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With Israel in turmoil, group of US rabbis visits with a mission: to listen and learn



Over the last few weeks, while Israel has been roiled by demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands, and President Isaac Herzog has warned about the possibility of civil war, American Jews have been watching with grave concern.

Even after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a delay in the government plan to overhaul the judiciary that sparked the mass protests, tensions in Israel remained high.

It was precisely at this fraught moment that UJA-Federation of New York decided to bring a group of rabbis from the New York area to Israel — to listen, learn and talk with key Israeli figures, and to communicate the nuances of what they heard back to their communities in New York.

“I learned more than I thought was possible,” said participant Rabbi Jonah Geffen, senior Jewish educator and campus rabbi at Hunter College Hillel in New York.

Over four days in March, the diverse group of 24 rabbis met with a wide range of Israelis, ranging from politicians — including architects of the judicial reform and representatives from the opposition — to leading public intellectuals, journalists representing publications from both the left and the right, community activists, and thought leaders. The trip was funded by the Paul E. Singer Foundation.

“UJA has a tradition of getting our community leaders and our rabbis proximate to the issues of the day to help them as they lead their communities,” said Hana Gruenberg, managing director of Jewish life at UJA-Federation, who accompanied the delegation of rabbis. “We’ve brought rabbis to Israel when there have been security issues, we’ve brought rabbis to Ukraine, and most recently, during this time of challenge in Israel around internal domestic issues and judicial reform, we wanted to give rabbis support in leading their communities at this complicated time.”

Among those with whom the rabbis met to discuss the current political situation in the country were leaders of two Israeli civil society organizations, Yozmat Hameah (the Initiative of the Hundreds) and a group called the Israeli Congress, which strives to address the tension between the state’s Jewish and democratic identities.

The delegation also participated in a program with Co.Lab, a collaborative sponsored by UJA-Federation comprised of social influencers from diverse backgrounds. The group is working on initiatives to advance cohesion in Israeli society.

The group heard from Micah Goodman, research fellow at the Kogod Research Center at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem; Knesset member Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionist Party, who as chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is trying to advance the judicial reform; Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli; and Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a Knesset member from the Labor Party.

The rabbinic delegation met with several journalists, including author Matti Friedman, Times of Israel political correspondent Carrie Keller- Lynn, and Jewish world reporter Zvika Klein of the Jerusalem Post.

Rabbis from the New York area gather in a Knesset meeting room ahead of a meeting with Knesset Member Simcha Rothman, an architect of the proposed judicial overhaul in Israel, March 17, 2023. (Courtesy of UJA-Federation)

“UJA was really thoughtful about our hearing from so many different perspectives explaining to us the complexity of these issues,” said Bracha Jaffe, associate rabba at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in the Bronx. “It struck me as such an eye-opener that it’s more than just about judicial reform. All the different societal factions have felt at one time marginalized, coerced on one side, not being seen, not being represented.”

One of the many reasons for this sort of mission to Israel, said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation, is to convene rabbis from different denominations and across the cultural spectrum that represent the diversity of the New York Jewish community.

“These trips give prominent New York rabbis the opportunity to have their voices heard by leaders in Israel. They provide the rabbis with the ability to better understand the complex reality there so they can more effectively lead their communities in these challenging moments,” Goldstein said. “And they bring together rabbis from across the denominational spectrum, helping to more closely knit our own New York Jewish community — an ever-more important priority.”

Often, the day-to-day life of a rabbi does not lend itself to reflective moments with colleagues to listen and share multiple viewpoints on complex issues facing the Jewish community and Israel.

“What made this trip significant was that people who love Israel equally can have a varied view about what is in the best interest of the Jewish state,” said Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City.

With an itinerary that carefully struck a balance between intellectual, spiritual and political leaders, as well as advocates and activists, the group was exposed to a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, Cosgrove said.

“I was engaging with ideas that affirmed my beliefs about judicial reform and also challenged my beliefs,” he noted.

Both during and after the trip, the rabbis discussed the question of what it means to be a spiritual leader at this moment.

“One of our most important roles is to make sure that our people find reasons to maintain that connection both to the Land of Israel and the people of Israel,” said Rabbi Joshua Davidson of Temple Emanu-El in New York. “For me, that is a critical part of my identity as a Jew and my role as a rabbi. I believe that it is going to be a harder and harder but a more and more important
endeavor in these months to come.”

Rabbi Ari Lorge of Central Synagogue in New York said each participant came to the trip with different viewpoints on Israel, but with a common hope to see the country and its citizens flourish.

“Each of us comes with our own dreams for Israel,” he said. “We’re not neutral observers. We must continue to advocate and encourage this kind of dialogue and hold fast to those dreams.”

While any Knesset vote on judicial reform is unlikely before late April, the political tumult in Israel is far from over, and American Jewish leaders intend to stay as involved as possible.

“In this rapidly evolving situation, we’ll continue with these kinds of engagements for rabbis, knowing that we’re still in the middle of this,” Gruenberg said. “We care deeply about what comes next.”

The post With Israel in turmoil, group of US rabbis visits with a mission: to listen and learn 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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