Monthly Archives: July 2013

Berkeley farm hosts Jewish-Hindu wedding


Micha'el BedarShah washes the feet of his bride, Aumatma, during the first wedding ceremony held at Urban Adamah, a Jewish educational farm in Berkeley, Calif., June 30, 2013. (Photos courtesy Micha'el BedarShah

Photo courtesy Micha’el BedarShah



By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — The bride emerged from a yurt, accompanied by her father. The groom and his mother came out of a greenhouse.

The four walked to a circular area delineated by a red string. In the center stood a chuppah; beneath the wedding canopy, a copper tin with a small fire.

Micha’el and Aumatma BedarShah were married June 30 at Urban Adamah, a small Jewish educational farm in Berkeley, Calif. The couple chose the farm for their interfaith wedding, believing, as Micha’el put it, that “we understand our traditions so much more clearly when we directly experience the wonder of nature.”

Their fathers each carried a candle to the circular area “so they could both simultaneously light our candles and we could accept both of their heritages,” Micha’el says.

Micha’el, 35, and Aumatma, 32 — whose new surname is a merger of his Jewish last name first followed by her Hindu one READ MORE

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Keeping a leash on the media at CUFI

I’ve been to many organizational conferences. Typically, I’ve gotten a press pass that allowed me to roam around the conference hall, sit in on sessions that hadn’t been designated as off the record and chat with delegates and sometimes staffers. Not so at the Christians United for Israel Summit. Some 4,000 people attended the summit in Washington, DC, but those of us with press passes had to be escorted from place to place and were not permitted to interview delegates unless arranged by the communications department.

There were about 400 college students there; CUFI arranged for me to interview two of them for this article on campus activity.

CUFI student activists, without ‘obvious self-interest,’ seek to legitimiza pro-Israel message on campus

By Debra Rubin/

WASHINGTON, DC—Sam Bain knew that life could be dangerous in southern Israel, with rockets fired indiscriminately across the border from Gaza. But it wasn’t until the Ohio college student visited an Israeli day care center near the Gaza border that the reality truly hit him.

This day care center was a bomb-safe facility. “We don’t have bomb-safe day care centers in America,” Bain told

“It was almost a wake-up call” about the reality of life in Israel, he said.

Bain visited the Jewish state in 2011 as part of a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) campus trip. This week, he was one of 400 students representing 157 campuses at CUFI’s Washington Summit, which drew more than 4,000 people to the nation’s capital. READ MORE


Click photo to download. Caption: College students Sam Bain (left) and Vika Mukha, pictured at the 2013 Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit, are nondenominational Christians who grew up with positive outlooks on Israel. Both believe there are not enough voices on behalf of Israel on college campuses. Credit: CUFI/Paul Wharton Photography.

CUFI/Paul Wharton Photography

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College care packages, from Starbucks cards to pharaoh punching bags, help synagogues stay in touch with students

It ‘s not even August yet, so it seems very strange to be talking about “back to school.” But the sales have started and college students will be packing before we know it. Here’s a look at how their hometown synagogues will stay in touch with them.


By Debra Rubin/

What do hamantaschen, a Starbucks gift card and a pharaoh punching bag have in common?

 They’re all goodies that Jewish college students may find in care packages sent by their hometown synagogues.

Synagogues across denominations keep in touch with college students in a variety of ways, from sending holiday food packages and putting the students on the newsletter mailing list, to inviting them to participate on Facebook pages and having the rabbi visit campus to take them out for dinner. READ MORE

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A new captain to steer Hillel’s 550 ships

As a college freshman, Eric Fingerhut ‘followed the singing’ and got to Hillel. Will his future as president be as harmonious?

By Debra Rubin/Times of Israel

Eric Fingerhut arrived at the Stanford University campus late on a Friday afternoon, having driven some 2,500 miles in a beat-up old Pontiac LeMans from his Cleveland Heights, Ohio, hometown. He found his law school dorm room, showered, changed and went for a walk. As he explored the campus he heard singing that he soon recognized as a Kabbalat Shabbat service.

“I followed the singing and that’s how I got to Hillel,” says Fingerhut, where he found a room full of students, faculty and staff and the “most joyful Kabbalat Shabbat.”

Thirty-two years later, Fingerhut is the newly appointed president and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Life.


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How to be supportive of Palestinians, and a Zionist

by Debra Rubin

As the president of the progressive Zionist Ameinu, Kenneth Bob often speaks to synagogue groups, bringing the message that support for Israel is not at odds with support for Palestinians and that criticism of Israeli policies is automatically anti-Israel. And he’s often told, “You need to be at every dining room table when Jewish students come home from college” where they’ve been subject to anti-Israel messages.

Since that’s an impossibility, Bob and other Ameinu lay leaders instead developed The Third Narrative, an initiative launched this week and aimed at countering anti-Israel activity by the progressive far left. The initiative includes a Third Narrative website and a booklet, “The Third Narrative: Progressive Answers To The Far Left’s Critiques of Israel,” penned by Dan Fleshler, a media and publish affairs strategist. Fleshler wrote the book “Transforming America’s Israel lobby – The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change.”

“It’s pretty clear that most of the attacks” on Israel, “but not all, come from the left,” says Bob. “We felt that the way to deal with these attacks is to be viewed as a legitimate voice on the progressive side…. READ MORE

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In Portugal, Jewish law of return moves from Facebook to law book

I’m wondering how many people will take advantage of this new law.

(JTA) — Until 2009, right-wing Portuguese politician Jose Ribeiro e Castro didn’t have much interest in the expulsion of his country’s Jewish community in the 16th century. That changed once Ribeiro e Castro opened a Facebook account.

Online, the 60-year-old lawmaker and journalist connected to several Sephardic Jews, descendants of a once robust Jewish community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, many of whom were forced into exile in 1536 during the Portuguese Inquisition. Eventually the encounters morphed into a commitment to rectify a historic injustice.

For Ribeiro e Castro, correcting the injustice meant spearheading a bill to naturalize the Jewish descendants of expelled Jews, a measure that unanimously passed the Portuguese parliament in April and went on the books last week, making Portugal the only country besides Israel with a Jewish law of return. READ MORE


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Boy finds way to bar mitzvah with help of Simms Taback graphic books

By Debra Rubinlevi davishoff at bima

(JTA) — As his mother read to him, Levi Davishoff puckered and moved his lips in the universal sign indicating that something is sour. He then pointed to the lemon pictured in the library book.

His mother, Marla, was thrilled. It was the first time that Levi, then 18 months old, had communicated with the baby sign language he had been learning. He had been in therapy for developmental and cognitive delays since was 2 months old.

Davishoff rushed out to buy the book, “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” by Simms Taback. It would become Levi’s favorite.

Little did she imagine that 12 years later the book would play an integral part in Levi’s bar mitzvah ceremony. READ MORE

Photo by Tell Draper

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Navy commander’s daughter does double duty

By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — Preparing for one bar or bat mitzvah service is tough enough. Eliana Werbel did it twice: once for an egalitarian service at a campsite, the second at a women’s prayer service two weeks later at her family’s Modern Orthodox synagogue.

The first service came on the Hebrew date of her 12th birthday, which happens to be the second day of Shavuot. For the Werbels, Shavuot also means an annual holiday retreat to Cacapon Resort State Park in West Virginia with two dozen families from Modern Orthodox and Conservative synagogues in the Washington area. The retreat, which has taken place for the past eight years, draws about 100 people. READ MORE  Image

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Conversion celebration takes a surprise turn — into a wedding


Photo courtesy Angela Gold

By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — Helen Rados showed up at the Bedford Post Inn north of New York City to celebrate the conversion of her friend Angela Gold. But as she approached, Rados spotted a chuppah on a hill behind the building.

She figured someone else had booked a wedding. Then she saw Angela wearing a white dress with pearls and beading.

Howard Lebowitz, meanwhile, noticed a piece of paper with Hebrew and English on it. He looked at it more closely: Wow, it’s a ketubah, a Jewish wedding contract, for Angela and her husband, Sam. “This is not just a conversion,” Lebowitz realized. “They’re getting married.” READ MORE

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Congregations tend the soil and the soul

By Debra Rubin 

(RNS) The Rev. Morris G. Henderson wasn’t sure what do with a vacant city block of land behind his 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. The church had purchased the plots, but didn’t have the funding to build a planned family life center.

Then, he had a vision.

“Why not build a garden and people can learn to be self-sufficient and we can grow food?” Henderson said.

With an 80-year-old congregant heading the project, the congregation planted its first garden in 2008: watermelons, tomatoes, okra, squash, strawberries and blueberries.

By the second year, even after the gardening chief had passed away, congregants were getting guidance from the Virginia Cooperative Extension; this year, the church has at least two dozen raised beds, with the bulk of the harvest used for the church’s Monday-Friday soup kitchen. READ MORE


Photo courtesy KAM Isaiah Israel

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