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Uriel Heilman
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What’s going on in Boulder?

New Colorado JCC marries goats and Judaism

WorldPublished: 20 March 2015

BOULDER, Colo. — There’s not much to see yet at the site of this city’s new Jewish community center, just some trailers and earth-moving equipment covered in snow.

But the first inhabitants already are on site, living in a pair of sheds. Though it’s cold, they don’t complain much. That’s because they’re goats and chickens.

With five goats and some 40 hens, the animal farm is a key part of the $27 million center, slated to open on 12 acres in the summer of 2016. Already operating as a co-op for fresh eggs and goat’s milk, the farm is also one of the elements that makes this JCC highly unusual. Here are a few others: The JCC will have no full-service gym, indoor swimming pool — or membership fees.

“I think the whole idea of what Jewish engagement is in the 21st century has been changing,” Jonathan Lev, executive director of the Boulder JCC, said. “We want to capture what people love and overlay it with Jewish values. For many, coming to the farm and milking goats and taking care of the chickens is their Jewish engagement.”


Non-Orthodox Rockland starts to organize

LocalPublished: 27 February 2015

RAMAPO, N.Y. — Between economic challenges and declining affiliation rates, it has been a rough few years for the non-Orthodox Jewish community in Rockland County.

Only about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan, Rockland has been named New York State’s most fiscally stressed area by the state comptroller for two years in a row. Median home values are still down about 18 percent from their pre-recession peaks.

The Jewish federation’s donor base is shrinking, the county’s Reform and Conservative synagogues have suffered double-digit rates of membership loss over the last decade, and Rockland’s lone non-Orthodox Jewish day school has only about one-quarter of the number of students that its predecessor had in the early 2000s.

Of all the challenges, however, the most difficult has been the increasingly vitriolic climate in the county, many say.


Hezbollah, Argentine government fingered in death of AMIA prosecutor

WorldPublished: 23 January 2015

The mysterious death of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman seems ripped straight out of a crime thriller.

Nisman — the indefatigable prosecutor collecting evidence of culpability in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which killed 85 people — was found dead in his apartment just hours before he was to present evidence to Argentina’s congress that he said implicated his country’s president and foreign minister in a nefarious cover-up scheme. The charge? That the two agreed to suppress Tehran’s role in the AMIA bombing in exchange for oil shipments to energy-starved Argentina.

Nisman’s body was discovered late Sunday in his 13-floor apartment with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Officials connected to the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, quickly said that the evidence pointed to suicide, noting that a .22-caliber pistol and a spent cartridge were found near Nisman’s body.


Slaughter in Paris

Divided French Jewry

Cover Story Published: 16 January 2015
Feelings are mixed about call to move to Israel

French Jews are feeling embattled.

Arsonists have targeted their synagogues, terrorists have attacked their schools and shops, and, with only a few exceptions, French society has not united behind them to stop the assaults and harassment.

The solution, according to Israel’s prime minister, is simple: Move to Israel.

“To all the Jews of France, all the Jews of Europe, I would like to say that Israel is not just the place in whose direction you pray; the State of Israel is your home,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday in Jerusalem, the day after an attack on a Paris kosher supermarket that killed four Jewish men.

“This week, a special team of ministers will convene to advance steps to increase immigration from France and other countries in Europe that are suffering from terrible anti-Semitism. All Jews who want to immigrate to Israel will be welcomed here warmly and with open arms,” he said.


O.U. acts to increase funding for schools and votes first women to national posts

WorldPublished: 02 January 2015

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — The Orthodox Union is launching a multimillion-dollar advocacy campaign to increase government funding for Jewish day schools in New York.

The organization will add staff to the 10 full-timers already working on the issue and launching a multiyear campaign, according to its executive vice president, Allen Fagin. He also said the O.U. will retain “one of the leading political strategists in New York” to guide the effort. The O.U. declined to disclose the strategist’s identity.

“We all recognize that the real solution to the tuition crisis lies in using our political power and our advocacy efforts to increase state and local government funding for yeshivot and day schools,” Fagin said on Saturday night at a speech at the O.U.’s biannual convention, which drew a crowd of about 350 to a hotel in this suburban town not far from Manhattan.


Noted Conservative rabbi pulls back on proposal to perform interfaith weddings

WorldPublished: 02 January 2015

Within days of floating a proposal that would have made Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton, Mass., the first prominent Conservative clergyman to break with the movement’s ironclad rule against rabbis performing intermarriages, the spiritual leader of one of the nation’s largest Conservative synagogues decided to reverse course.

In a recent email to congregants, Gardenswartz attached a proposal for a new shul policy that would enable him to officiate at interfaith weddings in cases where the couple commits to a “Covenant to Raise Jewish Children” and asked the congregation consider it.

“Conservative clergy cannot officiate at or attend an interfaith wedding. But we welcome the interfaith family to our shul,” Gardenswartz wrote. “But I am worrying whether that response has grown stale, and whether a new response would better serve the needs of our families and of our congregation.”

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For Cuban Jews in U.S., rapprochement with Castro regime cause for concern

WorldPublished: 26 December 2014

For many Cuban Jews — the majority of whom now live in the United States — it was a bittersweet week.

Like countless Jews around the world, they cheered the release of Alan Gross, the American Jewish telecommunications contractor who had been held in a Cuban prison for the last five years.

But then there’s the matter of reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

For those old enough to remember the most brutal years of the Castro regime, the idea of rapprochement with a country still ruled by the Castro family (Fidel’s brother, Raul, is now president) is more cause for concern than celebration. And while there’s some acknowledgment that ending the embargo may bring some benefits for the Cuban people, it is surpassed by abiding concern that the deal President Obama announced on Wednesday will extend the life of a brutal dictatorship whose crimes can be neither forgotten nor forgiven.

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At Kosherfest, a mad dash to sample the ‘facon’

Local | WorldPublished: 21 November 2014

Gefilte fish? Check.

Pastrami? Check.

Kosher-for-Passover anti-constipation pills?

Edible spoons for bar mitzvah appetizers?

A cholov Yisroel-certified alternative to the nutritional supplement drink Ensure? Check, check, check.

Welcome to Kosherfest, the annual kosher food trade show where hundreds of kosher food companies come together to display their wares, luring their potential customers with free samples of everything from vegan lasagna to an imitation bacon (“facon”) to carrot cake macaroons. There was also plenty of spirits on hand, including vodka, arak, and tequila.

Not bad for a weekday afternoon.

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Converts talk about Freundel

Say abuse of power extended beyond mikvah peeping

WorldPublished: 24 October 2014

When Rabbi Barry Freundel asked Bethany Mandel to take a “really long shower” before a “practice dunk” in the mikvah before her formal conversion to Judaism, the whole request seemed a bit odd, she said.

For one thing, Freundel instructed Mandel to skip the pre-mikvah checklist, which includes things like cleaning out your navel, trimming your nails, and getting rid of excess hair and skin. For another, she had never heard of practice dunking.

But Mandel eventually bought the rabbi’s explanation: that women performing the ritual for the first time at their actual conversions might, from an excess of nervousness and confusion, turn around and mistakenly expose themselves to the three rabbis present. Mandel said that she, like other women who took practice dunks, actually found the trial run helpful.

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Manhattan’s Ramaz school clarifies advice on concealing kippot

Local | WorldPublished: 05 September 2014

When Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the principal of Ramaz, an Orthodox day school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side — a school that attracts many Bergen County students — first heard about last week’s attack in the neighborhood on a Jewish couple by a mob bearing Palestinian flags, he had an instinctual response. Maybe the male students at his school should consider wearing baseball caps over their yarmulkes when wandering around the neighborhood, he thought.

So he dashed off an email to his head of school, Paul Shaviv, suggesting parents might want to consider talking to their kids about it.

Then Rabbi Lookstein thought again and realized he “absolutely did not agree with that policy” he had just suggested.

“I think that is giving the lunatics and terrorists a real victory,” Rabbi Lookstein said on Tuesday.

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