Posts on the topic of "U.S. Jewry"
For years, Israel was looked upon as American Jewry's "poor sister," a backwater community in the turbulent Middle East, with a poor economy and tenuous connection to the modern world.
Now, with the American economy slumping and the Israeli economy growing steady, things have taken a dramatic about-face. Suddenly, young American Jews are moving to Israel for – believe it or not – economic opportunity. With an unemployment rate of just 6%, Israel is a sanctuary where engineers, medical professionals, writers and managers are all finding success in the fields of hi-tech, academia and business.
For those not bold enough to make the move independently, many are taking advantage of the Masa program, which offers career training along with free housing and Hebrew classes.
There's another reason young American Jews are coming to Israel: to join the Israeli army. This summer, 350 adventure seekers are "making aliyah," hoping to join one of the elite IDF air force, paratrooper or intelligence units.
The idea of Jews from around the world serving in the IDF is not a new one. The Machal volunteers of 1948, many of them World War II veterans, supplied much-needed combat expertise to the fledgling army. Mickey Marcus was a U.S. Army Colonel who stepped in to help Israel in 1947 and became its first "General"; the story was immortalized in the Kirk Douglas film, "Cast a Giant Shadow."
The notion of young men coming to serve is gaining traction. Over 3,000 "lone soldiers" (i.e. immigrants without family in Israel) currently serve in the IDF.
In terms of long-term stays in Israel, perhaps the biggest group of all are those American Jews who come to Israel each year for a year-long "post-high school" yeshiva experience. Thousands of young men and women come to study, tour and bond with the land. A large percentage stay afterwards, get married and settle permanently in Israel.
Aish Jerusalem offers a wide range of study-and-touring programs, for everyone from beginner to advanced.
This is the new Israel, where the stereotype of picking oranges on a kibbutz has given way to new options: sharpening one's hi-tech skills in Tel Aviv, pouring over the Talmud in Jerusalem, or toting an M-16 in the West Bank. The opportunities are varied and waiting to welcome you.READ MORE...
We hear a lot of talk these days about "Jewish unity" – the lack of it, and the need for more.
Jewish unity was on glorious display last night at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, New Jersey. The place (more commonly used as home to the NFL Giants and Jets) was hosting the "Siyum HaShas," a celebration of the completion of studying the entire Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of Jewish wisdom and law that was written down in the fifth century.
In addition to the 90,000 men, women and children packed into MetLife Stadium, live feeds went out to more than 100 communities around the world, who held their own similar events. In all, it was the largest celebration of Jewish learning in the past 2,000 years.
At 2,711 pages, the Talmud is a grueling yet invigorating exercise in deciphering the terse Aramaic and Hebrew text with no vowels or punctuation. At a schedule of one page per day ("Daf Yomi"), the Talmud takes seven and a half years to complete.
Various learning tools have been developed to make the Talmud more accessible. One popular system, called Gemara Markings, uses geometric lines and shapes to visually highlight what is unfolding on the page, and to break down the flow of the Talmud into precise points. (Using this system enabled me to complete the Talmud cycle.)
Last night, I attended a Siyum HaShas near my home in Israel. The celebrant was a 20-year-old young man who was completing the cycle (yes, he began even before his bar mitzvah). His father and his grandfather studied with him at various points along the way. In today's world, with the "generation gap" so pronounced (it is said that due to technology, every two years is a "new generation"), the sight of three generations inspired and invigorated by the same material – more of a "generation flow" – was a true anomaly.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried of the Dallas Area Torah Association (DATA) makes an interesting observation about how the Siyum concurs with the Olympic Games:
There's one more aspect of the Siyum HaShas that really impressed me: Immediately after reading the last page to complete the cycle, the participants immediately began again from the beginning. Judaism says that attaining life wisdom is not an endpoint destination, but rather an ongoing, lifelong process of refining one's sensitivity to the world around us and to the spiritual realms.
Why not give it a try?
Read one Aish rabbi's fascinating first-person account of his journey through the Talmud.READ MORE...
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On Sunday evening, tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews packed into Citi Field (home to baseball’s New York Mets) for a rally to discuss responsible use of the Internet. No need to reiterate that message here; Aish.com has already dealt extensively with the issue of online pornography, as well as the addictive pull of the Internet. (See articles here, here, here and here.)
What got me riled up was media coverage of the event. This New York Times video report gave less airtime to the 40,000-plus attendees than it did to the few dozen “anti-Orthodox” protesters. One protester, a middle-aged man in a tank top, told viewers of the Times that this rally
In truth, far from issuing its “last dying gasp,” Orthodoxy is the most vibrant and fastest-growing segment of American Jewry. This “floundering” community somehow managed to pack Citi Field and is planning another gathering of 90,000 people at MetLife Stadium in August.
It’s one thing to interview a professor who has conducted extensive sociological studies to offer a reasoned assessment of the Orthodox community. But for the Times to give a platform to outright falsehoods is irresponsible, agenda-driven reporting.
Closing out the Times’ video report is a statement by rally spokesman Eytan Kobre, whose words are taken out of context and cleverly edited, making it sound as if he describes his own Orthodox community as “putting one’s head in the sand.”
This is not the first time the New York Times has pulled such a stunt. I recall ten years ago when the Salute to Israel parade in Manhattan drew 800,000 people, including marching bands and professionally-designed floats. A few hundred protesters also showed up – representing less than one-tenth of one percent of total attendance.
Yet the Times ran a front-page photo of a protester clutching a large anti-Israel poster, suggesting to readers that there had been a huge anti-Israel parade. Inside the newspaper as well, a large photo of protesters showed a banner that likened Zionism to Nazism.
Following numerous complaints, the Times issued a rare apology:
As documented in my book, David & Goliath, the New York Times has a long and sordid history of anti-Jewish bias. Back in the 1930s, Times’ publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger was a committed anti-Zionist. When the British passed laws restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine – thus slamming the door on Jews desperate to flee the Nazi inferno – a Times editorial praised the law as necessary “to save the homeland itself from overpopulation.” The Times’ horrific cover-up of the Holocaust is well-documented as a policy directed by Sulzberger for both political and personal reasons: He didn’t want his paper characterized as “Jewish,” and he didn’t approve of Jews helping fellow Jews.
For the millions of New York Times readers worldwide, this week’s rally at Citi Field is just another sad reminder that when it comes to Jewish concerns, the news is not quite “fit to print.”READ MORE...
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FINAL: In Friday's rescheduled semi-final game, the Shabbat Stars of Beren Academy won a decisive 58-46 win over Dallas Covenant to advance to the State Championship, as Zach Yoshor led the team with 24 points.
In the final, following a well-deserved Shabbat rest, the team fought valiantly, going into locker room at halftime tied at 19-19, but couldn't hold on and lost 46-42. A dramatic ending to an amazing story. Beren-sanity!
UPDATE: In what one U.S. newspaper called "a Purim miracle," an injunction filed with U.S. District Court has prompted the Texas league to rearrange its schedule and allow Beren Academy to participate in the state basketball tourney.
Though Beren officials had opposed legal action, some players and parents filed suit alleging a violation of religious freedoms ― essentially forcing the league to abide by what should have been a common-sense decision. The lawsuit itself is a fascinating read.
Throughout the ordeal, Beren's players have acted with graceful maturity and brought loads of positive PR to the institution of Shabbat. Whatever happens in their playoff game, these kids are total winners.
Remember when Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur ― and became a Jewish hero?
A similar clash of principles is playing out this week in Texas.
Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, won its regional basketball championship to advance to the Final Four of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools.
Unfortunately, the tournament game is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday, which falls on Shabbat. Beren's players announced they would not attend, saying that nothing ― short of a medical emergency ― would trump 3,000 years of Jewish observance.
Beren Academy appealed for a change in game time, but the league refused ― even though the other three semifinalists announced willingness to make the accommodation. The league has been heavily criticized by a wide spectrum of concerned citizens including an NBA coach and a U.S. Senator.
Interestingly, the league's bylaws expressly forbid any games from being played on Sundays, in deference to Christian teams. In other words, the league already makes an accommodation for religious observance.
Why the double standard?
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But I think there's a bigger question: Are these boys being short-changed? Are they missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realize their championship dreams, to excel in the spotlight, and to bring positive PR to a Jewish day school?
To me, the answer is obvious. After having worked hard all year to post a 23-5 record (the best season in school history, what one writer called "a Hoosiers season in yarmulkes"), these kids are surely disappointed.
But in the long run, loyalty to Jewish ideals and standing up for what's right are much greater lifelong lessons.
Especially in today's world, with fads fleeting at cyber-speed, young people need strong core values.
Nobody knows whether Beren would have won the championship. But with write-ups everywhere from ESPN to the New York Times, they have, paradoxically, excelled in the spotlight and done an award-winning job of representing the Jewish people.
Albert Katz, a junior guard, told the Houston Chronicle:
Talk about a teachable moment.READ MORE...
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The Forward has an article about "Jack Lew and the Power of Shabbat" which nicely articulates the idea of Shabbat as a counter-balance to our 24/7 iPhone world:
We live at a moment when interest in Shabbat is being rekindled, as broad swaths of people feel enslaved by the incessant nature of the information age. We are witness to a world crying out for a Sabbath.
Shabbat-observant Jews would seem to have a heightened obligation then to turn off, power down and stay at home. We have something precious to teach the world and our most influential members must lead the charge. Shabbat stands for humility in a world of such total human domination that we risk forgetting that we did not bring this world into being. And it stands for a vision of human society that rejects the constant work that characterizes slavery.
But the article goes on to make a very spurious leap in logic. It uses the biblical imperative to settle the land of Israel (which allows for certain leniencies in Jewish law) as a precedent for creating halachic leniencies when involved in general government-related work. My rabbinic training leads me to believe that Rav Sheshet (the Talmudic sage cited as a source) would summarily reject the proposed extension of his law.READ MORE...