Thursday, March 31, 2011

From #Tribefest to #BAYT: A call to elevate...

The month started with an interesting look at where the Jewish religion may be heading today. At Tribefest in Las Vegas organized by members of the various federations of North America, Jewish identity, the acceptance of Punk Jews and others like them, among the traditional streams of Judaism was a prominent theme.

Punk Jews like you or I hold a strong religious belief in their heritage. The difference between us is that they choose to express their level of spirituality in unique and unconventional ways, often against the grain of what the age-old institutions deem appropriate.

When the article was printed in The CJN, the focus was primarily on creative Americans. When the question was posed to Evan Kleinman producer of the Punk Jews documentary how far the influence of Punk Jews had reached, Kleinman admitted to having received e-mails from Vancouver, Toronto as well as parts of Europe.Groups of young Jews in various cities were all messaging that they, like their American counterparts had similar stories to share and were looking for an event like Chulent to come north or go across the pond.

For Punk Jews Chulent is not the traditional stew, rather a weekly gathering at a Synagogue in New York where the diverse group of Jews gather to sing, dance, rap, share art and have fun.

Synagogues here and in the United States are clamoring to fill their seats, as they watch their memberships decline. Last week, Rabbi Josh Blass spoke at BAYT - the third candidates for the vacated senior rabbi position. All of the rabbis interviewed thus far have echoed essentially the same message of BAYT's members, namely that institutional Judaism has put itself in a tightly-packed box. Each synagogue accepts members who follow a certain level of observance. The modern orthodox community in Toronto, at least those at BAYT, are adopting the stance that it would likely be beneficial in today’s world to try opening its doors to those less frum than themselves. This effort reflects a push to reach out to the un-affiliated and create a more welcoming space to the kinds of Jews outside their mainstream congregants.

One of the top spokespeople for the Punk Jews documentary Y-Love, the first African-American Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist, made this very strong lasting impression with just four words "Unity elevates, division destroys".

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last of the candidates for BAYT'S top spot

The weeks have gone by and the time is quickly aproaching when the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (BAYT) will have to choose their next Senior Rabbi. Before the votes are cast one candidate remains to be screened: Rabbi Josh Blass, Morah D'asra of Kehillas Bais Yehudah in Wesley Hills, New York. A position he has held since August 2005.

Blass, the youngest of the three candidates for Beth Avraham's top job, received his smicha from RIETS in 1998. Straight from high school Blass studied for a year and a half in Yeshivat Ohr Yerushalayim before commencing studies at Yeshiva University.

Aside from his shul obligation his time is given to Project Tikvah, a branch of the Rockland Women's Shelter (caring for battered and abused women) serving as the rabbinic advisor. He is an active member of the chevrah kadisha and has lectured extensively throughout the New York area.

In much the same way as those evaluated before him did, Blass will be speaking on Friday night and Shabbat morning as well as Shabbat afternoon at Seudah Shelishit (Third Meal). He will meet with the BAYT's young families group on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. in the Simcha Suite and will also give the Daf Yomi shiur Sunday morning.

What’s in a name? What’s in my name?

On March 13, I attended a program of Torah in Motion (TIM) featuring Rabbi Avi Weiss, the modern Orthodox leader probably best known in recent years for ordaining Rabba Sara Hurwitz.
An engaging speaker, Rabbi Weiss reflected on his life in an interview by TIM co-founder Elliot Malamet.
But before I settled down to write the article and focus on what the rabbi had talked about, I found myself reflecting on a different matter – my name. Strangely, the subject had come up twice in the course of the evening.
During the question-and-answer session, I asked Rabbi Weiss if he ever felt discouraged in his work, because he had just talked about his concerns over Orthodoxy’s move to the right and centralization of power in the Orthodox world.
Before he answered my question – albeit not directly, preferring to focus on the positive aspects of his rabbinate – he wanted to know my name. It was a teachable moment for him, I suspect.
When I told him my name was Frances, he asked for my real name. For a split second, I wondered why he didn’t believe me.
But it was my Hebrew name that he wanted to know. Although I think of my English name as equally “real,” I get that, in Judaism, the Hebrew name is more significant.
People often react with amusement when I tell them that my Hebrew name is Fruma Sarah. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because I share it with the tall, scary ghost of Lazar Wolf’s first wife, an apparition in Tevye’s dream in Fiddler on the Roof.
Coincidentally, I was named at Shaarei Shomayim before the shul moved to its current location. I know that my parents chose my Hebrew name before they settled on its English equivalent, because I have a letter written by my father two days before my naming.
Maybe it proves Rabbi Weiss’ point.
• • •
The other time my name came up that night, it was my English name that served as a springboard for discussion.
Last month, TIM had a program with guest speaker Rabbi Francis Nataf. I hadn’t heard of him, but when I saw an e-mail with his name spelled incorrectly, I assumed that Rabbi “Frances” Nataf was a woman. I also figured the event would be newsworthy based on the rabbi’s gender alone, given that Torah in Motion is an Orthodox organization.
Searching online, I soon realized my error. I e-mailed Rabbi Jay Kelman, Torah in Motion founder, to suggest that he might want to correct the spelling.
“A lot of people aren't aware that Frances-with-an-‘e’ is the feminine spelling, and ‘Francis’ is the masculine version,” I wrote.
When I saw Rabbi Kelman at the Rabbi Weiss event for the first time since our e-mail exchange, he said jokingly that he was glad I was there even though Rabbi Weiss is male.
But it’s the rabbi’s take on activism, and women in Orthodoxy, that made the story interesting for me. To see it, click here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From your blogger on the Ground

With your permission, I want to share with you my thoughts in this tense time. You now these facts but...
We have just finished the happiest holiday in the Jewish calendar, Purim, it was an amazing fun time.  Unfortunately, in Israel there is a war brewing. Two weeks ago a beautiful family was butchered in their sleep, Udi, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4 and Hadas, 3 months. Then last week, the south was bombed again, from Gaza. Many people have had to sleep in bomb shelters. Kids are having nightmares and people are terrified. When the sirens ring out there is roughly 15 seconds to run to a shelter. Today a bus in Jerusalem was bombed next to the central bus station where a woman was killed and forty others were injured.

So, what's going on???

From the moment of the birth of Israel - despite its incredible success -  this tiny state has fought enemies on all sides. They deny Israel its right to simply exist. With the bravery and sacrifice of its citizens, the brave army and with a lot of help from G-d, Israel not only survives, it flourishes.

The simple and short solution is, not to give in and show weakness to enemies and world "press". The cause of the terrorism that strikes us is from teaching the "education of violence" to children by Palestinians. Change the educational system and we will have an amazing life in Medinat Yisrael. Like Golda Meir said: Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

We are a people who desire peace with our neighbours. We want to see an amicable end to the violence and bloodshed.

I have three amazing children, live in a nice community, appreciate what I have, and love so living in Israel so much. We are strong and will continue to be…

Please look into these YouTube short movies:
"Glenn Beck on Itamar Massacre"
Tamar Fogel, the 12-year-old who discovered her murdered family in Itamar, speaks out
Melanie Phillips on Israeli TV
shema Yisrael by Yossela and Atira Ote

References made from:
Textbooks in the Palestinian territories

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top Purim Stops 2011

This weekend as many of you know we celebrate Purim, eating some Hamantaschen, reading from Megillat Esther and making a lot of noise. What are some of the hot-spots where today's Jewish youth will assemble? Two top events come to mind: The Annex Shul and the Forest Hill Jewish Center will likely get quite the crowd.

At the Annex it all gets underway at 8:30p.m., the event held jointly with Impact Toronto, UJA and Jewish Family & Child. The theme this year - "Heroes and Villains" - dress up as your favorites then party the night away at Revival Bar on College you can buy your tickets online to save $5 or it will be $20 at the door. For more information on the event click here.

Alternatively, for those who have never been to the Forest Hill Jewish Center and need a little extra time Saturday night, their event kicks off at 9 p.m. with the Megillah reading followed by a live band entertaining the partygoers afterwards. This event is free for all those interested, but BYOB.

Wherever you may be getting together be safe and have fun. Happy Purim!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mr. Right has sailed

Dear Ella,
It’s time. I’m finished school, I have a fabulous job and now I’m ready. Unfortunately, I may have missed the boat. Most of my friends are already married.
Some already have one or two kids, and here I am just pining for a date.

I joined the usual online dating sites, I’ve gone the speed-dating route, I’ve even resorted to dropping in to Home Depot from time to time, but no luck.

I seem to be left with the dribs and drabs of the nebbish crowd. I think Mr. Right has sailed.

All along I thought I had the perfect plan. I didn’t want a relationship to get in the way of my career. My parents instilled the value of education in my brothers and I and insisted we concentrate on our studies. My two brothers had no problem finding their wives, but good single men are hard to find.

I’ll do anything – just tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Finding Mr . Right

Dear Finding Mr. Right

Your life plan has worked up till now, because it required only your discipline and determination to fulfil your goals. To achieve your next goal, the control is not yours alone. You need a partner who will accept you as much as you’ll accept him.

You’ve taken a very practical approach and so far have done well meeting your educational and career goals. You should be proud of those accomplishments.

Perhaps finding that perfect mate can’t be planned in the same way you planned the other parts of your life. However, you can increase you chances of meeting a suitable guy and enjoying yourself at the same time.

Put yourself out there. Join groups, attend programs offered by different organizations. Try a hobby. Maybe join a writer’s group or book club at a library. How about a gym or organized sport such as volleyball, or a walking club. Talk to your neighbours at the park or coffee shop, or at garage sales. Be open to blind dates from people you trust.

Above all, you need to truly be open-minded, less judgemental and willing to try. Are you turned off immediately because he doesn’t look like Tom Cruise or he dresses like a dweeb? Have you given him a chance to show you what makes him tick, how he thinks, what kind of morals and interests he has, or how he behaves when he’s not nervous? When you meet someone while doing something you both like, the mood and expectations are different. You both get to see each other in real life.

Remember that after 10 years, a man may not have the thick head of hair you were once attracted to, but he might be your perfect partner.

Online dating might work for some, but dating profiles are like advertisements. Their purpose is to look and sound as good as possible, often at the cost of the truth. As for speed dating, how much can you possibly find out about a person in three minutes when you’re both trying so hard to be wonderful?

You need to relax and do things you enjoy in a social environment. It will fall into place. Just let it happen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Up for review - BAYT's rabbinical candidate #2

Up next for review by the congregation of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation, for the position of its next lead rabbi, is American Rabbi Rabbi Dovid Cohen. Since 2006 he has performed his rabbinical duties at the congregation of Young Israel of the West Side in New York City.

Cohen, ordained in 1997 by Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Theological Seminary, is a former lawyer who focused on white collar criminal defense, bankruptcy and restructurings. In 2004 he left the legal profession and moved to Israel to deepen his rabbinical knowledge. Cohen has taught popular courses at seminaries in Jerusalem, is a Mashgiach Ruchani at Stern College for Women in New York and advocates for the greater inclusion of special needs children in communities.

Similarly to when Rabbi Daniel Korobkin was screened at BAYT last week, Cohen will be speaking on Friday night and Shabbat morning as well as Shabbat afternoon at Seudah Shelishit (Third Meal). He will meet with the BAYT's young families group on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Simcha Suite and will also give the Daf Yomi shiur Sunday morning.