Overcoming Jewish Literacy

Jewish literacy

By David I. Bernstein, Ph. D. In a fascinating book published recently by two economic historians, Maristella Botticini and Zvi Eckstein, the question of why Jews (traditionally farmers) entered commerce and money-lending in the medieval world is revisited. Without going into too much detail, the authors reject the claim that Jews were prohibited from owning land, or other traditional explanations. Instead, they make the case that it was all about literacy and economic opportunity: in a world that was overwhelmingly illiterate, Jewish literacy was a distinct advantage in an emerging commercial world. Given the economic benefits, Jews flocked to those fields. … [Read more...]

Getting on the Data Bandwagon

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By Jonathan “J.C.” Cohen The American Jewish education enterprise is huge. More than two billion dollars is earmarked annually for youth education. In so many communities, funding for education tops the disbursement list. To make those sorts of planning and allocation decisions demands significant data tied to the right questions and analyzed in a thoughtful manner. So why is it so hard for so many of our communal leaders to get on the data bandwagon? … [Read more...]

Transitioning Toward Retirement: The Board/Exec Partnership


By Charles E. Simon I have been in the process of planning for retirement or, shall we say, achieving Emeritus status within in the next two-three years. Upon making this decision I realized at the outset that the learning curve for a replacement was a long and complicated road. As a professional committed to the values of the organization I had been leading and shaping for several decades, I realized that in order for a smooth transition to occur there were several steps which need to be in place before the search process begins. While I realized I would have at best limited input into the selection of my successor, I needed to insure a sufficient period of overlap, particularly since the first person selected might not be successful and that a second person might need to be found. In other … [Read more...]

Natan Fund Unveils Newest ROI Entrepreneurs Grant Recipients

A digital Shmita project, Israel’s version of the radio show “This American Life,” a global initiative promoting tourism to Jewish communities and a foundation supporting IDF soldiers who served in the Yahalom unit were all awarded 2015 Natan Grants for ROI Entrepreneurs. The Natan Fund, a giving circle for young professionals, issued its third annual round of dedicated grants for ROI Entrepreneurs, totaling $40,000, to four ROI Community members from the United States, Israel and Latin America. These grants will kick-start projects that invite young Jews and the broader community to explore and experience diverse and creative ways of bringing Jewish values and culture into their lives. This grant-making partnership is generously funded by the Natan Fund to foster ROI Community members’ … [Read more...]

Federations and Jewish Education: Learning from History So We Don’t Repeat It

Rabbi Scott Aaron We often do not know we are at important points in history until that point has passed. And, as often as not, we tend to sigh and say “if we only knew then what we know now.” The U.S. Jewish community is in the midst of just such a moment and, unlike so many other moments, we have the benefit of hindsight to inform how we capitalize on the opportunity. Namely, the Jewish education field and the federation system have an opportunity to once again truly partner in modernizing and innovating educational services for the community at large. Over the last 80 or so years, the relationship between Federations and Jewish Education often has been perceived as a tug-of-war; polar opposites struggling over control of a communal lifeline. However, this relationship has not always been … [Read more...]

Tu B’Shvat: Springboard for Social Justice

By Shayna Rehberg For thousands of years, Jews have been paying special attention to this day, Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Shvat. What’s so special about this day that our ancestors have given it the privilege of being one of the four Jewish new years, the new year of the tree? The celebration of this holiday originates in one of the four holy cities of Israel, the mystical hilltop town of Tzfat (also spelled Safed, Tsfat, Zefat…) over five hundred years ago. The reason for celebrating the new year of the tree is to connect Judaism with nature, one of the key understandings that the Kabbalists of Tzfat brought to the Jewish world. Our Sages were inspired by nature, using it to reveal hidden wisdom, and that’s exactly what we can do on Tu B’Shvat. The Kabbalists of … [Read more...]

Rocket Attack in Mariupol, Ukraine, Leaves Jewish Community on Edge

Mariupol, Ukraine, was hit by a massive rocket attack in the Vastochni neighborhood of the city on Shabbat morning. It was the most violent day the city's seen in the past six months. Photo: City of Mariupol Website.

Many make plans to leave for good; others adopt ‘wait-and-see’ approach, with foreboding for future. By Dovid Margolin Shabbat-morning prayers were about to start at the synagogue in Mariupol, Ukraine, when the rocket barrage came. “The whole synagogue was shaking; we knew right away this was very serious,” says Rabbi Mendel Cohen, the seaside city’s rabbi and Chabad-Lubavitch emissary. Moments after it ended, the synagogue’s security guard, Vlad, came running in with the news: Mariupol had been hit by a massive and sustained rocket attack in the Vastochni neighborhood of the city. When the dust had settled, the attack left 30 civilians dead and more than 100 wounded, marking Mariupol’s bloodiest day since last May and a significant escalation in the war in eastern Ukraine. Fired … [Read more...]

Enhancing Canadianism through a Partnership Mosaic

In a scene from Heritage Minutes, Sir John A. Macdonald discusses confederation. Photo credit: Historica Canada. 

By John F. Prato Growing up in Canada as a first generation Canadian, born into a family of immigrant parents, one is raised with a profound level of gratitude towards this young, diverse, caring, and inviting democracy. I also have a responsibility to maintain that openness for future generations of newcomers so that they may contribute to the vibrant Canadian mosaic. Canada is a country where you feel that opportunities are at hand, within reach, regardless of your ancestry. Your background does not matter; we have embraced a rich citizenship and identity. What Canadian is not proud to carry that Maple Leaf passport, or travel abroad and discreetly flash that Maple Leaf on a personal item? This sentiment is rooted in the nation’s rich history and achievements. Our citizens are leaders in … [Read more...]