Little left of Cuban Jewry’s rich past

The new U.S. policy of rapprochement with Cuba, which was accompanied by the celebrated release of imprisoned Jewish aid worker Alan Gross, probably will give American Jews greater access to a Jewish community with which few are familiar. But visitors will find that the years have not been kind to once-thriving Cuban Jewry, writes historian Rafael Medoff.

Posted on December 19, 2014 and filed under Features, U.S., World, Analysis.

‘Jewish Food Movement’ comes of age

In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” which has since been characterized by the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the Jewish community to take on this issue and do something about it,” says Nigel Savage, Hazon’s founder and president. Ahead of Hazon's eighth annual Food Conference, interviews various leaders and followers of the Jewish Food Movement—most of whom started or increased their involvement in the movement due to the conference.

Posted on December 19, 2014 and filed under Features, Food, Jewish Life, U.S..

Time to rethink Holocaust Remembrance Day?

Do we need Holocaust Remembrance Day? At first, that seems like a surprising question to ask. But as a recent episode in Ireland illustrates, if commemorating the Holocaust in the public sphere requires Jews to play down both their affiliation with Israel and the intimate connection between the Holocaust and the significance of a Jewish state in our own time, then it’s better to memorialize the Holocaust privately, writes Shillman Analyst Ben Cohen.

Posted on December 18, 2014 and filed under Holocaust, Israel, Opinion, World.

Church-state debate still rages, but public Hanukkah menorahs gain wider acceptance

This time of year, festive holiday displays are sometimes accompanied by not-so-festive controversies over the appearance of religious symbols in public places. But for Jews, the increasing inclusion of the Hanukkah menorah as well as other Jewish symbols in the pantheon of American civic and religious discourse highlights their mainstream acceptance in society. “I can walk down the street knowing that I am proud to be a Jew,” said Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, a Pittsburgh-based Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. “And in fact the government does whatever they can to help us and encourages us to practice our faith.”

Posted on December 15, 2014 and filed under Features, Jewish Life, Hanukkah, U.S..

At Hanukkah, Israel’s colors are blue, white… and green

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights, commemorating the miracle of oil burning for eight days when it should have only burned for one. But today the real miracle of lights is that a country like Israel—which is roughly the size of New Jersey and is constantly under attack both from its neighbors and from terrorists within its own borders—has the foresight and initiative to champion the environmental movement, writes Eliana Rudee, a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

Posted on December 15, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion, Hanukkah.

Menschkins: The real message of Chanukah

The 64th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more coverage on Jewish arts.

Posted on December 15, 2014 and filed under Arts, Menschkins.

Seeds of ‘start-up nation’ cultivated by Israel Sci-Tech Schools

Forget the dioramas. How about working on an Israeli Air Force drone? That’s exactly the kind of access enjoyed by students at the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) industrial vocational high school run by Israel Sci-Tech Schools, the largest education network in the Jewish state. The IAI-based school just scratches the surface of Sci-Tech's industrial partnerships—80 companies collaborate on programs with the network. When it's taken into account that 10 percent of all Israeli high school students attend a Sci-Tech school, and that more than 60 percent of students across the network study in science and technology tracks, it's evident that the network is cultivating the seeds of future Israeli high-tech start-ups.

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Education, Features, Israel.

Haredim and Bedouin: a tale of two communities transformed by vocational education

Low enlistment rates in the Israel Defense Forces. High rates of poverty. Communal resistance to traditional schooling. Difficulty finding employment or a lack of motivation to be employed. These conditions are shared by two sectors of the Israeli population that the casual observer likely wouldn’t group together: haredi Jews and Bedouin. Through its operation of schools for each population, however, the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network seeks to give haredim and Bedouin a brighter future in the Jewish state and help them buck their respective stereotypical reputations as yeshiva dwellers and desert nomads—starting with the vocational training they need to enter the workforce.

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Education, Israel, Features.

Ominous clouds over French Jewry

Amid rising anti-Semitism, Roger Cukierman, president of the representative body of French Jewry, has said that “Jews will leave in large numbers and France will fall into the hands of either Shari’a Law or the Front National.” The coming months will be decisive in determining whether the stark choice between Shari’a, fascism, or aliyah to Israel is upon the Jews of France. Shillman Analyst Ben Cohen dares to hope that a fourth option—integrated, successful Diaspora Jewish communities who proudly identify with Israel without fear—hasn’t entirely disappeared.

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Opinion, World.

As ‘Gone with the Wind’ turns 75, examining the Jewish influence on an epic film

The 75th anniversary of the premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” which was marked Dec. 15, presents an opportunity to examine the Jewish influence on one of the most popular films of all time. That influence starts with the American Civil War epic’s famed Jewish producer, David O. Selznick, and trickles down to fired director George Cukor and cast member Leslie Howard. “[Jewish film industry giants like Selznick] had been very nervous of there being an anti-Semitic reaction to their success and to the film business,” said David Thomson, author of the book “Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick.”

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Arts, Features, U.S..

Israeli-developed TalkITT gives new voice to people with speech impairments

A little boy with autism says “I love you”—and you understand it. Your grandfather is able to say “congratulations” when you graduate—despite the recent stroke he suffered that impaired his speech. That future is almost a reality thanks to new Israeli-developed technology that can extract spoken words from the sounds of people with speech disabilities. Danny Weissberg in 2012 co-founded VoiceITT, maker of the TalkITT software, shortly after his grandmother had a stroke. The software creates a dictionary of sounds and associates them with meaning or words. The user makes a sound and associates it with a word in the dictionary, after which point the software recalls the translation for future conversations.

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Features, Israel.

Why do 80% of Palestinians support murder?

In most parts of the world, it’s not easy to find a major issue on which 80 percent of the population agrees. But among Palestinian Arabs, according to a new Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll, it turns out there is one issue on which there is more support than any other: randomly murdering Israeli Jews. How do 80 percent of Palestinians embrace the killing of innocent civilians? Three reasons stand out, write Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia.

Posted on December 11, 2014 and filed under Israel, Opinion.

How American Jews made Hanukkah the holiday of religious freedom

Rather than celebrating Hanukkah, American Jews could have adopted a secularized Christmas, as many German Jews did in the 19th century and early 20th century. But instead, Reform and Conservative Jews led the way in the Americanization of Hanukkah, not only by inventing the custom of giving eight gifts (one per night) and using colored candles, but also by reshaping the message of the menorah’s light to fit the American Jewish predicament, writes Noam Zion, a fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute and author of "A Different Light: The Hanukkah Book Celebration."

Posted on December 10, 2014 and filed under Hanukkah, Opinion, Special Sections, U.S..

In Israel, ex-pats perplexed by political musical chairs

There are two kinds of olim (immigrants) these days in Israel: those who are living through their first sudden call for early elections, and those old-timers who have seen it all before. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jettisoned two members of his coalition’s cabinet, the Knesset scrambled to dissolve itself on Dec. 8 and set elections for March 17, 2015. While they struggle to understand the rules of the game, the newer immigrants’ faces look hopelessly befuddled. “I try to understand it, but it’s very confusing. … This system seems to generate so much insecurity,” says Peruvian immigrant Betty Anschlawsky.

Posted on December 9, 2014 and filed under Features, Israel, News.

‘Sheriff of Mars’ unveils endearing life of Jewish music star hidden in the fields of France

It was an era of steel strings, guitar heroes, and storytellers—high on heroin, rebellious. Outlaw country music, the hallmark of Nashville’s powerful and angry music scene of the 1970s, was the brew of greats such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Townes Van Zandt. But there is another, little-known music hero of that era: Daniel Antopolsky. A Jewish lad from Augusta, Ga., the “Sheriff of Mars” fled the aggressive U.S. music scene for a tranquil life on a farm in Bordeaux, France. Over the last 40 years, he has written nearly 500 songs. Now, his music is being shared with the world for the first time through a new documentary and music album.

Posted on December 8, 2014 and filed under Arts, Features, U.S..