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...]

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...]

Talent? Leadership? Really, it is all about Culture


Imagine the NYSE telling Mark Zuckerberg that he is a NextGen and will simply have to wait until he is old enough to have an IPO for Facebook. Of course they will provide a mentor and a 6-month training program of seminars and peer learning experiences in preparation, after which the established c-suite leaders would pass judgment on his eventual suitability to join them. By Richard Marker Did you know that in the philanthropy and nonprofit world we have no followers, only leaders? How else can one explain that every community, every organization, every affinity group, and who knows how many others recruit actively for their leadership training/development programs? Given all of these leadership programs, it makes one wonder whom they are leading? And how many of these leaders were … [Read more...]

Showing our True Selves to Young Adults

We will disappoint ourselves and millennials if the only invitation they receive from us is to perpetuate what has been. By Andrew Fretwell Questions are the core of our Jewish experience, and thus, to the way we teach and engage. Last month, Rabbi Zac Kamenetz spoke to the need of placing essential questions at the center of BBYO’s educational framework. Questions also frame our personal Jewish journeys; for us professionals who help guide young Jewish adults on their Jewish journeys, the essential question we must address is: How do we ignite millennials to step into the role of Jewish change agents? Jewish change agents are Jews who have worked within and beyond the Jewish community to create a world more closely aligned to their ideals. This is predicated on the meta-essential question … [Read more...]

Sometimes It’s About The Way We Tie Our Shoelaces


By Dr. Hal M. Lewis What do last month’s vote of the international USY board to drop its ban on inter-dating, President Obama’s decision not to participate in the events following the horrific murders in Paris, and recent revelations that a prominent Louisiana politician campaigned before a White supremacist group, have in common? While at first blush any connection seems hard to find, I would suggest that upon closer examination, particularly when refracted through the lens of classical Jewish teachings, all three have an important lesson to teach about leadership. To be clear, I know nothing more about any of these episodes than what I have read in news accounts. I possess no inside knowledge about what drove the vote of the USY board. Nor do I know the “real” motive behind the White House’s … [Read more...]

Considering the Future of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Europe

Photo courtesy The Council of Europe - the moving spirit behind the introduction of a Day of Holocaust Remembrance and Prevention of Crimes against Humanity.

By Liam Hoare In the most important European Jewish novel published last year, J, the British writer Howard Jacobson imagined a dystopian future in which, amongst other things, human energy is dedicated to forgetting a catastrophe that removed the Other entirely from society. “To still be harping on about WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, as it though it happened, if it happened, yesterday, is to sap the country of its essential life force,” one of the characters says. “The past exists in order that we forget it.” J speaks to an anxiety about memory, how to tend to it, and what becomes of us when we neglect the past. “What’s too much memory? ‘If you could lick my heart, it would poison you,’ someone says in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, and that’s what remembering does. You can over-remember and you … [Read more...]

After Paris, We Choose to Wear our Yellow Star

Germany, striped armband with yellow Jewish star with inscription "Jude."

By Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt Haaretz It begins with an innocent weekend trip to Moscow, to visit my fiance’s family. I ask him if he will hide his yarmulke and he says no, he will not apologize for who he is, he will wear his skullcap wherever we are - in Charles de Gaulle on our layover on the way, in Moscow, and in Schiphol on the way back. My heart drops, and I nod. Decades of Soviet paranoia flash before me. Europe, after all, is not what it was - it’s not the Europe of 1938, but it’s not the Europe of 1998, either. “Can you ask him to wear a cap at least?” my mother asks me in Russian the Shabbat before, eyeing me carefully. The debate over whether to wear obvious Jewish signs abroad is a common and heated one in the Orthodox community. Does one choose one’s ideals and … [Read more...]

Europe’s Jews Tied to a Declining Political Class

The wreath left outside the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jan. 16, to pay homage to the Jewish victims of the Jan. 9 terrorist attack at that site. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of State.

By Ben Cohen JNS.org As regular readers of my column will know, I am not an admirer of the analogy between the situation that Jews faced in Europe in the 1930s, and the trials and challenges we face now. I don’t like it because, quite simply, the differences far outweigh the similarities. First and foremost, since 1948, there has been a Jewish state ready to absorb any Jew fleeing from anti-Semitism - a lifeline that was glaringly absent during the period of Nazi persecution. The position of Jewish communities vis-a-vis their governments has also changed. In the 1930s, European leaders didn’t say that their countries would be irredeemably damaged by the exodus of their Jewish populations; even after the Holocaust, it took several years for there to be anything like a moral reckoning with … [Read more...]