy Award).
The singer has shared his all-around talents to films including “Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland” and “Yentl,” “Dick Tracy” and “Princess Bride” and on the small screen as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger in “Chicago Hope,” for which he won an Emmy award, and Saul Berenson in “Homeland.” The singer, who treasured the latter role to its end, booked his current music tour to begin just eight days after production was completed — the day before Kol Nidre — on its eighth, and final, season. (The final season premieres on Showtime at 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9.)
“Our world is in a perilous state and every one of us needs to do what we can to help each other. It is a profound moment in our lifetime when we must help humanity and realize that none of us are better than all of us.” Sixteen years after offering up those words, Patinkin now says, “We’ve all lived through the ‘then’ and while everything’s different, that is all still true and the same.”
Offscreen, offstage and when he is not recording, Patinkin’s education in the field of social activism is varied and ever evolving. He has raised funds for organizations including the ACLU, American Jewish World Service, Association to Benefit Children, Brady Campaign, Doctors Without Borders, National Dance Institute, PAX (a gun safety organization) and Search for Common Ground. He is a board member of the Arava Institute and works with International Rescue Committee, highlighting the plight of refugees worldwide.
“I’m a little quieter, a little slower and I sing a little lower,” said Patinkin. “I’m grateful for the differences and appreciative of every second of every day.
“Getting older is the greatest gift and music is my way of telling stories that resonate deeper every night,” said the singer. “The more life they have behind them, the more they echo the time I’ve spent on this earth.”

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Welcome home, Rabbi Farkas, to Anshai Torah

Welcome home, Rabbi Farkas, to Anshai Torah

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Courtesy Farkas Family
Welcome home Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas (right), and family — if only for a Shabbos. Rabbi Farkas returns to his hometown with his wife Sarah and children, from left, Meira, Naomi, Asher and Shaya, on Jan. 17.

Bruchim ha’baim and welcome home, Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas. Raised at Congregation Anshai Torah, and its predecessor Anshai Emet, Rabbi Farkas takes to Anshai Torah’s bimah, a special guest during Kabbalat Shabbat services at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, and again at a dinner in his honor.
“A first-grade Noah would be surprised and not,” said Rabbi Farkas, who has served Valley Beth Shalom in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, since the beginning of his career. “He’d be surprised that ‘he’ is a rabbi, but not that ‘he’ is a leader. He’d be surprised at the causes ‘he’ is dedicated to, but not that ‘he’ is living passionately, and I think, I know, ‘he’ would be proud of his family.”
Noah, the son of Andy and Dr. Ferne Farkas and brother of Daniel and Leah, attended Solomon Schechter Academy (now the Ann and Nate Levine Academy) and was a student of Wende Weinberg, of blessed memory.
“The Farkas family has always been warm and devoted. They care for each other, their community, their shul. They chose that devotion over everything and so too the next generation,” said VBS Senior Rabbi Ed Feinstein, one of Solomon Schechter Dallas’ earliest leaders. “Noah is a visionary, a true leader with tremendous spirit and energy. I’m honored for even a small part in mentoring him.”
A dedicated member of Rashi USY and a Plano Senior High graduate, Rabbi Farkas spent a semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which foreshadowed his career in the rabbinate.
“Twenty-five years ago being a ‘proud, Jewish teen’ wasn’t a thing in Dallas. There was lots of anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Farkas. “I went to Israel and was touched and inspired in the deepest way. I found the rhythm of my life matched that of the world and I’ve never been the same — in the very best way.”
Rabbi Farkas earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Judaism (now American Jewish University) and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. During a gap year, he met the former Sarah Robinson, the two both leaders at a USY convention. Married since 2005, they have four children: Asher, Meira, Naomi and Shaya.
As an intern, Rabbi Farkas served Congregation Beth Israel in Biloxi, Mississippi, helping to rebuild that Jewish community after Hurricane Katrina. As a commissioned ensign, a chaplain for the United States Navy Reserve during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he prepared military families, emotionally and spiritually, for deployment and upon return.
Rabbi Farkas’ parents instilled a commitment to social action in all of their children, a trait enhanced when the future rabbi spent time in Ghana, West Africa, with American Jewish World Service. “Reacting to the hunger and the poverty I experienced, it was the first time I felt purpose. I’ve been responding ever since,” he said. “I vowed to dedicate a portion of my life to making the world better than I found it.”
Rabbi Farkas is an appointed commissioner and immediate past-chair of the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, overseeing strategies between public and private partnerships. He galvanized a coalition of synagogues, churches and other organizations to pass legislation to build housing and services for those in need.
Rabbi Farkas, who initiated his congregation’s VBSNextGen, offering innovative learning and social programs to those in their twenties and thirties, also launched the Seminary Leadership Project, training Jewish clergy nationwide to create social change through JOIN, the Jewish Organizing Institute & Network for Justice, for which he is a board member.
A regular contributor to the Jewish Journal, Rabbi Farkas, recognized as one of America’s most inspiring rabbis by The Forward, is published on topics of spirituality, social justice and millennial engagement.
“We’re proud of Noah, of all of our children, and we can’t wait,” said the rabbi’s mother, she and his father among Anshai Torah’s founding families, Andy its first president. “To have him speak in the congregation he was raised, on the anniversary of my bat mitzvah no less, is exciting.”
“It makes me feel good to hear the pride in Ferne and Andy’s voices when speaking of their son, ‘the rabbi!’ They should be proud,” said Rabbi Stefan Weinberg. “Rabbi Noah has established himself in many different areas of the rabbinate and we’re exceedingly proud to invite him to address our congregation, the place he was first nurtured, his first congregation.”
For more information call 972-473-7718, email receptionist@anshaitorah.org or visit anshaitorah.org.
Submitted by Deb Silverthorn on behalf of Anshai Torah.

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The City of Dallas proclaims Jan 6  #JewishandProudDay

The City of Dallas proclaims Jan 6 #JewishandProudDay

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Photo: Dallas City Hall/Jose Marroquin
From left, Amy Berger, Kim Kamen, Hannah Schwitzer, Joel Schwitzer, Stuart Blaugrund, Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, Alexa Gotsdiner, Ryan Kassanoff, Rebecca Hoffman and Miriam Schwitzer.

TJP Staff Report
In response to recent violence in New York and New Jersey and a surge of anti-Semitism in the United States, the AJC coordinated #JewishandProud Day Monday, Jan. 6. This followed the solidarity march in New York the day before, when an estimated 25,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and held a rally Sunday to protest rising anti-Semitism in and around New York City.
“Enough is enough. We will not shy away from publicly displaying, celebrating our Jewish identity and faith,” said AJC CEO David Harris.
Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents District 12, and Mayor Eric Johnson issued a proclamation to make Jan 6, 2020 #JewishAndProudDay in the City of Dallas.
“We join communities across the world in rejecting Anti-Semitism and encouraging all people to live without hate or fear. Dallas is a welcoming and diverse community and we celebrate the different identities of all our residents,” wrote Mendelsohn on Facebook Sunday night.
About 30 folks gathered at City Hall Monday afternoon with #JewishAndProud signs to demonstrate their Jewish pride and support for the Jewish community and hear the proclamation read by AJC Dallas Regional Director Joel Schwitzer. Among those assembled were AJC leaders; high school students from AJC/Leaders For Tomorrow; professional and lay leaders from the ADL, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and its Jewish Community Relations Council, Shearith Israel and Temple Emanuel; and allies from the Latino community including Deputy Consul Edurne Pineda of Mexico and Latino Jewish Leadership Council member Luisa del Rosal.
Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas President and CEO Mariam Shpeen Feist said:
“It was moving and compelling to stand with AJC lay and professional leadership, along with so many members of our community — Jewish and non-Jewish — to celebrate #JewishandProud Day Jan. 6. We were pleased to support this AJC global initiative and we thank Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, City Council Members Cara Mendelsohn, Lee Kleinman and the entire Dallas City Council for their support of the Jewish community.”
Rebecca Hoffman, a Hockaday sophomore and member of AJC’s Leaders for Tomorrow, attended the gathering with her mom, Jackie.
“The proclamation was really eye-opening for me because hearing those statistics and numbers out loud about what has happened to the Jewish people in — even the past few years — is really horrifying and frightening for anyone of any age. As I become a young adult in society, I think those numbers of deaths and attacks that were in the proclamation are exactly why my mom and I went to City Hall to stand up,” she said.
Schwitzer expressed his gratitude that Mendelsohn and Johnson issued the proclamation Monday.
“In the face of rising anti-Semitism, the #JewishandProud campaign was created as an opportunity to show Jewish pride and for our friends and coalition partners to declare themselves allies to the Jewish community. The support of our Mayor and City Council by making this proclamation makes a clear statement that Dallas stands with its Jewish community. We are grateful to Councilmember Cara Mendelsohn and Mayor Eric Johnson for making it clear that Dallas stands unequivocally against anti-Semitism.”

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Dallas Doings: Beth Torah, JNF, JBA

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Beth Torah hosts solidarity vigil

About 100 people of many faiths from the Richardson community gathered at Beth Torah Sunday night to pray for peace and express solidarity in the wake of attacks on Jews and other religious groups. Speakers included Richardson Mayor Pro Tem Janet DePuy, Richardson Police Seargent Frank Bradford, Imam Shpendim Nadzaku of the Islamic Association of North Texas and Linda Anderson Little of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. Rabbi Elana Zelony, who appeared on KERA’s Think radio show last week to discuss preserving a sense of sanctuary and spirituality in houses of worship despite the need for security, thanked the guests for their support and stressed the need for diverse religious communities to support one another.

JNF hosts director of Arava

Nearly 50 people joined Jewish National Fund (JNF) for a fascinating event with David Lehrer, director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, to discuss the Arava Institute’s work toward educating future leaders on dealing with the environmental challenges of our time. The event was held at the home of Mitch and Cindy Moskowitz and was unique in that Cindy’s sister, Susan, lives on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava where the institute is located.
With support from JNF, the Arava Institute advances cross-border environmental cooperation, and educates and prepares future leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and students from around the world to solve shared environmental challenges.
During the event, Mitch proudly spoke of his family’s connection to the region, his visits there, and his respect for the work being done there. “I loved hearing about and seeing people from different backgrounds putting their heads together to learn about and to apply new and novel environmental methods to the Arava desert. The Arava Institute is the good news. People facing things together. It’s authentic progress and it builds relationships.”
Cindy added, “In the day-to-day, the Arava is hot and sandy and it can be tiresome. And then there are those moments that happen on Kibbutz Ketura that remind you of what a special and unique place it is. Conversations at the table, initiatives like solar power, or algae, or some crazy curative tiny fish.”
Water, air, energy, and land are shared natural resources in the Middle East. Ensuring that these resources remain available to Israel is essential to Jewish National Fund’s mission. Trust, however, is the scarcest resource, and building trust with Israel’s neighbors is a critical part of the Arava Institute’s mission.
To learn more about Jewish National Fund’s impactful work, contact Ellie Adelman, director, Dallas at 214-433-6600, ext. 945 or eadelman@jnf.org.

JBA makes annual holiday donation to JFS to help with tornado recovery

Jewish Business Alliance, a business networking organization, held its annual holiday luncheon Dec. 12 at the Legacy Willow Bend. Each year JBA contributes to local Jewish based organizations from funds that the group has raised over the course of the year.
In light of the devastating tornado that destroyed much of the area around the JCC Oct. 20, 100% of the funds were presented to Jewish Family Service relief campaign to assist displaced residents. In addition, members contributed gifts for families in need over the holidays. This was coordinated by Kristen Jackson of Jewish Family Service.
Now in its ninth year, JBA was founded by Mark Lowey, owner of Stonebridge Insurance Group and Jay Levine, owner of Energy Brokers of America. JBA meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of every month at the Coffee House Cafe in North Dallas. For more information on the group or membership, please contact Mark at 214 558-2727 or mark@marklowey.com.

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Around the Town: Mecklenburger, JWV / JWVA

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger to speak at Congregation Beth Shalom Sunday, Jan. 12

Congregation Beth Shalom will welcome Rabbi Ralph Meckenburger to the synagogue’s Arlington campus Jan. 12. At 9:30 a.m., there will be a complimentary breakfast. Rabbi Mecklenburger will speak at 10:30 about his book, “Our Religious Brains.”
Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger grew up in suburban Chicago, attended the University of Cincinnati and the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, where he was ordained in 1972 and granted an honorary Doctorate of Divinity in 1997
Rabbi Mecklenburger served congregations in San Francisco, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan before becoming senior rabbi of Beth-El Congregation, Fort Worth for 32 years until his retirement in 2016. He continues to serve as an adjunct faculty member at Brite Divinity School, TCU.
His book, “Our Religious Brains,” was published in 2012 and reissued in paperback in 2015.
Among many honors, Rabbi Mecklenburger has been president of the Southwest Association of Reform Rabbis and Jewish co-chair of the Texas Conference of Churches’ Jewish-Christian Forum. He and his wife, Ann, have two grown children, Elissa and Alan, and they are blessed with four grandchildren.
Please contact Thressa in the CBS office at info@bethshalom.org or by phone at 817-860-5448 to RSVP for breakfast by Thursday, Jan. 9. Copies of this book will be available for purchase for $15 each, and Rabbi Mecklenburger will be happy to autograph your copy.

Fort Worth’s JWV, JWVA install officers

Sandra Cantor, national president of the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary, installed the officers of the Dolores R. Schneider Post 755 Sunday at Congregation Beth-El, Fort Worth.
The officers are: Charwynne Hazelwood, president; Elaine Bumpus, vice president; Jayne Michel, secretary; Christine Levy, treasurer; and Marian Haber, chaplain.
In a joint ceremony Barry Schneider, past national commander of Jewish War Veterans, installed the officers of the Jewish War Veterans, Martin Hochster Post 755.
The officers are: Nana Atkens, commander; Phil Kabakoff, senior vice-commander; Laurin Baum, staff judge advocate; Fred Korngut, officer of the day; Michael Ross, quartermaster; Rabbi Sidney Zimelman, chaplain; and Will Kutler, aide de camp.

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The ethics of our fathers and uncles

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Words to live by

When I was 24, my father died and I inherited some money. It wasn’t a lot because, really, everything went to my mother, as was appropriate. And the money I inherited is long, long gone, having been spent on my many, many years of graduate school. What is not gone, what I still have from my father, what I can never lose from my father, are the values that he instilled within me.
There is actually a tradition within Judaism of leaving ethical wills to our heirs. The money and property, if there was any, was taken care of separately, but we have a tradition of trying to summarize and pass down the ethical wisdom we have learned through our lives and want our heirs to follow. The tradition of ethical wills stems from this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last Torah portion in the Book of Genesis. At the very end of the portion, Jacob is lying on his deathbed and we read: “Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Come together that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come. Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; Hearken to Israel your father.’” Jacob then proceeds to tell his children what will befall them based on their past behavior. This final farewell is seen as an attempt to get them to act better in the future.
When my nephew started college, I began writing down some of my wisdom for him and I would like to share some of it with you as an ethical will of sorts.
To my dear nephew,
Now that you have gone away to college and no longer have the benefit of your parents’ constant advice, I would like to give you the benefit of my own wisdom and experience. In no particular order:
God willing, you too will eventually have children or nieces or nephews. Never underestimate the pleasure one can have in embarrassing them. Remember, however, that the embarrassment should be of the variety: “I cannot believe I am related to this person.” Embarrassing someone for their own traits or foibles is just mean. Also, be careful not to cross over from teasing to bullying. Teasing someone you love can be a way to show how fond you are of them. But teasing someone you don’t love or like is really just bullying and you should never be a bully.
When you mess up — and you will — be an adult about it. Apologize and try to make up for what you did. It only makes you look small when you can’t admit that you’re in the wrong.
Live your life generously. Show your love and affection generously because the ones you love should never be in doubt that you love them. Too often when we’re angry with people we are tempted to withhold our love and affection as a way of punishing them. Rather, express honestly “I love you, but I’m really angry over x, y or z that you’ve done.”
Live your life generously. Give freely and share what you have with those who are in need. Other people — your parents, me, your friends, your teachers, even random strangers — have all helped you for no other reason than you’ve needed the help and they have been in the position to help you. Pay it forward and help others in return. Human beings are social creatures and we all need each other, so help when you can.
Cultivate a sense of gratitude and don’t take things for granted. When I look around the world and I see how other people are living, I realize how fortunate I am. Even when I had very little in my life, at my lowest points, I did have things I was grateful for and when I focused on what I had, I didn’t mind as much what I didn’t have. In the words of the Sages: “Who is the one who is rich? The one who is happy with their portion.” Don’t get me wrong. I like having stuff that is important to me and being able to eat what I like rather than ramen, again, is really terrific. Being grateful doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to achieve that which we want for ourselves and our families. But be grateful for what you do have in the moment.
Remember to do laundry, especially your sheets. Smells that you no longer notice are highly noticeable to others, even if they’re too polite to say anything. Similarly, don’t become blind to the poverty, need and injustice that surrounds us every day. True, we can’t live in a state of constant agitation over what we see, but neither should we become so thick skinned that we no longer notice it. Again in the words of our Sages: “You are not required to finish the work, but neither are your free to leave off from it.”
There are two ways to go touring. One way is to see everything possible, rushing from sight to sight, taking snapshots to prove that we were there, even if we only spent 15 minutes. Another is take a more limited view and take the time to truly experience the few sights that we do go to see. In my experience, there are more sights to see, more foods to taste, more books to read, more plays to go to than I ever could in my lifetime. Our lives are inherently limited, not infinite. So in my mind, enjoy what you do to its fullest, don’t just rush from one thing to another, because there will always be more that we leave undone.
Your loving Uncle Ben.

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Emma Lazarus: Jewish experience, golden words

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

It was first named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” a gift of friendship, celebrating the successful struggles for independence achieved by the United States and its alliance with France.
We commonly refer to her as the Statue of Liberty.
The French were to supply the Lady of Liberty Statue as a gift of friendship, while the Americans were to supply her base, the pedestal, at a cost of $250,000.
One of the many ways that money was to be raised to help pay for the pedestal was the donation of works of art, including new poetry by invited poets, such as Emma Lazarus.
Emma was one of a number of grandchildren of a wealthy Jewish merchant with original ties to Portugal and the American colonies before the American Revolution.
Emma Lazarus, in her early writings while still in her teens, was recognized and encouraged by the poet William Cullen Bryant and the daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, who became a close friend.
She worked hard at her craft, poetry, and had gained professional recognition by the time the Statue of Liberty pedestal money-raiser had been announced.
Originally written in 1883, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Recently at a news conference, discussing proposed immigration policy changes, one of President Trump’s immigration administrators Ken Cuccinelli, off-handedly altered part of this famous poem by Emma Lazarus, his view negating the beautiful welcome in Lazarus’ words.
Here are the two views of whom the United States welcomes into their country as immigrants.
The traditional way, embracing those who flee from poverty, war, and fear, seeking opportunities for a better life (E. Lazarus); or only those who are able to fend for themselves without any government assistance (K. Cuccinelli).
Emma Lazarus’ words are just as meaningful today, given the conditions and hardships facing those seeking hope and humanity in the United States.
On the other hand, there is little hope and humanity in Mr. Cuccinelli’s misreading of “your tired, your poor.”
If there is one part of Emma Lazarus’ poem that people remember the most, it is, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
…And so may it remain.

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Stick with your healthy resolutions

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the New Year and by the time you read this, many people will have already broken their resolutions. Studies from Forbes (2013) say that nearly half of Americans make resolutions and only 8% actually keep them. A reason given is that people tend to set overly ambitious goals. At the J, we see a big push of people coming to exercise but it does drop off. Keeping up with exercising is a real commitment. Many people believe they have “more important” things to do than to keep up with healthy ways of living however, even in ancient times, our sages had something to say about taking care of our bodies — it is indeed a Jewish value of great importance. Here are some thoughts and background from our ancient rabbis (from
myjewishlearning.com):
“Because our bodies are receptacles of our souls, and vessels of God’s light, we must keep them healthy and consider carefully what we put into them. Traditional Jewish thought suggests that we must keep our bodies well for the sake of spiritual pursuits and in order to fulfill mitzvot, commandments. Today however, a focus on fitness is often seen as vain or improperly secular.
“It is interesting to see how far back in our tradition concerns with our physical selves and the balancing of Torah and physical activity can be found. Already in the Talmud (Shabbat 82a), Rav Huna urges his son Rabbah to study with Rav Hisda. Rabbah resists, saying that Rav Hisda focuses only on secular matters: anatomy and hygiene. Rav Huna admonishes his son, saying, ‘He speaks of health matters, and you call that secular!’
“Indeed, one finds a reluctance to focus on exercise, in part because time is so limited and time spent on sport is time not spent on Torah study or chessed (good deeds). Although many of us are familiar with Maimonides’ long discussions in the Mishneh Torah about the importance of exercise and healthy, measured eating, we rarely take the details of his many recommendations to heart.”
I am not convinced that today’s Jews are not exercising due to their worry about it being too secular of a pursuit. We have heard the message before every time we fly: “Put your oxygen mask on first and then help children and others.” If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others and if we don’t take care of our physical self, how can we possibly work to grow in other areas? Many of the J regulars know that I spend my time at the J Fitness Floor walking the track and during that time I am always reading on my phone — not social media but books! I feel that I am doing two things for my body and my mind at the same time! Try it — join me on the track but please don’t talk to me as I might lose my place in my book! Good luck with your resolutions and don’t be part of the 8% who drop off no matter what you are trying to achieve. Happy New Year!

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What does it mean to be holy?

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
What is the Jewish meaning of “holiness”?
D.M.


Dear D.,
There is an age-old custom for Jewish children to begin their learning of scripture with the difficult book of Vayikra (Leviticus). At first glance, this custom seems strange. The general topics include Temple offerings and spiritual purity. It isn’t an easy book. When choosing which book of the Torah to begin with, the obvious choice would seem be Genesis, the Beginning, the story of creation which also offers a plethora of entertaining narratives — or perhaps Exodus, which discusses the making of the Jewish nation.
Indeed, this question was asked, and answered, during the times of the early sages, “Why do young school children begin their Chumash learning with Vayikra and not with Bereishit (Genesis)? Because small children are innocent and pure, and Vayikra discusses the offerings, that are pure, unblemished, and which restore spiritual purity to a person. Therefore, it is fitting that the pure begin their education with the topic of purity.’” (Midrash, Leviticus Rabboh 7:3, Midrash Tanchuma Tzav #14)
Along the same lines, Vayikra is sometimes called “the book of holiness and sanctity,” for that is its theme. The English term for holy (and purity) brings with it a variety of connotations and imagery — much of which comes from other cultures. I have often asked people to tell me what images or words come to mind when they hear “holy” and the answer (“the search for the holy grail” or hearing “silent night, holy night” …) is infused with legends and foreign values and proves hard to qualify in any language.
The Jewish concept of holiness, kedushah, carries an entirely different flavor. While the theme is featured more prominently in this volume of the Five Books of Moses, the root word permeates the Hebrew language (which itself is called the “holy tongue”) from Scripture, the standard blessings for commandments, our prayers, the term for marriage, the name for the Temple, and so on — suggesting that the Jewish concept of holiness is not simply an abstract religious term but extends to our daily activities.
What does it mean for something to be “holy”?
On the one hand, to be holy is to be distinctly removed from the physical. This characteristic is reserved for the Creator, Who is entirely transcendent — separate from creation. Accordingly, one may uncover within the world, the good, the noble, the beautiful and the exceptional — but all is still worldly, distant from “holiness.” On the other hand, there are countless references to holiness within the world, implying some middle ground. And, it is the latter concept of levels within holiness that presents a most fascinating component to Judaism.
How does it work?
To begin with, the commentaries relate a type of holiness that comes only through human action. The holiness of the land of Israel is brought about through the observance of the commandments within it. Likewise, the Shabbat day is made holy through man’s sanctification as in “Remember the Shabbat day to make it holy…” The human being fulfills the command to “Be holy, for I your G-d, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) by refraining from certain activities, by mastering one’s natural tendencies, or through noble intent behind action.
Yet there are also references to an imminent holiness, one that is independent of our action either because it is inherited or inherent. In this vein, Maimonides writes (in his Laws of the Temple 6:16), “why do I say that the original consecration sanctified the Temple and Jerusalem for eternity… Because the sanctity of the Temple and Jerusalem stems from the Shechinah which can never be nullified… as the Talmud declares: (Megillah 28a) ‘Even though they have been devastated, their sanctity remains.’” It is holiness within the land that, once present, can never be nullified through one’s deeds.
The same idea holds true in time and with people: There is holiness inherent within the Shabbat and festive days, irrespective of human experience or embrace. During our prayer services, the Kohanim ascend the platform to bless the congregation and utter the famous blessing which states “who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron” — a quality that is inherited, not earned.
To be sure, to declare that something or someone has a quality of holiness certainly does not imply that it needs to be worshipped, and no commentary within the Jewish religion would ever say such a thing. We only worship G-d. Yet the Biblical, legal, philosophical, and mystical sources alike speak of the dissemination of holiness over creation, and even over this world of ours, in its abovementioned dimensions of time, space and the human being.
One of the further novelties in Jewish thought is the precise qualification of different levels and gradations of holiness. In the land of Israel, for example, the highest level was the site where the “Holy of Holies” stood. Providing the practical application in Jewish law, Maimonides writes: “the land of Israel has ten gradations of holiness, each higher than the preceding level.” Likewise, with objects, the Mishna states: “Objects used for the performance of a mitzvah may be thrown away, [since no sanctity attaches to the object after its use]. But objects which are accessory to sacred items cannot be discarded…”
The highest level within these objects is the sanctity of the Torah scroll.
The latter is a phenomenon in Jewish culture and law that we take for granted. The simple physical materials of ink and parchment, when combined to form a Torah scroll in the prescribed manner, are wondrously transformed into a “holy object” that has numerous implications in how it is handled and respected.
Indeed, this is the Jewish child’s first visual introduction to holiness.
As the Torah is carried through the aisles of the synagogue, he or she can watch as the people rise, extend their hand to kiss the Torah. The value placed on this object and the tender attention given to it is more than the wisdom than the words convey, and more than the skilled labor and materials. It is not a work of literature or art, but something mysteriously beyond. This awareness of holiness later develops into a more academic and sophisticated discussion, but the intuitive appreciation, one that defies logic and reaches to the core, never leaves. Indeed, there are moving stories of Jews rushing in to burning synagogues in Germany and Poland to save the Torah scroll.
In conclusion, even the most rational Jewish philosophers and codifiers of law devote attention to clarifying these levels of holiness, within a concrete and logical system. This combination of the legal and rational intertwined the ethereal and mystical is one of the beautiful aspects of Jewish thought. Finally, the complexity of the book in the Chumash sends this overriding message to the child and adult alike. The child, innocent and pure, initially takes the holiness for granted and then learns to develop the mind while the sophisticated adult must strip away the layers of complexity and foreign ideologies to revisit “the call” of Vayikra — to stay pure.

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