Jacobs’ Ladder: Remembering the Jewish Community’s Relief Efforts a Decade after Katrina

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By Jonathan "JC" Cohen "[Jacob] dreamt that he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, with angels going up and coming down on it... And Jacob woke up and said, "God is here! God is in this place, and I didn't know it!" (Genesis 28:12, 16) When people ask me about my experiences immediately following Hurricane Katrina, I find myself sharing the same few stories again and again. I think it's because, for me, they powerfully illustrate how God was with us through those long, emotion-packed days and weeks. At the time, I was the director of URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, MS. When I tell my Katrina story, I usually start by talking about the 250 evacuees from New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast who ended up seeking refuge at camp. As the storm's realities set in, the staff and I watched … [Read more...]

Pew: Orthodox Jews in some ways Resemble Evangelicals more than other Jews

JNS.org: A new report published by the Pew Research Center claims that Orthodox Jews more closely resemble evangelical Christians in their religious and political beliefs than other American Jews. “Indeed, in a few ways, Orthodox Jews more closely resemble white evangelical Protestants than they resemble other U.S. Jews,” the report stated. According to Pew, Orthodox Jews tend to identify as Republicans and take more conservative positions on social issues such as homosexuality than most other American Jews, who tend to be more politically liberal. “For example, similarly large majorities of Orthodox Jews (83%) and white evangelicals (86%) say that religion is very important in their lives, while only about one-fifth of other Jewish Americans (20%) say the same,” Pew said. The center … [Read more...]

The Iran Deal – a View from the Trenches

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By Keith Krivitzky I want to share with you some troubling aspects of this Iran deal that don’t primarily have to do with the deal itself, but with some of the reactions and ramifications I have been seeing from my perch at a Jewish Federation. 1. There is increasing vitriol in our discourse, and a lack of respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints. In response to the approach our Federation has taken (which I think is smart and strategic, but did not consist of telling people simply to vote yes or no), here are some of the epithets shared with me: Dirty Traitor Shame on you (several times) You are worse than the enemies of the Jewish people You are responsible (in part) for the deaths of 4000 Americans in the Iraq war You are spineless You are just as bad as those who stood by … [Read more...]

Katrina’s Jews: Reflections on Privilege, History, and American Jewish Community

Menorah with one arm broken off, in Congregation Beth Israel in New Orleans, taken April 2006. Photo courtesy Jewish Women's Archive and Rick Weil.

By Karla Goldman Hurricane Katrina’s assault on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast exposed the utter vulnerability of those at the bottom of our socio-economic system. The scandal of tens of thousands stranded in a stifling, putrid Superdome or of police officers shooting citizens guilty simply of crossing a bridge crystalized the failure of our societal balancing act. The dismal inability of local, state, and national government to respond to the crisis compounded the breakdown of the city’s physical infrastructure as the levees breached. The storm made clear that for those with limited resources and support networks, there simply is no net. Katrina taught essential lessons about inequality and privilege in contemporary America. Differences in social class, race, and ethnicity had a huge impact on … [Read more...]

Object Lessons in Jewish History

Pastrami Sandwich from Katz Deli; photo by Erika39 via Wikimedia Commons.

By H. Glenn Rosenkrantz New York - Aug. 26, 2015 - Consider a pastrami sandwich, a tallit, and a pot and ladle. Now connect the dots. A group of Jewish educators from across the country recently gathered at the Tenement Museum in Lower Manhattan to do just that while immersing themselves in a new educational project focused on the Jewish immigrant experience. For Jonathan Goldstein, who teaches after-school programs at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York and the JCC Manhattan, it’s the pastrami sandwich that encapsulates just about everything. Even preparing one evokes stories of his great-grandfather, Abraham Fried - an immigrant to America from a shtetl near Minsk - who opened a Bronx deli, where pastrami apparently was king. “I make a tremendously strong visceral connection between … [Read more...]

A Heritage Lost: The Federations and Iran

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By Jeffrey R Solomon In his classic work, A Heritage Affirmed: the Jewish Federation Movement in America, Harry Lurie provides the classic text on the role and functions of Federations. Many Federations like to use the metaphor of “community” in self-describing their activities. For others, “central address” is the key metaphor. Lurie explains this through offering a history of the Jewish communities’ development over the millennia and how it was organized as the Federation movement in North America. He describes two main categories of functions. The first pertains to the necessary activities for the support of the “welfare and cultural programs and to enlisting the cooperation of individuals and group for communal actions for a broad range of interests and problems.” He describes the role of … [Read more...]

An Investment in Social Entrepreneurs Yields Real Value, Unexpected and Welcome Returns

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By Lisa Lepson In the late 1990s, many of us saw a Jewish community with great potential for change. But it lagged far behind in nourishing new ideas. Specific segments of the Jewish community received very little attention or were being ignored almost entirely: LGBT Jews, Jews of color, young Jewish leaders - to name only a few. In response to these problems, Joshua Venture Group (JVG) launched its signature Dual Investment Program back in 2000 (known at the time as “the Fellowship”) to invest in the leadership and visions of young Jews to build a more vibrant and resonant Jewish life. It was a novel idea at the time - a dual investment in both people and projects - with the modest expectation that this process would yield a handful of new organizations reflecting the priorities and … [Read more...]