More than Cantors: A Typology of Prayer Leaders for the 21st Century

By Rabbi Mishael Zion It was Yom Kippur morning, and my father dragged my sister and I out of bed on a hike across Jerusalem, to learn how to pray. In the basement of an old home in a poor neighborhood, we met a band of Shlomo-Carlebach-infused, Simon-and Garfunkel singing, Hasidic-hand-clapping, irreverent-yet-trembling prayer leaders. Twenty five years later, I am still trying to understand the magic of the prayer that erupted in that damp basement. … [Read more...]

Is It Really a New Year?

Our community has begun making strides toward being fully inclusive, but much work remains to be done. By Jay Ruderman The Jewish New Year has just begun and Jews worldwide are faced with a simple question: Will you be a better person in the coming year? The 10 Days of Penitence, which culminate with the fast of Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, are days of reflection and introspection on our deeds over the past year, and looking forward to the new year, we pray it will be filled with happiness, hope, good health and peace on earth. During these solemn days, the Jewish custom is to ask forgiveness from people we have wronged and pledge to do better in our interpersonal relationships going forward. This should include asking forgiveness of those we have wronged without … [Read more...]

An Historic New Beginning

Hands of the poor

“I owe everything I have - my home, my family, my professional success, the health of my parents and grandparents - to Jewish philanthropy. I would not be living in the United States if it was not for countless Western Jews who first fought to make the Soviet Union release us, and then paid for our journey here and welcomed us with open arms.” By Ella Shteingart The 2014 Siyum (graduation ceremony) of the Wexner Heritage Program was historic. It marked the graduation of 20 extraordinary North American Jewish leaders, all born in the Former Soviet Union. The Wexner Heritage Program has had Russian-born members take part in previous classes, but these were few, the tiny percentage representative of the few who had become involved in the Jewish community and Jewish communal leadership. For … [Read more...]

How NFTY Helped Me Bring Passover to the White House

Photo of Eric Lesser-NFTY

By Eric Lesser In 2008, I found myself as a young aide on Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign. At that time, my job was considerably low on the organizational ladder; I was in charge of keeping track of the luggage for the campaign’s traveling staff. The job took me to 47 states and six countries in less than a year. The travel schedule meant I would be away from home during Passover, but luckily, I learned from NFTY, you can build a Jewish community wherever you go. Working with a few other Jewish campaign staffers, I organized an impromptu Seder at the end of a whistle-stop tour in Harrisburg, PA, and the then-Senator Obama decided to join us. At the end of the Seder, we raised our glasses to pronounce “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Senator Obama added, “Next Year in the White House!” It … [Read more...]

Jewish Peoplehood

[This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 - Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? - published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.] By David Zvi Kalman And it came to pass that after the Israelites crossed the sea, they began to argue, each one with his neighbor, and they were very bitter until they could not argue any more, and each retreated to his own tent. Therefore, when the Israelites arrived in the desert, God sent each one to the foot of a different mountain, one mountain for each man, each woman, and each child who had traveled through the desert, so that each would do and listen, each one according to his own religion and each one beneath his own tree. And all of Israel stood at the mountain, but they did not see each … [Read more...]

Wrestling with My Brother and the Brotherhood

Millennials want to know that no matter who they are, how they connect to their Judaism, or who they choose to love and marry, they will be accepted by the Jewish community. [This essay is from The Peoplehood Papers, volume 13 - Jewish Peoplehood: What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we nurture it? - published by the Center for Jewish Peoplehood Education.] By Rachel Hodes As I sit here, watching my younger brother’s induction ceremony into Garin Tzabar, a pre-army prep program for foreigners hoping to join the Israeli Defense Forces, I’m battling a variety of emotions - pride, anxiety, fear, awe. When Koby first made this decision, it was incomprehensible to me. As someone whose connection to Israel was never the expression of my Judaism and Jewish identity, Koby’s decision was … [Read more...]

The Grantmaker’s Prayer – Mindful Giving

By David Werdiger In the southern hemisphere, the academic year roughly corresponds to the calendar year, which means September/October is when we consider applications for our family’s Jewish school education grant scheme. Last year, our family meeting to review all applications was scheduled for the day after Yom Kippur, and as I read the words of the Unetanneh Tokef, my mind drifted to the task that awaited me the very next day. … [Read more...]