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April 18, 2015 / 29 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Reform Jewish’

Yisrael Beitenu MK Says ‘Reform Movement Is not Jewish’

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Likud-Beiteinu Knesset Member David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, said Tuesday “The Reform movement is not Jewish… they are another religion.”

The Reform Judaism in Israel movement said in an e-mail to its members, “The expression ‘another religion’ was not used by MK Rotem by accident. The Israeli Law of Return uses this exact term to exclude non-Jews from making Aliyah, and therefore according to him, Reform Jews have no place in Israel. ”

Israel Reform Movement’s Executive Director, Rabbi Gilad Kariv responded, “We were witness to this unrestrained declaration of MK Rotem about non-orthodox streams of Judaism. An assertion such as this makes it impossible for MK Rotem to continue to chair discussions on sensitive issues such as conversion, who is a Jew and other topics that are associated with Religion & State matters and the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.”

That may have won over a few Orthodox liberals, but Kariv then showed the Reform movement’s penchant for interpreting the Bible for its own principles of showing how little it knows and quoted Proverbs 3:17, which states, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths lead to peace.” It follows, according to him, “We must all ask ourselves, with which religious heritage MK Rotem identifies.”

Chances are that the MK would answer, “I identify with the Torah and Jewish Law as handed down by sages and Torah scholars and not with some kind of instant heritage created by those whose Judaism is defined by their own personal interests.”

Paula Abdul to Celebrate Bat Mitzvah at Age 51 at Western Wall

Monday, October 28th, 2013

American singer, multi-platinum recording artist, choreographer, dancer, television personality, Grammy and two-time Emmy Award-winner Paula Abdul arrived on her first visit to Israel this week and plans to celebrate her Bat Mitzvah at the Western Wall, 39 years late.

She also will meet with President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Abdul was born in Los Angeles to Jewish parents. She once said, “My father is a Syrian Jew whose family immigrated to Brazil. My mother is Canadian with Jewish roots. My dream is to go to Israel for a real holiday.”

Israel’s Tourist Minister in 2006, Yitzchak Herzog, invited her to visit, which she said would be a “dream come true” but did not happen until this week. The visit may be a prelude to a singing performance next year, the Boycott Israel movement notwithstanding.

Abdul plans to visit major tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Galilee and will explore Israel’s fashion, dance, culinary and music scene.

She began her  dancing career at the age of eight and became a sought-after choreographer before she began to compose music and sing. Abdul starred in the hit reality show about her life “Hey Paula” and, in recent years, has served as a judge on the popular American talent shows “American Idol” and “X-Factor.”

Mazel Tov, Paula.

Lightning Critically Inures Child at Jewish Summer Camp

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

A lightning strike at a Reform Jewish summer camp in Indianapolis, Indiana injured three children one of the critically, on Saturday afternoon.

Rabbi Mark Covitz, director of the Goldman Union Camp said in a statement reported by JTA, “This Shabbat afternoon, lightning struck URJ Goldman Union Camp. Three campers were injured. Camp personnel and emergency professionals responded quickly. The children were taken to local hospitals and we have spoken with each child’s parents.

“We are resuming our normal camp schedule, which will include dinner and evening program. Please know, the safety of your children is our highest priority,”

The injured children were a nine-year-old girl from Missouri and two boys, ages 9 and 12, from Ohio and Kentucky. It is not yet known which one of them is in critical condition.

The children were in a field when thunderstorms were rolling thought the area, the Indy Star reported.

Women of the Wall Go for Broke, Plan to Read from Torah at Kotel

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Women of the Wall (WoW, having won their fight to pray in their own minyan complete with a tallis and tefillin, have escalated their campaign against orthodox Jewish tradition by announcing plans to read from a Torah scroll at prayers at the Western Wall on Monday.

Several leading Haredi rabbis called on thousands of Haredi men to gather for a mass prayer opposite Women of the Wall. Last month, some of them hurling objects at the women and jeered at them.

The Women of the Wall gather at the beginning of every Jewish month for a women’s Rosh Chodesh service at the Western Wall. The new month of Tammuz falls on the  Sabbath and Sunday this week, and the WoW have put off their “Rosh Chodesh” to Monday, one of two regular weekdays when the Torah is read at prayers services.

Their previous attempts to bring a Torah scroll into the Western Wall area prayer area, in violation of local tradition, created a media sensation, with photographs around the world showing police struggling with a woman holding a holy Torah scroll.

The scene played into the hands of the WoW, winning sympathy in the Diaspora from both non-Jews and Jews, mostly but not exclusively those from the Reform and Conservative movements.

In Jewish tradition, women have no obligation to pray in a minyan, and never with a tallis and tefillin, which are part of the men’s obligations. The women want “equality” although Jewish law does not consider men and women unequal because of different obligations for each sex.

The court ruling allowing the Women of the Wall to pray with a tallis and tefillin at the Wall, in a separate women’s section, does not preclude their using a Torah scroll, but the group decided not to do so last  month in order not to raise tension beyond the point of containment, on both sides of the issue.

“We could have done it last month, but [Religious Services Minister Naftali] Bennett asked us to make a certain compromises and we agreed for one month to show our good will,” Lesley Sachs, the group’s director, told JTA Wednesday. “There was no question we would bring it this month. Without it, it’s not a full service.”

Bennett met with Women of the Wall representatives Wednesday in what Sachs called a “very productive meeting.”

Haredi leaders are encouraging thousands to appear n protest but without violence. The Haredi news site Kikar HaShabbat quoted Haredi Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yossi Deutsch, as saying, “Many will come, according to the instruction of great rabbis, to sanctify the name of heaven and prove that we will not surrender in the battle over the holiness of the Western Wall.”

JTA contributed to this report.

Biden Wants Rabbis, Pastors and Nuns to Back ‘Moral’ Gun Control

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Vice President Joe Biden met with Jewish, Muslim Christians, Sikh and other religious leaders Monday to encourage them to back gun control as matter of morals.

He met for two and a half hours with rabbis, pastors, nuns and other religious leaders before the gun control bill comes up for a Senate vote.

“The conversation presumed the vote would happen first on immigration,” Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, told the Associated Press.

“That seemed to be the back-and-forth on both sides — that immigration was a key priority right now. When that vote took place, it would be an opportunity to refocus on this,” he said.

Christina evangelicals at the meeting are concerned with background checks on gun owners and with mental health provisions that they fear might be used for a list to ban people from owning

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said a diverse spectrum of denominations and religious orders were represented, including evangelical leaders Richard Cizik and Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham, as well as Sister Marge Clark of Network, a Catholic group.

A Confrontation Between Image and Text

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Panim el Panim: Facing Genesis, Visual Midrash

By Debra Linesch and Evelyn Stettin

2008, 38 pages, $14.95

Marymount Institute Press, Tsehai Publishers



What do you get when you mix a Jesuit publishing company, a Reform Jewish scholar, an Orthodox Jewish painter, and a thesis on human-divine encounters?


In Panim el Panim: Facing Genesis, Visual Midrash, the product is a surprisingly coherent collaboration of image and text, which not only examines the book of Genesis, but also seeks to uncover real-world lessons and advice from the biblical passages that are accessible to all sorts of readers. 


The title refers to the biblical Hebrew phrase for “face to face,” which is complicated by the other biblical and rabbinic notion that G-d has no face. Still, men engaged the divine on several occasions in the Bible. Jacob, after his pyrrhic wrestling victory that cost him a leg, called the battleground P’niel (literally “I saw G-d”), for his self-declared panim-el-panim encounter with G-d. Exodus reveals that Moses spoke with G-d panim-el-panim, “as a man would address his friend,” and Deuteronomy reiterates: “And no other prophet has risen from the Jews like Moses, whom G-d knew panim-el-panim.” Gideon, meanwhile, had a panim-el-panim encounter with an angel, and when Moses reminded the Israelites in Deuteronomy about the revelation at Sinai, he was careful to say “panim-b’phanim” (perhaps “face in face”) rather than “panim-el-panim.”


The notion of G-d’s face, or portrait, ought to be an aesthetic as well as a theological question. Theology can tells us that the Bible deals in metaphors and that references to the strong arm of G-d are just that − metaphors rather than literalisms. But whatever encounters Moses, Jacob, Gideon, and the Israelites had with G-d or G-d’s entourage, there does seem to have been a visual encounter of some sort.


So what does a person see when she or he encounters G-d? This is a provocative question, evidenced by the secrecy that has surrounded Kabbalistic interpretations to biblical episodes like Ezekiel’s vision. But interpreting the question with a brush, a quill, or chisel is far more dangerous, for an image of G-d seems to be necessarily a violation of the Second Commandment.


The different authorial encounters that went into Panim el Panim – the second book in Marymount Institute Press’s series, Robert B. Lawton S. J. Studies in Faith, Culture, and the Arts – mirror the human-divine encounters in the Bible. (The first book in the series presented commentary on a 14th century Christian poem, which, in part, praises Jews.) Linesch, a Reform Jew, is an art therapist and chair of the Graduate Department of Marital and Family Therapy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Stettin, an Orthodox Jew, is an abstract painter whose works often have spiritual and psychological themes. The two view their collaboration − Stettin’s images and Linesch’s words − as creating what they call “visual midrash.”


“The core value on which Panim el Panim rests is that there are many pathways to Torah,” said Stettin in an interview, perhaps echoing the rabbinic concept that there are 70 faces (“panim“) to the Torah. “My paintings evoke a pinpoint of the whole, as does any single commentary.” Stettin believes that G-d engages every person in a relationship, but “‘facing’ is making a decision to engage with it.”


Stettin’s image accompanying the Genesis 24 text where Isaac brings Rebecca to his mother’s tent is a red canvas with an orange egg-shaped form titled “Wholeness.” As in Mark Rothko’s paintings, the red consists of several shades rather than a uniform coat of paint, and a ghost-like form beneath the oval could be a stem and leaves supporting a flower. Linesch’s commentary addresses Isaac finding comfort for Sarah’s death through his new bride. “In this text we recognized movement toward emotional wholeness, and we explored the complex connections between current and past relationships,” she writes. “The Torah encourages us to understand the connection between the ways we are loved and the ways we love.”



Wholeness by Evelyn Stettin, from Panim el Panim.



Wholeness also surfaces in the Genesis 50 account of Joseph’s reunion with his father Jacob. The painting, titled “In-between,” consists of two rectangles, one green and one purple, divided down the middle by a yellow line. A yellow circle sits in the middle of the purple rectangle, while a red rectangle occupies the top part of the green zone. Linesch’s commentary notes that she and Stettin fused text and imagery together just as Joseph and Jacob achieved wholeness in their encounter. “The Torah encourages us toward self-exploration, looking back and forward simultaneously, suspended between creation and redemption,” she adds.



In-Between by Evelyn Stettin, from Panim el Panim.



But the image with its yellow barricade seems to suggest division rather than wholeness. The yellow circle appears to be blocked off from the red rectangle, as perhaps Jacob was from his own son. It must have been a confusing time for the elderly father to balance his joy that his favorite son was still alive with the pain in realizing that same son had chosen to wait so long to inform him he was still alive. Perhaps this is why, when Jacob introduces himself to Pharaoh he says, “few and bad were the days of the years, and they did not keep pace with the days of the years of my ancestors;” a pessimistic speech for which the rabbis say Jacob was punished.


These sorts of complicated family interactions are not lost on Linesch. “It is clear to me in my reading of Genesis that the intra-familial dynamics that are manifest in the stories are very real, very human and represent family experience that is both ancient and contemporary and somewhat paradigmatic,” she said in an interview. “As modern readers, it is possible to reverberate with the experiences of our forefathers and foremothers, learning from them as holders of feelings we all know, rather than as models of virtue we could never attain. I believe that one of the many wisdoms of the Jewish tradition is in the very real depiction of family life in our scriptures.”



Enveloped by Evelyn Stettin, from Panim el Panim.


The Midrash is an ambiguous body of writings that, one is said to be foolish to believe entirely, yet at the same time, it is heretical to completely deny it. Enveloped,” which illustrates the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, is a visual mapping of this idea. The image, with its scratch marks on the bottom, perhaps conveys the confusion and lack of common language that was the punishment of the tower builders, but it remains an abstract image that is up to viewers to decipher. Through her abstract paintings like “Enveloped, Stettin interprets the biblical stories with an equally open-ended eye. Linesch’s commentaries do not seek to explain the paintings – which work far better as paintings than they would, if forced to become texts – but the two working in concert, function much like the Midrash does: illuminating the text, personalizing it, and adding a moral charge to readers and viewers to incorporate it into their lives.


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.

A Haunting Tale Of Assimilation

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

Spring Forward, Fall Back

By Robert Brustein

Theater J of the Washington DCJCC

1529 16th Street, NW

800-494-TIXS; www.theaterj.org


Man’s use of “Time” is an artificial system that has been invented as a template to place over nature for convenience. It is convenient for everything from scheduling meetings to assigning bedtimes to celebrating birthdays. But in 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote an essay in which he suggested “manipulating time” – the earliest suggestion of daylight savings time, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.


Franklin’s suggestion, seconded by William Willett 23 years later, to advance time in the spring (so as to extend daylight hours) and to move the clocks back in the autumn proved very appealing to Australia, Great Britain, Germany and the United States during World War I for purposes of conserving fuel. In the United States, clocks stayed advanced an hour during World War II – from February 9, 1942, until September 30, 1945 – so as to decrease the use of artificial light.


But daylight savings time is a chaotic institution. Under normal circumstances, time “marches on”, try as we might to stop it or slow it down. But two days a year, we simply move our clocks ahead or behind an hour. It almost feels like cheating – or magic.


In Robert Brustein’s world premiere of “Spring Forward, Fall Back” at Theater J, time is haunted by ghosts. But before frantically calling Bill Murray and the Ghostbusters, it should be noted that the ghosts are friendly ghosts who “haunt” their children’s lives, desperately trying to atone for their child-rearing sins and to plead with their children not to repeat said sins. The tragedy of it all is that only the characters that want to change can hear the ghosts.


“Spring Forward, Fall Back” is the tale of Richard Resnick (Bill Hamlin), 79, who dies alone in a West End Avenue apartment in New York where he was born. Resnick, a famous conductor, mistakes the angel of death for a thief and a terrorist, insisting that he has already given away everything he owns. But when the intruder steps into the light, he remembers the man from his childhood who walked down the street ringing his bell saying, “I buy old clothes.” Clothing plays a central role in the play, which questions what is truly in the domain of identity and what is a mere accessory – and therefore ultimately dispensable.


Standing in his rumpled pajamas with his clock stopped at 8:44 (think Dickens’ Miss Havisham), Richard perceives a man standing in his room with his face hidden behind a hood, wearing rags (with pots and pans hanging from his ripped coat) and holding a large bag. “I cash clothes. Bring out your rags,” the man says. Surprised that clothes cashers are still in business and that this particular one got up to his floor despite the elevator operators’ strike, Richard tells the man of his son and grandson, and his pneumonia. The man grows increasingly impatient, repeating his pitch for clothes.


Susan Rome (Naomi, Richards wife), Mitchell Greenberg (Richard Resnick in his 40s)

and Sean Dugan (David, Richards son) in Robert Brusteins

Spring Forward, Fall Back.Photo, courtesy of Theater J.



Richard gives him corduroys, but the man asks for more. Richard gives him his shoes – “The heels are rundown anyway” – but the man keeps his hand out gesturing for more. Richard casts first his father’s tallis, tefillin and yarmulka into the man’s bag (“No use for those anymore”) and then the baton he used to conduct his farewell concert. The man then tells Richard, “I cash old souls,” and Richard realizes with a shock that his time has come.


The scene, which vaguely recalls the Monty Python skit with a man pushing a wheelbarrow down the street crying, “Bring out your dead,” is the culmination of a narrative that follows Richard as a child growing up with his parents, Abe and Minnie. Abe comes from an Orthodox family, but he leads a Reform Jewish life with Minnie, all the while lamenting that his parents will not visit for Passover, for fear of the non-kosher dishes. Abe feels a strong connection to his Jewishness, though, which his son Richard does not. Richard’s passion is music (Abe provocatively calls it “noise”) and he cannot understand his father’s nostalgia for the shtetl.


And so it goes, with each subsequent generation becoming further removed from its Jewish identity and more interested in the modern world. Richard and his wife Naomi (Susan Rome), whom the audience only knows as a ghost, try to raise their son David (Sean Dugan) properly. But Naomi dies when David is yet a teenager (suicide is suspected, though her ghost calls it “carelessness”), and David becomes a hippie, interested in drugs, rock ‘n’ roll (mostly the Dead), and a Gentile woman, Christine (Anne Petersen). David’s son, in turn, Sean (Joe Baker), has no sense of his Jewish identity.


“Spring Forward, Fall Back” is a “how-to-guide” for bad parenting, and it is a very vivid exploration of how assimilation unfolds across a family unit. But like Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” Brustein’s play’s truly innovative move is to map out that assimilation in musical terms. Viewers can track the dilution of Jewish shtetl identity in terms of music, which appeals to the various members of the Resnick family.


Abe enjoys waltzes. (“To Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians you can dance).” Richard insists on playing Artie Shaw and Jazz on his record player, and although his father insists on silencing the pianist in the apartment below, Richard recognizes the man’s talent. The man turns out to be none other than “Serge Rachmaninov.”


When Richard matures as a musician and works as a composer, he is blessed with a son interested in music, although it feels more like a curse, as David favors Rock music. Richard tries in vain to convince his son that Classical music inspired Rock. “There’s a pop tune hidden in the third movement of the Rack Two. Hear it?” he asks. But David doesn’t. “So your music comes out of his music. Tin Pan Alley always stole from classical composers,” Richard concludes. But like clockwork, David later complains about his son’s taste in music to Richard:


David: Sean’s into rap.


Old Richard: That explains the hairdo.


David: He has a black girlfriend now.


Old Richard: Does that bother you?


David: I like the girl. I don’t like the music.


Old Richard: Some people think it’s urban poetry.


David: Not me.


Old Richard: Now you know what it’s like, the musical generation gap.


David: The appeal escapes me. No melody, the same percussive beat, forced rhymes You know me. I believe in people doing their own thing. But I wish he had a better sense of his identity.


But then the conversation takes a turn for the worse, when Richard reminds David that music might be a metaphor for Jewish identity. “I suppose it’s too much to remind him he’s half Jewish,” Richard says. “You know what I think about that,” says David, to which Richard laments, “With a name like Sean, I’m surprised he’s not warbling Irish ballads.”


And yet it is Richard, the very proponent of Jewish identity, who gives away his belongings to death in order of increasing significance: first his pants (he checks the pockets to make sure he has his credit cards); then his shoes (with worn out soles – read “souls”); then his father’s tallis bag; then his baton (his music); and only then his bathrobe off his back and his soul. Abe, who turns out to be the agent of Richard’s death, would have given away his waltzes before his Jewish identity, but not Richard. And yet, Richard is the end of the line, so David and Sean do not even have their Jewish identity to give to the man buying old clothes. They lack even the accessories to discard, which might be the greatest tragedy of all.


But Brustein’s play is hardly preachy. The play is a world haunted by ghosts with unfinished business. It is the tale of the end of a Jewish line in the Resnick family, and it is the tragedy of Richard, grown old, senile and lonely in his apartment, visited only by his dead wife and the “old clothes man.” It is the story of his son who spends his life trying to fix the mistakes he was allowed to make by his father, who was too busy mourning his dead wife to properly educate him. It is the story of Sean, who would be caught in the middle of his divorced parents’ bickering, if he took off his headphones and Rap music long enough to listen.


But it is also a story of the return of the prodigal son. It is a story of Richard reuniting with Abe, and of David making good with Richard, by declaring his love, as he moves out of Richard’s apartment toward Brooklyn.


The real reason to see “Spring Forward, Fall Back” – and the reason it is such a brilliant play – is that Brustein has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and a great, creative way of capturing realistic characters. This is not the Aristotelian model of creating larger than life characters. The Resnicks are perhaps more ordinary that Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman (“Death of a Salesman”), as they grapple with their melting, Jewish identity and family unit. As their music changes, their needs change.


To the extent that they are able to achieve a transcendent view that allows them to rise above their own particular circumstances and recognize that they are part of a larger family system and tradition, they are able to live as Jewish Americans. Richard puts it best in a conversation with David about Sean. “It wouldn’t hurt for him to know about other cultures either. All kids learn about these days is themselves. They don’t want books, they want mirrors.” David replies, “And all you see in your mirror is the face of the Vanishing Jew.” To which Richard says, “I admit it. We’re all terrified of disappearing into the American mush.”


Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor, based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/a-haunting-tale-of-assimilation/2006/11/08/

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