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American rabbis, wrestling with Israel’s behavior, weigh different approaches from the pulpit

(JTA) — Rabbi Sharon Brous began a sermon at her Los Angeles synagogue last month with a content warning. “I have to say some things today that I know will upset some of you,” she began. 

That same morning, across the country in New York City, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl was confessing something to her congregants, too: The sermon they were about to hear “kept me up at night.”

Both women — among the most prominent and influential Jewish clergy in the United States — went on to sharply criticize Israel’s new right-wing government, which includes far-right parties that aim to curb the rights of LGBTQ Israelis, Arabs and non-Orthodox Jews.

In taking aim at Israel’s government from the pulpit, the rabbis were veering close to what many in their field consider a third rail. “You have a wonderful community and you love them and they love you, until the moment you stand up and you give your Israel sermon,” Brous told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. The phenomenon even has an informal name, she said: “Death by Israel sermon.”

Brous would know: A decade ago, she was the target of sharp criticism after she encouraged her congregants at IKAR, a nondenominational congregation, to pray for Palestinians as well as Jews during a period of conflict in Israel. The incident didn’t end her pulpit, but she has come to understand why many rabbis choose what she called “the path of silence” when it comes to Israel.

Now, she said, American Jews must depart from that path. “I want you to hear me,” she said in her sermon. “There is a revolution that is happening, and this moment demands an awakening on both sides of the sea, an honest reckoning.”

All over the country, non-Orthodox rabbis are making similar calculations in response to Israel’s new governing coalition, which has drawn widespread protests over its policy moves. (Orthodox communities, including their rabbis, tend to be more politically conservative and skew to the right of non-Orthodox communities on Israel issues.) Israel’s government is advancing an overhaul of the legal system that would sap the power of the Supreme Court, and is also contending with an escalating wave of violence.

Some rabbis feel more emboldened to speak aloud what they have long believed. Others are finding themselves reconsidering their own relationship to Israel — and bringing their congregants along on their journey. A few still feel that criticizing Israel from the pulpit is a misguided and even dangerous venture, one that could splinter American Jewish communities.

What cuts across the spectrum is a belief that Israel has been discussed too little from the synagogue pulpit. Brous said the tendency of liberal rabbis not to talk about Israel lest they anger their more conservative congregants has resulted in a painful reality: “American Jews have not developed the muscle that we now need to respond to this regime.”

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City launched a new program called Amplify Israel, which he hopes will encourage Reform movement leaders to embrace Zionism even as they navigate a “deeply problematic and even offensive” new Israeli government. (Shahar Azran/Stephen Wise Free Synagogue)

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, meanwhile, believes today’s rabbis must be vocal in fending off the influence of “competing values” about Zionism from “various organizations that are either cool on Israel or don’t like Israel or just downright anti-Zionist.”

Last year, angered by a letter signed by dozens of rabbinical students denouncing Israel’s actions during its 2021 conflict with Hamas in Gaza, Hirsch launched an initiative based at his New York City Reform synagogue to equip rabbis with tools to counter what he said was “the growing influence of an anti-Zionist element” in the next generation of Jewish clergy.

The initiative, Amplify Israel, is housed at his Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, and employs another rabbi, Tracy Kaplowitz, to work full-time to galvanize leaders from across the Reform movement to support Israel. Kaplowitz jokes that her new job won’t be complete “until every Reform Jew is a Zionist.”

Hirsch knows the new coalition is complicating his task. “The new government is going to make our promotion of Israel more difficult in the United States,” he said, noting that the government “has elements in it that are deeply problematic and even offensive to most American Jews.” 

He and Kaplowitz contend that it is possible, in their view, for rabbis to criticize aspects of the Israeli government from the pulpit while still remaining broadly supportive of the Jewish state and encouraging their congregants to be the same. They also say the need to build Zionist sentiment within the American rabbinate transcends any particular moment, including this one.

“If we have to transform how we connect to Israel each time there’s an election, we’ll be driving ourselves a little bit batty,” Kaplowitz said.

Rabbi Tracy Kaplowitz is a full-time Israel Fellow at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City. She jokes that her job won’t be finished “until every Reform Jew is a Zionist.” (Ryen Greiss/Stephen Wise Free Synagogue)

Hirsch sits on the advisory board of another new pro-Israel initiative, the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition. Helmed by Stuart Weinblatt, senior rabbi at Conservative Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, the group is an interdenominational network of more than 200 rabbis who advocate to ”strengthen the ties between American Jewry and the State of Israel.”

Weinblatt hews to an early generation’s view of how rabbis should approach Israel from the pulpit. He told JTA that he believes his colleagues should always be supportive of Israel in public, even if they choose to pressure the Israeli government and advocate against certain policies in private — which, he says, is “the appropriate vehicle” for voicing concerns. “My position has always been that support for Israel should be unconditional,” he said.

“If we as rabbis are sharply critical of Israel, the result can often lead to a distancing from Israel, which ultimately may diminish the connection people feel to Judaism and the Jewish people,” he added. “People do not always distinguish and differentiate between opposition to a particular policy and broader criticisms of Israel which can do lasting damage.

Asked whether the Israeli government could ever conceivably take a step that would necessitate a public response from American rabbis, Weinblatt ruminated for days. He ultimately told JTA that the current debate around proposed changes to the Law of Return, the Israeli policy that allows anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent to claim citizenship, would be such an example, as that is a policy that would have a direct effect on Diaspora Jews.

Tightening who is eligible under the Law of Return is in fact a goal of some elements of Israel’s governing coalition, although the Diaspora minister assured an audience in the United States that, unlike with the proposed changes to the government’s judicial system — which have earned criticism across the political spectrum — there would be an effort to build consensus and no changes would happen overnight.

Still, the prospect of such a change so alarmed Rabbi Hillel Skolnick of Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio, that he traveled to Jerusalem to address the Knesset, Israel’s lawmaking body.

“The members of my congregation and my movement have a spiritual connection with Judaism and also a political connection because we live in a democracy, so they see a Jewish democracy as an ideal that they can look to as a light unto the nations,” he said, in a speech he delivered as a representative of the Conservative/Masorti movement. 

“By even questioning the idea of the Law of Return,” he went on, Israel “takes away from both the Jewish connection and the democratic connection they have with this country.”

Skolnick suggested that he was unsure of how to speak to his congregation about the new government and its agenda. “My question to you is, what message can I go home with?” he asked.

Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, founder and chair of the Zionist Rabbinic Coalition, shown with Israeli President Isaac Herzog. Weinblatt believes American rabbis’ “support for Israel should be unconditional,” and that disagreements with its government should be hashed out in private. (Courtesy of Stuart Weinblatt)

This week, hundreds of American rabbis will be returning to their congregations with messages honed by a week in Israel. The Reform movement just concluded its biennial convention, which was held there for the first time since before the pandemic. Their visit coincided with major developments in the country’s twin crises: The Knesset advanced the judicial reform legislation, and three people were killed in a Palestinian shooting and subsequent settler riot in the West Bank.

In a sign of the balancing act that American rabbis are navigating, the Reform movement’s leader, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who has been among the earliest and most outspoken critics of the new Israeli government, will also be a featured speaker at Amplify Israel’s conference this May aiming to encourage Zionist sentiment among Reform Jews. 

At the convention, the leader of the Central Conference of American Rabbis called for Reform clergy to move away from defining Israel in stark black-and-white terms — an apparent reference to Jews who speak of “pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel” forces.

In order to connect better with those in our communities around Israel in a nuanced and meaningful way, we must be able to move beyond the pro/con dichotomy which only serves to divide us in ways that are a distraction to the actual issues at hand,” Rabbi Hara Person told the attendees. During the conference, the rabbis attended and voiced support for Israeli protests against their government.

“We are seeing a shift for the better, in my opinion, about how Jews are feeling comfortable critiquing Israel’s policies,” Rabbi Sarah Brammer-Shlay told JTA last fall, before the Israeli elections. Brammer-Shlay was a signer of the 2021 rabbinical students’ letter who graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and today is a rabbi and chaplain at Grinnell College. 

That kind of shift has Weinblatt worried. “Sometimes, rabbis are actually out of sync and out of touch with their congregations, who do want to hear messages of support of Israel,” he said.

That may well be the case, particularly at synagogues with aging populations, but survey data suggests that American Jews are moving to the left on Israel at the same time that Israel itself has shifted to the right. The most recent Pew Research Center survey of American Jews, in 2021, found that most have a negative opinion of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; only one-third think Israel is making a sincere effort to achieve peace with Palestinians; and 10% support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel.

While rabbis typically consider what they think their congregants want to hear, they aren’t bound to say it. And some rabbis say this moment is a time to take a stand, even if there is blowback.

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Congregation Ansche Chesed, a Conservative congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, announced in December that his congregation would no longer recite the Prayer for the State of Israel, part of most congregations’ Shabbat morning liturgy since 1948. He said the extremism of Israel’s leadership meant the words no longer applied, and replaced the prayer with the more generally worded Prayer for Peace in Jerusalem.

”I couldn’t just say, ‘God, please guide our leaders well,’” Kalmanofsky said, pointing specifically to the fact that extremist politicians Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich were now government ministers who would be the beneficiaries of such prayer. “The things that they’re saying cannot possibly represent the Israel that I want to support.” 

Kalmanofsky had not previously been outspoken as a critic of Israeli policy. He said he has faced some tough feedback from some in his community, including from those who believe this is a moment that demands more, not less, prayer for Israel — “not an unreasonable response,” he said. But a month into the liturgy change, he said he is confident he has made the right decision.

“Something really meaningful had changed in the public life of the state of Israel,” he said. “That deserved real recognition, and a real response.”

Continuing to focus on preserving a Jewish connection with Israel without “dealing like grown-ups” with its “very serious problems” would render the rabbinical voice irrelevant, Kalmanofsky said. “At best, we’re kind of like, ‘blind love, blind loyalty.’ And at worst, we’re totally obtuse, and have nothing meaningful to say about the real world.”

“If you’re going to have a pulpit,” Kalmanofsky added, “you’re going to have to use it once in a while.”


The post American rabbis, wrestling with Israel’s behavior, weigh different approaches from the pulpit appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Obituaries

Dr. NATHAN WISEMAN

Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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