When shul talk goes nuclear: Should pulpit rabbis publicly discuss Iran?

As the U.S. Congress debates whether or not to support the Iran nuclear deal, the same discussion is taking place in local Jewish communities around the country, where many Jews will inevitably look to their congregational rabbis for guidance on how they should view an agreement that many are criticizing for endangering the security of their brethren in Israel. But pulpit rabbis are not members of Congress, and synagogues are not political advocacy organizations. So how and when is it appropriate for them to comment publicly on the Iran issue? JNS.org spoke with rabbis across the denominational spectrum to get a sense of what they consider to be the appropriate balance to strike.

Posted on July 27, 2015 and filed under Features, Jewish Life, U.S..

10 years on, Gaza pullout celebrity finds his peace and quiet

As the 10th anniversary of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza approaches, Eldad Galed has become a poster boy for the evacuated Jewish communities of that area. Last year, he reached second place in the Israeli adaptation of the popular reality show “Big Brother,” which had 12 Israelis from all walks of life vie for the public’s favor as they lived secluded in a house, their every move captured on camera. With his unabashed secularism and love for the former Gush Katif Jewish communities, Galed is a unique spokesman for the so-called “settlement” movement, serving to make the cause relatable, acceptable, and even “cool.” Though he has softened his view on the Israeli soldiers who helped carry out the Gaza pullout, Galed says he’ll never forget. “I move on with my life,” he tells JNS.org, “but as Metallica said, ‘the memory remains.’”

Posted on July 24, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel.

It’s time to evict J Street from the Jewish communal tent

In an almost unprecedented moment for American Jewry, the majority of prominent Jewish organizations have lined up in order to combat the Iran nuclear deal. Amid this historic display of unity, J Street has been the outlier, vigorously campaigning in support of the deal. With the nuclear issue putting Israel and the Jewish people in a life-threatening situation, now is the time for Jewish leaders who care about unity and who care about Jewish life to show J Street their communal tent’s exit flap, write Charles Jacobs and Elliott Hamilton of Americans for Peace and Tolerance.

Posted on July 24, 2015 and filed under Opinion, U.S..

Holy cow! Red heifer project part of path from ‘mourning to building’ Temple

What weighs 400 pounds, is necessary for the establishment of the third Jewish Temple, hasn’t been seen in 2,000 years, and is completely red? If you guessed “para aduma,” or the red heifer, give yourself a hand. And keep your eyes on Israel’s Negev desert. That’s because by this time next year, if a team from the Jerusalem-based Temple Institute is successful, you may find there a candidate qualified to perform a key function in the greatly yearned-for future Temple. “It’s not enough to just mourn,” says Rabbi Chaim Richman, international director of the Temple Institute. “We have to move from mourning to building. Creating this cow is something that moves us forward.”

Posted on July 23, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, Jewish Life.

Hey @TheIranDeal, I have some questions—actually, lots of them

JNS.org columnist Ben Cohen offers 12 questions—and that just scratches the surface—for the White House’s new @TheIranDeal Twitter handle, which the Obama administration says will try to “set the record straight” on the nuclear agreement between world powers and the Islamic Republic. For everyone else, Cohen suggests: keep blitzing @TheIranDeal with questions. Keep demanding answers. Just because they are silent, it doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Opinion, U.S., Analysis.

‘Concierge rabbi’ envisions more nimble Jewish spiritual leadership

In layman’s terms, “concierge” essentially means a personal assistant. So what exactly does a “concierge rabbi” do? Just ask Rabbi David Greenspoon of Reisterstown, Md., who founded “Jewtique: Concierge Rabbinic Services.” Though Greenspoon recently took on a new full-time pulpit in Virginia, he hopes his concierge business will continue to feed the souls of both his congregation and other Jews seeking his guidance. “You have to meet people where they are at and help them realize the depth and quality of the Jewish experience,” says Greenspoon, who provides services ranging from baby namings to funerals.

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Jewish Life, Features, U.S..

Israeli audience gets a taste of Jewish Voice for Peace’s brand of betrayal

Israel’s Channel 2 recently dedicated a full 15 minutes to the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Reporter Danny Kushmaro brought to an Israeli audience awareness of “the Jews that stand behind the boycott of Israel.” For Yitzhak Santis, a longtime “student” of JVP, as well as many Americans, there would be little surprise to hear the venomous rhetoric disgorged by JVP activists. But for an Israeli audience that never heard of JVP, the reaction had to have been nothing short of shock and a profound sense of betrayal, writes Santis, chief programs officer at the Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor.

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Israel, Opinion, U.S..

At Jerusalem Film Festival, new year brings new kind of drama

In July 2014 in Jerusalem, sirens over the city at the beginning of the 50-day Gaza war forced the cancellation of the outdoor opening event of the Jerusalem International Film Festival. The festival went on despite several schedule changes and film celebrities who were last-minute no-shows, but the usual festive atmosphere was distinctly muted. This year, the July 9-19 festival was not without controversy, but bore none of last year’s tensions, with both the opening and closing events drawing large crowds at the Sultan’s Pool venue just below the walls of the Old City. This year’s most controversial film was “Beyond The Fear,” a documentary about the personal life of Yigal Amir, who is serving a life sentence in prison for the assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Arts, Features, Israel.

My aliyah day (a.k.a. the most intense day of my life)

Eliana Rudee, a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and author of the new "Aliyah Annotated" column for JNS.org, reflects on the day she moved to Israel—which she calls the most intense day of her life. She writes that the bitterness of the "goodbyes" and the sublime sweetness of the "hellos" have been etched into her deepest being, giving her a feeling that bittersweetness will become a theme of her aliyah journey to come.

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Aliyah Annotated, Israel, Opinion.

Menschkins: The multiple identities of Abba

The 91st installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more JNS.org coverage on Jewish arts.

Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under Arts, Menschkins.

For Bernie Sanders, Jewish presidential contender, is Israel on the radar?

He’s a Jew from Brooklyn. He’s running for president. But is Israel on his radar? Once considered a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has gained significant momentum in recent weeks. Though he grew up in a Jewish-heavy area and spent time on an Israeli kibbutz after he graduated from college, Israel has taken a backseat on Sanders’s Congressional agenda to issues such as income inequality, challenging Wall Street, and raising the minimum wage. At the same time, the senator’s progressive political base harbors increasingly negative attitudes about the Jewish state. What would that mean for a Sanders presidency? “Even if Sanders is relatively quiet on Israel, there’s a good chance that his leftist supporters are more critical,” said Tevi Troy, who served as White House liaison to the Jewish community under president George W. Bush.

Posted on July 21, 2015 and filed under Israel, Features, News, U.S..

America’s national pastime brings Arabs and Jews together in Israel

While his teammates are at bat, Ido Peled flashes a toothy teenage grin, his cap tilted slightly off-kilter, and affirms that his favorite club is the New York Yankees. The 13-year-old reveals that he first became interested in the game by watching baseball movies. But Peled isn’t an American teen who was immersed in the national pastime from infancy. He’s Israeli through and through, as are his parents. Ido was one of more than 100 kids ages 8-14 who took part in the Israel Association of Baseball’s (IAB) recently held annual summer training camp. Since its first pitch was thrown seven years ago, the camp has helped foster consistent growth for a sport that was previously foreign to Israel. The IAB also recently launched a new initiative called “Baseball For All,” which brought 30 Jewish and Arab teens from Modi’in and Ramle together to learn the sport. 

Posted on July 21, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, Sports.

After Iran deal, supporters of Israel have practical steps at their disposal

In addition to Israel relying on itself for its own security, there are a number of practical steps that global supporters of the Jewish state can take to improve the bad situation surrounding the Iran deal. While the nuclear accord may have been signed in Vienna, the agreement now moves to the U.S. Congress and to the court of public opinion. There is much the pro-Israel community can do to influence the agreement’s implementation and perhaps even its actual content, writes Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud), Israel’s Minister of Technology, Science and Space.

Posted on July 21, 2015 and filed under Israel, Opinion.

The Obama administration’s betrayal on Iran

Americans were assured by the Obama administration that there would be “anytime/anywhere inspections” of Iran's nuclear program. But the recently signed nuclear deal requires up to 24 days of advance notice before inspectors enter nuclear sites. Americans were told that sanctions would be lifted gradually, commensurate with Iran’s commitments. Yet Iran is now receiving a swift and unconditional windfall of $150 billion in sanctions relief. The nuclear agreement is appeasement, bordering on capitulation and treason, writes Sarah N. Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth think tank.

Posted on July 21, 2015 and filed under Opinion, U.S..

The theory of everything from nothing

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That well-known verse (Genesis 1:1) marks the beginning of the Old Testament and the story of Creation. But in our contemporary society, we are also inundated with scientific theories about the world’s origin such as the “Big Bang”—which was elucidated in 1979 by physicist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, through his theory of cosmic inflation. Ever since the first time Jewish chemist Dr. Andre Danesh read about Guth, he has been interested in knowing what exactly came before the Big Bang. Which Creation story should we believe? Can we believe in both the Judeo-Christian scriptural narrative and the Big Bang at the same time? Danesh, who proposes a theory he calls "everything from nothing," writes that until one proves how the universe was created, one has no choice but to accept that God was the creator and to affirm the Judeo-Christian narrative on Creation. 

Posted on July 20, 2015 and filed under Opinion, Jewish Life, Christian.