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A Reform synagogue in Brooklyn is holding special High Holidays services for Israelis

(New York Jewish Week) — In Israel, the right-wing government’s effort to weaken the country’s court system has divided society, with some of the fault lines forming between Orthodox and secular Jews.

Thousands of miles away, in Brooklyn, a Reform synagogue is hoping that it can provide a space for local Israelis wrestling with the crisis — and seeking to create community that transcends politics, too.

This weekend, Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope will be hosting its first Rosh Hashanah service geared toward Israelis. The service is part of a larger suite of programs at Beth Elohim aimed at bringing Israelis together to pray and practice Judaism in an atmosphere that is inviting to them.

“I wanted to make sure in that moment, when I thought people might really be feeling despair, that they have a sense that there’s going to be a chance to come together as Israelis in Brooklyn, and that CBE as an institution stands in solidarity with them,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner, who leads Beth Elohim and announced the service in July, right after the Israeli government passed the first component of the judicial overhaul.

The initiative is an example of how the debate over the overhaul is forging new connections between Israeli and American Jews an ocean away. The Rosh Hashanah service comes about two months after a gathering of some 40 Israelis on the roof of Brooklyn’s Kane Street Synagogue on Tisha B’Av, the summer fast day that commemorates the destruction of the two ancient Jewish temples in Jerusalem. At the Tisha B’Av event, participants also lamented the passage of part of the overhaul.

Beth Elohim’s initiative is also the latest in a bevy of efforts to engage a growing community of expatriate Israelis — many of whom do not identify as religious — within traditional American Jewish institutions.

“For Israelis who didn’t grow up with a synagogue tradition, the chagim are really family time,” said Rabbi Josh Weinberg, who will be leading the service, using the Hebrew word for “holidays.” “And so in a place where they don’t have their parents or grandparents, it’s great that we can try to provide something.”

Beth Elohim has offered opportunities aimed at Israelis for years, including a dual Hebrew-English preschool. Dan Nadel, an Israeli Brooklynite and the music director at Manhattan’s B’nai Jeshurun synagogue, used to be a leader of Beth Elohim’s Shira B’ShiShi program. Hebrew for “Singing on Friday,” it was a monthly Shabbat service for Israelis that was led in Hebrew and incorporated Israeli food, song and poetry. The program ended in 2016 due to a lack of funding but Beth Elohim hopes to restart it.

“That was an easier lift in the sense that it was Friday night. There was music, food and community. It’s a recipe for success if you do all those things,” said Nadel. “High Holidays are a different kind of challenge.”

The High Holiday services — which will also meet on Yom Kippur and take place alongside the synagogue’s main service — will be conducted entirely in Hebrew and will incorporate modern Israeli music and poetry. Attendees can expect to hear classic Israeli folk songs like “Al Kol Eleh,” a 1980 standard by Naomi Shemer about the “bitter and sweet” of life, as well as more modern tunes from artists like Ishay Ribo, an Israeli Orthodox pop star who played to a crowd of 15,000 at Madison Square Garden last week.

“An Israeli folk song can actually take on a different dimension when it’s used as a part of the tefillah,” said Weinberg, using the Hebrew word for “prayer.” Weinberg, a Beth Elohim member and the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president for Israel and Reform Zionism, immigrated to Israel in 2003 and spent a decade there before returning to the United States.

Weinberg added that the services for Israelis are not bound to the traditional framework typically used in American Reform spaces. He would not say how many attendees he expects but said he hopes to “fill the room” and will be happy “as long as they make a minyan,” or prayer quorum of 10 people.

“We really need to aim at a cross-section of Israelis, mostly a secular crowd, that doesn’t have a great deal of synagogue experience,” Weinberg said. “So we are going to include a lot of music, singing, discussion, and learning.”

The services will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a conflict that, in Israel, is mourned as a tragedy in which many families lost loved ones.

Israelis at the service will sing “Lu Yehi,” also by Shemer, which she wrote during the Yom Kippur War as a prayer for Israel’s safety. It was originally inspired by the Beatles’ classic “Let it Be,” and is understood by many Israelis to capture the grief of war and the hope for a brighter future.

There will also be opportunities for attendees to study with each other from source sheets that include both classical Jewish texts and modern sources. Discussion themes will include repentance, new beginnings, Zionism and forgiveness. Weinberg hopes that the High Holiday services will be the start of more Israeli gatherings in Brooklyn, whether or not they are related to the political situation in Israel.

“It’s a diverse group, and people have different opinions and different political leanings,” said Weinberg. “Still, I think it’s an opportunity for people to come together, and to really find more community, a connection to Judaism, to spirituality, and to find a way to celebrate these holidays together.”

For many prospective attendees, finding community at a synagogue will mark a shift. In Israel, the vast majority of congregations are Orthodox, and a large portion of secular Israelis rarely if ever spend time inside them. Religious Jewish Israelis are a key part of the current government’s base, and Omer Granit, another Brooklyn-based Israeli, said some secular Israelis associate Orthodoxy with right-wing politics. Multiple Israelis said that, days before the holiday, they were still unsure whether they would attend.

But Granit recognizes that in the United States, where most Jews are not Orthodox, the landscape is different. And unlike in Israel, where a festive atmosphere pervades the fall, Jews in America need to make more of an active effort to observe the season’s holidays.

“There’s no question of identity in Israel. Everybody celebrates the holidays. But when you come here it becomes an issue,” said Granit, a former Israel Defense Forces officer who has been active in protests against the judicial overhaul. “We do care about the holidays, even if we don’t really relate to the Orthodox way of life.”

He added, “Many Israelis want to keep some of the traditions, and the Reform and Conservative movements make Judaism much more accessible for people like us.”

Nadel said he believes a prayer community for Israelis in Brooklyn can thrive. But he said offering a holiday experience that rings true to Israelis in Brooklyn who have different backgrounds, needs and opinions can be challenging — and Israel’s political crisis could make things harder. “It’s a very thin line to walk because the wounds in Israel are so open right now,” he said.

Yoni Hersch, an Israeli who attended the Tisha B’Av event and is unsure whether he will go to Beth Elohim’s Rosh Hashanah service, said that while those pain points may be difficult to navigate, they also might be what draws Israelis to come together at an American synagogue, more than 5,000 miles from where they grew up.

“In a moment of crisis, people are looking for encouragement and help,” he said. “And what is community if not that?”


The post A Reform synagogue in Brooklyn is holding special High Holidays services for Israelis appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Model Bella Hadid Wears Keffiyeh Dress in Cannes in Support of ‘Free Palestine Forever’

Bella Hadid attends the red carpet of the film ”L’Amour ouf” (Beating Hearts) at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 23, 2024. Photo: Daniele Cifalà via Reuters Connect

Model Bella Hadid used fashion to make a political statement at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday by wearing a dress made from a keffiyeh, a headscarf traditionally worn by Palestinians that has become a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel.

In between premieres at the film festival, the model and fragrance designer walked the streets in Cannes, France, sporting a vintage Michael and Hushi “keffiyeh dress” from 2001 that was made from red and white keffiyehs. “I made [the dress] out of the keffiyeh fabric, which I still have nightmares about, as it wasn’t easy,” designer Hushidar Mortezaie was quoted as saying. Michael and Hushi also designed a black and white keffiyeh halter top worn by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw in a season four episode of Sex and the City.

Hadid shared the meaning behind her outfit in a post that she uploaded late Thursday on her Instagram Story. She reposted an image of the original 2001 design, tagged the designers, and wrote in the caption, “Free Palestine forever.” She included an emoji of the Palestinian flag.

bella hadid’s wearing a vintage keffiyeh dress in cannes by michael and hushi pic.twitter.com/caLlCck87s

— ✭ (@badestoutfit) May 23, 2024

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war — which began after Hamas-led terrorists took around 250 Israeli and foreign hostages and killed 1,200 people in southern Israel on Oct. 7 — Hadid has repeatedly expressed solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In a lengthy statement shared on Instagram in late October, she condemned the Hamas attacks, and said she stands in solidarity with “Palestine” and the “innocent Palestinian civilians” affected by the war.

“I believe deep in my heart that no child, no people anywhere, should be taken away from their family either temporarily or indefinitely. That goes for Israeli or Palestinian people alike,” she added. She also called for humanitarian aid to help “the urgent needs of the people of Gaza.”

During the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2021, Hadid participated in a pro-Palestinian rally where she chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which has been widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of the Jewish state and for it to be replaced with a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. She has previously accused Israel of “colonization, ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and apartheid over the Palestinian people.”

Hadid’s father, Nazareth-born real estate developer Mohamed Hadid, recently criticized and sent racist messages to US Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) for supporting Israel. He has also accused Israel of occupation, colonialism, genocide, and apartheid. In March, he commented on the support US President Joe Biden has expressed for Israel after the Oct. 7 attacks, saying, “He will be in court with the rest of the Zionist criminals. We will hunt them down like they did the Nazis.” He also called Biden the “head of the Zionist project.”

The post Model Bella Hadid Wears Keffiyeh Dress in Cannes in Support of ‘Free Palestine Forever’ first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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US House Speaker Confirms Netanyahu to Address Congress Soon

US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson stands in the House of Representatives ahead of US President Joe Biden’s third State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the US Capitol in Washington, DC, March 7, 2024. Photo: Shawn Thew/Pool via REUTERS

US House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has confirmed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a speech to a joint session of the US Congress in the coming days.

Johnson gave a keynote address at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, DC on Thursday evening as part of a yearly Israeli Independence Day event. The Republican leader told the crowd that he is “happy to announce” that Congress will “soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

The crowd cheered Johnson’s announcement that a visit by the Israeli premier is in the works. 

He added that hearing an address by Netanyahu would be “a strong show of support for the Israeli government in their time of greatest need.”

Johnson bemoaned that support for Israel seems to be fading among some progressive politicians and suggested that Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that launched the war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, has even “recruited apologists” among certain members of Congress.

The House speaker also took shots at US President Joe Biden, claiming that he has withheld “vital weapons” from the Jewish state. 

“Some leaders who have been previously proud to stand with Israel, and even some who have made statements of solidarity following Oct. 7, have suddenly begun to backpedal on that support,” Johnson said. 

Biden publicly announced earlier this month that his administration would no longer deliver shipments of offensive arms to Israel if the country were to embark on a major military operation in the city of Rafah, a step that many experts consider necessary to dismantle Hamas. Several of Israel’s allies condemned Biden’s decision to condition arms shipments to the Jewish state and argued that the president abandoned a close ally of the United States. 

Johnson also rebuked the decision of the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office to seek an arrest warrant for Netanyahu, claiming that the organization “likened Israel’s just war to the barbarism of Oct. 7th.” He promised that the United States would not “acknowledge or abide by” the court’s mandates. 

US Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) delivered his own keynote address at the Israeli embassy on Thursday night, reaffirming America’s “commitment to Israel’s sovereignty.”

Johnson’s invitation to Netanyahu comes amid increasing tensions between liberal members of Congress and the Biden administration over Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. Some Democrats have suggested that Israel is committing “genocide” and demanded that Israel agree to a ceasefire with Hamas, signalling a growing rift between more progressive politicians in the Democratic Party and one of America’s closest allies.

Moreover, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has faced significant pressure by members of his own party not to join Johnson’s invitation for Netanyahu to address Congress. Progressive Democrats such as Maxwell Frost (D-FL), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) have all vowed not to attend a congressional address by Netanyahu.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) on Wednesday dismissed the notion of a growing rift between Democrats over Israel as “nothing but puppies and rainbows.”

“The Republicans have repeatedly tried to make Israel a partisan political issue and divide Democrats, and they have failed,” Jeffries said.

The post US House Speaker Confirms Netanyahu to Address Congress Soon first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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New Program Offers NYC 8th Graders Free School Trips to Holocaust Museum to Learn About Antisemitism

Aerial view of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York City. Photo: Gryffindor/Wikimedia.

All eight graders from public and charter schools in New York City will be offered free field trips to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust and learn about antisemitism as part of a new initiative announced on Thursday.

The Holocaust Education School Tours program will begin in the fall and be offered free of charge to more than 85,000 students in public and charter schools over the next three years. Specially trained museum educators will guide student groups through the museum’s exhibitions, and work with schools to schedule tours and to provide free transportation. The museum will also hire additional education staff to help with the program.

The museum said the field trips “will provide critical education about the global history of antisemitism and propaganda, factors that precipitated the Holocaust, while fostering opportunities for students to reflect on the relevance of historical events to contemporary issues.” New York is one of almost two dozen states where Holocaust education is required and educators have noted that the eighth and tenth grades are prime stages in a student’s development to introduce Holocaust education, according to the museum.

The program was spearheaded by Julie Menin, a Jewish city councilwoman from Manhattan and a member of the council’s Jewish Caucus. Menin’s mother and grandmother survived the Holocaust in Hungary. She suggested the idea for the field trips following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, after realizing the urgent need to educate younger generations about the Holocaust and antisemitism.

New York City Public Schools Chancellor David C. Banks said there have been 281 incidents of religious bias in city schools since the Oct. 7 attacks and 42 percent of them have involved antisemitism.

“We must take decisive action as we witness the alarming surge in antisemitic incidents in our city and across our country,” Menin said. “We needed a proactive approach to combat this hatred at its roots. This initiative, born out of personal conviction and a deep sense of responsibility, aims to ensure that every young mind comprehends the history of the Holocaust and the dangers of antisemitism. My hope is that through education and reflection, we can inoculate future generations against the horrors of the past.”

The new program is part of a $2.5 million Holocaust education initiative that has received $1 million in funding from the Gray Foundation, which is co-founded by Jon Gray, the president of the investment firm Blackstone. The Gray Foundation has supported the Museum of Jewish Heritage since 2016.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage previously created an “educator antisemitism resource,” to help teachers address questions about antisemitism, and is working with the New York City Department of Education to develop a new Holocaust teaching guide for teachers that will be released in the fall. The 2024-25 New York state budget allocated $500,000 for the review and update of Holocaust curricula in schools.

“As we witness a troubling resurgence of Holocaust denial and antisemitism around the world, it has never been more critical to ensure that younger generations are equipped with the knowledge and understanding of the Holocaust,” said Jack Kliger, president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. “By educating our youth about the horrors of the past, we strive to instill in them a sense of empathy, tolerance, and the resolve to prevent such atrocities from ever happening again.”

Bruce Ratner, chairman of the board of trustees at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, said that by giving eighth graders in New York City more access to Holocaust education “we are taking a proactive stance against ignorance and prejudice.”

“We believe that by understanding the consequences of hate, our youth can help build a future rooted in compassion, respect, and the steadfast commitment to never let history repeat itself,” he added.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage opened in October 2023 its first exhibition designed for visitors aged 9 and up titled “Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark,” which highlights how Denmark’s ordinary citizens united to save nearly 95 percent of the country’s Jewish population during the Holocaust.

The post New Program Offers NYC 8th Graders Free School Trips to Holocaust Museum to Learn About Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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