The Lubavitcher Rebbe's 19th Yahrtzeit

Lubavitcher Rebbe

Today is the 19th anniversary (by the Jewish calendar) of the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe. Here are two BJPA publications to mark the occasion:

The Many Movements of Chabad

Maya Balakirsky Katz | Sh'ma, December 2102  |  Information  |  View

Under the leadership of its last rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902- 1994), Chabad in America evolved its leadership to include a geographically scattered group of followers, turning a necessary response to dislocation into a modus operandi of modern Chabad...

The Chabad Lubavitch Movement: Filling the Jewish Vacuum Worldwide -- An Interview with Samuel Heilman

Manfred Gerstenfeld  |  JCPA, December 2005  |  Information  |  View

While other Hasidic groups grow only through their high fertility, Chabad increases also through persuasion. This carries a risk. When a Hasidic group imports outsiders, they do not leave behind all they were before. They bring new cultural elements into the group. One finds, for instance, art in Chabad environments, a rather uncommon phenomenon among Hasidim. Chabad Hasidim - also due to the environment they live in - must have a certain level of tolerance toward nonobservance. They usually also have friends who are non-Orthodox Jews.

 

Browse BJPA by Topic for related publications:

Orthodox Judaism

Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism

Jewish Leadership

Politics & Scripture

Romney-Obama

Both President Obama and Governor Romney recently granted an interview on faith to the magazine of National Cathedral in Washington. Both candidates named favorite passages of scripture, with the choices revealing a fascinating difference in emphasis. One candidate's chosen passage focuses on charity, and specifically on helping the needy with their physical needs. The other candidate's passage discusses God's power over the world, and to provide protection for human beings who trust Him.

If you think you know which favorite scriptural inspiration belongs to which candidate, think twice.

It was Pres. Obama who cited Isaiah 40:31—"But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (NIV)—and Psalm 46. And it was Gov. Romney who cited Matthew 25:35-6—"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me" (KJV).

What, if anything, can we learn from this seeming inversion of what we might expect the two candidates' theologies to emphasize? Why does the President, whose politics insist we are all collectively responsible as a human society to tend to the physical needs of the needy, emphasize God's sovereignty and ability to provide protection? Why does his conservative opponent emphasize handouts of food, hospitality and clothing? If the candidates chose these passages with an eye toward political traction, perhaps the inversion is a deliberate attempt to reassure religious swing voters that they are not the caricature the other side would paint. Pres. Obama is attacked as a secret Muslim and/or godless Communist, so his biblical passages imply his Christian faith is rock solid. Gov. Romney, on the other hand, knows that conservatism is often attacked as heartless, and one of his gaffes was a declaration that he was "not concerned about the very poor". So his biblical passage implies that he cares deeply about the needy, and his desire to cut government programs doesn't mean he doesn't value charity on a private basis.  Both choices can be read as damage control.

(You could argue that a New Testament passage might have made the Christian point for Pres. Obama more clearly than two Old Testament passages, but nobody is attacking him for being a secret Jew... Wait, scratch that, people in the Middle East probably are attacking him for being a secret Jew. But no significant voting bloc in America is doing so... Could the Old Testament choices have been aimed at shoring up the Jewish vote? Quite unlikely.)

What, if anything, can we make of Gov. Romney's decision to truncate verse 36? In the interview, the Governor didn't only mention the verses by name, he quoted them as above. But the complete verse 36 continues further than he quoted. The part of the verse Gov. Romney left out is in bold: "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (KJV).

Drawing conclusions from this is awfully tempting. Is visiting prisoners not tough enough on crime for the Republican candidate to include in his favorite quotation? Did Gov. Romney stop where he stopped so as not to bring up the issue of health care, and the similarity of his Massachusetts plan to the President's national version? Or was the truncation simply a forgetful mistake? (And if he did forget the verse's conclusion, what (if anything) can we make of that?)

On all counts, the answer should be that there's nothing we can make of this at all. In a reasonably sane world, I'd be the first one to criticize a blog post like this one and say, "Are you crazy? Have some respect. Don't assume the candidates chose these passages cynically. Why not give these two leaders the benefit of the doubt and assume they both made their choices solely out of a genuine affinity for these verses, and not read political calculations into their choices?"

That's what I'd think in a sane world... Meanwhile, in this world: so vitriolic has this election been—so divisive and rhetorically dishonest—that the kind of cynical speculations in which I've just indulged (and I have indulged in them, I will say, not without a small hint of guilt) don't feel very much out of place. Both campaigns have at various times advanced such blatantly unfair arguments against the other side that I have a hard time imagining that either of these two candidates could let an opportunity to score even the tiniest political point go by, and simply choose their favorite passages without running it by a pollster.

Podcast: Jewish Values, Jewish Interests

Ruth Wisse

This was easily our most provocative event to date.

On Monday, December 5th, Prof. Ruth Wisse and Rabbi Joy Levitt joined BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen at the NYU Law School for a wide-ranging, passionate, broad discussion of how the Jewish community should relate to the outside world.

After a brief ceremony honoring Gail Chalew for her 20+ years as editor of the Journal of Jewish Communal Service (the digitization of which on BJPA was the impetus for the event), Rabbi Levitt spoke of her decisions, as Executive Director of the JCC in Manhattan, to reach out to non-Jewish poor and minority communities, as well as the Muslim community leaders affiliated with the Cordoba Center / Park 51 "Ground Zero mosque" now known as Prayer Space. Prof. Wisse spoke of Israel under attack and an American Jewish community lacking in moral confidence, and judging Judaism based on liberal standards instead of liberalism based on Jewish standards. Our fearless leader, Prof. Cohen, acted as moderator, but without setting aside his own positions on the issues.

Click here to listen.

A Nonprofit Leader Who Really Did Shut It Down

Ephraim Gopin, writing for eJewish Philanthropy:

I read with great interest the point-counterpoint by Robert Evans, Avrum Lapin and Seth Chalmer featured on eJewish Philanthropy recently. As someone who has recommended to a nonprofit Board to cease operations, I feel I have a unique perspective on the issue...

...There are too many nonprofits and institutions in Israel. I firmly believe that merging nonprofits with similar missions will create a more stable, vibrant sector where long term well-being and strategy are dominant, as opposed to the pettiness of “kavod” – honor – taking center stage...

...Israel has 40,000 registered nonprofits – 5-10,000 of which are active at any given time. We all know that a great percentage of them depend on overseas funding for survival. With the world recession and federations keeping more funds at home, we should be REDUCING the number of nonprofits here seeking funding overseas.

I am well aware of the dangers of merging – job and salary slashing being the worst. However, we should encourage this behavior because the alternative is worse: nonprofits who are debt-ridden, can’t pay salaries or suppliers, may have to shut down. In that case, everyone is out of a job. Donors and foundations should be pushing similar mission-oriented nonprofits to merge, as a means of survival if nothing else.

Lest you say I talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, here’s my story: I recommended to the Board of a nonprofit I headed to cease operations.

When I settled into the CEO chair and began looking over the financials, I was shocked: the organization was in major debt. When I sat with the CFO, we tried every which way to avoid the “cut, slash, burn and trim” method of nonprofit management. To no avail; the pit was too deep.

Finally, after all options had been exhausted, I sat with the Board and told them unequivocally: We need to cease operations immediately, declare bankruptcy and try to find another nonprofit to take over operating the facility... In this manner, we hoped to save as many staff jobs as possible and work on an arrangement where the nonprofit who takes over would repay the debt to suppliers.

I know there are too many nonprofits, too many institutions in Israel. Some are in debt, are behind in paying staff and suppliers and yet they refuse to shut down. I also know that upper management would never “fire themselves.” But something has to be done because, when a recession hits, the whole sector suffers enough. The problem is compounded when, in reality, a little forethought would have made the sector stronger, not weaker.

Gopin's perspective and unique experience is a welcome addition to the conversation, and a welcome reminder that waste and redundancy truly are present and problematic.

It's worth noting that the nonprofit sectors in Israel and the United States are quite different. The American combination of unprecedented commitment to private charity along with a comparatively meager government social safety net makes the US nonprofit sector rather a different beast from its counterparts not only in Israel, but really everywhere else, at least in many ways.

For the Jewish nonprofit sector in particular, it is also of great import that in America, voluntary associations, congregations and nonprofit organizations constitute the entirety of Jewish communal expression, whereas in Israel the very State itself is a Jewish organization.

These two differences -- in the relationship of nonprofits to the State, and in the relationship of Jewishness to the State -- are bound to affect the ways in which each country's Jewish nonprofit sector conceives of itself, and is likely to affect questions of efficiency, redundancy, ideological diversity, and more.

For more reading on charitable sector leaders intentionally putting themselves out of a job, I suggest reading up on the AVI CHAI Foundation's decision to spend down and sunset itself.

David Elcott on Engaging Baby Boomers

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his research into Baby Boomers and their place in the communal life of minority communities.

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

Rebbetzin Redux

Our new BJPA Project Assistant, Jessica Cavanagh-Melhado, was profiled today in the Forward's Sisterhood blog, for her writing (along with co-blogger Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez) at Redefining Rebbetzin.

Melissa: There is this old stereotype of a rebbetzin being a frumpy woman who stays at home, cooking with kids hanging from her skirt — and one look at our blog will tell you that that is far from who we are! A big part of what we’re exploring is how people view contemporary rebbetzins and contrast that with this Old World sterotype. I don’t think we could have dreamed it would be in the place it is not just a year and a half into it!

Jessica: There’s the new phenomenon in the traditional world of women leaders in congregations, and having to figure out the role of their spouses. Those two things together I think formed the kernel of this idea. There is a lot of ground between what women and men out there are experiencing and what the traditional notion is, and that’s really interesting. The dynamic of two friends ending up married to two guys who want to be rabbis seemed a little unlikely, given our backgrounds. It really compelled us to share our stories.

What’s your definition of feminism? Is this a feminist project?

Melissa: Feminism is about empowering women to be whoever they are, wherever they are, in a way which is fulfilling to them. It’s not about being “equal” to men; that implies that women are inherently less than men and we have to do things in a more masculine way to be the best women we can be. Choosing to be a religious working woman who dreams of being able to both work to support her family and to be able to spend the formative years of her (future) children’s lives with them is embracing feminism.

Jessica: We’re married women living in religious communities that are struggling with the role of women. This is somewhat of a feminist project, since it gives us a platform to grapple with community norms and halachic issues. Child-rearing is a feminist issue; we can’t talk about advancing women in positions of power if we don’t talk about the lack of affordable child care and helping women create balance in their home lives.

Read the whole interview here.

Kol hakavod to Jessica -- who, by the way, is not the only rebbetzin on the BJPA staff. Our fearless leader, BJPA Director Prof. Steven M. Cohen, is also a rebbetzin; he is married to Rabbi Marion Lev-Cohen.

Gov. Christie: Shari'a Concerns Are "Crazy"

The video below demonstrates that not every popular Republican has jumped on the anti-Islam bandwagon. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, best known for his (to put it mildly) bluntness, reacts to criticism of his appointment of a Muslim judge to the state bench:

We've had something of an anti-anti-Islam theme going on this Jewish policy blog for the past few weeks, but I think that's appropriate. It's not only that Muslims and Jews share key values, as the JTA reported this week. It's also, naturally, that American Jews have a strong communal knowledge of what it's like to be a vilified religious/ethnic minority. The fact that our two communities are so bitterly divided over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and related issues makes it all the more important to recognize these and other points of commonality.

Background:

BJPA Publications on Islam
BJPA Publications on Jewish-Muslim relations
BJPA newsletter on Jewish-Muslim relations, September 2010

Other recent Islam themed blog posts:

July 18
July 28
August 1

Shared Leadership

Partnership

eJewish Philanthropy reports that The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel is moving to a dual leadership model -- i.e., the organization will now have two executives standing together on the the point of the managerial pyramid.

This move is worth observing in future months and years:

  • How will the organization fare under this model generally?
  • How will Board-Staff relations be affected?
  • How will donors react?
  • How will the organizational culture change?
  • How will disagreements between the two leaders be handled?
  • Will this model enhance each leader's work-life balance?

Related reading:

1967 Borders, and How to Lie With Maps

Israel, sans Green Line

As Jews in America, Israel and elsewhere continue to mull over President Obama's Middle East speech last Thursday, and his subsequent explanation at the AIPAC conference, "1967 borders" have become the topic du jour.

In 2008, Hannah Weitzer of Windows-Channels for Communication observed in Sh'ma that Diaspora Jews are accustomed to looking at maps of Israel which do not mark the Palestinian territories, or the "Green Line" that represents the 1967 border. "Drawing in the internationally recognized border between Israel proper and the occupied territories is not a quick fix for all of the issues surrounding Israel education," she writes. "But teaching with maps that lack the green line is indicative of a larger gap between fact and myth that runs rampant in teaching Israel to Diaspora Jews."

But if a map without the Green Line is deceptive, might not a map featuring a hard, solid, 1967-style Green Line be equally deceptive? In the same issue of Sh'ma, history professor Derek J. Penslar cautions against oversimplification in cartography:

"I have a colleague at the University of Toronto who teaches a course called 'How to Lie With Maps.' Supporters of Israel might well suggest as required reading for this course Palestinian maps that show a unitary Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Jordan with no sign of Israel’s existence. Yet Israeli maps, and those produced by and for Diaspora Jews, rarely mark the Green Line that constitutes the country’s internationally recognized borders."

Yet is the answer simply to replace one simplistic map with another simplistic map?

"The best way... would be through maps that faithfully depict the constant presence of Jews and Arabs in the same landscape... Superimposing maps would display the geographic structure and distribution of each community along with the points of intersection between them."

Penslar's chief concern is diachronic -- he wants to help people to understand the development of Arab and Jewish populations in Israel/Palestine over time. But I think his point is even more interesting if taken synchronically -- as a model for looking at the present moment. The reality of Jewish settlement blocs, along with Arab-majority population centers in Israel proper, makes the prospect of a neat and tidy border along the Green Line completely untenable. Besides which, the Green Line was not set in stone or decided upon by any kind of treaty or decree -- it's basically a cease-fire line marking troop positions during a pause (lasting from 1949 until 1967) in a war that started in 1948 and has never actually ended. President Obama, of course, recognizes this, which is why he included the phrase "mutually-agreed swaps" in his speech.

In any case, Penslar's point at its core is that a simple map is a deceptive map, and I think perhaps observers of all but the most extreme positions can agree with that.

Complexity

36 x (<36) = The Jewish Week

36

The New York Jewish Week has released its fourth annual list of 36 Under 36. Behold the next generation of Hebrew hotshots, "dedicated lay leaders who are reordering our legacy organizations alongside community activists and social justice crusaders whose startups are chock-full of innovation."

BJPA's growing horde of documents (now over 11,000!) includes some publications by the mighty 36, but of course, given the fact that some of these rising stars are still early in their careers (perhaps more accurately described as protostars, or even nebulae) the pickings are more limited than would be the massive pile of publications we would have to feature if the Jewish Week had profiled 72 Over 72. (Gary Rosenblatt, if by some chance you're reading thisI think 72 Over 72 would actually be a great feature.)

Anyway, here's what we've got from the latest lamed-vavniks:

 From Matt Bar, Bible Rapper (31), we have (unsurprisingly) "Bible Raps: All Tatted Up"

From Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman (34), we have a gloss on a gloss on a Mishnah. (See the bottom of the PDF download.)

From Arabic scholar, education junkie, and Renaissance Woman Elisabeth Cohen (26), we have an argument in favor of argument.

Finally, from Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, human rights activist, we have an article about the cost of kashrut and another about the institution of the kitchen.

As for the other 32 leaders of tomorrow, we say: get writing the next generation of Jewish policy documents for us to post! (And upload your policy-relevant material using our user upload feature.)

Wiesel at Wagner

by Aimee Gonzalez

(cross-posted at Wagner Today)

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, whom many consider to be the most articulate witness of the Holocaust and whose work, Night, has become a classic account of that time, visited New York University’s Puck Building on April 12th with the Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship and the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. In light of his most recent publication, An Ethical Compass, and the general theme of social entrepreneurship Wiesel discussed ethos, and why we need it to advance society.

Speaking to a room filled with students, community members and faculty, Wiesel asked, “Where are we? With so many changes, convulsions, what is happening to the world? We need a historic compass,” to situate and orient ourselves. That compass is ethos.

For Wiesel, ethos “is a choice between good and evil. How can we make such a distinction? First decide what is not good—anything involving humiliation of the other.” He discussed Hitler and Stalin’s use of their leadership position to preach an ethos that was not truly there—and was instead a way to justify millions of deaths. Wiesel reminded his audience that “the choice is always in our hands.” He gives the example of the SS (Hitler’s protection force that grew into a paramilitary organization), emphasizing that they had a choice. In fact, it was a voluntary position; no one should ever believe that they were coerced.

Given Wiesel’s life story, references to Hitler and Nazi Germany are inevitable. However, he also defines ethos as generally “respect[ing] the other for whatever the other is.” His childhood love for the others in his community, beggars and madmen, grew into the social activism he is well known for today. To illustrate this respect for the other, he gave the example of his visit to German President Johannes Rau, in which he pointed out that the one thing Germany had never done was to ask the Jewish people for forgiveness. In 2000, Rau flew to Israel and went before the Knesset, and wrote letters to survivors, asking for forgiveness.

Wiesel gave another example of his social activism, the mediation between the Minister of Apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. After many days of frustration, he “took them into a room and said, ‘talk to each other.’ That was the beginning of the end of apartheid.”

His policy of respecting the “other” in others has earned Elie Wiesel recognition and reputation beyond his story of survival. Although he has written extensively about his experience, and especially the challenge of writing about the Holocaust, he has also been an activist on behalf of other humanitarian causes. (See, for example, this 2000 open letter of advice to then-President Clinton regarding the situation in Sudan.) Wiesel has also established a foundation to combat injustice and indifference worldwide.

Browse the BJPA for more resources on the Holocaust, Holocaust Education, Genocide, Human Rights, Global Responsibility, and Ethics.

BJPA Survey: US Jewish Leaders of Two Minds on Egypt

As American Jews prepare for the Passover Seder and the recounting of the Exodus of their ancestors from Egypt, the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner has released the results of a new survey of American Jewish leaders demonstrating American Jews are of two minds about recent developments in Egypt. On the one hand, they warmly greet the apparent turn to democracy and human rights. At the same time, they are unsure of the implications for Israel and the Jewish State’s long-standing peace treaty with Egypt.

Moreover, American Jews split sharply along political lines. The politically conservative and Republican partisans fear that the developments will undermine Egypt’s commitment to maintaining its non-belligerent approach toward Israel and are skeptical about the likelihood of advancing democracy and human rights in Egypt. To be sure, situated between the two poles of cautious celebration and watchful skepticism is the “modal middle” of American Jewish leadership, characterized by ambiguity, ambivalence, and indecision.

These findings emerge from an online, opt-in survey of Jewish leaders conducted by Professors Steven M. Cohen of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner and Samuel Abrams, who is Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Politics, Sarah Lawrence College. Fielded by Research Success Technologies of Israel under the direction of Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz, the survey was conducted in March, 2011, before the role of the Muslim Brotherhood came into sharper focus. The survey of non-random lists of Jewish leaders elicited responses from 1,859 respondents.

Download the full press release and full survey results here.

URJ Names New President: Rabbi Richard Jacobs

The Union for Reform Judaism has just announced that it will name Rabbi Richard Jacobs as its incoming President. Rabbi Jacobs has been the senior rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York since 1991, and serves on the boards of UJA-Federation of New York, American Jewish World Service, and Synagogue 3000.

A number of sermons and other publications by Rabbi Jacobs are available on the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner:

Synagogues and Federations: From Rivals to Partners (2010)

God's Favorite: Rosh Hashanah 5771 

Standing Together for Israel: Yom Kippur 5771 (2010)

Remarks at the Jewish Rally in Support of the Cordoba House Islamic Center (2010)

Mashber: Yom Kippur 5770 (2009)

A Walk in Your Shoes: Rosh Hashanah 5770 (2009)

Nishma (2009)

Chag V'Chesed: Sukkot 5768 (2007)

And You Shall Be A Blessing: Sermon for Baccalaureate Service (2002)

Click here to explore other publications relating to the Reform movement.

UPDATE: The New York Times coverage of this story quotes BJPA Director Steven M. Cohen:

“He’s the most widely respected senior congregational rabbi in the Reform movement,” said Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist of American Jewry at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, in New York, a Reform affiliate. “His last two predecessors did not come directly from senior congregational roles, suggesting that the movement is concerned about delivering change, value and transformation to Reform congregations.”

A Pair of Publications for President's Day

In 1980, Jonathan D. Sarna examined the “myth” that a Jew can become President of the United States. Sarna wrote that this notion has great value and usefulness for both Jewish and Gentile Americans, but he considered it quite unlikely actually to occur at any near date. (It would be interesting to hear what he would say now, these thirty years hence. Dr. Sarna, are you reading this? What say you?)

More recently, a mere decade ago, Leonard Dinnerstein explored the relationship between American Jews and every American President from FDR to Bill Clinton.

Happy President’s Day!

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