With 4,700 emissaries in 100 countries—most recently setting up shop in Uganda—the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has grown exponentially thanks to the dissemination of its late leader’s teachings, the emissaries’ dedication, and the transference of the passion to spread Jewish life to the next generation. At the same time, the movement’s ascent “defies logic,” says Brandeis University’s Prof. Mark Rosen, who recently completed a study of Chabad’s campus programs.
It isn’t the super-sized Jewish experience of New York City or some of its suburbs. But for observant Jews, New York State’s Mid-Hudson Valley still has plenty to offer. You could play more than your fill of Bingo, attend a weekly Torah class, immerse in a beautifully maintained mikvah or even attend a Jewish War Veterans meeting. Yet in the nearly 130-year history of Poughkeepsie’s organized Jewish community, carrying any possession in public on Shabbat—without violating the laws of the day of rest—was out of the question. Now that Poughkeepsie finally has an eruv to enable carrying on Shabbat, the community can assume its place “on the Jewish map,” says the synagogue vice president who spent six years advocating for the eruv.
In an ever-polarizing age in America, nonprofits often need to decide how to make their organization’s voice or constituency’s voice heard on policy issues without making overtly political statements. Such was the delicate balancing act navigated by the BBYO Jewish teen movement and the thousands of attendees at its recent International Convention. President Donald Trump’s temporary ban on the entry of non-citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations continues to dominate the national discourse, and BBYO’s convention was no exception, with the travel ban and the refugee issue frequently finding their way into speeches and discussions. “We’re very sensitive to this concept of everyone being at odds about how they feel we should be handling the global refugee situation,” said Aaron Cooper, the top youth leader in BBYO’s men’s order, AZA. “With that in consideration, we found success in not framing it as a conversation on whether we are we letting refugees into one country or another. Rather, it’s about, ‘What are we going to do so that we are helping them in some capacity?’”
An interview with Aaron Mantell and Danielle Wadler, two teens from New York, is drowned out by chanting students passing by. Welcome to the BBYO International Convention. “It’s a little overwhelming, but it always ends up being really really fun. Like you get past the overwhelming, and you get used to a thousand people screaming at you all day,” says Wadler, 17. The enthused BBYO delegates who interrupt the interview, en route to the convention’s opening ceremony Feb. 16, are just the tip of the iceberg. The energetic opening ceremony is nothing short of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Games. The pluralistic Jewish youth movement’s convention drew 5,000 people from 48 U.S. states and 30 countries. “The global nature of what we offer is a differentiator in their lives. There’s nowhere else, or very few places, where a teen from Dallas, Texas, can find a best friend from Slovakia,” says Matt Grossman, BBYO’s CEO.
The Orthodox Union (OU) this week issued an unprecedented statement announcing the establishment of a far-reaching policy regarding women and leadership positions in synagogue life. Citing extensive research by a rabbinic commission, the OU concluded that its member synagogues may not employ women as rabbis, but strongly encouraged other types of leadership positions for women. In addition to stating outright that women can and should teach Torah, including on advanced and sophisticated levels, the OU statement also encourages women to lecture on Torah topics and share Torah insights; to assume communally significant roles in pastoral counseling, in bikur cholim (visiting the sick), in community outreach to the religiously affiliated and unaffiliated, and in youth programming; and to advise on issues of family purity, in conjunction with local rabbinic authorities.
A statewide Jewish community of just 400 people is about to receive a leadership boost in a move that will also make history for the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz and his wife Mussie will be the new Chabad emissaries in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, helping Chabad reach a special milestone. Of the U.S. 50 states, all but South Dakota have Chabad centers. But that’s not the only historic aspect of the young couple’s arrival. Mendel Alperowitz will be the South Dakota Jewish community’s first full-time rabbi in decades. “In Brooklyn there are shuls and restaurants everywhere—it’s so easy to be Jewish,” says Rabbi Alperowitz. “In South Dakota they have to come together to create Jewish community, to celebrate Shabbat. It’s really an inspiration.”
Sometimes you’ll find the most splendid synagogues in the places you least expect. Such was the case during travel writer Dan Fellner's recent three-day trip to Boise, Idaho, a popular gateway for skiing, river rafting, and hiking that isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed of Jewish life. Yet just a five-minute drive from downtown sits the oldest continuously in-use synagogue west of the Mississippi River. And it’s far more than just a beautiful wood building. As Fellner learned, Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel is the centerpiece of a surprisingly robust Jewish community with a fascinating history.
A Ukrainian legislator from the city of Kharkiv, Oleksandr Feldman, discovered that Facebook deleted one of his posts expressing criticism of his country’s lionization of Holocaust collaborators earlier this week.
Among the world's estimated 100 million to 150 million Beni Anusim (descendants of forced Sephardi Jewish converts to Christianity), some from Spanish and Portuguese communities are reconnecting to their roots in Israel.
When Father Juan Solana, a Catholic priest, wanted to construct a guest house for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land in the Galilee region in 2009, he couldn’t have imagined he’d become the leader of incredible archaeological findings, exposing the rich Christian and Jewish history of the area. The findings include the remains of a first century synagogue, dated to the Second Temple period and the time of Jesus’s life, and most recently a domestic water installation and water channel from the same era.
Five Israeli Knesset members are touring the U.S. and Canada to strengthen the relationship between North American Jewry and Israel. The lawmakers – Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), Mickey Levi (Yesh Atid), Nachman Shai (Labor/Zionist Camp) and Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu) – are visiting Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh on a seven-day trip organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Their goal is to become familiar with North American Jewish life by meeting Jewish professional and community leaders.
Richard Allen is not a careful, polished Jewish communal leader with a seasoned staff operating from a mid-town Manhattan office, ensconced behind a stylized logo, fortified by tax-exempt donations and burnished advisors. Allen is a private businessman. He wields his entire organization from a computer in his office and, not infrequently, from a phone in his pocket. Allen is no anomalous gadfly buzzing at the periphery, but rather a determined activist who has unified an ad hoc, semi-cohesive army of independent pro-Israel and pro-Jewish defenders that have changed and continued to change the Jewish communal landscape, writes JNS.org reporter Edwin Black.
Cholent on Shabbat day. Brisket on Rosh Hashanah. Matzo balls and challah – lots of challah. Jews love food, and much of Jewish culture centers on sitting around the holiday table together, sharing stories and a meal. As more Americans, and even Israelis, are increasingly becoming obese, some wellness and nutrition experts are turning to Judaism to lose weight, writes JNS.org reporter Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman.
Leading up to May 2016, JNS.org's Jacob Kamaras was expecting to perhaps write a reflective piece on the one-year anniversary of Houston’s 2015 Memorial Day flood, which hit the city’s Jewish neighborhoods of Meyerland and Willow Meadows particularly hard. But his assignment editor, in this case nature, had different plans. On April 18, about 11 months after the previous flood, a deluge of similar magnitude wreaked renewed havoc on America’s fourth-largest city and the same Jewish neighborhoods. The 2015 flood had already damaged about 500 Jewish homes and three synagogues, including more than $1 million in damage for the congregation Kamaras belongs to, United Orthodox Synagogues. As a member of the media coming at this event from a more personal perspective, Kamaras wonders if the 2016 flood and the local Jewish community’s now-compounded plight will receive the attention it deserves, or if journalistic “fatigue” for a repeat storyline will set in. With the Jewish future in a major city at stake, he writes that he hopes his industry colleagues take notice.
Creating a healthy and happy marriage requires effort and determination. A good relationship could develop over time, but a great relationship is the result of hard work and dedication. Rabbi Natanel Lauer presents five guidelines—Communication, Love, Exclusivity, Attention, and Respect (CLEAR)—to help Jewish couples keep their marriages fresh and centered on core values.