Tag Archives: Jewish

Call the Midwife

By Debra Rubin/Hadassah Magazine

Midwife Yale Silverberg-Urian assist a new mother with skin-to-skin bonding and breastfeeding her infant daughter.

Rebekah Natanov was nearing the end of her first pregnancy when she switched from an obstetrician-gynecologist to a hospital-based midwife. Having studied maternal and women’s health when she was in graduate school, the Silver Spring, Md., resident was concerned that her ob-gyn would be too hasty to do an episiotomy and put her at risk for infection, too ready to push her to take drugs to induce labor if she went too many days past her due date and too quick to do a cesarean section.

“Midwives in general have a more natural outlook on birth,” says Natanov, 35, a research analyst at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, whose oldest daughter, Michal, is 4 years old. Midwives “rarely do episiotomies. You don’t have to fight to have something to eat or drink in labor.”

Midwives have been assisting women in childbirth for millennia. The best known in Jewish tradition are the biblical Shifra and Puah, the midwives recalled in the Passover story who defied Pharaoh’s order to slay the newborn sons of Hebrew women and have been known through the ages as the saviors of their people. According to some rabbinic teachings, Shifra was Moses’ mother, Yocheved, and Puah was his sister, Miriam.   READ MORE

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Rabbi Kerry Olitzky creates ‘playlist’ for changing tunes of synagogue life

By Debra Rubin/JNS.org

Playlist Judaism Cover - Round 2Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is an optimist.

While other Jewish communal leaders worry about dwindling rates of affiliation, Olitzky points to the creation of 600 Jewish start-ups in the past decade. “I’m very optimistic about the American Jewish spirit,” he says.

Olitzky does, however, worry about “a dearth of adaptive leadership:” leaders who not only recognize that the American Jewish community is in a period of transition and that the communal institutions as they exist today—synagogues, JCCs, federations—may not exist tomorrow, but are also willing to reinvent those institutions.

That’s why Olitzky wrote “Playlist Judaism: Making Choices for a Vital Future,” recently published by the Alban Institute. With chapters such as “Turning the Synagogue Inside Out,”  “The Marketplace of Ideas,” “Intermarriage as an Opportunity, Not a Problem,” “Don’t Forget the Boomers,” and “Leading the Jewish Community into the Future,” the book focuses primarily on synagogues.

Olitzky’s aim, he writes in his introduction, is “to assist synagogue leaders in reshaping the synagogue so that it can reclaim its vital role in American Jewish religious life.”

The executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing Judaism to the unaffiliated and intermarried, and author of several other books, Olitzky tells JNS.org that he has always been interested in Jews “on the periphery, as opposed to people in the core.”

Olitzky says he is “way on the inside of the American Jewish community,” but has “a profound empathy for people on the outside.” Given the high number of Jews who aren’t institutionally affiliated, he says, “What we call the Jewish community is really the minority, not the majority. I’m puzzled why the Jewish community has been satisfied with reaching the minority.”

The author uses the notion of “playlist Judaism” to explain that, just as the music listener “wants to control his or her listening habits” and now has the option through iTunes and the like of buying individual songs rather than albums, the individual Jew “doesn’t want the Jewish institution to create his or her Judaism.”

“People do not want the things that meet their needs bundled with other things that they don’t think meet their needs and thereby be forced to buy the entire package,” Olitzky writes.

The author sees American Judaism as in transition, with those in their 20s and 30s “the first generation of fully American Jews” who are “far enough away from the trajectory of the immigration experience that they are part of the American fabric.”

No longer do many American Jews make their choices in terms of “what is good for the Jewish community,” says Olitzky, but rather they make choices about Jewish life based on what’s good for the individual.

As a result, the self-described futurist says that some institutions may no longer be needed. “I don’t worry that many of these institution will be sunsetted,” he says, pointing to the Jewish hospital as a no-longer-needed institution. The first Jewish hospital was founded in 1850 in Cincinnati to treat itinerant Jews who were refused health by other facilities, and also provided a place for Jewish interns and residents to train, he says.

With Jewish hospitals no longer needed for such a purpose, many were sold with the proceeds used to create foundations that support both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, says Olitzky.

The synagogue, too, he says, no longer has its original raison d’etre. “For their parents, the synagogues represented a claim on American soil as citizens. For the millennials, the synagogues are just buildings that serve a Jewish communal and religious purpose,” the rabbi writes.

“If synagogues continue to focus on the needs of the institution rather than on the needs of the individual, they will lose their dues-paying members and eventually become financially unviable,” he writes.

In “Playlist Judaism,” Olitzky advocates “public space Judaism”—holding holiday-related and other Jewish content events outside of Jewish institutions—and also gives examples of novel synagogue models. He points, for instance, to Ikar, a 500-plus family unit nondenominational “alternative synagogue community” in Los Angeles with “free-form worship,” which includes a drum circle, a commitment to community engagement (the congregation worked with an interfaith coalition to bring about changes in the city’s towing and impound policies, which targeted immigrants), and as of yet has no building of its own.

In Boston, Temple Israel’s Riverway Project is geared toward the millennial generation, with a focus on worship, intensive Jewish text study, and social action activities and events held outside the synagogue building, in an area where younger Jews are more likely to live.

While he’s not certain exactly what shape the Jewish community will look like in the next generation, Olitzky is certain that 21st-century Judaism is in an era of transition. “We don’t know when this era will conclude,” he says. “The only thing we can be sure of is when the transition concludes, the Jewish community will not look anything like it did before.”


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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

If you know of a lifecycle event that would make a great story, please email lifecyclist@jta.org.

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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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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

If you’ve got a great idea for a lifecycle story, please email lifecyclist@jta.org.

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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/JNS.org

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 JNS.org.

“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/JNS.org

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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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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Double wedding in Seattle caps rapper’s transformation

By Debra Rubin

(JTA) — Five years ago he was D-Black, a hip-hop artist rapping about the violence, gang activity and drugs of his African-American ’hood. Today he’s Nissim Black, an Orthodox Jew davening in a Sephardic shul in Seattle and writing songs he describes as rap/urban alternative that “speak a message of hope and inspiration.”

The shift in his musical message will be on full display with his new album, “Nissim,” due for release July 16.

Meanwhile, the changes in his personal life were underscored earlier this year when the 26-year-old musician was one of two grooms in a double Jewish wedding ceremony that became a communitywide project. READ MOREImagePhoto Adar Images

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