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Sue Fishkoff
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Tweaking tradition

Online project modernizing Jewish texts with today’s lingo

WorldPublished: 29 April 2011

Morgan Friedman loves the way people talk. He wants others to love it, too.

The 35-year-old social media entrepreneur, formerly of Brooklyn, N.Y., and now living in Buenos Aires, launches new digital projects like marshmallows from an air gun.

Pow! Here’s, a site for offbeat conversations that his team of eavesdroppers hears on the streets.

Pffft! Here’s, Yiddish expressions culled from half-remembered witticisms of his grandmother.

He’s got a million of ‘em — or a few dozen, at least.


After Santa Monica bombing,  shuls ponder openness vs. security

WorldPublished: 22 April 2011

Nobody thought much about the shabby but quiet middle-aged man who showed up last weekend at an Orthodox study hall in suburban Cleveland.

But when police came last Monday and arrested the man, Ron Hirsch, 60, on charges of setting off a bomb next to the Chabad synagogue in Santa Monica, Calif., it sent shock waves throughout the Jewish community.

Meanwhile, a fire in a prominent Hollywood synagogue on April 14 has been classified as arson. It was set in a classroom on the second floor of Temple Israel of Hollywood early on April 14. The suspect was caught on a security camera and is believed to be a transient known in the area, according to The Los Angeles Times.


From oranges to artichokes, chocolate, and olives

Using seder plate as a call to action

Published: 15 April 2011

Passover, which commemorates the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery, has a political message at its heart. So it’s not surprising that the seder – especially the seder plate — has been pressed into the service of all kinds of freedoms.

The country’s first Freedom Seder, held in a Washington church on the third night of Passover on April 4, 1969, marked the first anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Participants used a haggadah focused on black-Jewish solidarity that was rewritten by the Shalom Center, a Jewish peace group. The 800 guests included blacks and whites, Jews and Christians.


Conservatives take kashrut challenge up a notch

WorldPublished: 13 April 2011

The Conservative movement’s ethical kosher initiative may not have been intended as a wedge into the Orthodox monopoly over kosher supervision. But the planned rollout this summer of the Conservative-backed seal of ethical kosher production, the Magen Tzedek, coincides with an increase in the number of Conservative rabbis acting as kosher supervisors.

“I see an uptick,” said Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chairman of the kashrut subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the legal body of the Conservative movement.

At a time of growing activism in the Conservative movement around the issue of kashrut, the Conservative rabbinate seems to be moving into the kashrut business like never before.


Helping Japan

IDF dispatches docs, U.S. Jews raise $2 million and counting

WorldPublished: 08 April 2011

Another day here in this devastated village,” Dr. Ofer Merin writes from the Israeli-run emergency field hospital where he is working in tsunami-wracked Japan.

Merin, deputy director-general of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, is the head of surgical operations at the field hospital set up last week by the Israel Defense Forces in Minamisanriku, a town in the Miyagi Prefecture. Half of the town’s 17,000 residents were killed by the tsunami that followed the massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11.

The IDF flew in an aid delegation of 50 officers and soldiers, including medical personnel, civilian aid workers, and logistics experts, as well as a team from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, and immediately got to work helping victims in this hard-hit area where thousands of people are still missing or homeless. (Follow the delegation on Twitter.)


At Conservative confab, it’s about the future

WorldPublished: 01 April 2011

Listening to Conservative rabbis talk about their movement is like witnessing an intervention.

They talk of “saving” Conservative Judaism — and sometimes they blame the parents when things go wrong.

“Reform rabbis speak positively about their movement and less positively about their synagogue, while Conservative rabbis speak positively about their synagogue and less positively about their movement,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., paraphrasing a refrain he says he has heard often from Reform and Conservative colleagues.


New Haggadahs for 2011

Another classic revised, a scholar’s commentary, and 3D glasses

WorldPublished: 01 April 2011

Another old-new Passover haggadah out this year is a new edition of the famous Szyk Haggadah featuring the magnificent illustrations of Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk. Set for publication this month, it has a newly commissioned English text written by Rabbi Byron Sherwin with Irvin Ungar.

A refugee from Nazi Europe, Syzk embedded Eastern European chasidic imagery in his intricate and highly emotional rendition of the Exodus narrative, creating the original version of his hagaddah in the mid-1930s. Jewish survival, which Szyk viewed as the pressing need of his age, also is the theme of his haggadah: The illustration on page 26, for example, depicts empires that have tried to conquer the Jews, from the Assyrians to the Inquisition to Nazi Germany, with the two tablets of the Law astride them all, signifying the perseverance, and ultimate triumph, of the Jewish people.

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Brandeis Hillel excludes a controversial group

WorldPublished: 18 March 2011

Hillel may be the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, but that doesn’t mean every Jewish student group is welcome.

Last week, Brandeis University’s Hillel voted not to accept the membership bid of the local campus chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization that has been criticized for its support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel and was listed by the Anti-Defamation League last October as among the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the United States.

“While we understand that JVP at Brandeis considers itself a pro-Israel club, based on positions and programming JVP has sponsored, we do not believe that JVP can be included under Hillel’s umbrella,” Brandeis senior Andrea Wexler, the president of the 11-member Hillel student executive board that rejected the application of Jewish Voice for Peace, wrote in a letter explaining the board’s decision.

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Turning Purim on its head with social action instead of drunkenness

Published: 18 March 2011

Purim is about costumes, out-rageous Purim spiels, and drinking until you can’t tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman, the hero and villain of the Purim story.

Or is it?

A number of American synagogues and Jewish organizations are eschewing, or at least downplaying, the drunken revelry to focus more on the socially conscious aspects of the holiday, which begins on Saturday night.

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Tribefest a hit with young donors

WorldPublished: 11 March 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – “Connect, explore and celebrate” was the tagline for Tribefest 2011 held this week in this desert gambling town.

Drumming imagery aside, the new name for what was a re-branded annual convention of the Young Leadership Division of the Jewish Federations of North America accurately described the spirited atmosphere at the confab.

More than 1,200 Jews in their 20s and 30s turned out for three days of lectures, workshops, and performances on everything from new trends in Jewish art to the 2012 elections to the etiquette of offering a “L’chaim!”

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