Weblog Entries for February 2005

Jews Come In All Colors

I spent this past weekend in San Francisco at the third annual Be’chol Lashon (In Every Tongue) Think Tank, organized by Diane and Gary Tobin’s Institute for Jewish and Community Research, and returned to New York thoroughly energized by the incredible diversity of people representing Jews from all corners of the world: India, Yemen, Mexico, Spain, China, and at least five countries in Africa, not to mention African-American and multiracial Jews from here in the US. And while I had many memorable conversations, there was one clear highlight from the weekend…


Song of Songs

JOI’s executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, together with Rabbi Leonard Kravitz, recently released their latest book, a translation of the Biblical poetry the Song of Songs: Shir HaShirim: A Modern Commentary on Song of Songs”, published by URJ Press. From the URJ Press website:

The Song of Songs, known in Hebrew as Shir HaShirim, is a biblical collection of erotic love poetry, a dialogue between two lovers. It was seen by the Rabbis, however, as a metaphor for the greatest love story of all, that between God and the people Israel. Kravitz and Olitzky’s original translation tries to recapture for the modern reader the beauty of the Divine love story that the Rabbis found in the text.

An Army of Outreach Workers

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I was reading a back issue of the New Yorker and came across an article fascinating for both its insight into world events and into workplace training issues. The article tells of the ongoing challenges faced by soldiers on the ground in Iraq resulting from the army’s inability to adequately adjust its officer training to the rapidly changing situations they encounter in Iraq. One of the officers puts it this way: “The war in Iraq is so confusing and it changes so fast that there’s often no time to wait for carefully vetted and spoon-fed advice. So officers look for help elsewhere.”


Arthur Miller’s Intermarriages

When playwright Arthur Miller died last week at the age of 89, the world lost a literary giant — one that the Jewish people claim as our own, despite his seeming ambiguities about being Jewish. (Last summer Ami Eden wrote an interesting piece about Miller’s struggle with Jewish identity in the Forward.) Not only do Jews take pride in Miller’s accomplishments, but through him we’re also able to claim Marilyn Monroe

Apparently, before their highly publicized marriage, Monroe decided to convert to Judaism. There’s an account of her conversion in the middle of this page, along with an image of her conversion certificate.


Coming Soon: JOPLIN

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What is JOPLIN?

An acronym for Jewish Outreach Professionals Log-In Network, JOPLIN is a website and listserve open to all who engage in or supervise the varied forms of outreach to unaffiliated and intermarried Jews, including Jewish educators, social workers, federated and communal professionals, clergy, volunteers, and lay leaders.

By sharing lines of cross-disciplinary communication, JOPLIN broadens the conversation and increases communal understanding. Much like a great musical work (be it Janis or Scott), JOPLIN brings together diverse elements and an understanding of what came before it to create a new, harmonious entity that, if powerful enough, can change the existing society. If you are a Jewish professional or leader interested in growing your Jewish community, contact us to learn more, and of course, check this space again soon.

Who is a Jew? Who is a Jewish Program Participant?

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I just returned from a UJC Rabbinic Cabinet Mission to Ukraine. We visited a variety of programs Children at the Odessa JCC (Jewish Community Center)and institutions that reflected an incredible Jewish renaissance. I couldn’t help but think the entire time that we were in a place where my grandparents were forced to leave (Kiev) only two generations ago. But what really struck me was the working definition of program participants for those programs sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel (referred to as the Sachnut) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (known as “the Joint”). Both organizations use Israel’s Law of Return as a measuring stick, which considers eligible all those who have a least one grandparent who is Jewish. One grandparent out of four. Would that we were as inclusive in North American Jewish institutions!

New JOI Staff Serving Jewish Professionals

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Last June JOI hosted a successful “National Conference for Serving the Unaffiliated” in Boston where over 110 Jewish communal professionals Panel of Boston leaders and professionals at JOI's 2004 Conferenceand leaders came together to learn and share their efforts toward a more inclusive Jewish community. I am amazed and excited to be a part of JOI’s follow-up to that conference as the new Director of Education and Training. Two new Program Officers have also joined JOI, Gidon Isaacs and Eva Stern, who each bring extensive backgrounds in Jewish communal programming and will help me expand and serve JOI’s national network of Jewish professionals interested in improving outreach and learning from one another about best practices and effective programming. We have much, much more to come!

A Seder for Trees Gives Order to Life

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For me, taste is everything. I love charoset (the apple, nut and wine mixture) on Passover, and crisp apples and honey at Rosh Hashanah. This past week was Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish New Year for the Trees — and what a party it was! Echoing Passover, my rabbinical school friends and I held a Seder, tracing many different connections with the Earth, Judaism, and ourselves. There were comparisons to the seasons and Kabbalah — intertwining Jewish mysticism with modern day practice. We read poems of rebirth and renewal. We drank glasses of red and white wine — which were intermixed to form different shades of color to reflect each season as it passed. Best of all, we ate a huge array of fruits and nuts, directing our thoughts to spring and summer just by the distinct taste of each species. As we reached the end of this Tu B’Shevat Seder…


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