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At this unique yearlong Torah study program in Jerusalem, students are encouraged to ask ‘Why?’



JERUSALEM — Walk the streets of Jerusalem on any given weekday morning, and you will discover there’s no shortage of intensive Torah study in this city that symbolizes the beating heart of the Jewish people.

Yet among the many yeshivas and seminaries it’s rare to find a beit midrash, or Jewish study hall, marked both by a commitment to egalitarian values and serious Torah study — not to mention one where Jews of color, LGBTQ+ Jews, converts, and Jews from marginalized groups are integral to the community.

The Conservative Yeshiva, which is part of the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center, threads that unique needle: It is a place in central Jerusalem where leaders and seekers from all backgrounds come to deepen their Jewish scholarship and find their place in Jewish tradition.

“Students come here with a sense of intellectual integrity and honesty to engage with traditional texts,” said Liz M.K. Nelson, a former kollel student from the yeshiva originally from Detroit who is now the yeshiva’s recruiter. “They come here on their individual journeys, with their different approaches to Judaism, with a real sense of determination to pursue their individual spiritual goals in an intentional community.”

Even when it comes to Jewish texts that challenge their views and values, Nelson said, “Here they can grapple with them in a space where everyone is dedicated to working through them with a sense of commitment to tradition, community, and integrity.”

The Conservative Yeshiva offers a range of programs, from summer experiences to winter break learning programs to partnerships that can lead to a master’s degree in Jewish education or even the rabbinate.

But the flagships of the institution are its long-term learning programs.

Called Lishma — a Hebrew term that means doing or learning for its own sake — the program welcomes post-college students of any age. The Lishma program is currently accepting applicants for the fall; it is open to both full-time and part-time students.

Students from the Lishma and Advanced Halakhah programs eat with faculty at a weekly community lunch. (Jonny Finkel)

Orah Liss, a native of Frankfurt, Germany, who was raised in a Masorti home (the equivalent of Conservative Judaism outside of North America), came to Lishma after completing a Jewish studies program in Sweden focused on Jewish literature, history and philosophy. Liss, 26, was looking to learn more from and about traditional Jewish texts.

“I wanted to build the familiarity with it — not just the what, but the why. I wanted to read the Talmud and have an understanding of it,” Liss said. “For me the halacha is very important, as is the traditional prayer service, so I wanted a place with the traditional aspects along with egalitarianism.”

The generous spirit of the yeshiva community became evident when Liss was saying Kaddish for her grandmother, she said. Even on days when there were no scheduled prayer services, she said, “I asked for people to come for a minyan and on every day people showed up.”

Some students use the year at Lishma as a stepping-stone to rabbinical school. A new track called Omek (Hebrew for “depth”) offers specialization in areas that expands students’ Jewish literacy and breadth of spiritual knowledge on the pathway to becoming a rabbi at one of the seminaries with which the Yeshiva works — such as the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles.

The focus isn’t just Jewish study, but also community building, immersion in authentic Jewish living and even innovation in worship.

Devorah Gillard, 66, a Lishma student from Nova Scotia, Canada, said she came to the Conservative Yeshiva at the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center to learn Torah in an open environment.

“The Conservative Yeshiva encourages you to ask and explore and expand. You are not judged. They hear what you have to say — your doubts and fears —and they help you to grow,” she said.

Raised as an evangelical Christian, Gillard’s lifelong spiritual journey led her to convert to Judaism eight years ago. She’s now a board member of the Canadian Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Toronto. “I wanted to understand what it meant to be Jewish, to get to the depth of Torah,” Gillard said.

Ejnat Willing discusses the Talmud in a class at the yeshiva in the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center. (Jonny Finkel)

She said her fellow students have a zeal to engage with Judaism and do good in the world that’s infectious.

“These are people who are really serious about their religion and God and don’t just daven,” or pray, Gillard said. “They are more aware of the environment, food insecurity and inclusion. They go after what they want to do in this world.”

The Lishma program draws some 30 students a year to its Jerusalem campus from near and far. They study Talmud, Tanakh, and Midrash as well as Jewish philosophy and prayer in a way that seeks to accommodate modern scholarship and the contemporary world. Students come from all kinds of levels of Jewish knowledge and Hebrew proficiency; the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center offers supporting programs to bring people up to speed as needed.

Allan Fis-Calderon spent most of his 20s advancing his career as a movie scriptwriter in Mexico City. But when the Covid-19 pandemic shut the world down, Fis-Calderon, 30, began to revisit his desire to study Torah. His rabbi from the city’s egalitarian Beit El Masorti synagogue suggested he look into the Conservative Yeshiva.

“So far this has been the best experience in my life — to experience Judaism from a liberal place where they take me into account. I feel at home and part of the group,” he said. “This has given me the opportunity to study Torah and develop myself as a Jew.”

Being in Israel at this crucial moment, where it feels like society is deeply divided, has made him appreciate Israel even more, Fis-Calderon said.

Much of the learning is conducted using the traditional Jewish method of chevruta, where students learn in pairs, but there is also plenty of classroom time with teachers.

Rabbi Joel Levy, the rosh yeshiva (yeshiva head), said his goal is to move every student along on their own journey of Jewish discovery.

“This is an immersive environment but not a coercive one. People need space and time to work out their relationship with Judaism and literacy,” Levy said. “Some people will come out of the other end saying they want to keep Shabbat and others will not keep Shabbat. I consider it a success when that decision has been made as an informed adult.”

Levy’s job, he said, is to create a space where people can take their own search seriously and openly.

The students who come to the Conservative Yeshiva hail from a range of Jewish denominations, races, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities. Though each may be in their own place in their individual religious journey, they learn and experience Jerusalem and Israel together as members of a Jewish community, he said.

“It is a total privilege to be with a group of people who are thinking about and searching for how to translate the wisdom and value of our tradition to today’s beautifully complex world,” Levy said.

The post At this unique yearlong Torah study program in Jerusalem, students are encouraged to ask ‘Why?’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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