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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘American Jewish community’

Cory Booker & Shmuley Boteach: The Rabbi and the Rhodes Scholar (Video)

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Twenty years ago this Monday, corresponding to the Jewish festival of Simchat Torah, a young African-American Rhodes scholar walked into a Chabad Jewish student center in Oxford, England. He had had a date with a Jewish woman who told him she was going to be at the Sukkot festivities at Rabbi Shmuley’s and would meet him there. As it turned out, he was stood up, and as he waited sheepishly in the corner of the room not knowing what to do next, he was approached by the Rabbi’s wife who invited him to sit in ‘the hot-seat’ next to the young Chabad Rabbi. Being the most joyous night of the Jewish calendar, the young student would later join with hundreds of other students dancing with the Torahs. This accidental meeting would change both their lives.

Cory Booker had little exposure to the Jewish community prior to that evening and I, who was serving as the Rabbi to the students of Oxford University, had only sporadic exposure to the African-American community. But in the days, weeks, and months that followed we began studying together almost daily. We studied the great texts of Judaism and discussed the great speeches of African-American leaders. Cory would later serve a full term as President of our Jewish student organization, which was then the second largest student group at the University with thousands of members. Together we hosted luminaries like Mikhail Gorbachev and other world leaders who lectured on values-based leadership.

Twenty years, countless conversations, and hundreds of Friday night Shabbat dinners later, Cory today is a much-loved honorary member of the American Jewish community, regularly lecturing at Synagogues and Jewish conferences across the country. More significant, Cory has challenged the Jewish community to live up to its Biblical calling to serve as ‘a light unto the nations.’ In many of the speeches we deliver together he asks the Jewish participants if they study the weekly Parsha, if they honor the commandments, and cherish the Sabbath. What allows an African-American Christian Mayor to challenge Jewish leaders to deepen their Jewish commitment? Because those same leaders are amazed at Cory’s knowledge of Judaism and appreciation of the Jewish contribution to civilization.

I have long believed that the next wave of Jewish commitment will be inspired by non-Jews. In massive conferences like Christians United For Israel we are already seeing a great wave of Christian interest in Judaism and a desire to reconnect Jesus back to his Jewish roots. But Cory has taken this a step further, studying Judaism with a view to teaching it to Jews.

A few years ago AIPAC invited Cory and me to address a large group in Chicago. It was the week where we read the story of Genesis in Synagogue and Cory delivered a moving speech on the creation of Adam and Eve, culled from a speech by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The wife of a prominent American Jewish leader approached me after the speech and asked if I would study the Parsha of the week with her, as I do with Cory. I asked her why now. She responded, “When you hear someone so prominent in the American political landscape deriving inspiration from the Torah, and he’s not even Jewish, you become a little embarrassed that you are ignorant of your tradition and you want to discover what he has discovered.” I have heard similar sentiments expressed by other Jewish listeners on many occasions.

My friendship with Cory also sparked a lifelong closeness between me and the African-American community. I became the first-ever white morning radio host on America’s legacy black radio station, WWRL in New York City. I took the Rev. Al Sharpton to Israel to alleviate the enmity between him and the Jewish community, I was the driving force behind an effort to have 600 evacuees from Hurricane Katrina find permanent homes in Utah where they have been moved only temporarily, and I preached at the Martin Luther King chapel at Morehouse College at a conference with Coretta Scott King. And as part of my current run for Congress in New Jersey, I travelled to Rwanda to highlight the 1994 genocide and help combat efforts to deny it. The Rwandan government invited me to meet President Paul Kagame in New York last week and I hosted a reception for Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo with American Jewish leaders.

There are those who believe that the black and Jewish communities share a common history of persecution. But being among the world’s foremost victims is not the basis of our bond. The relationship between blacks and Jews is built on shared faith rather than shared oppression, common destiny rather than common history, shared values rather than shared interests, and a mutual commitment to social justice rather than a mutual alienation from the mainstream.

I thank God for a friendship that has endured for two decades and the enrichment it has brought to us and our respective communities.

Unsung Hero: Reverend Arnold Fischel

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from “Arnold Fischel: ‘Unsung Hero’ in American Israel” by Jonathan Waxman, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); Sep 1970-Jun 1971; 60, 1-4; AJHS Journal.

Last month’s column outlined the struggle that took place at the beginning of the Civil War to get Congress to allow the appointment of Jewish army chaplains. Originally only Christian clergymen could serve as chaplains, and it was only as a result of pressure from the American Jewish community that in 1861 Congress passed a new law allowing ordained clergy of other religions to serve as chaplains. The Reverend Arnold (Adolph) Fischel (1830-1894) played a key role in this effort.

Little is known about Fischel’s early life, save that he was a native of Holland and from an Ashkenazi family. We know that by 1849 Fischel had settled in England, because the March 23, 1849 issue of The Jewish Chronicle carried an article about a talk he gave before the Brighton Royal Literary and Scientific Society.

“…[O]n Tuesday evening…Mr. Fischel delivered, at the Albion Room, a very excellent essay on the Peculiarness and Beauties of the Hebrew Language…and entered into much curious philological research connected with his subject, clearly indicating his own knowledge of the learned languages, Oriental and Occidental. He next entered into some critical observations showing the harmony between science and revelation, whilst he clearly demonstrated the ignorance of Hebrew in those infidel writers who used ingenuity instead of learning in attempting to find contradictory texts, but which he showed, not only harmonised with true philosophy, but were consistent with the biblical doctrines.

“Three items in the article should be noted: one that Fischel has no title, such as ‘Reverend’ or ‘Dr.’; two, despite this, he appears to have been a man of some erudition; and three he appears as Orthodox in his views. At a later period Fischel is addressed as ‘the Reverend Dr.,’ and we may indeed question the source of his semicha and doctorate.”

Other scholarly activities by Fischel followed. Several months after his first talk he gave another one before the same society titled “Sublimity of Hebrew Poetry compared with that of the Greek and Roman classics.” He also published several letters in The Jewish Chronicle about the Hebrew language and Psalm 110 using only his initials, A.F.

He “was subsequently identified by Hertz Ben Pinchas, a leading Anglo-Jewish scholar of the period, as ‘the learned and friendly A.F.’ Fischel’s reputation as a scholar was further enhanced when The Jewish Chronicle commented favorably on his offer to lecture, gratis, at Sussex Hall, home of the British Literary Society, and perhaps the most prestigious institution for adult Jewish education in Great Britain at this time.”

In 1852 Fischel was elected to the position of lecturer at the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation.

“Within a month of his election we note an elevation in status when the Reverend A. Fischel was elected an honorary member of the Board of Management of the Liverpool Hebrew Education Institute. Fischel’s main duty was delivering an English sermon on a regular basis as well as preaching on special occasions such as the Day of National Humiliation and Prayer called by Chief Rabbi Adler in April, 1854. It is quite likely, however, that his functions were broader.”

In December 1855, Congregation Shearith Israel of New York invited “Dr. Arnold Fischell, a Dutch Jew in England, to be candidate for lecturer.” In September 1856 Fischel sailed for New York. After delivering some sermons, he was appointed to the position of lecturer at Shearith Israel. He also taught at the Congregation’s Polonies Talmud Torah School. It should be kept in mind that Fischel’s position of Lecturer put him on a slightly lower status than that of the Reverend J. J. Lyons, who was the congregation’s chazzan. Indeed, Fischel essentially became Lyons’s assistant.

“But Dr. Fischel had his difficulties. He had learning and devotion, but he had not the personality or the eloquence of an effective preacher. More than once he was earnestly requested by the board of trustees to write out his lectures and read them from the manuscript. Furthermore, Hazzan Lyons was not given to viewing his efforts sympathetically. Nevertheless, Dr. Fischel was steadily reelected until in October, 1861, he declined reelection.”

The Chaplaincy

In September 1861 Michael Allen, a Jew, was forced to give up his position as chaplain of the 65th Regiment of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry because the law at the time said only a Christian could be an army chaplain. The American Jewish community mounted an effort to change this discriminatory law with protests in the press. On December 4, 1861, the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, the only Jewish national organization at the time, invited Fischel to come to Washington to meet with government officials and to lobby to have the law changed.

Israel-American Knesset Caucus Established

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

A new Israel-American Jewish Knesset Caucus was inaugurated on Wednesday, in recognition of the importance of the American Jewish community, and the need for a fixed platform with which to deliberate on the relationship between the two communities.

According to a caucus statement, it will be the “central Knesset address for all issues related to the American Jewish community.”

The inauguration comes on the heels of a recent poll, sponsored by Brandeis University and the Ruderman Family Foundation, that assessed the attitudes of Israeli Jews towards their coreligionists in the US. The results lent overwhelming support to the establishment of the caucus, as close to 90% of Israeli Jews surveyed said that the American Jewish community is crucial to Israel’s security and continued existence. 71% of Israeli Jews polled also believe that the Diaspora should be considered when legislating fundamental laws like ‘Who is a Jew?’.

Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, the caucus chairperson, was one of six MK’s to participate in the Ruderman Fellows Program in 2011, which seeks to increase knowledge and understanding among Israeli leaders about the American Jewish community.

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, was quoted as saying that “[t]he fact that the Knesset members are now willing to examine and address the shifting dynamics in the American Jewish world is a huge step for Israeli political leaders, and it will have a direct impact on the future of Israel and Jewish unity.”

Leaving The December Dilemma Behind

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

No matter our stage in life, one is seldom comfortable feeling left out. Unfortunately, many American Jews experience exactly that feeling each year as Christmas approaches. The term “December Dilemma” is used to describe the tension many Jews feel sitting on the sidelines, unable to fully enjoy or participate in the distinctly Christian themes and activities occurring all around.

One contemporary Jewish author, Sara Y. Rigler, writes:

“I grew up as a strongly identified Jew in Christian America. This posed few problems ten and a half months a year. But every November, when the Xmas decorations started to go up, so did my defenses. The annual Xmas concert in my public school was a real identity crisis for me. Should I refuse to participate? Should I go up on the stage with the rest of my class and just mouth the words of the Christmas carols? Should I sing, but go silent every time we came to the ‘J’ word?

“The concerts ended with elementary school, but not my sense of alienation every December. I felt like I was milling around in a party to which I was not invited. Ours was the only house on our street without decorations. Every department store Santa and every brilliantly lit tree, as well as the avalanche of Xmas cards from my Christian (and Jewish!) friends only accentuated my sense of not belonging.”

To some degree, most American Jews can relate to that writer’s experiences. The challenge we face is finding the best way to deal with this reality. First and foremost, we must know why we feel such a sense of discomfort as the Christmas season nears. The answer is clear: as Jews, we simply cannot fully participate in all aspects of a season dominated by Christian religious themes. As such, we must find a way to deal with our inability to fully participate in our surrounding culture for about a month each year.

Four approaches readily come to mind:

* Move to Israel and live in a thoroughly Jewish environment, where no Jew will ever feel left out. While this may be an immediate option for some, it is not one the majority of American Jews are yet willing to entertain.

* Seek to eliminate all overtly Christian aspects of the holiday season. Although there are several groups trying to do this, to me, forcing Christianity out of the Christmas season seems both quite odd and unfair to our fellow citizens (the majority) who thoroughly enjoy this time of the year. Also, the hostility arising from such a move would be far more problematic to the American Jewish community than any lonely feelings brought on by the December Dilemma.

* Try to level the playing field by demanding absolutely equal “air time” to all things Jewish during the Christmas season. This would be done by forcing Jewish symbols, holiday trappings, and music to appear and be heard wherever and whenever Christmas ones are displayed and heard. When one considers this approach, it does not take long to realize how unrealistic it is. It is rather far-fetched to have a Charlie Brown Chanukah special on TV right after the Christmas one, or hearing a Chanukah-themed song right after “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” while shopping, and I seriously doubt we can expect to see Chanukah-themed Coca Cola bottles displayed right next to the ones with Santa on them any time soon. (Even if such a plan were realistic, I think it is pretty clear it would be unfair imposing Jewish holiday themes on the majority of our fellow citizens, and extremely unwise for American Jewry to push for such an idea.)

*Live authentic, active, and fulfilling Jewish lives. If our days, homes, and routines are full of Judaism, we will not feel much in the way of a vacuum each year when December rolls around. This approach will more than compensate for those brief seasonal experiences we as Jews cannot participate in.

Regarding this last approach, one non-Jewish writer, Terry Mattingly, has this to say: “A child in a family that enjoys Jewish life and faith is less likely to crave a Christmas tree…. But if a family’s life is dominated by television, pop music, movies, shopping and other activities that have little or nothing to do with their faith, then it will probably feel tension during these media-mad and highly secularized holidays.”

If we opt for the fourth approach in dealing with the December Dilemma, I am sure all Jews will feel far less seasonal angst each year. Living actively Jewish lives will not only enrich our beings, it will also enable us to view Judaism as a vibrant life-enhancing force instead of an aspect of our heritage that just causes us to feel like outsiders.

Rabbi Akiva and Layala Males are enjoying Chanukah in Harrisburg, PA.

Reaction To Ads Expose Troubled U.S. Jewish Psyche

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

The recent kerfluffle over Israeli government video ads and billboard posters, designed to entice wayward yordim to return home, instead exposed the troubled psyche of American Jews.

 

One might say – if verbal treif is permitted – that a ham-handed attempt by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption to guilt-trip wandering Israelis into leaving their American promised land backfired. The ministry had good reason for concern lest American society continue to corrode the loyalty of Israelis to their homeland and culture. The benefits of assimilation, as American Jewish history (and the current intermarriage rate) reveals, exact high costs.

 

In the ministry videos a young Israeli woman solemnly contemplates Yom HaZikaron, the day of remembrance for fallen Israeli soldiers, while her American boyfriend is clueless. A sleeping Israeli father does not awaken while his youngster calls “daddy,” but not “abba.” The child of Israelis, Skyping with grandparents back home, is oblivious to the meaning of their Chanukah candles and imagines that it is Christmas.

 

For months these ads elicited no discernible response, either from wayward Israelis or American Jews. But once the video clips appeared on the Jewish Channel, prompting a tirade from Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg, gevalts resounded throughout the land.

 

Goldberg was appalled: “I don’t think I have ever seen a demonstration of Israeli contempt for American Jews as obvious as these ads.” Their message was clear: “it is impossible for Jews to remain Jewish in America.” He added, gratuitously, that Israel has its own problems: many rabbis “act like Iranian mullahs.” And intermarriage can be “understood as an opportunity” – although for what he did not specify.

 

The Board of Trustees of the Jewish Federations of North America was furious. Rejecting any notion that “American Jews do not understand Israel” (which hardly was the primary thrust of the ads), they warned that “this outrageous and insulting message could harm the Israel-Diaspora relationship.” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman found the videos “demeaning.”

 

There may also have been a political subtext to the belated outrage. The New York Times noted gratuitously that the Israeli ministry responsible for the ad campaign is headed by a Russian immigrant named Sofa Landver. She belongs to “the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party [that]…takes a hard line on the peace process with the Palestinians and advocates exchanging parts of Israel heavily populated by Arab citizens for Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.” Therefore, presumably, the ad campaign must be a bad idea.

 

With some 500,000 Israelis estimated to be living in the United States, it is no small problem that the Immigrant Absorption Ministry tried to address – if too bluntly for American Jewish insecurities. The Ministry, expressing its respect and appreciation to the American Jewish community, reiterated the obvious: the ad campaign targeted Israelis who had succumbed to the allure of American enticements, not American Jews.

 

But Prime Minister Netanyahu, responding to the squall of outrage from American Jewish precincts, quickly aborted the ad campaign. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, engaging in damage control, appeared on CNN for an interview with John King – on Shabbat, no less – to apologize for the failure of the Immigration Ministry to “take into account American Jewish sensibilities.”

 

As Jerusalem-based journalist David Hazony perceptively observed about the video ad fracas, “in the hysteria of the response, the insecurity of American Jewish life is laid bare.” That is the real story of the video ad contretemps, which the fury of American Jews inadvertently confirmed.

 

Israel has long been an integral part of that story. Two years after Israel’s founding, American Jewish Committee President Jacob Blaustein wrested his famous agreement from Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that Israel would neither presume to speak for American Jews nor attempt to entice them to make aliyah.

 

More recently, whenever Israel has incurred the wrath of an American president for permitting another settlement in its biblical homeland American Jews have writhed with embarrassment and hastened to distance themselves from Israeli “zealots.”

 

Assimilated American Jews remain ever anxious lest they be held guilty by association with Israel’s perceived misdeeds. Their loyalty to the United States must never be impugned. Any implication that American Jews are without a sustainable Jewish identity is infuriating. They seemed shocked that exposure to Jewish life in their promised American homeland can corrode the Jewish identity of Israelis.

 

Israeli yordim are the proverbial canary in the mineshaft, warning of imminent danger ahead. Yet the ads were intended as a warning to Israelis, not to the American Jews who quickly jumped to the conclusion that it is “about us” – a clear indication, as Hazony wrote, that Israelis “stepped on a live wire in the American Jewish psyche.”

 

For American Jews of a certain persuasion, Israel once again was the big bad Jewish bully whose reckless actions jeopardized their deep yearning for recognition as good Jews and acceptance as loyal Americans. But when an Israeli and an American Jew are paired, the ads suggested, the Jewish deficiencies of American Jewish life become glaringly apparent. That stung – precisely because there is truth to it.

Rep. Engel In L.A.

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

The Los Angeles Jewish community recently welcomed Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a strong supporter and vocal advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

 

Engel was hosted by Melanie and Robert Rechnitz, and was greeted by a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans. Attendees asked Engel a range of questions about Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama, the Iranian nuclear threat, Iraq, U.S. and Israeli relations with Turkey, the J Street lobbying group, and other issues concerning Israel and the American Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

(L-R) Robert and Melanie Rechnitz of Los Angeles host

gathering for Rep. Eliot Engel of New York.

 

Rep. Engel In L.A.

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

The Los Angeles Jewish community recently welcomed Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a strong supporter and vocal advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.

 

Engel was hosted by Melanie and Robert Rechnitz, and was greeted by a cross-section of Democrats and Republicans. Attendees asked Engel a range of questions about Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama, the Iranian nuclear threat, Iraq, U.S. and Israeli relations with Turkey, the J Street lobbying group, and other issues concerning Israel and the American Jewish community.

 

 

 

 


(L-R) Robert and Melanie Rechnitz of Los Angeles host

gathering for Rep. Eliot Engel of New York.

 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/rep-engel-in-l-a-2/2010/07/07/

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