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Palestinian village and Israeli town build rare partnership across line

WADI FUKIN, west bank – Mohammed Mansara, a 70-year-old farmer who goes by the name Abu Mazen, indicates with a sweep of his arm the fruit trees and vegetables he grows on his small plot of land in this Palestinian village in the west bank, population 1,200.

Then he points to a small green hill on the western side of the village topped by a tidy cluster of red-roofed homes. That is Tzur Hadassah, an Israeli community of about 5,000 Jewish residents.

“Tzur Hadassah has such nice people,” he says in Hebrew. “They are great neighbors.”

Mansara could walk from his home to Tzur Hadassah in about half an hour, but it’s illegal. Wadi Fukin sits smack on the Green Line, the demarcation between pre-1967 Israel and the west bank. A portion of the west bank security fence is slated to go through the valley, cutting off Wadi Fukin from Tzur Hadassah and from much of what remains of its agricultural land.

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Palestinian farmer Mohammed Mansara, in his home village of Wadu Fukin, has close ties with residents of an Israeli town just across the Green Line. Sue Fishkoff

Similar stories repeat all along the Green Line, as Israelis and Palestinians jostle over the route of the fence.

What makes Wadi Fukin’s case different is that it has strong allies across the Green Line: Tzur Hadassah residents who buy fresh produce from village farmers, and Friends of the Earth Middle East, or FOEME, an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organization that is challenging the route of the security fence here in Israel’s Supreme Court.

Three hundred Tzur Hadassah residents have signed a petition against the fence being built in their valley.

Wadi Fukin and Tzur Hadassah have had a relationship since 2001, when they became two of the first members of FOEME’s Good Water Neighbor project. The project, which now works with two dozen towns and villages, brings together Palestinian and Israeli communities to protect their shared water resources, fostering peace and long-term cooperation based on shared environmental interests.

Tzur Hadassah resident Tamar Gridinger says FOEME’s project prompted her to visit Wadi Fukin for the first time several years ago. A group of Tzur Hadassah residents had been buying organic fruits and vegetables from another source, she says. Then they learned that FOEME had brought in permaculture experts to help Wadi Fukin farmers give up pesticides and return to the sustainable agricultural practices used by their grandfathers.

“When we realized that Wadi Fukin farmers were growing organic vegetables, it was like a gift,” Gridinger says.

Now she and 25 other Tzur Hadassah families participate in a Community Supported Agriculture project, where they pre-buy a month’s supply of fresh produce from the village and pick up their allotment every week. (Israelis may cross the Green Line into the west bank, but Palestinians need a special permit to cross the line into Israel.)

“Both sides gain from it,” Gridinger says. “We get inexpensive, organic fruit and vegetables, and they earn money.”

Since 2001, relations between Wadi Fukin and Tzur Hadassah have deepened. Wadi Fukin farmers invite co-op members to an annual hafla, or celebration, in the village, and Tzur Hadassah residents have helped villagers navigate the Israeli bureaucracy. When one young villager with leukemia needed weekly medical treatment at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, co-op members would pick him up and drive him across the checkpoint reserved for Israelis, saving him hours of waiting at the border.

“I’d never met my neighbors in Wadi Fukin before, and now they have become my friends,” says Gridinger, showing off a scarf Mansara brought back for her from Mecca, where he recently went on a haj, or pilgrimage. “Not because of the ‘great principles’ of the project. Abu Mazen is just a friend.”

Relations between Wadi Fukin are not as good with its Israeli neighbor to the east: Betar Ilit, a fast-growing ultra-Orthodox settlement of some 35,000 residents on Mansara’s side of the Green Line built in part on land originally belonging to the village.

Since construction began at Betar Ilit in 1985, Wadi Fukin’s 11 natural springs have dried up, and when Betar Ilit’s sewers back up, Mansara says, the effluent pours down the hill into the village fields. The Israeli government has sent notices to Betar Ilit to resolve problems caused to Wadi Fukin.

“The main spring is just a trickle now,” Mansara says, showing visitors an empty reservoir where water used to flow. “The water would go into a channel and then to the fields. Now the channel is filled with garbage.”

On March 17, UNESCO declared that the territory of Wadi Fukin and the neighboring village of Battir represent “the best preserved and continuously managed cultural landscape of its type in all the west bank,” and merit protection as a World Heritage Cultural Landscape.

To farm, the villagers use terraced agriculture, where water from natural springs is channeled into more than 70 manmade pools and used later to irrigate the fields.

“The farmers of Wadi Fukin have been using the same agricultural system for over 2,000 years,” says Gidon Bromberg, FOEME’s Israeli director.

FOEME will use the UNESCO document to back up its case that the west bank security fence should not go through this valley. Lawyers for the village are arguing their case on environmental grounds — a first in a security fence dispute, Bromberg says.

The section of the fence proposed for Wadi Fukin is a secondary barrier, Bromberg says. The primary security fence already stands east of Wadi Fukin, circling the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The Wadi Fukin section is slated to stop just south of the village, meaning villagers, or anyone else, could walk around it and enter Israel.

“It makes a mockery,” Bromberg says. “If you have this open area a kilometer south of Wadi Fukin, why do you need a fence here at all?”

Following objections to the fence’s route in the Wadi Fukin area, a hydrological study and a study of the route’s environmental impact were performed, according to a spokesman for the Israel Defense Force.

“It was decided that the fence would be constructed utilizing various engineering solutions that will limit environmental damage to a minimum,” the spokesman said, but the plan is still to build it along the original route.

Even if Wadi Fukin manages to get the court to change that, it may only be a temporary stopgap in the inevitable demise of the village’s agricultural lifestyle.

Mansara farms because his father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s father all farmed this land. But none of his five sons have gone into the field. They are doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and have moved away from the village.

About a dozen farmers remain in Wadi Fukin, and Mansara is glad his children aren’t among them.

“I didn’t want them to go into farming,” he says. “You can’t make a living from it.”

JTA

 
 

As recession drags on, middle-class families forced to turn to Jewish food banks

Sue FishkoffWorld
Published: 03 September 2010

Robert M., 58, worked for a news organization in the San Francisco Bay area until September 2008, when he lost his job in layoffs that eliminated 15 percent of the company’s workforce nationwide.

Robert had eight months worth of savings. They ran out in six months.

After 14 months of unemployment, in December 2009 Robert turned to San Francisco’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services for help with rent, utilities, and, hardest of all, food.

“It was gut-wrenching,” said Robert, who asked that his last name not be used. “I’d contributed a lot to charities over the years, including JFCS. My wife and I gave to the food bank regularly. Now we were on the other side.”

It sounds apocryphal: Former donors to a Jewish charity reduced to seeking help from that very same organization. But as more and more Jews are caught up in the recession, now two years running, food banks across the United States are reporting the same phenomenon. Middle-class Jews, professional Jews, young people with families — they’re out of work, their savings are gone, and they are showing up for help at Jewish social service agencies.

With unemployment extensions about to run out for many, the problem is expected to worsen.

“In addition to the poor and the working poor, which we’ve always served, there’s been a substantial increase the past 18 months among the middle and upper-middle class who are not in a position to make it, yet are not poor enough to get benefits” from government, said William Rapfogel, CEO and executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York.

Even so, the myth persists that Jews are affluent.

“There is denial of the degree of need in the Jewish community,” said Barbara Levy Gradet, executive director of Jewish Community Services in Baltimore. “We have young families as well as retired people looking for work. This is an equal-opportunity recession.”

The Met Council in New York, which serves the largest number of Jewish poor in the nation, distributes food packages at 60 sites in New York City’s five boroughs, part of the $3.5 million in food aid it gives out every year.

Fifteen thousand households receive the packages — up from 9,000 a year-and-a-half ago — and virtually all are Jewish. Whereas before the recession the Met Council saw a lot of haredi Orthodox families and the elderly, there has been a dramatic increase over the last two years in non-haredi Orthodox families and the non-observant, Rapfogel said.

One of the Met Council’s new clients is a 53-year-old grandmother who had an administrative job in a Jewish day school but was laid off in June 2009. She’s still collecting unemployment, which she supplemented a few times with food vouchers from the Met Council.

“I’m looking to work,” she told JTA. “I’m not looking to collect Medicaid or food stamps. It’s very hard when you have to depend on your children to help you. It’s not a good feeling.”

It’s impossible to know just how many Jewish poor there are in America. A 2004 study by the federation umbrella organization — now known as the Jewish Federations of North America — found 730,000 Jewish individuals, or about 15 percent of the country’s Jewish population, living in economic distress either below or slightly above the federal poverty standard. That was before the current recession.

The federal poverty guidelines themselves are woefully outdated, say many experts in the field. They are set at $10,830 annually for an individual and $22,050 annually for a family of four.

“Today, $10,000 does not seem livable,” said Joshua Protas, vice president and Washington director of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs.

The JCPA is working in Washington to prevent proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as the federal Food Stamps program), as well as the child nutrition reauthorization bill, which provides 19.4 million children with free or subsidized school lunches, among other things.

“That includes a substantial Jewish population,” Protas said.

Ironically, the U.S. Senate recently passed its version of the bill that proposed funding in part by making additional cuts to SNAP. The JCPA is trying to head off similar cannibalization in the House of Representatives version of the bill.

In addition, the Washington office of the Jewish Federations is working to prevent a proposed 25 percent reduction in the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, which provides supplemental economic relief to millions of Americans through faith-based community programs and public providers. The cuts would be for fiscal year 2011, which begins Oct. 1.

But many Jews in desperate economic straits fall outside the purview of these federal programs. For them, the private Jewish charities are their only lifeline.

In Chicago, 42,000 people — 20 percent of the region’s Jewish population — received emergency food assistance through the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago between June 2008 and July 2010. That represents a 24 percent increase from the previous two years.

In another twist, Jews in their 50s and early 60s are trying to access the agency’s older adult services program, which traditionally serves much older individuals.

San Francisco’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services, which serves about 65,000 mainly Jewish individuals a year, had one food pantry two years ago. Now the organization has five, one in each county it covers.

Executive director Anita Friedman says two-thirds of the program’s food clients signed up within the past year.

“There has always been a small group of chronically poor in our community, but the tsunami is the thousands who have recently lost their jobs,” she said. “Insurance, banking, finance, the tourist industry, anything related to real estate — all these have been really hurt.”

In Baltimore, Jewish Community Services helped 25,000 of the region’s 90,000 Jews over the past year with everything from food aid to employment assistance. The usual short-term programs of one or two months are no longer enough, Gradet says. Clients now need help for six months to a year.

In 2007, the organization spent $750,000 in housing and food assistance. In the past year it spent $1.2 million.

Gradet says former government workers — attorneys, money managers, and other white-collar professionals — have been showing up asking for help.

Thankfully, say those in charge of these food programs, the Jewish community has stepped up to help out with donations and volunteering their time. In Baltimore, a recent half-million-dollar matching grant from a local donor was quickly matched by other contributions from the community. Other cities report similar gestures.

“The Jewish community is very sensitive to these issues and is very generous,” Friedman said. “It’s a blessing.”

JTA

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The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty delivered Rosh HaShanah food packages throughout New York City in September 2009 Roy Somech/Photography by Roy
 
 

Days of awe

Keeping kosher — but just on holidays

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Kosher food manufacturers depend on the Jewish holidays for the bulk of their annual sales Photo by Sue Fishkoff from Kosherfest 2008

When I’m invited to a Shabbat or holiday meal in a Jewish home, I always bring kosher wine. Not just that, I try to make it Israeli.

It’s not because I keep kosher. And it’s not because the people I’m visiting necessarily keep kosher either. So if wine by any other name smells as sweet, why bother?

I know I’m not alone — plenty of Jews who ordinarily ignore the laws of kashrut buy kosher wine for Shabbat, stock their pantries with kosher-for-Passover food every spring, and pay extra for kosher catering at their simchas.

First Person

Hypocritical? Yes, if you believe that procuring and ingesting kosher food has merit only within the context of a fully observant lifestyle.

But that construct holds sway today mainly at the far ends of the observance spectrum, among those fervent Orthodox who don’t tolerate any deviation from kashrut and the few remaining “Classical Reform” Jews who are hostile to Jewish rituals in general, including kashrut.

Increasing numbers of American Jews, however, do not consider the kosher diet a divine commandment but an expression of Jewish identity, a mark of membership in the tribe. As such, it is a moving target. Putting kosher food on the table does not signal one’s denominational affiliation or level of observance so much as the strength of one’s connection to Jewish history, Jewish community, and even the land of Israel.

It’s a different, very modern, and specifically Western way of looking at Jewish dietary practice.

Let’s look at the numbers. According to the Mintel International Group, a market research firm that releases periodic reports on the kosher industry, more than 40 percent of the food sold in American supermarkets is kosher-certified. The group’s January 2009 report claimed that $195 billion of the previous year’s $400 billion in food sales came from kosher products, an astounding figure given that Jews make up less than 3 percent of the population and most don’t even keep kosher.

Sure, most of that kosher-certified food represents mainstream products such as Heinz ketchup and Tropicana orange juice that consumers buy without regard to its kosher status. More telling is the same report’s figure of $12.5 billion in sales within the dedicated kosher market, meaning products bought because of the kosher label.

Who’s buying this food?

Many are non-Jews who believe that kosher food, especially kosher meat and poultry, is safer, healthier, and of higher quality than its non-kosher counterpart. Others are non-Jews whose moral or religious beliefs are satisfied by kosher certification: Muslims who buy kosher meat when halal is unavailable and vegetarians who seek a “D” symbol indicating a meatless product fall into this category. They might be lactose-intolerant, assured by a pareve label that a product contains no dairy; the reasons are myriad.

But many of the people who buy kosher food on purpose are Jewish but nonobservant. Some of them buy kosher products for the same reason as non-Jews; they believe it’s safer or of higher quality. Many more, however, do it for reasons of community, tradition, and Jewish identity.

This is particularly true on the Jewish holidays, which have become times for nonobservant Jews to connect with their history by setting Jewish food on the table. Many Jews who don’t keep kosher the rest of the year buy kosher wine and matzoh for Passover, sometimes out of respect for parents or grandparents, sometimes because it makes them feel more Jewish, and sometimes because of an inchoate feeling that it would be wrong to do otherwise.

For its January 2009 report, Mintel surveyed 2,500 adults about their food-buying habits. Thirteen percent, or 335 respondents, said they regularly buy kosher food.

Of the 86 percent who said they were not observant Jews, 25 percent said they buy kosher food out of respect for their own or their partner’s family traditions. Researchers interpreted that to mean they are Jewish, simply not kashrut-observant. And more than half said they buy kosher products “occasionally,” which the researchers chalked up to Passover, Rosh HaShanah, and impending visits by the in-laws.

Food manufacturers are well aware of this holiday shopping phenomenon. Manufacturers of so-called traditional kosher foods such as matzoh and gefilte fish typically do 40 percent of their business strictly at Passover. Spokesmen for the Manischewitz Company put that figure at 50 percent.

When I was researching my book about kashrut and the kosher food industry, “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority,” I spoke to many self-described nonobservant or partially observant Jews who bring out the kosher food on sacred occasions.

One woman in Glenview, Ill., told me that she keeps a kosher-style home, meaning she does not bring in pork or shellfish, but she will buy packaged food products without kosher symbols. She keeps “kosher by ingredient,” reading the labels to make sure a product contains no lard or other clearly non-kosher ingredients.

But when her children were growing up, she said, she made the family home kosher for Passover every spring. They’d put all the bread, pasta, cereals, and other non-Passover foods in a pantry, which she would lock for the duration of the holiday. The kids would draw skulls and crossbones on the door to indicate it was off-limits for the next eight days. She also bought kosher-for-Passover food items, even though those same foods without kosher symbols were good enough the rest of the year.

“Partly it was how I was raised,” she told me. “Partly it’s a way to identify as Jewish. And partly it’s to honor my forefathers and foremothers.”

So why do I seek out kosher Israeli wine for Shabbat and Jewish holidays? Probably because I miss Israel, where I lived for many years as a kibbutz volunteer and newspaper reporter.

Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin explains this as the (illusory) power of the artifact to collapse the distance between producer and consumer. When I hold a bottle of Yarden Cabernet, I feel a physical connection to the soil, the grapes, and the workers who produced it. And when I pour it into my cup and make the kiddush, I feel connected to the generations of Jews who have broken bread together over the years and are doing so today no matter where they live.

Illusory? Not to the soul. Names do matter, no matter how sweet the drink.

JTA

 
 

Shouldering the burden of forgotten cemeteries

The old Jewish cemetery in Eufaula, Ala., hasn’t been used in years.

“The monuments are just crumbling,” said Sara Hamm.

She and her family are the last Jews living in this once-booming cotton and railway town on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

The Jewish cemetery’s first burial dates from 1845, when German Jews began arriving as merchants and dry goods salesmen. They bought a synagogue in 1873, but sold it in the early 1900s when their numbers dwindled to several dozen. The cemetery, with its 84 burial plots, fell into disrepair.

In the mid-1980s Hamm’s grandmother, Jennie Rudderman, began restoring it, righting headstones and clearing away brush. After she died in 1999, Hamm took over as volunteer caretaker. But the job is wearing her down.

“It’s been left to its own accord now, like everything else in small-town America,” she said.

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The Brith Sholem cemetery in Hamilton Township was overgrown and neglected before a volunteer started taking care of it two years ago. Stan Cohen

Similar stories repeat across the land, from the rust belt of western Pennsylvania to the Bible Belt in the South. As factories closed down and populations shifted westward, once-thriving Jewish communities declined and synagogues shut their doors. The only thing left behind, in many cases, were the cemeteries — with no one, or almost no one, to take care of them.

“The Jewish community knows there is a problem of abandoned cemeteries, but they feel it’s someone else’s problem, or the problem of the descendants of those buried there,” said Gary Katz, president of the four-year-old Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, or CAJAC, which spearheads efforts to clean and maintain distressed cemeteries in New York City. “But throughout Jewish history, cemeteries have been a communal responsibility.”

The Jewish Cemetery Project of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies lists 1,375 Jewish cemeteries in the United States and 72 in Canada, but project coordinator Ellen Renck says more may exist.

No one knows how many of those cemeteries are at risk; experts estimate there may be several hundred.

Jewish donors and volunteers are chasing after their roots in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, cleaning up the abandoned cemeteries of their ancestors, but similar attention has not been paid to the at-risk cemeteries of their parents and grandparents in the United States.

“It’s an error for people to think it’s only in Eastern Europe that cemeteries are in disrepair,” said Nolan Altman, coordinator of the online burial registry of JewishGen, a Jewish genealogical website. “It’s right here at home.”

Some of these at-risk cemeteries are completely abandoned, while others are at various stages of management. Some are privately owned. Others are owned by synagogues that no longer exist or fraternal societies with just one or two living members.

“You don’t hear about cemeteries in distress until things get really bad, until a [fraternal society] no longer exists or a family member takes them to court,” said David Zinner, executive director of Kavod v’Nichum, which supports Jewish bereavement committees and chevra kadisha groups nationwide. “People say that’s not where the Jewish community should spend its money; we need to focus on young people. But focusing on young people should include helping them take care of their parents and grandparents.”

“In Israel,” Katz added, “Jewish cemeteries are funded by the state, but in the United States it’s all donor money.”

Recently, interest in taking care of these old cemeteries has been growing.

In 2008, the first Jewish Cemetery Association of North America was established as an umbrella for efforts to standardize care and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries, active and inactive. Its 12 founding members include individual cemeteries and funeral homes, as well as regional cemetery associations, which have started forming just in the past 25 years.

Jonathan Schachter is on the board of the Jewish Cemetery and Burial Association of Greater Pittsburgh, which turned its attention to neglected and abandoned Jewish cemeteries in western Pennsylvania in the mid-1980s.

The association, which operates under the umbrella of the Jewish federation, will soon assume responsibility for its 10th such cemetery.

“I take great comfort knowing that these resting places of someone’s relatives are taken care of,” Schachter said, adding that his own mother’s death six months ago “adds another dimension” to his work.

Many places have no regional associations to tend at-risk Jewish cemeteries — it’s up to local people, working alone or in small groups.

Stan Cohen has been taking care of the 100-year-old Brith Sholem cemetery in Hamilton Township for the past two years, on his own time.

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Two years after volunteer Stan Cohen started his clean-up, Brith Sholem cemetery near Trenton looks remarkably better. Stan Cohen

It was in disrepair for decades, he says, but Cohen was moved to take action when he was visiting his grandmother’s grave and noticed an elderly woman with a walker hand a stone to a young boy to place on a grave for her because the path was so overgrown that she could not make her way forward.

Cohen now cuts the grass, clears paths, and cleans headstones, so visitors can find their relatives. He paid for tree removal out of his own pocket. He says local synagogues have offered to help, but the last living member of the burial society that owns the cemetery won’t permit it. Cohen is allowed to do minimal upkeep because he has relatives buried there.

“This is a labor of love,” he said.

Helen Affsa doesn’t have any relatives buried in the defunct Jewish cemetery in Douglas, Ariz., whose care and maintenance she now oversees. She’s not even Jewish, but a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Her parents are from Damascus.

So why is Affsa soliciting bids to repair fences and install security lighting in this abandoned Jewish cemetery that contains just 15 or 16 graves?

“I have a great fondness for my Middle Eastern culture, and I have great respect for my immigrant grandparents, who came to this country and made a life for themselves,” she said. “I know that’s true of the Jewish community as well, and I’m honored to be part of this project.”

Those who grew up in a town will get together sometimes to help restore a neglected or at-risk Jewish cemetery.

That’s what happened in Perth Amboy. Home to a thriving Jewish community for most of the 20th century, it now has few Jews. But those who once lived there have long memories.

Five years ago, Perth Amboy native Dr. Mona Shangold, now living outside Philadelphia, organized the Friends for the Preservation of Middlesex County Jewish Cemeteries to care for three at-risk Jewish cemeteries owned by Cong. Shaarey Tefiloh, the town’s struggling Orthodox congregation.

She and her board reached out to former Perth Amboy Jews nationwide. They raised $110,000 for landscape work and enough for year-to-year maintenance, but not for real perpetual care.

That will take a bigger effort, along the lines of JCAM or CAJAC.

“A cemetery association needs to be formed in each state or region to take care of all the Jewish cemeteries more efficiently than they can do operating individually,” she proposed. “And owners of thriving cemeteries need to step up and help before their own cemeteries are in need.”

Another nascent effort is the Jewish Cemetery Renewal Project of North America, created in 2009 by Harley Felstein, a family service counselor at a cemetery in Washington, D.C., which seeks to advise people trying to restore or maintain at-risk or abandoned Jewish cemeteries.

Felstein has counseled Hamm, Cohen, and Affsa, and he encourages those who know of other cemeteries in need to contact him at http://www.jcrpna.org.

“Look in your own backyard,” he said.

Zinner says Felstein’s initiative is “an important new effort” and an example of the networking that needs to happen, as the good-hearted individuals taking care of these cemeteries on their own can’t do it forever.

“I do care — this is my community — but it’s a financial burden,” Hamm acknowledged of the effort in Eufaula. “I wish we could find someone with family members buried here who would care about it. But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.”

JTA

 
 

Pete Seeger will participate in Israeli-organized peace rally

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Folk singer Pete Seeger, center, records a song at his home in Beacon, N.Y., in May, for an Israeli-organized peace rally. He is accompanied by Walker Rumpf on guitar and Arava Institute for Environmental Studies alumni Zack Korenstein and Sarah Schuldenfrei. Michael Hardgrove

No one tells Pete Seeger what to do.

At 91, the iconic folk singer has penned hundreds of protest songs, railing against everything from the Vietnam War to global warming. He was blacklisted in the 1950s, he slept under the stars with striking farmers, and he still reads the Communist “People’s World” — along with The New York Times, of course.

Yet despite his opposition to Israeli policies in the west bank and Gaza, Seeger refuses to heed calls to boycott an upcoming peace event organized by an Israeli institution.

In recent weeks, Seeger has rejected calls by individuals and organizations demanding that he cancel his participation in “With Earth and Each Other: A Virtual Rally for a Better Middle East,” an online event promoting peace through cross-border cooperation and scheduled for a Nov. 14 global broadcast at http://www.withearthandeachother.org.

“My religion is that the world will not survive without dialogue,” Seeger told JTA in an interview from his home in Beacon, N.Y. “I would say to the Israelis and the Palestinians, if you think it’s terrible now, just think ahead 50 years to when the world blows itself up. It will get worse unless you learn how to turn the world around peacefully.”

Seeger was invited to perform for the online peace rally by event organizers Friends of the Arava Institute, the North American fund-raising arm of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. The institute works with Arab and Jewish leaders to solve the region’s environmental challenges cooperatively.

Thirty other organizations have signed on to the event, ranging from Peace Child Israel to the Jewish National Fund.

Actor Mandy Patinkin will emcee an event that will feature group viewings organized around the world from San Francisco to Bonn, Germany.

Activists from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement have been pushing Seeger to cancel, posting open letters to him on their websites.

Seeger says he’s going forward and already has recorded two songs: “Od Yavo Shalom” (Hebrew for “Peace Will Yet Come”) and a Lebanese song in Arabic performed with alumni of the Arava Institute. And he may break into song spontaneously during the live broadcast, too.

That doesn’t mean that he supports Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, Seeger says; quite the contrary.

He is a longtime donor to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an organization that became so critical of Israel that it was dropped by the New Israel Fund years ago, and readily decries what he calls “monstrous” Israeli military actions against Palestinian civilians.

Seeger made his first trip to Israel in 1964 with his wife and children, and spent time on several kibbutzim, where he recalls being “impressed by the energy.”

He visited again right before the June 1967 Six Day War, performing the hit song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” before a crowd of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv. “Tzena,” which he recorded in 1950 with The Weavers, remains the only Hebrew-language song to make it to the top of the U.S. music charts.

Right before that trip, Seeger stopped off in Lebanon.

“I was told not to mention I was going to Israel the next week or I might not make it,” he said. “I hadn’t realized how serious the situation was.”

Things “have gone from bad to worse” in the Middle East, says Seeger, who notes that he rarely travels anymore except for occasional trips to New York City.

Holding up the example of the Montgomery bus boycott as the key to ending racial segregation in the American South, Seeger says he does not oppose nonviolent efforts, including an economic boycott, to end the Israeli occupation of the west bank and Gaza. But standing in the way of promoting dialogue makes no sense, he said.

“I understand why someone would want to boycott a place financially, but I don’t understand why you would boycott dialogue,” Seeger said. “The world will not be here in 50 years unless we learn how to communicate with each other nonviolently.”

The online peace rally, which begins at 1p.m. EST on Nov. 14, presents itself as nonpolitical.

“The purpose is not to take a side or suggest what a peace process should look like, but to raise the voices of those on all sides who yearn for peace and show that there is another side of the conflict in which people are striving to work together for the betterment of all,” rally co-chair Mohammed Atwa said in a news release.

“It will be a long struggle, taking generations,” Seeger said of Israeli-Arab peace. “But if we don’t try, we abandon the world to those who believe in violence.”

JTA

 
 

Female scribes finish writing Torah scroll

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From left, Torah scribes Linda Coppleson, Rabbi Chana Klebansky, and Rachel Reichhardt, discuss the placement of text on a panel before it is sewn onto the rest of the scroll in Seattle last week. Joel Magalnick/JTNews

It took seven years to write and just a few days to sew together, but on Oct. 15 the first Torah scroll written entirely by a group of women was attached to its wooden poles and declared complete.

The ceremony was held at Seattle’s Kadima Reconstructionist Community, which sponsored the project.

“We had the idea 10 years ago, but when we looked around for women scribes, we realized there weren’t any,” said Kadima member Wendy Graff, one of the volunteers who shepherded the project from its inception.

To remedy the dilemma, Kadima supported two women as they trained to be scribes. Four others trained on their own. Ultimately the six female scribes, or sofrot, worked on the scroll in four countries: two in Israel, two in the United States, and one each in Brazil and Canada.

The panels were checked by experts in Jerusalem and New York, who made the minor tikkunim, or corrections, permitted by Jewish law. Major errors require a complete redo of the page.

Last week the panels were flown to Seattle, where another group of women sewed them together. The Torah mantle, including wooden poles, or atzei chayim, and other traditional accoutrements were created by seven local artists.

The scribes were paid, but the others who worked on the project donated their time.

According to Orthodox tradition, women are not permitted to be Torah scribes.

Over the last decade, however, a handful of women have trained as scribes. It’s an exacting process. Torahs must be written by hand on parchment made from the skins of kosher animals, and scribes must state their intentions out loud each time they prepare to write God’s name.

In September 2007, Jen Taylor Friedman of New York completed the first Torah scroll known to have been written by a woman, for the United Hebrew Congregation of St. Louis, Mo.

Friedman advised the Women’s Torah Project and was one of the experts who checked for small errors. She is among a number of women at work on other Torah scrolls, including Julie Seltzer of San Francisco, one of the six scribes on the Seattle project.

Seltzer wrote four of the Seattle Torah’s 62 panels in the summer of 2009, when she was living in New York. Since October 2009, she has been writing a Torah scroll at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco as part of the yearlong exhibition “As it is Written: Project 304,805.”

Seltzer began the year doing all her writing in public at the museum, so visitors could watch and ask questions. She soon realized, however, that she would never complete the scroll by her December 2010 deadline, so Seltzer writes mainly at home now and spends several days a week at the museum talking to the public.

“Jewish learning and text was my entryway to Jewish practice and spirituality, and continues to be one of the primary ways I connect,” Seltzer told JTA, saying she feels honored to be able to write a Torah scroll. “To be this close to the text, on the elemental level of the letters, is extraordinary.”

Seltzer says she doesn’t feel that her experience writing a Torah is any different from that of a male scribe. But the fact that her Torah and the one completed by the Women’s Torah Project were written by women means they will not be accepted for use in Orthodox congregations.

On her website, Hasoferet.com, Friedman tells female scribes they need to be upfront about that when they are commissioned to work on a Torah.

“Why is a soferet like a swordfish?” she writes. Swordfish, she says, is not considered kosher by most Orthodox Jews, although Conservative Jews will eat it.

“If I repair a Torah and then let Orthodox congregations use it,” she wrote, it’s “an appalling desecration of trust. If we want respect, as Jews or as human beings, we have to give respect, and part of that is accepting that other Jews’ rule systems are valid despite being different from ours.”

JTA

 
 

Jewish institutions reassessing security

Jewish institutions throughout the United States are reassessing their security following last Friday’s mail bombing attempt involving two Jewish institutions in Chicago.

On Tuesday, some 200 representatives of Jewish community institutions took part in a conference call with FBI experts on security measures.

“The situation with bombs this weekend certainly reminded us that all our institutions can be vulnerable to threats of this type,” said Bonnie Michelman, the community security chairwoman of the Anti-Defamation League, which organized the call.

Michelman, the security director at Massachusetts General Hospital, went on to outline specific signs that people should look for to identify suspicious packages.

The FBI announced Tuesday that no synagogues exist at the addresses on the two bomb packages but urged the need for continued community vigilance.

“Terrorists will continue and diversify their attacks,” a representative from the FBI’s Washington field office said during the conference call.

Senior leadership from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was set to begin holding teleconferences on the same topic with senior Jewish organizational leaders across the country beginning Wednesday afternoon.

Security experts are still trying to determine the actual targets of the two explosive-packed printer cartridges intercepted last Friday. It was unclear whether they were meant for the planes carrying the packages or the Jewish institutions to which the packages were addressed. U.S. authorities have refused to confirm the identities of the institutions targeted.

One of the packages was intercepted in Dubai and another in London. Al-Qaida is believed to be behind the two bombs.

After the bombs were discovered, a Homeland Security team arrived Sunday in Chicago, according to Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the national agency for Jewish communal security. SCN operates under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

The Homeland Security representatives are contacting Chicago Jewish institutions for security training in conjunction with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. SCN will notify other communities in advance of the Homeland Security calls, which will extend through the week.

“They’re providing training and resources to ensure the community feels safe and has the tools it needs,” Goldenberg said.

Of particular concern in this case, Goldenberg noted, is that the package bombs were addressed to American Jewish institutions, indicating that terrorists are treating them as proxies for Israel and thus legitimate targets.

“We don’t know when the bombs were intended to go off, but the fact remains they were going after American Jews, not Israeli consulates,” he said. “They targeted American synagogues. That was the message.”

Last Friday, SCN sent out two e-mail notifications to its national network outlining how to handle suspicious packages and alerting people to key addresses and other signs of a potential terrorist mail threat. The Orthodox Union, the Union of Conservative Judaism, and Union for Reform Judaism, members of the SCN network, also sent out security alerts to their member congregations.

The SCN notification advised Jewish organizations to watch for large packages, particularly coming from abroad.

“Organizations that believe they have received a suspicious package should not open it, [should] evacuate the area, and call 911 immediately,” it said.

Steve Sheinberg, who oversees the ADL’s Jewish community security program, said now that the first wave of emergency information has gone out, it’s time to regroup and engage in a careful, ongoing reassessment of each institution’s security measures.

“Our security messages are very measured,” he said. “Our goal is to inform, not panic. There is no need for panic. This is an occasion to look at security measures in place, make adjustments as necessary, and move forward.”

In Chicago, Jews are calm but wary following the bomb threat.

“The schools are all being very vigilant, without getting everyone nervous,” said Rolly Cohen, education director of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Chicago. “They’re stepping things up a bit, making sure doors are locked, checking to see who’s there before opening them, putting security measures back in places they might have become more lax about.”

“The need to take security precautions is not new,” said JUF Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin, who praised national and local security agencies for their professionalism and alacrity in responding to this incident. “This was a very traumatic example of that. There’s generally been a sense of calm, not fear and panic but a kind of resignation that we need to be alert — as Americans, and as Jews in particular.”

The Chicago federation and the ADL scheduled a security conference for Thursday in Chicago to bring together heads of local Jewish institutions with representatives of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Service, and local law enforcement.

Comparing this week’s efforts to those following the shooting of six people at the Seattle Jewish federation three years ago, Goldenberg distinguished between the actions of “a lone wolf” like the Seattle shooter and the current situation.

“Now we are dealing with the potential of one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world targeting Jewish institutions,” he said.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, an Orthodox synagogue in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, said operations at his synagogue “continued as usual” last Shabbat, although security was enhanced and worshippers were instructed to be extra vigilant.

“We had a bar mitzvah and no one was afraid to come to shul. I think it even drummed up business — one man told me his wife said, ‘You have to go to shul,’” Lopatin said.

“You think Chicago is under the radar screen, then you realize no one is immune if you are a part of a community,” the rabbi added.

For detailed information on recommended security precautions, visit http://www.scnus.org or http://www.adl.org/security.

JTA

The Chicago Jewish News contributed to this report.

 
 

Local delegates laud this year’s GA

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Fifty percent of affiliated American Jews are baby boomers, like these participants at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans on Nov. 9. Courtesy JFNA

As America’s 77 million baby boomers retire, they will place an unprecedented burden on the Jewish community’s infrastructure.

They will need more services, and many will want to become involved in a community that isn’t making room for them.

The federation system in particular needs to meet the challenge — now, as the oldest boomers turn 65 next year — or face losing the wealthiest and most highly educated generation in American Jewish history.

Those are two salient results of a study presented Monday at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America titled “Baby Boomers, Public Service and Minority Communities: A Case Study of the Jewish Community in the United States.”

The report, a joint effort by New York University’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive and the university’s Research Center for Leadership in Action, analyzed a national survey of more than 6,500 Jewish baby boomers — those born between 1948 and 1964 — in 34 U.S. communities.

Jewish baby boomers expect to work after retirement age, want that work to be meaningful and want it to help others, but are not necessarily committed to working within the Jewish community, the report found. Boomers represent 50 percent of affiliated Jews in the United States — a major loss if they disappear.

“Even affiliated and involved Jews will look elsewhere if the meaning they seek is not available within the Jewish community,” said David Elcott, the Taub professor of public service at NYU’s graduate school and author of the report.

While most Jewish boomers plan to work or volunteer in an “encore” career after retiring, the survey showed that 35 percent aren’t sure what kind of work they want to do, and 42 percent expect to get paid for it. The Jewish community is used to relying on its older population to volunteer, Elcott said.

Not only that, but just over a third of boomers surveyed said they “want to help other Jews” in their encore career, and just 14 percent look at the new career as a way of expressing their Jewish identity.

Nearly 86 percent of those hoping to perform public service work would like to work through a Jewish organization, the survey showed, but that does not mean they are committed to helping Jews, Elcott noted. They could just as well be building homes in New Orleans or doing literacy training in inner cities.

If Jewish organizations cannot provide meaningful outlets, Elcott cautioned, would-be volunteers will look elsewhere.

“This is the first generation for whom it will be as natural to work with the YMCA as with a Jewish organization,” he said. “We are not prepared for that. We’re prepared for it from our 30-year-olds, but not from this middle generation.”

The federation system and other Jewish communal structures have been putting much of their funding and emphasis into programs for Jewish youth and children, with some attention to the very elderly. But for the most part they have ignored or taken for granted the needs of the generation in its mid-40s to early 60s.

“If we fail to engage them, some of the connections between that group and the organized Jewish community seem to weaken,” Stuart Himmelfarb, chief marketing officer and director of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, told The Jewish Standard after the session.

Himmelfarb will leave his federation position later this month to begin work with Elcott on the boomer issue.

“We’re going to work on trying to bring this item onto agendas around the country,” he said.

That agenda includes working not only with boomers but Jewish organizations that can capitalize on boomers’ skills. There are “tremendous opportunities,” Himmelfarb said, for retired professionals to put their skills to work in the Jewish communal world, and the Jewish community needs to take advantage of these professionals. Himmelfarb, for example, retired from a career in marketing at age 54 and then went to work for the federation in marketing.

“We need to train people. We need to help them understand the change of working in not-for-profits,” Himmelfarb said. “And [we need to] work with organizations that can potentially host these workers and help them prepare for the arrival of people with very different skills sets.”

Some federations are beginning to reach out to boomers in a concerted way.

JBoomers, a grass-roots nonprofit created to advocate for boomers within the Jewish community, plans to launch Nov. 21.

Linda Blumberg, planning director for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, told the GA audience that her federation and Jewish Family Services agency are seeing increased numbers of boomers seeking their help.

American Jews over 50 are losing their jobs and coming to the federation for help paying mortgages, accessing health care, and training for jobs in new sectors, she said. Blumberg noted that many are former donors who are no longer able or willing to give — at least not at previous levels.

The Detroit federation has created a number of programs to help these adults. Women to Work provides job training for women who have never been in the workforce but whose husbands are now unemployed. Prime Time helps those over 50 prepare for a second career and acquire necessary computer skills, as well as providing information about estate planning and medical care.

“Federations are certainly interested in increasing their donor base, and are looking for ways to engage baby boomers as volunteers, too,” Blumberg said, noting that a number of boomers have been recruited to serve on committees, plan these initiatives, and even provide the pro-bono professional services that their colleagues now need to access, from medical care to legal advice.

It is well known that federations are trying to engage and train young leaders, but this year for the first time the Detroit federation started a leadership training program for boomers to bring them into the federation system as planners and other agency personnel.

“We are looking for opportunities that speak to them, where they can give back to the community and make a difference,” Blumberg said. “Federations around the country haven’t really developed a comprehensive approach” to the problem.

“If we lose this generation,” she said, “we lose their children and grandchildren.”

JTA Wire Service

Josh Lipowsky contributed to this report

 
 

At the Knesset, a candle for the Russian Jews

Sue Fishkoff
Published: 03 December 2010
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The author after a day’s work at the kibbutz gas station in August 1982. Courtesy Sue Fishkoff

It was December 1982, and my kibbutz ulpan had just been invited to light the Chanukah menorah for the Israeli Knesset.

The Israeli army was deep in the heart of Lebanon, the Cold War was raging, talks with the PLO were years away, and Israel was feeling both isolated and feisty. Freedom from oppression was the theme for that year’s holiday, and my six-month work-study ulpan program had been chosen for this annual honor because we had so many students from countries where Jews were being oppressed.

There was 18-year-old Ahuva, from Aleppo, whose jaw had been broken by Syrian border guards when she was caught during her first escape attempt. She made it out the second time — on foot.

There was 19-year-old Daoud, now David, and his twin brother, Ofer, who grew up Muslim in Beirut and only learned they were Jewish that summer, when their Israeli-born mother revealed her heritage, divorced her Lebanese husband, and dragged the twins to Israel as its army poured across their border.

We had the three French boys in the class: Charlie from Morocco, Michel representing Tunisia, and Didier, whose parents were Algerian.

There was a student from Iran who fled after the fall of the shah three years earlier. Another student claimed Egyptian ancestry — good enough for the Knesset — and one young man from Glasgow also would light a candle, presumably in the name of Scottish independence.

I might argue that the student from Paris who refused in class to use the Hebrew word “olah,” or “ascend,” to describe her move to Israel, on the grounds that any departure from Paris could only be a descent, also was living under oppression. She just didn’t know it.

The only thing we were missing was a student from the Soviet Union. The Iron Curtain had shut tight in 1980, few new immigrants were arriving, and we were some years away from the great exodus of the early 1990s. Not a single Boris or Natasha to add to the mix.

Then I let slip that I spoke Russian. And my grandparents were from Ukraine — sure, they arrived in 1906 and 1912, but our ulpan teacher was eager to seize upon any connection, however tangential, to clinch that Knesset deal.

She renamed me Sonia Pitchkopf and instructed me to prepare a short speech to deliver, in Russian-accented Hebrew, as I lit my candle.

After the laughter died down in class, I realized the enormity of what I had signed on for. This was no Purimspiel. This was the parliament of the Jewish state, and here I was, tasked with pulling a fast one over on men and women, some of whom certainly spoke Russian, or at least were capable of sniffing out a ruse of this magnitude.

As I began writing my speech, I thought back to my first trip to the USSR. My Russian class from Cornell landed in Leningrad on Dec. 31, 1975, and as so often happened with Jewish visitors from the West in those years, I found myself in a Jewish apartment within hours of my arrival, plucked out of the crowd by a young Jewish member of the Komsomol group sent to greet us.

The table was spread with a lavish repast — mushrooms in cream sauce, pickled vegetables, carrot salad, all kinds of smoked fish. I learned later how long the family had scrimped to put together that holiday meal.

People crowded around me, eager to ask questions about America. Was there really so much street crime? What did people think of the pullout from Vietnam? Had I ever been to Israel? I had stars in my eyes, so excited was I to be in the forbidden land of Cossacks and Bolsheviks, the center of such rapt attention.

Then two young men dragged out a book and thrust it into my lap. It was an English-language edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica they had opened to the page on Chanukah. One of them pointed to a drawing of the nine-branched Chanukiyah and asked me to explain its use.

Thinking he was joking, I smiled. These were university-educated people. This was the 20th century. He had to be pulling my leg.

He wasn’t. And I’ll always remember my shock and sadness as I realized it.

So here I was, on my Israeli kibbutz, purporting to masquerade as people whose pain and isolation were so very real? I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t.

My ulpan lit the Chanukah candles that year on the floor of the Knesset building in Jerusalem. And when my turn came, I was Sue Fishkoff, not Sonia Pitchkopf. And I lit in the name of my own grandparents, free in America, and in the name of the five young men I had met that night in Leningrad.

Two of them already were living in New Jersey. The others were still in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, as late as 1996, the last time I visited them.

And my ulpan friends called me Pitchkopf for the rest of the year.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Reform looks at ways to reinvent the movement

Is Reform movement going kosher?

Kosher — it’s the first word in the book. And tackling the “k” word head-on is part of what makes the first Reform guide to Jewish dietary practice so significant.

“The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” to be published in February by the Reform rabbinical association, uses an array of essays by Reform rabbis and activists to challenge Reform Jews to develop a conscious dietary practice grounded in Jewish values.

And it’s not shy about suggesting kashrut, both traditional and re-imagined.

“No longer an oxymoron, ‘Reform kashrut’ has entered the Jewish lexicon, although there is no consensus on what this means exactly,” Rabbi Carole Balin, a Jewish history professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, writes in the book, which is being published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis Press.

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For a movement whose founding Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 rejected kosher laws along with other traditional Jewish rituals of dress and body as “entirely foreign” to modern sensibilities, the book represents a significant milestone in the development of Reform spirituality and practice.

It also illustrates the increased attention focused on kashrut across the denominational spectrum since the 2008 Agriprocessors scandal, which shuttered the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and spurred a rash of “ethical kosher” initiatives — from small, humane kosher meat operations to the Conservative movement’s Magen Tzedek project, which certifies kosher food products that meet certain ethical standards.

In Reform circles over the past two years, conversation about kashrut and Jewish values has come from the grass roots, youth groups, and the pulpit. It’s part of the movement’s new readiness to examine once-discarded Jewish rituals for their spiritual potential, and the focus on kashrut comes within the context of heightened interest among Americans generally in the politics and morality of food production and distribution.

Some Reform leaders, including the book’s editor, Rabbi Mary Zamore of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, want to play down the trendiness aspect.

“This is part of a continuum within Reform Judaism,” said Zamore, who pushed the project along for 13 years. “It’s not liberal Judaism becoming something different; it’s that we continue to evolve. Here is a topic which for many Reform Jews was taboo or a non-starter. Now everywhere I go, people are talking about these topics as Reform Jews.”

“The Sacred Table” opens with a discussion of the historical Reform approach to kashrut and includes an overview of traditional kosher laws — a first for an official Reform publication, according to Zamore.

It also includes chapters on each of the Jewish values that proponents of ethical kashrut embrace as they seek to broaden the traditional definition of the Jewish diet, from the ban on “tzaar baalei chayim,” or cruelty to animals, to preventing “oshek,” or oppression of workers. It includes the results of a 2005 survey that showed increasing numbers of Reform synagogues, clergy, and lay leaders are keeping kosher, partially or entirely. And it ends with a guide that Reform congregations can use to develop their own communal dietary practice, which may or may not include kashrut.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism and a longtime advocate of bringing more Jewish ritual into Reform practice, says he was pleasantly surprised to see the book’s forthright approach.

In the summer of 2009, while putting together his keynote speech for the movement’s biennial conference, Yoffie said he planned to suggest kashrut as a model for Reform dietary practice. But after running his speech by key Reform lay leaders, the rabbi told JTA, he heard so much pushback that he dropped the “k” word from the final initiative.

Called “Just Table, Green Table,” the Reform platform for developing consciously Jewish food choices “is not about kashrut,” Yoffie told biennial delegates as he unveiled the project last December.

Yoffie later told JTA that he “wanted people to be open to the idea of Jewish sacred eating, and didn’t want to touch an emotional chord that would prevent them from hearing that message.”

Now, a year later, he says he finds it “fascinating” that the Reform rabbinical leadership has seized the reins.

“Our rabbinical body is coming out and unabashedly embracing the word kashrut, saying this is how we’re framing the discussion and we want people to struggle with it,” Yoffie said.

The thrust of the book clearly favors broadening the definition of kashrut to include related Jewish ethical values, in keeping with longstanding Reform history.

“That is essential,” Yoffie said. “There are those in our movement who will accept kashrut in the traditional sense, but the great majority will take elements of kashrut in a broader sense. They want to relate it to issues of ethics, community, and identity.”

Still, kashrut itself is offered as a recommended practice, however adapted. That does not sit well with some Reform leaders, whose voices also appear in the book, however briefly.

One is Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, who writes that he does not keep kosher, opposing its power to separate Jews from non-Jews. He explains his position as a “moral choice based on my definition of Reform Judaism,” and says he feels marginalized at Reform events that serve only kosher food. They may think they’re being inclusive, Abraham writes, but in fact such meals exclude him and his beliefs.

Jewish ethical values about treating workers and animals well, and respecting the environment and one’s own body, are all important to Reform as well as other Jews, he says.

“But we don’t need to graft them onto kashrut,” he said, acknowledging, however, that he is in a shrinking minority among Reform rabbis.

Balin, who teaches a course on food for rabbinic and cantorial students, says she doesn’t know any who adhere to the tenets of Classical Reform.

Jewish dietary practice and the politics and morality of food choices, she said, “are very much on the minds of these future Reform leaders.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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