At 80, Holocaust survivor Ivan Gabor finally revels in his bar mitzvah


(JTA) — Ivan and Rebecca Gabor have been married for 34 years. And for 34 years, Rebecca had heard her husband lament that he never had a bar mitzvah celebration.

Born in Transylvania, Ivan and his family moved to Hungary when he was a young child, changing their last name from Grossman to Gabor. When the Nazis came, his father was sent to a forced labor camp; Ivan and his mother went into hiding.

His father returned at the end of the war but was very sick, said Gabor, whose self-published memoir, “Echoes of My Footsteps,” tells the story of his survival and his life in Israel and Argentina before settling in the United States in 1977.

“He was planning my bar mitzvah,” Gabor said. “He even wrote a speech. But he passed away. I never had a bar mitzvah.”

“Every time we would go to a bar mitzvah, he would say ‘I never had a bar mitzvah,’ ” Rebecca said.

Their son, Gabe, adds, “I can’t remember a time in my life when he didn’t remind me of the fact that he didn’t have a bar mitzvah.”

Rebecca decided to do something about it — without telling her husband. READ MORE


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No stranger to meeting presidents, Rabbi Moline takes helm of NJDC

By Debra Rubin/

Rabbi Jack Moline was sitting with his friend, Rahm Emanuel, then a White House adviser, as the two ate lunch during their regular Jewish study session when the door swung open and President Bill Clinton walked into Emanuel’s White House office.

Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, introduced the rabbi—who stood up, shook Clinton’s hand, and told the president that he was happy to meet him, forgetting he “had a mouthful of sandwich.”

“I mumbled and sort of spit all over him,” Moline tells

It was the first face-to-face interaction the rabbi had with a president of the United States, but not the last—although presumably the last with food in his mouth. As a religious leader, Moline has been to numerous official White House meetings, mostly as director of public policy for the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, a position he held from 2009 until May, and has met both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. On Monday, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) announced that Moline would take over in January as executive director. He replaces David A. Harris, who left last February.  READ MORE

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College group gets students ‘invested’ in Israel

By Debra Rubin/Times of Israel

The idea began with two students at the University of Michigan: to start a club that would connect college students to Israel through its economy.

Seven years later, the pair — Sasha Gribov and Eitan Ingall — are immersed in their own careers, but the Tamid Israel Investment Group, the nonprofit they founded, has grown to 15 campus chapters throughout the United States, with some 350 students involved, and has hired its first full-time paid executive director.

Tamid has grown so much that running it had become unmanageable for the students, says Allison Berman, a board member who had been the volunteer executive director until Brett Goldman, 28, came aboard full-time in July…. READ MORE


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Red string under the huppah? Forget kabbalah, it’s a JewBu thing


By DeFamily and friends tie red strings around the wrists of Rachel Sam and William Rubenstein in a Cambodian jong dai ceremony, Aug. 11, 2013. (Courtesy Rachel Sam and William Rubenstein)bra Rubin

(JTA) — Standing beneath the huppah, the couple was blessed with the priestly benediction four times in four different languages.

William Rubenstein’s father offered the prayer in the traditional Hebrew, his mother in English, his bride’s mother in French, her father in Cambodian.

“Having parents say something at the ceremony is very important and I always include it when possible,” says Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, who officiated at Will and Rachel Sam’s Aug. 11 wedding in Boston and suggested the blessing be given in the four languages.

The French and Cambodian were a nod to Rachel’s having grown up in France and Cambodia. Another hint of her background came … READ MORE

Family and friends tie red strings around the wrists of Rachel Sam and William Rubenstein in a Cambodian jong dai ceremony, Aug. 11, 2013. (Courtesy Rachel Sam and William Rubenstein)

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After settling late father’s affairs, woman moves on with trip to the mikvah


By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — Susan Esther Barnes had had a rough two years. Her father’s death in April 2011 came as a shock; she hadn’t even known he had been hospitalized. And his widow’s leaving town for a week complicated plans for his funeral and burial.

As executor of his will, Barnes discovered that the money in bank accounts that were to go to her and her sister had been transferred to someone else.

All in all, it was an extraordinarily difficult ordeal, says Barnes, who wrote about the experience on her Religious and Reform blog.

When she received a letter in May telling her that her duties as executor were completed, the Novato, Calif., resident was relieved.

“It felt like such a point of transition,” Barnes, a consultant for public agencies, told JTA. “When I got that letter, I wanted to mark the occasion.”

Mikvah sprang to mind. READ MORE

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Summer loving happened so slow, but ends in wedding at camp

By Debra Rubin

Andras Paszternak and Barbi Paszternak-Szendy celebrate at their wedding in Camp Szarvas, Hungary, June 2013. (Marton Karsai)

(JTA) – There’ve been plenty of Jewish weddings held at Camp Szarvas in rural Hungary over the years — Spanish, Moroccan, Chasidic. Rabbi Tamas Vero participated in a few of them. But, they were all mock weddings, part of the camp’s educational programs.

Barbi Paszternak-Szendy and Andras Paszternak’s June wedding marked the first time a real-life wedding was held at the camp run by the American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee. Vero, rabbi of the Leo Frankel Street Synagogue in Budapest, officiated. Read more:

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Israeli mom’s search for a meaningful bat mitzvah leads back to Schenectady

As this article makes clear, liberal Jewish opportunities in Israel just aren’t the same as in the United States — at least not for this mom and her daughter.

Zoe Coleman-Becker at her bat mitzvah celebration, July 2013. (Evan Lauber)

Photo by Evan Lauber


By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — In Zoe Coleman-Becker’s Tel Aviv circle of friends, bat mitzvah typically means a surfing party, an overnight in the desert or a Japanese tea party. But Zoe’s mom, Pamela Becker, wanted her daughter to have much more than that. She wanted a celebration that also was a meaningful Jewish experience.

“It’s relatively status quo to make a bar mitzvah in Israel,” said Becker, who will be making a bar mitzvah for her four sons.

A bat mitzvah, on the other hand, is “hugely difficult — you have to think totally out of the box” to have the type of service she remembered having back in the United States.

She decided the best way to accomplish that was to plan a bat mitzvah celebration for Zoe in her childhood synagogue, Agudat Achim in Schenectady, N.Y. — READ MORE

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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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