Special Sections

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.

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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.

At Sukkot, Israeli farmers say Jewish law, tradition, love keeps them working the land.

“The content of Israel education is not Israel—but rather the relationship with Israel,” writes Barry Chazan, professor emeritus of education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “The aim of Israel education is not Israel—but rather finding a meaningful role for Israel in our lives.” Chazan’s outlook is the same one that served as a spark for the formation of the iCenter program, which invests in Israel-focused professional development opportunities for educators that work at camps, day schools, synagogues, on Taglit Birthright trips, and more. Anne Lanski, executive director of iCenter, tells JNS.org that her team is working to shift educators’ mindset from one of curriculum and information to a focus on the learner—so that students begin to understand Israel and information about it “in the context of something relevant and meaningful to them.”

Ever since Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s 2009 book “Start-up Nation” came out, the Israeli innovation scene has received significant attention. In more recent years, students from one of America’s most prestigious MBA programs have also been noticing Israel. Since 2014, Cornell University’s one-year Johnson Cornell Tech MBA program has included the iTrek course—a three-month intensive interaction with Israeli start-ups that culminates with a 12-day group trip to Israel, during which students deliver actionable solutions to their start-up clients. Roni Michaely, lead instructor of iTrek, interviews more than 100 Israeli start-ups to select between 20 and 30 companies with whom the students work. The students identify a pain point—anything from market strategy to product selection to financial challenges—and then work in teams to solve the issues. Students have weekly Skype meetings with company executives, conduct background research, and develop recommendations. 

Rooted in decades of state-sanctioned anti-Semitism and contempt for Israel, many Egyptians know little of the history and culture of their Jewish neighbors. Although Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty nearly 40 years ago, only a cold peace exists, with virtually no interaction between the Israeli and Egyptian people. But amid the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East region, some Egyptians—aided by a warming of relations between Arab states and Israel—are seeking to change that status quo and bring a new outlook to their country. Their proposed vehicle for change? Education. Recently, a 9th-grade Egyptian textbook drew headlines because its revisions featured a shift from open contempt for Israel to a more positive emphasis on peace, including a focus on the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Inviting tomorrow’s doctors to fall in love with Israel today. That’s the idea behind the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine (APF), a specialized track within the Taglit-Birthright Israel program offering free trips to Israel for Jews ages 18-26. For the last 11 years, APF has been showing current and future medical professionals from across North America the Israel most of them have only seen in news reports—while creating memories, loyalties, and friendships designed to last a lifetime. “It’s amazing to see what a small country can do, to train their doctors and EMTs to be ready for anything on a daily basis,” said Kathryn Shapero of Boise, Idaho, a veterinarian. “These are challenges that American medical schools don’t have to think much about.”