Jewish

Shira Rubin 10-29-2015

Image via Hand in Hand / RNS

Amid ongoing violence between Palestinians and Israelis, a school in Jaffa seems more determined than ever to teach Arab and Jewish children about coexistence.

In a sunny playground here just 3 miles south of Tel Aviv, children paint recycled tires in vibrant colors and refurbish wooden furniture to beautify a place that many in the community say is their best chance at a peaceful future.

This is the Jaffa branch of “Yad b’Yad” — or “Hand in Hand” in both Hebrew and Arabic — a school made up of four kindergarten and two first-grade classes that aims to respond to growing Jewish-Arab segregation and violence with mutual respect and open dialogue.

“Psychologically, this is the only place where we feel that my children, and my neighbor’s children, are secure,” said Hani Chamy, an Arab engineer and generations-old resident of Jaffa who was one of the first parents to send her two girls to the pre-school.

“It’s a great relief.”

Image via /Shutterstock.com

My rabbinic colleague, David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, issued a “glass half full” report earlier this month, noting that “… over the last several years there’s been a steady increase in the percentage of people who live in countries that … have serious restrictions on religious freedom.”

At the same time, he noted, “we’ve seen enormous expansion of interfaith efforts on almost every continent to try and address the challenges.”

Much of that “enormous expansion of interfaith efforts” can be traced to the historic Nostra Aetate (Latin for “In Our Time”) Declaration that the world’s Catholic bishops adopted 50 years ago at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.

8-27-2015
REUTERS / Danny Moloshok / RNS

Actress Mayim Bialik. Photo via REUTERS / Danny Moloshok / RNS

Emmy-winning actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik isn’t afraid to speak out about her sometimes-unconventional social views, from writing a book about attachment parenting to criticizing hyper-sexualized celebrities in a recent essay.

Now, she’s talking candidly about religion in entertainment, claiming that “it’s never going to be trendy to be observant or religious in Hollywood circles” in an interview with FOX411.

Jim Rice 5-11-2015

Church bodies in the U.S. are removing financhial support for the occupation of Palestinian territory—but some Jewish groups still see divestment as delegitimizing Israel itself. 

Photo via REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Photo via REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who’s perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 74, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish — though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

 
Photo via Sally Morrow / RNS

A man wearing a yamaka stands at an interfaith “Service of Unity & Hope” April 17, 2014. Photo via Sally Morrow / RNS

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. spiked 21 percent last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, unsettling many American Jews who had thought that hatred of Jews and Judaism was on the decline, at least here at home.

The ADL has released a spring report for the past 10 years that showed fewer incidents targeting American Jews. That downward trend contrasted sharply to the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe — recently witnessed in the January killings of four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris.

“The United States still continues to be unique in history” as a safe place for Jews, said Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director.

But this new ADL report casts a shadow on the idea that the U.S., which is home to more than 40 percent of the world’s Jews, stands in stark contrast to European anti-Semitism and far higher levels of antipathy against Jews in the Middle East, as reflected in studies of anti-Semitic attitudes worldwide.

“It’s still different here than anywhere else, but don’t take anything for granted, and be concerned,” Foxman said.

Christian Piatt 12-08-2014
A collection of images of Jesus. Image courtesy Christian Piatt/Patheos.

A collection of images of Jesus. Image courtesy Christian Piatt/Patheos.

Not surprising, this whole endeavor to understand what it really means to follow Jesus in today’s world is proving to be nothing short of overwhelming. Though I’d like to start my year-long effort to live this out on New Year’s Day, I’m not entirely sure I can get my hands around this Jesus we’re talking about by then. I mean, I grew up reading Scripture, have written several books about Jesus and the Bible, but somehow I’m always left with a sense that there’s more — a lot more — about Jesus and about being a follower than we generally consider.

As part of my effort to approach the year, I’ve decided to break down various dimensions of Jesus, based both on my own reading of the Gospels (and Epistles to a lesser degree), as well as the interpretations of scholars, theologians and activists I respect. So for now, I’ve broken this down into twelve categories, so that I can focus on one per month as intently as possible. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t some other things I’ll decide to do all year long (like pray the Lord’s Prayer), or some things I’ll try once that may or may not fit within that month’s “Jesus dimension.” But when I consider the following twelve ways of looking at Jesus, it feels like a pretty comprehensive approach.

I’m also assembling a group of mentors to help me with each of the respective Jesus Dimensions below. I figure that, rather than having a dozen disciples, I could use mentors way more than followers if I have any hope of making this work.

But I’m interested in what you think. Am I missing something? Do any of these simply not ring true at all? 

Steven Sotloff, the second American journalist killed by Islamic State. Photo courtesy of Maha Ellawati/RNS.

As thousands gathered Sept. 5 at Temple Beth Am in Miami to mourn journalist Steven Sotloff, they paid tribute to the one quality his family and friends tried hard to conceal from his Islamic State captors: his Jewishness.

Sotloff was not only Jewish, he held U.S.-Israel dual citizenship. But during that terrible year of his captivity, dozens of family and friends worked to scrub that detail from any public mention of the 31-year-old reporter for fear he would be persecuted for it. It appears word never got out, though he was brutally beheaded nonetheless.

In death, the Jewish values that informed his life are coming forward. One of the most moving testimonies Friday came from a childhood classmate Danielle Berrin, who writes for the Jewish Journal in Los Angeles.

Speaking to Jose Diaz-Balart on his morning MSNBC talk show, Berrin said Sotloff’s Jewish education was “one of the beautiful things” about him.

Zionism Unsettled cover page. Photo courtesy of www.israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed from its website a booklet that many Jewish groups have criticized as hostile to Israel and denigrating to Judaism.

“Zionism Unsettled,” published in January by the church-chartered Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is a history and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that paints Israel as the aggressor and describes Zionism as inherently racist and theologically flawed.

The booklet played a role last month in the denomination’s debate on divesting from three American companies that, divestment proponents say, profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Image courtesy of Ibrahim Hooper via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.

It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.

First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.

A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.

David P. Gushee 6-03-2014

The term "anti-Semitism" hides an ugly history of racialized animus.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor on Sept. 19, 1986. RNS file photo: Chris Sheridan

In April 1908, Dorothy Gumple, a 19-year-old Jewish woman living in Connecticut, converted to Roman Catholicism. Less than two years, later she married a Catholic immigrant from Ireland. They and their five children lived in Philadelphia where her husband was a lifelong trade union member. It is not exactly the stuff global news stories are made of.

Except this: Their fourth child became the world-famous archbishop of New York, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who served in that position from 1984 until his death in 2000.

Last month, in the Catholic New York newspaper, the cardinal’s 87-year-old sister, Mary, revealed the story of their mother’s conversion for the first time, and claimed she and her brother “did not know [our] mother was Jewish.” The O’Connor children “presumed that she had converted from another Christian religion.”
Oren Dorell 4-17-2014

Leaflets ordering Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine to "register." Photo courtesy of The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation, and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia.

3-26-2014
Interfaith conversation involving evangelical theologian Jim Wallis on the role of clergy in the elevation of and working for the "common good"
Matthew Skinner 3-17-2014
Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place? Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

Robert Hirschfield 12-12-2013

Yehoshua November

The rabbi recognized poetry as November's calling and inveighed against his betrayal of it.

The Menurkey (plaster edition) Photo via RNS/courtesy www.menurkey.com

It last happened in 1888 and, according to one calculation, won’t happen again for another 77,798 years: the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

This year, Nov. 28 is Thanksgiving and the first full day of the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown the previous night.

For many Jewish Americans, this is no trivial convergence, but a once-in-an-eternity opportunity to simultaneously celebrate two favorite holidays, one quintessentially American, the other quintessentially Jewish.

pio3 / Shutterstock.com

Commuters on subway on June 28, 2012 in New York City. pio3 / Shutterstock.com

American Jews say they face discrimination in the U.S., but they see Muslims, gays, and blacks facing far more.

This and other findings from the recently released Pew Research Center’s landmark study on Jewish Americans help make the case that Jews — once unwelcome in many a neighborhood, universitym, and golf club — now find themselves an accepted minority.

“While there are still issues, American Jews live in a country where they feel they are full citizens,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism.

Ted Sherman 10-11-2013

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

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