(JTA) — The Hamas attacks that claimed over 1,400 Jewish lives on Oct. 7 set off an intense period of global Jewish mourning. As Israel assembled troops for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, and missiles flew back and forth across the border, many Jews around the world struggled to contain their anxiety and sadness.
For many couples whose long-planned weddings fell in the days and weeks following the start of the war, the pall fell over what should have been one of the happiest days of their lives. How do you celebrate when so many are still burying their dead?
This week we asked rabbis across the United States and in Israel how they have gone about conducting weddings in the shadow of the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. Most acknowledged the loss and urged the couple to regard the celebration as an act of life-affirming defiance. Some were asked not to mention the crisis (and regretted that they complied).
Rabbi Jay Stein of Dobbs Ferry, New York, who officiated at his son’s wedding Sunday night in Jersey City, New Jersey, quoted Psalm 37: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,” often sung at the end of Jewish weddings.
“On a day that is really all about celebrating you — remember you are part of something much bigger, something eternal,” he told the couple. “Today, you realize that there will be times of celebration and days of suffering. Our prayer for you is to share in your joys and sorrows together. Joy can quickly turn to sadness and today. I say we must with all of our power turn the sadness into joy because the two of you deserve this day.”
Below are excerpts of remarks made by rabbis at recent weddings or thoughts they shared with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Rabbi Leora Frankel is rabbi of Larchmont Temple in Larchmont, New York.
These weeks since Oct. 7 have felt like a communal shloshim, that intense period of mourning in the first 30 days after a relative dies. Whether or not we know someone personally who has been killed, so many of us are experiencing collective bereavement and craving comfort as we mourn with our Israeli brothers and sisters. And yet somehow, as Jews, we are commanded by our tradition to keep choosing life and finding joy, even in our grief.
Just a week after the terror in Israel erupted, I found myself standing under a gorgeous chuppah at Whitby Castle in Rye, New York with a young Reform Jewish couple. Earlier that week at our final check-in, they sought my reassurance that it was “kosher” to proceed with their wedding in the midst of the unfolding horrors. They expressed anticipatory guilt singing and dancing while so many were mourning.
So I shared with them a famous passage in the Talmud — a rabbinic teaching from nearly 2,000 years ago — which speaks presciently to this moment. In tractate Ketubot, the rabbis inquire about a theoretical and symbolic scenario: If a funeral procession and wedding procession meet at a crossroads, which one has the right of way? This soon-to-be bride and groom were surprised to learn that, perhaps counterintuitively, the Talmud rules that in such a case, the wedding procession should proceed first. Even in the face of death, Judaism asserts that we must lead with life.
Rabbi Jan Salzman is founder and rabbi of Ruach haMaqom, a Jewish Renewal congregation in Burlington, Vermont.
I led a wedding on Sunday morning, Oct. 22, and as is my custom, I only offer remarks that have to do with the wedding. When I introduce the breaking of the glass, instead of the usual story about Jerusalem or tears within joy, I tell the story from the Ari (Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi (1534-1572), about the shattering of the divine vessel at the beginning of Creation. I offer the intention that when the couple breaks the glass, their love spews out into the world, embedding shards of their love into every molecule of creation. This past Sunday, I added the line, “and, oy, how we need shards of love to embed themselves in our world!” Everyone knew that I was addressing the shattering of the hopes and dreams of the people of Israel and Gaza, who are suffering in such anguish because of the choices made by their respective leaders. A wedding, like Shabbat, is a moment of healing, of putting forth our yearning for wholeness and not the opportunity for a commentary by the rabbi.
Cantor Dana S. Anesi is director of fieldwork at Hebrew Union College. She recently performed weddings in New York City, New York’s Westchester County and Fairfield, Connecticut.
I emphasized the themes of the Sheva Brachot, the seven blessings said at a Jewish wedding, looking toward the messianic time, when the world will be whole again. But I really saved any remarks for the end, for breaking the glass. I noted that since Talmudic times, our people have acknowledged that there is sadness even amidst the joy of a couple uniting, and our feelings of profound sadness at this moment, as we think of our brothers and sisters in Israel. But I didn’t linger on that – I could see it wasn’t top of mind for the couples or families (although I choked up talking about it — not sure they noticed). And then they stepped on the glass and went off to party. I personally felt pretty isolated in my grief, in all those instances, frankly.
Rabbi Julie Roth is rabbi at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, a Conservative congregation in Montclair, New Jersey.
At a wedding this past weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, we focused on the joy. We sang and danced and celebrated this once-in-a-lifetime occasion and mentioned the heartbreak in Israel at the moment when we smashed the glass. Dancing in circles with dozens of young people, with the bride and groom in the center, when everyone started singing the words, “Am Yisrael Chai,” the aliveness of this moment reverberated with the vigils and rallies of the past two weeks. We sang the same words — the Jewish people lives — then with tears of sadness, now with unfiltered joy, making the energy at the wedding that much more precious.
Rabbi Elyssa Cherney is the founder and CEO of Tacklingtorah.
Within a wedding there are two ritual moments that stood out to me as I prepared to officiate a wedding outside Philadelphia following the events of Oct. 7.
Shared grief at a communal gathering shouldn’t be overlooked. So I led a moment of silence as a memorial and acknowledgement of remembering those who have been a part of past communities. This can be especially painful for recent loss or if a couple has lost a parent, grandparent, sibling or child whom they would have envisioned being a part of this occasion.
The second is the breaking of the glass, a reminder that we must never take moments of joy for granted. I have often noted particularly shattering moments that align with the couple’s personal values and story prior to them breaking the glass. For this moment, I shared their grief at learning of the horrors unfolding in Israel. “While we share in the blessings of the wedding couple we also remember that marriage is not only about joy, but about supporting one another through the imperfections of the world as well,” I said. “The couple has shared not only their dreams with each other but their deepest fears. They know their relationship is fragile and needs to be treated with love and respect. So as we first shatter this glass as a symbol of the brokenness of our world may their love remain whole and complete always.”
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a Jewish educator living in Mitzpe Yericho, Israel. He officiated at a wedding on Oct. 8 in Tel Aviv, one day after the deadly Hamas attacks on southern Israel.
“Rabbi,” the groom called me, “we’re not sure if we should get married. Our friends have all been called up for reserve duty, and we aren’t sure if it’s appropriate to get married. What do you think?” I was emphatic. “Get married. You’ll do a big party in a month when this is all over. Your family and your fiancé’s family have all flown in. Change the venue and let’s do it!” So we all did.
It was a smaller wedding than planned, but it was joyous and it was a stick in the eye of Hamas. Right in the middle of Tel Aviv we demonstrated that Jewish tradition continues and no one will stop us!
Rabbi Lori Shapiro is rabbi of The Open Temple in Venice, California.
We were in Athens, Greece. People flew in from Israel. The bride and groom were from Paris, and the wedding was held in Athens because one of the families had been saved during World War II by Prince Phillip’s mother, Princess Alice. After the news broke, we met to deliberate: Do we mention the tragedy beneath the chuppah or focus on the simcha?
Against my personal opinion, the groom emphatically chose to focus on the wedding.
Following the wishes of the groom, I limited my words to a brief euphemism during the breaking of the glass. Were I following my instinct, I would have paused and held space and said, “We are all holding space in our hearts at this moment, alive with heartbreak and futility in the face of the horrors we are seeing. And yet, the love of this couple and the work they have before them is a part of the greater plan for repair in this world. Let us take a moment to consider how deeply we observe what is broken and how each of us can rededicate our lives on the merit of this couple towards being partners in peace — from the smallest of moments of our lives, our actions matter as partners for peace in the face of loss and sorrow. And may the broken world of all we have lost make their memories for a blessing.”
But I didn’t.
After the chuppah, an Israeli in the wedding party approached me. “Why didn’t you say something?” he asked with tears in his eyes. I felt ashamed and saddened, a flood of inadequacies in my heart.
The next day, my husband and I were to leave for Santorini for our first vacation together since we had kids. Instead, we changed our flight and flew home.
Rabbi Barry Leff divides his time between the United States and Israel. He spoke at his daughter’s wedding in Jerusalem on Oct. 9, when he told the couple, “It’s a Jewish custom not to delay a wedding when bad things happen. Maybe it’s because so many bad things have happened in Jewish history. It’s an optimistic statement to continue with a wedding. A wedding is about the future. No matter how difficult today is, we are confident the future will be better.” After the wedding, he added a few more thoughts:
Earlier today, I was thinking in addition to what I said to Katherine and Avichay under the chuppah, I wanted to say something referring to the situation. And I was feeling sad and heavy.
I reminded myself of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching, “mitzvah gedolah l’hiyot b’simcha,” it’s a great and important mitzvah to be happy always, even when it’s difficult to be happy.
And I thought of the commandment in the Talmud, to gladden the heart of the bride and groom.
In other words, I was prepared to have to force myself to be happy in this terrible time.
But when I got here, and saw over a dozen friends and strangers running around, getting everything set up, musicians setting up, a chuppah, and then I saw how beautiful the bride looked, and my heart was overflowing with joy. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more joyous wedding.
It’s impossible to say gam zu l’tovah, this too is for the best, for a milchamah, a war, but as far as the ceremony goes, this celebration was so much more intimate, so much more powerful, joyous even, than the originally planned 400 people in a hall. It was amazing, and everyone here felt it.
Rabbi Aviva Fellman is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester, Massachusetts. She officiated at a wedding in South Berwick, Maine on Sunday, Oct. 22.
In our daily prayers, we read from Psalms, hafachta mispdi lmachol li, pitachta saki vatazreni simcha — God, You turn my mourning into dancing, You change my sackcloth into robes of joy. While our hearts break for those who have been lost, those living in constant fear, and especially those still missing, we respond with the fervor of our Israeli brothers and sisters and the resilience of our people throughout history. We declare Am Yisrael Chai, and we keep going, knowing that living, celebrating, and creating a new Jewish family is in and of itself an act of solidarity with Israel, an act of defiance against Hamas, and an act of Jewish survival. So we smile even more widely, we laugh more loudly; we love more deeply and fiercely; we dance more fervently.
Rabbi Craig Axler leads Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. This past weekend, he officiated at weddings on Saturday night and Sunday evening. He offered these remarks at the wedding Sunday in Bluemont, Virginia:
We will momentarily say the Sheva Brachot, the seven wedding blessings. These blessings are less focused specifically on the wedding couple at first, but rather build on the idea that we live in a world of brokenness and pain, where things are not perfect or even ideal. However, the union of this couple, your love that we celebrate in this moment is one act of tikkun, one repair of the broken world that we live in. Your love makes the world more whole. This is true every time I stand with a couple under the chuppah, but in this particular moment of pain, and recognizing that the culmination of the Sheva Brachot links your wedding rejoicing to the songs of joy and gladness heard on the “cities of Judah and the courtyards of Jerusalem,” we can see that this moment of celebration for you and your family provides one bright and shining opportunity for joy not only here, but reverberating through the Jewish world. May the joy of this union be one step towards bringing us back to a time of celebration and rejoicing here, in Israel for the whole Jewish family, and throughout the world.
Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman is senior associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, New Jersey. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 14, where her remarks included these words:
Our tradition also teaches that there are certain commandments for which we assign special meaning — upon performing them in this world we are granted life in the World to Come: one of these is to celebrate with a couple under the chuppah — to dance and eat and drink, to help turn the spark of love into flames of hope in the midst of a dark season. I encourage all of those here tonight to take this commandment seriously and to celebrate as much as humanly possible — to lift up their joy and through them, the spirits of our people.
Rabbi Jay M. Stein, of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry, New York, officiated at the Oct. 23 wedding of his son. He closed his remarks with these words of advice:
Today you stand under this chuppah while so many in Israel rush to safe rooms. Both provide shelter. This chuppah is extraordinary in the support it provides. Constructed of my father’s tallis, and both of your grandfathers’ tallisim. As we are all able to look into this chuppah and you can feel everyone here, we hope you will always feel the safety of knowing that everyone here is invested in you and you can always count on us.
Rabbi Amanda K. Weiss is assistant rabbi of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. She officiated at a wedding on Oct. 21 in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
In our last counseling session, a little over a week before, on Oct. 13 — the “Global Day of Jihad,” calling for violence against Israel and the Jewish people worldwide — the brides, with deep respect for the sensitivity of the moment, asked how they might recognize the severity of the war in Israel while maintaining the joy of their well-deserved celebration.
Guided by the wisdom found in the Talmud’s Berakhot 30b-31b, which poignantly speaks of the remembrance of the Temple’s destruction in Jerusalem, the brides and I decided that they would connect it to their rehearsal dinner, and they chose to explain the significance of remembering the brokenness of the world even in our brightest moments. Whether a broken glass at a wedding or a missing piece of a newly constructed home, we are meant to remember that the world is never quite complete — that there is always something that requires a bit of awareness and compassion. As they spoke to this during their rehearsal dinner, the room quieted; their acknowledgement allowed their guests to share that many of their loved ones knew people (or knew people who knew people) who were fighting, were in reserves, or had fallen in battle during this war.
During the wedding ceremony itself, I drew back to the brides’ points and connected it specifically to the glass breaking to conclude the wedding ceremony. This, combined with the joy of the brides breaking their own glasses in tandem allowed for the joy to envelop the sadness, reminding us that there is always the opportunity to overcome.
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This Manhattan restaurant is serving a $95 latke for Hanukkah
(New York Jewish Week) — With movie tickets that cost $30 and apartments that can reach staggering, nine-digit figures, New York City is notoriously expensive. And yet, one restaurant’s new luxury latke is still pricey enough to make jaws drop.
For Hanukkah this year, Caviar Russe, an upscale seafood restaurant in Midtown, is serving an oversized latke topped with caviar, priced at a cool $95.
The restaurant’s executive chef Edgar “Teddy” Panchernikov told the New York Jewish Week that this is the first time he has created a holiday-specific menu item, Hanukkah or otherwise, calling the pricey potato pancake a “one-off.”
The latke is an amped-up version of the mini potato pancakes the Madison Avenue restaurant serves year-round as one of the accoutrements to their caviar service, with prices that range from $65 for 25 grams of Pacific sturgeon caviar up to $10,445 for 500 grams of Almas osetra, an “exceptionally rare” caviar.
The restaurant, which opened in 1997, is just one element of Caviar Russe, a caviar business owned by Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union that regularly appears on lists of the best places to buy the fish roe. The company consists of a wholesale and online business, a caviar boutique and two restaurants, one in New York City and the other in Miami. The New York eatery has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2014.
The limited-time latke consists of Yukon gold potatoes mixed with salt, pepper and chives — no egg, flour or any kind of filler is used. Chef Panchernikov, the 32-year-old son of Caviar Russe’s founders, then fries it all in clarified butter (no olive oil for these babies!). The crispy plate-sized potato pancake is then topped with creme fraiche, a creamy “egg jam” made by cooking the yolks in a sous vide bath, and one ounce of osetra caviar — which typically retails for about $100 an ounce at Caviar Russe and is one of their most popular varieties, according to a publicist for the restaurant.
In a video shared with the New York Jewish Week of Panchernikov making the latke, he slices it into quarters — so, rest assured, the treat is designed to be shared. However, the latke needs to be ordered 24 hours in advance; interested customers should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The idea for the luxury latke came from marketing consultant Elana Levin, who was hired by the Caviar Russe team three months ago. “I thought it would be a nice way to tap into his heritage with a potato latke to celebrate Hanukkah at the restaurant,” Levin said of Panchernikov. “He was immediately open to it — he was excited to get creative in the kitchen and to do something that represents their culture and heritage and have a way to celebrate with his guests.”
“The presentation and how he built the latke was the chef’s idea,” she added.
As it happens, the luxury latke isn’t the only Jewish happening at Caviar Russe: “My Unorthodox Life” stars and internet influencers Julia Haart and her daughter, Batsheva, are holding a fundraiser, “Caviar for a Cause,” at the Manhattan restaurant’s bar and lounge. Tickets to the afternoon event on Sunday — which are nearly sold out — are $300, with all proceeds going to Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross.
The owners of the restaurant are donating the food – passed cocktails and hors d’oeuvres – and the space. And although Panchernikov describes his family as “not very religious,” he told the New York Jewish Week that he felt compelled to show his support. “Given the recent events, we want to support other Jews and Israel,” he said.
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The most Jewish moments from Barbra Streisand’s memoir
(JTA) — Throughout Hollywood history, many stars of Jewish ancestry have soft-pedaled that heritage, changing their names or speaking rarely, if at all, about their Jewishness.
No one can accuse Barbra Streisand of either.
The singer and actress of the stage and screen — one of the most beloved Jewish American icons of the past half-century — published her long-awaited memoir, “My Name is Barbra,” earlier this month. Throughout, Streisand references her Jewish background constantly, often peppering in Yiddish words and callbacks to her Brooklyn Jewish upbringing.
Here are the Jewish highlights from “My Name is Barbra.”
Streisand was born in Brooklyn, in April 1942. In the book, she writes of her grandfather taking her to an Orthodox synagogue and of attending a yeshiva when she was young — an experience that later prepared her for her movie “Yentl.”
Streisand’s father died when she was 15 months old. She first lived with her grandparents, on Pulaski Street in Williamsburg. When she was eight, her mother remarried and they moved to a different part of Brooklyn.
“We pulled up to a tall brick building (one of many that all looked alike) on Newkirk Avenue in Flatbush, part of a big public housing project called the Vanderveer Estates (a very fancy name for a not-so-fancy place),” she writes in the book. “I remember being very impressed that there was an elevator. I thought we were rich now.”
The very first Broadway show Streisand ever attended, at age 14, was a 1950s staging of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” and it activated ambitions to one day star on Broadway herself.
“I was mesmerized by the play,” she writes. “Anne is fourteen, I’m fourteen. She’s Jewish, I’m Jewish. Why couldn’t I play the part?” In an early theater role, she appeared in the same cast as legendary Jewish comedian Joan Rivers, then still going by her given name Joan Molinsky.
Later, Streisand’s first big Broadway part was in the musical “I Can Get It For You Wholesale,” in which she played a Jewish secretary named Yetta Tessie Marmelstein. While working on that show, she met Elliott Gould, the Jewish actor who would become her first husband and the father of her son Jason.
Described by the author as “two Jewish oddballs who found each other,” Gould and Streisand married and divorced entirely prior to their respective movie star heydays in the 1970s.
Streisand writes repeatedly about her love of food — from complaining about the subpar offerings at a Jewish camp she attended in the Catskills at age 8 to her inability to find New York-quality food while traveling overseas. She also discusses her habit of bringing food with her everywhere.
“Maybe it’s part a collective unconscious of European Jews, because what if a pogrom came and you had to get across the border fast?” she writes. “You have to have a little something to eat until you get to the next country.”
Later, she gushes about knishes from Yonah Schimmel’s on Houston Street in New York.
Streisand worked with many Jewish songwriters, directors, and arrangers during her Broadway days, including Jerome Robbins, Marvin Hamlisch and Jule Styne. “My Name is Barbara,” the song that provides the book its title (albeit with a slightly different spelling), was written by Leonard Bernstein, and she took it up after discovering a book of sheet music of Bernstein’s compositions.
“Can you believe it? I was amazed that such a thing existed,” Streisand writes of finding the song. “Now that’s bashert,” she added, using the Yiddish word for “meant to be.”
“Funny Girl,” on stage and screen
“Funny Girl,” the 1964 Broadway musical in which Streisand played the Jewish comedian Fanny Brice, made her a household name.
“Obviously, we were both Jewish, born in New York City… she was raised on the Lower East Side… so there would be a similar cadence in our speech,” Streisand writes of playing Brice. “I’d already noticed that if I spoke in the Brooklyn accent I had heard growing up, with that distinctive Jewish delivery, people would often laugh… we both had Jewish mothers who were concerned about food and marrying us off.. not necessarily in that order.”
The Jewish Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, who had been considered to write “Funny Girl” but ultimately didn’t, had insisted that a Jewish performer play Brice. “And if she’s not Jewish — she at least has to have the nose!” Sondheim said at the time, according to Streisand. In 1985, Streisand would lead off her “Broadway Album” with Sondheim’s “Putting It Together” and include several other of his songs.
A troubled production that became a huge hit, the success of “Funny Girl” on Broadway led to a 1968 film adaptation, directed by Jewish filmmaker William Wyler, that won Streisand the Best Actress Oscar. In the film, the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif was cast in the male lead opposite Streisand. In a movie shot not long after the Six-Day War, Streisand writes, “Some people didn’t like the idea of an Arab man romancing a Jewish woman.”
When headlines stated that the reaction to the casting in Sharif’s homeland had been negative, Streisand joked, “‘Egypt angry?’ You should hear what my aunt Anna said.”
In 1973, another hit movie starring the actress, “The Way We Were,” involved a love story set against the backdrop of the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, between a “Jewish girl” (Streisand) and “gentile boy” played by Robert Redford.
A “nice Jewish girl” on the cover of Playboy
A notable sex symbol throughout the 1970s, Streisand famously appeared on the cover of Playboy in 1977 with the headline “What’s a nice Jewish girl like me doing on the cover of Playboy?” She did not pose nude but did participate in a lengthy interview. The book, for the first time, includes a photograph, from that same shoot but unused, of Barbra in a Playboy bunny costume.
Barbra and Bella
Streisand has been a supporter and friend of numerous Democratic presidents and other political figures. When she started to get politically active, around 1970, she became a close friend and supporter of Jewish politician Bella Abzug, when she ran for Congress.
“Here we were, two Jewish girls… Bella from the Bronx and Barbra from Brooklyn… who made good!” Streisand writes.
Streisand later discovered that both she and Abzug were included on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list.
In 1983, Streisand made her directorial debut with “Yentl,” an adaptation of the Isaac Bashevis Singer short story “Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy,” about a girl in 19th-century Poland who disguises herself as a boy to attend a yeshiva.
“I’ve always been proud of my Jewish heritage,” Streisand writes, about her desire to make “Yentl.” “I never attempted to hide it when iI became an actress. It’s essential to who I am… And I wanted to make this movie about a smart Jewish woman who represented so many qualities I admire.”
Her son, Jason, studied for his bar mitzvah around the same time that his mother was preparing to make “Yentl.”
The movie was filmed in what was then Czechoslovakia, beyond the Iron Curtain, at a time when the communist government was cracking down on Jewish worship. But Streisand wore a Jewish star on her cap while in that country — and “wore it defiantly,” she writes.
Streisand also clashed with her co-star, the famed Jewish actor Mandy Patinkin, on the set of “Yentl.” She hadn’t wanted to cast Patinkin, who at that point was much better known as a Broadway actor, and she considered Richard Gere for the role. According to the book, once filming started, Patinkin behaved in a hostile way on the set. When Streisand asked why, he answered: “I thought we were going to have an affair.”
When Streisand replied “I don’t operate that way,” she writes, the actor, then in his late 20s, cried. She threatened to replace him, and they continued to clash after that, but Streisand ultimately praises Patinkin’s work in the film.
Many years later, Streisand writes, Patinkin asked Streisand to write a blurb on one of his albums, and she brought up what had happened on the set. As an explanation for his behavior, Patinkin told her that he was “scared.”
Barbra and Israel
A premiere was held for “Yentl” in Israel in April of 1984, and on the same visit, Streisand dedicated the Emanuel Streisand School of Jewish Studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, named for her father. On the trip, she met with both the then-current prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, and a future prime minister and president, Shimon Peres. Streisand was not daunted by a terrorist shooting that took place in Jerusalem while she was in the country and continued her trip as scheduled.
In 1993, during the negotiations that would lead to the Oslo Accords, Streisand was invited to a luncheon with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, through her close friendship with President Bill Clinton. Streisand was later involved with an effort to make a film about the lives of Rabin and Yassir Arafat, leading up to their handshake at the White House. The project remained alive even after Rabin’s assassination in 1995 but later fell apart due to a financial dispute between the Showtime network and the director.
Streisand returned to Israel in 2013, for her first-ever concert in the country, and also to sing at a 90th birthday celebration for Shimon Peres. On that trip, she drew controversy when she gave a speech about the treatment of women in Israel.
“It’s distressing… to read about women in Israel being forced to sit in the back of the bus… or when we hear about the Women of the Wall having metal chairs hurled at them while they attempt to peacefully and legally pray,” she said in a speech while receiving an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University.
Obama’s Jewish joke
In 2015, Streisand received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, along with fellow honorees Sondheim and Steven Spielberg. “Born in Brooklyn to a middle-class Jewish family,” President Barack Obama joked in his introduction speech. “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Barbra.”
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There’s a new Jewish Caucus in Congress. Its mission is still unclear.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — More than a dozen Jewish members of Congress gathered on Friday for the first meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Jewish Caucus.
But following the meeting, held in the offices of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, an influential Jewish Democrat from Florida, it remains unclear what the caucus will stand for as the chamber’s Jews are deeply divided over the Israel-Hamas war and other issues. A statement from Wasserman Schultz’s office suggested the caucus was still finding its feet.
“We had a very-well attended, constructive meeting focused on how we can work together and develop our broader mission,” the statement said. “We did a lot of listening and considering one another’s opinions and thoughts. We left looking forward to continuing to engage in these discussions with our colleagues so that we can come together in consensus on how a secular Jewish Caucus can be most effective.”
The House has 26 Jewish lawmakers, all but two of them Democrats, and it is unclear which attended the meeting and whether either of the Republicans made it — especially because six congresspeople who RSVPed canceled at the last minute due to illness or sudden conflicts. Ohio Republican Max Miller had said he would attend, but he did not confirm whether he was there. Nor did Tennessee Republican David Kustoff.
Wasserman Schultz is alarmed at the spike in antisemitic attacks and rhetoric in the United States since Hamas terrorists massacred 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7, launching the current war in Israel and Gaza. She wants to formalize a united front among Jews in Congress to confront the hatred.
For decades, Jewish members of Congress had been gathering unofficially. Earlier this month, Axios reported that Wasserman Schultz got the go-ahead from House administrators to make the Jewish Caucus official — though it appears that not all Jews in the House believe the caucus should exist.
For the last decade, the unofficial gatherings were helmed by Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the longest-serving Jew in Congress. He told Axios that he would attend Friday’s meeting, but was concerned that the organizers — i.e., Wasserman Schultz — did not consult with all the Jews in the chamber before creating the caucus.
“In the rush to form this new group, by contrast, most Jewish members were left out of the discussion altogether,” he said. He also said the hurt feelings would be a distraction as the caucus seeks unanimity on the Israel-Hamas war.
There are currently official Black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific caucuses in the House, and there are formal Jewish caucuses in state governments; one of the most active is in California. But one issue that may have prevented the formation of a House Jewish Caucus until now is the age-old question of what “Jewish” means.
A concern reported by Axios — which has long been discussed among Jews in the U.S. Capitol — is that some Jewish lawmakers fear setting the precedent of establishing an explicitly religious caucus — especially because Jews tend to cherish the separation of church and state. That may be why Wasserman Schultz’s statement included the word “secular” right before “Jewish Caucus.”
Another fear is that the wide differences among members of a Jewish Caucus would undermine its purported purpose: Jewish unity.
In late October, Nadler wrangled all 24 Jewish Democrats into signing a statement backing the Biden administration’s robust support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Within weeks, that united front was crumbling, as a number of Jewish Democrats joined calls for a ceasefire.
Beyond differences about the war, there are vast differences among Jews in Congress over, well, everything. Wasserman Schultz sought, and got, Miller’s membership in the caucus, making it the only one of the ethnic caucuses to have bipartisan membership. But Miller is among the most enthusiastic endorsers of former President Donald Trump, while the caucus also includes Nadler and Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Dan Goldman of New York and Adam Schiff of California — all of whom played leading roles in one or both impeachments of Trump. Schiff and Trump routinely express the hope that the other is jailed.
Some members, such as Florida Democrat Jared Moskowitz (who hoped to attend but was unable to), see Jews as an ethnic minority subject to persecution.
“At a time when there’s people marching through the streets with signs calling to ‘Gas the Jews,’ it is absolutely critical that Jewish members form a united front against antisemitism and for the safety and security of the Jewish people,” Moskowitz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
The sensitivity of the get-together made even the most voluble of lawmakers clam up about it. A number of spokesmen promised to get back to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about whether their bosses were in attendance but never did. A spokeswoman for Vermont’s Becca Balint, a Democrat who joined Congress earlier this year, simply said that she was not in attendance.
Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat, attended the meeting and said it centered on the need to confront antisemitism.
“I’m pleased to join in the founding of the Congressional Jewish Caucus,” she said. “During this time of rising antisemitism, it’s imperative that the Jewish community have its unique experience and perspective represented at the leadership table in Congress.”
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