Several times throughout the year JNS.org releases collections of articles centered around a special theme. All our special section pieces are assembled on this page. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.
For years, Jewish basketball aficionados have adored Tamir Goodman. The same can now be said for Jewish summer campers. Nicknamed the “Jewish Jordan” for the combination of his on-court prowess and his observance of Orthodox rituals, Goodman has spent his post-playing career as a coach and motivational speaker. One of his crowning achievements is founding a Jerusalem-based basketball camp in which campers receive expert instruction from professional players and soak up the spiritual vibrancy of the holy city. Initially, the program was only available for day campers. But in 2017, Goodman is expanding that vision to an overnight camp. “There’s something majestic about Jerusalem, it’s a city that unites,” Goodman says. “We’re excited to help [campers] reach their potential on and off the court and to connect them to Israel.”
It has been almost a year since Liz Stevens stood before a couple hundred people and delivered a eulogy for her father, Larry Stevens, who for nearly 50 years was the director of the summer camp he started in northern Michigan. His mourners spanned every phase of his work, from septuagenarian former campers to 20-something ex-counselors. Camp Walden, founded in 1960, drew its first campers from heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Detroit. Liz Stevens, decades later a camp director herself, reflects on a father-daughter legacy of camp leadership.
When it comes to acts of loving-kindness, plenty of rabbis talk a good game. But Rabbi Ari Sytner has put his entire self into the endeavor. To the rabbi, the person in the adjoining surgical suite in December 2011 was still a virtual stranger. He knew she was a 45-year-old Israeli mom with three kids and a kidney disease that had sapped her strength. Ronit Havivi's prognosis was not good, unless a donor could be found quickly. Fast forward five years. Against all odds, in a wedding hall in central Israel Feb. 20, Rabbi Sytner’s voice sang out the blessing under the chuppah as Havivi’s daughter married her childhood—an occasion Havivi might easily not have lived to see without the rabbi’s kidney.
At his recent bar mitzvah celebration, Lavi Gimpel’s great-grandmother handed him a check that she said would cover the cost of seven trees. “One for each member of your family. When I come to the farm someday, I want you to show each tree to me,” said the great-grandmother, Chaya Wexler. Trees are not a typical bar mitzvah gift. But Lavi Gimpel is not a typical bar mitzvah boy. Not only did he ask his guests—and crowd-funders—to help him populate the farm his family is establishing in the Judean Hills with trees, but he also chose to have his Feb. 19 bar mitzvah party at a soup kitchen in Jerusalem.
On the right, a man sits and prays holding a liturgical book. On the left, a rabbi is seen explaining the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt to a child. These images were printed on the pages of a Passover haggadah in the city of Prague in 1556. This nearly 500-year-old haggadah, one of only two remaining copies, is part of the Valmadonna Trust Library collection that was recently sold to the National Library of Israel. The Valmadonna collection was a “showstopper” when it was displayed at the Sotheby’s auction house before the sale to Israel, attracting more than 3,000 visitors a day, said Sharon Mintz, senior consultant for Judaica at Sotheby’s.
Even the most finicky wine snob won’t be able to “pass over” the new generation of kosher wines. Increasingly, the current mindset is that since Jews are commanded to drink four cups of wine at the Passover seder, they might as well drink high-quality wine in the process. “Today’s Jewish consumer is more sophisticated and discerning, and not satisfied with sacramental wine,” says Jay Buchsbaum, a vice president at the New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corporation. “They have more disposable income and they’re willing to spend a little more for a good wine. They’re not willing to settle.”
Yaakov and Marsha Motzen were joined in holy matrimony in a ceremony that adhered strictly to the Jewish wedding traditions and kosher laws that they both hold dear. Unlike most religiously observant couples, however, they chose to get married on the open seas. “Our ketubah (marriage contract) may be the only one in the world to list under location of the wedding, ‘Between Fort Lauderdale and St. Thomas,’” Marsha says of her cruise ship wedding. More Jewish couples are opting to exchange vows in gorgeous destinations around the world—without sacrificing Jewish tradition in the process. Taking this trend to the next level, a leading kosher cruise and travel company, Kosherica, is now partnering with the Atlantis Paradise Island resort in the Bahamas to create a program for picturesque Jewish destination weddings and other celebrations. Atlantis is now providing everything from a decorated chuppah overlooking the vivid blue Bahamian waters, to a local rabbi, to kosher cuisine prepared by world-class chefs.
Judging from its ritual text, the ketubah (marriage contract) that is read aloud during a Jewish wedding ceremony isn’t the most exciting, romantic or joyous document. It spells out a husband’s fundamental obligations to his wife—food, clothing, conjugal rights—and guarantees the sum that the husband will pay his wife in the event of a divorce. Yet increasingly, today’s ketubah designs are anything but dry and transactional. Going beyond placing a plain document in a basic picture frame, or using common designs such as a view of Jerusalem, ketubah artists and consumers alike are developing more elaborate and personalized tastes. “My official reaction and what I tell [customers] is, ‘Whatever makes you happy.’ What makes the world a wonderful place is that different people have different preferences,” says Buenos Aires-based Morgan Friedman, chairman and “lead muse” of thisisnotaketubah.com, reflecting on unique ketubot such as one that his business designed for a dragon-loving couple who are “Game of Thrones” fans.
In the Book of Esther, Mordechai encourages his niece, Queen Esther, to use her influence with King Ahasuerus. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” he tells her. Esther listens to Mordechai and manages to save the Jewish people from annihilation, while Ahasuerus’s previous wife Vashti is remembered for refusing to obey the king. Ahead of the Purim holiday March 11-12, JNS.org surveys four female religious leaders from different Jewish denominations for their perspectives on the lessons contemporary women can glean from the Purim story.