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Posts Tagged ‘jewish identity’

Limmud FSU Gets Major Boost in Collaboration with Fellowship

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Saturday night, two organizations committed to strengthening Jewish identity and connection to Israel, announced a new global and long-term partnership. Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (the Fellowship) are joining together in order to enhance and develop the activities of Limmud FSU and expand the organization worldwide, according to a joint release.

Limmud FSU is a nonprofit founded eight years ago by Chaim Chesler, former treasurer of the Jewish Agency; Sandra Cahn, philanthropist from New York; and Professor Michael Chlenov of Moscow, to serve young Russian-speaking Jews around the world. The organization operates in seven countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, USA, Canada and Israel. Key partners include the JDC, philanthropist Matthew Bronfman, Aaron Frankel, Diane Wohl, UJA-Federation of New York, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, Ministry of Education, the Jewish Agency and others.

The Fellowship was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns

As part of the new collaboration, the Fellowship will be a key partner in Limmud FSU, and will provide funding that will allow the project to hold conferences around the world, among other activities, and engage more participants, most of whom are young Russian-speaking Jews.

President of the Fellowship Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein will join Limmud FSU’s leadership as dean and member of the executive committee, alongside Matthew Bronfman, chairman of the International Steering Committee, and Aaron Frenkel, Limmud FSU president.

Bronfman and Rabbi Eckstein made the official announcement during the Limmud FSU conference which is currently taking place in Parsippany, N.J.

The conference is the largest gathering of Russian-speaking Jews in North America, attracting over 800 young participants from the U.S. and Canada. There are an estimated 750,000 to 1 million Russian-American Jews in the U.S., half of whom are living in New York and New Jersey. The entire conference is organized by young volunteer participants from the Russian-Jewish community.

Within the framework of the new partnership agreement, which was signed for an initial three years, Limmud FSU has already begun to build an infrastructure for activities among Russian-speaking communities in Australia and the West Coast of the United States.

The first Limmud FSU conferences will take place in those locations in 2015. The new partnership will also allow the organizations to hold eight conferences over the course of 2014 (an increase of 25% over last year), including the first Canadian conference, to be held this October in Toronto.

Limmud FSU was established, the release explains, to offer young Russian Jews around the world a unique and independent community, an educational and cultural framework that helps strengthen Jewish identity and connection to Israel, deepen involvement in Jewish communal life, and empower activists to build the next generation of Russian-speaking Jewish leadership in the Diaspora and in Israel.

Limmud FSU has revolutionized pluralistic Jewish engagement of Russian-speaking Jews, who are often described as marginally engaged in Jewish life, and is making a great impact in strengthening Jewish identity through a unique educational experience of Jewish history and culture.

The organization seeks to renew the tradition of Jewish learning with conferences and festivals of Jewish and Israeli study, arranged and produced by volunteers. All conferences and festivals offer diverse and multi-disciplinary programs including lectures, workshops, master classes, musical performances and cultural events in three languages: Russian, English and Hebrew.

“We are proud of the new strategic partnership with the Fellowship, and hope that it will allow us to grow and expand our important activities among Russian-speaking Jewish communities around the world,” said Matthew  Bronfman, of Limmud FSU.

Who’s a Pew

Friday, October 18th, 2013

The views in this article are not at all those of the Jewish Press, but we decided to publish the article as an opportunity to expand the public debate. So comment away…

There have been three reports released in the past few days regarding Jewish Population. Two, the Pew Research Study, and the Steinhardt Social Research Institute Study, are concerned with Jewish population numbers. The third, by the University of Huddersfield in England concerns itself with the genetic history of Askenazi Jews. But in fact, all three studies are really about Jewish identity.

The Pew and Steinhart studies have come up with vastly different numbers concerning the size of the Jewish population in the US. This disparity is due to their diverse definition of who is a Jew.

This is not a new problem. Jewish identity has been an issue in the Jewish community at least since the beginning of the Common Era, and perhaps even before. At the start of the Common Era Jews in Rome were proselytizing so successfully that the rabbis felt that they had to erect barriers to conversion for fear that the Jewish community would become too diluted. In essence, they revised the standards for Jewish identification and as Judaism became more rabbinical, whole segments of the Jewish population who were not considered religious enough by the rabbis became disenfranchised and were left out in the cold.

In great part, due to this exclusionary policy, the world Jewish population declined sharply over the next thousand years. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the world Jewish population dropped from about five million at the start of the Common Era, to about one million by the end of the first millennium CE. It remained at about one million until the middle of the eighteenth century when it suddenly skyrocketed to seven million in less than a hundred years.

Both the precipitous population decline and the even more remarkable population increase resulted from the different policies of defining Jewish identity. In the early years of the Common Era, before the rise of rabbinic Judaism, Jews were defined through self description; for example, you could describe yourself as a Roman Jew or as a Greek Jew. There was no other requirement than that. You didn’t have to belong to a synagogue or observe holidays, or keep kosher, or any of the other criteria that are currently applied in population surveys. After the rabbis gained power the nature of Judaism and Jewish identification changed. A Jew could no longer self select. He had to be listed as a Jew by the rabbi. Thus, if a Jew was not affiliated with a rabbinic religious community, he was not counted as a Jew.

This situation continued for the next thousand years until Napoleon granted the Jews citizenship, and pioneers and visionaries like the Bal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, and Rabbi Abraham Geiger, the founder of the Reform Movement, declared that it was not necessary for a person to be affiliated with a synagogue or even know how to pray in order for him to consider himself Jewish. (It should be remembered that the Bal Shem Tov was excommunicated by the Vilna Gaon because of this heretical idea.)

These great visionaries said that if you consider yourself Jewish, then you’re Jewish! As a result of this earth shattering declaration the world Jewish population soared so that by 1935, through the measure of self identification, there were fifteen million Jews in the world. (Hitler did not ask “how Jewish” his victims were)

Today, we are facing a similar problem that confronted the Jews in the first centuries of the Common Era. We have once again set up barriers to Jewish identification and we now have standards to determine if you are a “True Jew:” Was your mother Jewish? Did you have a bar mitzvah? How often do you attend services? Do you belong to a JCC? Contribute to Jewish charities? Been to Israel? Speak and/or read Hebrew? Light Shabbat candles? Have a Christmas Tree? And on and on.

These questions only serve to narrow the field in a time when we should be widening our tent. We can no longer afford to be an exclusive and exclusionary club. We need to find new ways to welcome not only the disenchanted and disenfranchised Jews but also the intermarried, and their non-Jewish partners.

In the same way that Jews of the twenty first century are different from their first century ancestors, so too must the definition of who is a True Jew be different. Until we can settle on a new definition we will be unable to accurately measure the Jewish population.

Bernard Beck is the author of True Jew…Challenging the Stereotype, published by Algora Publishing, 186 pages, $22.95

A Messianic Vision: An Interview with Likud MK Moshe Feiglin

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

For over a decade, Moshe Feiglin, a Jewish Press weekly columnist, has been working toward becoming prime minister of Israel with the aim of “turning the state of the Jews into the Jewish state.” He still has ways to go, but on February 5, he advanced one step closer when he was sworn in as a Knesset member for the first time.

Ahead of a dinner celebrating his victory in the Chateau Steakhouse in Queens, NY on February 25, MK Feiglin spoke to The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: You’ve been trying to get into the Knesset for a long time. Now that you’re in, what do you hope to accomplish?

Feiglin: I hope to advance the concept of Jewish leadership to the state of Israel – a state that is based on its Jewish identity and not just the concept of survival.

What does that mean?

One example is the two-state solution. If you understand that we came back to Israel after 2,000 years of exile to achieve a goal and not just to survive, then you understand we need the whole country. We long for Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, Schechem, Chevron – all these places that connect us to our identity.

When the goal is survival, Tel Aviv is enough. When the goal is to create a special society that carries a message to the entire universe, then questions like [surrendering land to the Arabs] are not even considered.

You often write that you want to create a Jewish state. For some people, this means a halachic state.

No, I’m talking about something much, much wider. I’m talking about making the Torah part of our culture.

Some people argue that a Jewish state means a state where Torah law reigns supreme – with police enforcing the laws of tzniyut, for example, as they do in Iran.

No, nothing can be forced. The whole concept of force is against Judaism because Hashem tells us, “U’bacharta ba’chaim” – you should choose, and if you’re being forced, you cannot choose…. The difference between Judaism and Islam is exactly that. God wants us to choose between life and death. Therefore, the whole concept of force is totally irrelevant.

Are you saying there was no force in the times of the Bayit Rishon or Bayit Sheini?

I’m saying that this is what we need today – a state that carries a message of freedom.

A number of years ago, you wrote that Israel should make Sunday a day off like it is in America. You argued that Israelis who love soccer, for example, would gladly move all professional soccer games from Saturday to Sunday and possibly observe Shabbat if Sunday wasn’t a workday.

That is a good example of how to build a modern Jewish state that gives its citizens the capability to have a real Shabbat even though they’re not religious right now. What we need to do is to be more open and give Israelis the ability to be who they [truly] are. If you give them the opportunity to choose, most of them will choose the right thing.

Some people would claim this argument is silly since Israelis are, by and large, secular.

I think they’re totally wrong. When you ask Israelis what they are first – Jewish or Israeli – more than 80 percent say first of all, and above all, they’re Jewish. When you ask Israelis to describe themselves, only 19 percent say they’re secular, 50 percent say they’re traditional and the rest say they’re dati or haredi. So those who say that [Israelis are secular] don’t really understand where Israeli society is holding.

In your articles, you often write about the importance of building the Beit HaMikdash, calling it “the direct link between the Almighty and His world” – a place that allows us “to synthesize between the physical and spiritual…to create a life of harmony between the two.” Your average Orthodox Jew, though, believes we must wait for Mashiach to build the Beit HaMikdash. You evidently don’t agree.

We just read in last week’s parshah,V’asu li mikdash” [“You should make a Sanctuary for Me”]. It doesn’t say “V’asu li haMashiach mikdash”[“Mashiach should make a Sanctuary for Me”]. “V’asu” means the people of Israel. So what can I tell you? It’s written clear and simple right there.

Happy New Year…But….

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

But I celebrated the beginning of my new year three months ago. I took stock of what I had done the year before, what I should have done, what I didn’t do. I thought about those I had hurt and those who had hurt me. I tried to let go of the anger I felt towards some, knowing it was just pulling me down and I did an accounting of all that God has given to me so that I could thank Him for each blessing, each child, each bit of love in my life.

I listened to the cleansing call of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which reaches deep into your soul and reminds you of the beauty of life. I closed out the world for more than 48 hours to accomplish this, to focus on my world, my family, my country, my life, me. This is the Jewish new year; this is what Jews celebrate, anticipate, acknowledge and adhere to.

And when all was said and done, back those three months ago, I began a new year with hopes and dreams and a belief that all would be well. I still believe in those dreams and hopes, despite that little detour a while back which took my country to the edge of war and my son into a shower of incoming rockets.

Many of my Christian friends wished me a happy new year and I thanked them as I celebrated my new year, the start of a new cycle, a new calendar. My year is charted by the moon and incredibly tied to the land of Israel. In many ways, you can’t imagine the deepest meaning of the days and weeks and months of the Jewish calendar that pass without understanding how Israel is tied to the year’s passing. The rains come, almost always after Sukkot; and end, almost always before Passover.

In America, we celebrated Tu B’Shevat and are told it is the “new year of the trees.” So we put money in a blue box labeled “Jewish National Fund” or paid to plant a tree in Israel in memory of someone, got a certificate, and called it a day. But you have to be here in Israel to see the truest meaning of the day. We see the forests planted by all those blue boxes but even more incredible. Did you know the flowers of the almond trees bloom – they really do – on the 15th day of the month of Shevat – isn’t that incredible? Oh, not everywhere and not every tree – but many of them.

On Chanuka in America, we light our menorah in a window as our children marvel at the colorful lights brightening the homes and trees of our neighbors for a celebration that is often weeks away. Our modest little candles that burn at night are for some ancient victory in a far away land. In Israel – almost every window has those shining lights; they are on street corners and roofs of buildings. And as we drive, we pass the graves of those who fought the battle to end tyranny in our land and rekindle the lights in the Holy Temple. This is where that battle was fought. In America, children play with the dreidal, a spinning top with four letters representing the words, “a great miracle happened THERE.” And here in Israel, our children play with a different dreidel that says, “a great miracle happened HERE.” Here, not there. Ours, not theirs.

And so we get to the point of this post. Two nights ago, it was December 31 – the end of the calendar year, the solar year. We live in a world that runs by the sun, and yet it is the moon the reminds my people of where we are, who we are, and where we are going. December 31 does end a year – a solar year, a fiscal year.

A year…but not my year, not my calendar. All over Facebook, over emails and the Internet, everyone is wishing each other a happy new year but a part of me stands back. I wish them all a happy new year. I hope that it will be a year of hope and health, love and laughter. But when someone wishes me the same, it feels strange. It isn’t mine, I want to say. It is part of a culture I left behind  - chose to leave behind. My not accepting it, not making it special, not partying or whatever is not a rejection of you. It is a rejection FOR ME.

I worked yesterday; as I worked the day before and as I work today. I have wished friends and clients in America, India and Europe a happy new year – their year. For centuries, Jews were forced to live separately – in many places – England, France, Sweden (where Jews were not allowed to live until late in the 18th century), Spain, Poland…Jews were not allowed to own land. In Gibraltar today, legally, Jews are still not allowed to live there despite the current Jewish community’s existence.

There is no insult intended in our remaining separate in this tradition. Please celebrate your new year and pray for peace – peace for the world and peace for Jerusalem and Israel.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

January 1st is Not New Year’s

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Imagine the Jews wanted to take down the giant Xmas tree in Rockefeller Center, or the huge Xmas tree on the White House lawn! First of all, no Jew in America would have the guts to demand such a thing. But that’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Some clown at the Jerusalem Municipality gave his approval to place a Xmas tree at the entrance to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Residents of the Jewish Quarter complained, along with a representative of the Shas party, and the Xmas was removed. That’s one further example of the difference between living in a foreign country and our own Jewish State. Here in Israel, public Xmas trees are out.

Let’s face it. America is a Xtian country. So are most of the countries of Europe – that is, where Islam hasn’t yet taken over. Yesterday was the fast day of the 10th of Tevet, marking the beginning of the siege on Jerusalem. But the siege continues even today. Look how all the countries of the world condemned Israel for wanting to expand building in Jerusalem. They want to keep us under siege, in compartmented areas of the city, without a chance to grow.

Who are they, the Europeans and Americans who go bananas every time one of their spy satellites spots a Jew in Jerusalem clearing ground to build a house? The same Crusaders of old, now dressed in suits and ties. They don’t want the Jews getting any stronger in Jerusalem, because all of humankind, in its deepest unconscious psyche, knows that the nation which controls Jerusalem is the Chosen Nation, chosen by God to bring His word to the world, and they don’t want it to be the Jews and our Torah, because they want to be free to continue paying lip service to God while carrying on with their fornicating, robbery, and murder.

And while we’re talking about the upcoming pagan holidays, we should all remember, that for Jews, New Year’s is Rosh HaShanah, a time of judgment and prayer – not drunken orgies. Celebrating January 1st as the beginning of a new year, in the manner of the gentiles, is following after their ways, and a practice that all pious Jews should avoid. After all, for a Jew, counting the years from the birth of the founder of Xtianity is absurd, to say the least, and sadly schizophrenic. Think about it. Why count the years from the birth of Jezeus? The world was around a long time before he appeared. Why mark that as the beginning of history? Why identify with Xtians? Why should the calendar start with them?

But that’s what happens when a Jew is cast out from his own Jewish Land and compelled to wander among the gentiles. He begins to identify with the culture around him. It’s a sad but natural phenomenon. That’s what happened to the Jews in Egypt too. They descended to Egypt just to sojourn there during the famine, but they ended up staying. That’s what happens. It’s happened again and again, from Berlin to Brooklyn. We forget that our real home is in Israel.

We learn this from the end of this Shabbat’s Torah portion of “Vayigash.” The verse tells us: “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt in the region of Goshen; they possessed property in it and they were fruitful and multiplied” (Bereshit, 47:27).

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook would say, “They settled and sank,” referring to our propensity to get stuck in galut. Citing the commentary of the “Kli Yakar,” Rabbi Kahane explains that this verse is a condemnation of their behavior. Hashem had told Avraham that his descendents would be temporary “aliens” in a foreign land, but they sought to become permanent settlers by acquiring property and building villas for themselves – just like we see today in many Diaspora communities.

Interestingly, the Hebrew for “they possessed property in it, “ויאחזו” is written in the passive form, literally meaning that “they were possessed by it.” That is the situation in galut. We become possessed by the foreign lands and cultures where we live. We come to identify with foreign languages, customs, values, holidays, and nationalities – very much like the Jews who were slain in the plague of darkness in Egypt, a staggering 80% of the Jewish community, because they didn’t want to leave Egypt and go on aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. They actually liked Egypt! Would you believe it? Just like Jews like Brooklyn and Berlin.

While Yaakov only came to Egypt to temporarily sojourn in the land, his descendants let themselves become gripped by it. This is why Yaakov gave his children the order to bury him in Israel – so they would never forget that Eretz Yisrael was their homeland, not Egypt, America, France, Canada, Mexico, or Australia, and that Rosh HaShanah was their New Year’s and not January 1st.

I can understand how an assimilated Jew who doesn’t study Torah could come to love a foreign Xtian place – but for a religious Jew who believes in the Torah, I simply cannot understand it at all. Can you?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/january-1st-is-not-new-years/2012/12/24/

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