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Rabbi Laurie Phillips, founder of a Manhattan ‘synagogue without walls,’ dies at 55

(JTA) — Rabbi Laurie Phillips, whose search for a new model of Jewish engagement led her to found the New York-based “synagogue without walls” Beinenu, died Nov. 26 at her childhood home in Southfield, Michigan. She was 55.

The cause was complications from leiomyosarcoma, a rare cancer, according to an obituary prepared by her friends Debbie Mukamal and Rabbi John Franken.

Starting in 2014, Beinenu (which means “between us” in Hebrew) offered Jewish worship and celebrations in intimate spaces. Phillips and her co-director, the musician Daphna Mor, also led High Holidays services at the JCC Harlem, which had begun catering to a growing number of Jews, including Phillips, who were living in the Manhattan neighborhood.

“Ever sure of herself, she preached from her heart, without notes, sometimes sharing some of her rawest life experiences, such as undergoing chemotherapy and the benefits of wearing good red lipstick,” according to the obituary by Mukamal, who was Phillips’ neighbor when she lived in Brooklyn,  and Franken, rabbi of Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace, Maryland.

“Her blunt truth-telling could unleash uproarious laughter as well and many thought she should moonlight in stand-up comedy,” they added.

Phillips also initiated, in 2017, the “Be Kind” campaign, distributioning bright red pins with the slogan and urging those who wore it to use it as a conversation-starter with friends and strangers.

Before launching Beinenu, Phillips served as the associate director for the Mandel Center for Jewish Education at the JCC Association of North America, where she co-created Lechu Lachem, an immersive program for Jewish camp directors. She also helped create, with the JCC Manhattan and three nearby synagogues, the Jewish Journeys project, which provides personalized alternatives to synagogue-based supplementary Jewish schooling.

Growing up in her Detroit suburb, Phillips attended Hillel Day School and was active at Temple Adat Shalom of Farmington Hills. She majored in special education at Michigan State University and later earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. She was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles in 2003 and served as director of education at Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles and at Congregation Habonim in Manhattan.

Phillips said her participation in the mid-1990s as a counselor at what is now known as the Ziering Brandeis Collegiate Institute, a West Coast summer retreat program for young adults, inspired her “to merge her passion for Judaism and education,” according to the Beinenu web site.

In spite of her illness, Phillips was officiating at b’nei mitzvah as recently as mid-November, according to Mukamal and Franken.

“I am so lucky to have found  a partner with whom I could create my dream version of a Jewish community in NYC, led through the heart, held by music, genuine love, and joy,” Mor said in statement to JTA. “Laurie’s legacy of light, love and kindness keeps shining through all the people whose lives she touched.”

Phillips is survived by her father Dennis, siblings Beth Phillips and Michael Phillips, and her stepson, Adam Cohen. Here marriage to Howard Cohen ended in divorce. Her mother, Judith Caplan Phillips, died in 2007.

The post Rabbi Laurie Phillips, founder of a Manhattan ‘synagogue without walls,’ dies at 55 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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British Columbia’s Jewish community is outraged after MLA Selina Robinson is removed from cabinet over remarks about Israel

Leaders of the British Columbia Jewish community have reacted with dismay to the decision by David Eby, the province’s premier, to remove Selina Robinson from her position as minister of post-secondary education and future skills on Feb. 5 due to remarks she made the previous week during an online discussion. While speaking on a panel […]

The post British Columbia’s Jewish community is outraged after MLA Selina Robinson is removed from cabinet over remarks about Israel appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Gaza Border Residents Demand A Return Home, Four Months Into War

A damaged building lies in ruins, following an infiltration by Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel at a kibbutz in Kfar Aza, Israel, Nov. 8, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Israelis from the Gaza Envelope are calling on the government to approve their return home, roughly four months since the war’s outbreak on October 7.

The head of the Scot Negev Regional Council, Tamir Idan, said outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, “We demand a clear statement from the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister that it is safe to return to the area. Until then we are not moving from here.”

The heads of the other regional councils in the Gaza area joined Idan outside the Prime Minister’s office, where they slept last night in protest.

The regional leaders say that members of the Gaza border towns should be allowed to return to the areas if they wish, rather than being forced to live in hotels. An internal plan is set to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in the near future.

The heads claim it is safe to return home, and are demanding that the government sign off on such a statement so residents can do so. Their protest comes as the government extended the funds allocated for their stay at hotels until July.

Following the October 7 massacre by Hamas terrorists, when they stormed southern Israel, murdering over 1,200 and taking hostage more than 240, tens of thousands of Israelis from the area were uprooted from their homes and placed in hotels in the Jerusalem area, Eilat, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea region. Since then, they have been living there full time, with makeshift schools set up for children and activities to keep everyone occupied. The move has also led local businesses to be completely shuttered.

Some Israelis have already moved back to their towns, which is technically allowed but under their own risk — rockets still fly near daily from Gaza and the IDF is operating within the Gaza Strip, which is minutes away from certain border towns.

The plan presented by the regional heads, they say, would mean that the towns are technically safe to return to, and therefore the risk falls under the government and the military.

This is as tens of thousands of Israelis from northern towns also remain out of their homes, with no current timeline for return due to the constant threat of Hezbollah missiles and the potential the war extends to the north.

The post Gaza Border Residents Demand A Return Home, Four Months Into War first appeared on

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Australian Politician Says ‘Jewish Lobby’ Uses ‘Tentacles’ to ‘Influence Power’

Australian Greens MP Jenny Leong speaks at a Palestine Justice Movement event in Australia on Sunday, February 4, 2024. Source: Twitter/X

Video of a left-wing Australian politician discussing how “the Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby” are using their “tentacles” to “influence power” went viral on Tuesday, sparking backlash from the Australian Jewish community.

Jenny Leong, an Australia Greens member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, spoke on a panel for the Palestine Justice Movement in December to promote boycotting Israel.

“The Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby are infiltrating into every single aspect of what is ethnic community groups,” Leong said during the panel. “They rock up and they’re part of the campaign,” and “they offer solidarity.” 

She continued: “They [the Jewish and Zionist lobby] rock up to every community meeting and event to offer that connection because their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power and I think that we need to call that out and expose that.”

Stop what you’re doing and listen to the despicable remarks of @Greens MP @jennyleong , in which she accuses Jews of having “tentacles” which they use to try and influence power.

Leong has plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes…

— NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (@NSWJBD) February 6, 2024

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, which is the representative of Jews who live in New South Wales, called the remarks “despicable,” adding that “Leong has plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes to accuse Jews of covertly manipulating civic life. She has outrageously suggested that there is a sinister or evil purpose associated with Jews undertaking the most normal of activities – interacting with other Australians.”

Josh Burns, a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives, said her comments were “a direct attack on Jewish people in Australia” and that “she should unreservedly apologize.” He also called on the Australian Greens to “take responsibility and demonstrate that Jewish people in Australia are safe and respected by their Party.”

The right-leaning Australian Jewish Association wrote on X that “Every credible political party must put the Greens last. Every non-racist fair minded person must put the Greens last.”

In response to the criticism, Leong apologized for specifically using the word “tentacles,” but not for her message. She said: “Speaking on a panel during a two-hour-long event last year, I acknowledge that I used a word at one point that was an inappropriate descriptor for the influence of groups backing Netanyahu’s genocidal attacks in Gaza and the ongoing occupation – I apologise that this has caused offence.” 

She continued: “It is incredibly telling that after a conversation where myself and other speakers made countless mentions of the genocidal attacks and occupation occurring in Gaza right now, that two months later more focus isn’t being put on the deaths of over 26,000 people, many of them children.”

Her comments and apology come amid increasing concern over antisemitism on the far-left, which has celebrated violent resistance against Israel since October 7, when Hamas invaded the country, killed 1,200 people, and kidnapped more than 240 more.

The post Australian Politician Says ‘Jewish Lobby’ Uses ‘Tentacles’ to ‘Influence Power’ first appeared on

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