Jewschool.com: When Images of Mohammed Showed Up in My Facebook Feed

Originally published on Jewschool.com

Today has been a frustrating day on many levels, and surprisingly, at the top of my frustration is two Conservative rabbis who are Facebook friends of mine who have chosen to share an Islamophobic cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. I’m not going to link to it here because I don’t want to have a hand in further distributing the cartoon.

I wrote to each of them

I am disappointed to see the rabbis of my generation circulating a cartoon that flagrantly disrespects someone else’s religion, not to mention perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Is this the spirit in which you hope to enter 5773?

And to my surprise, instead of saying something like, “You’re right, I got carried away. I’m frustrated but this wasn’t the right way to express it,” both dug their heels in and defended their right to mock Islam in a way they both know specifically insults Muslims.

One of these rabbis is a chaplain with the US armed forces. The other holds a significant post in the Conservative Movement in the United States.

I have spent too much time and far too much emotional energy engaging with them and their followers, pointing out over and over again that both our tradition and common sense says that one does not achieve anything by inflaming the fires of hate or provoking those with whom we disagree. They refuse to hear me. Part of me wants to just unfriend them and be done with it, but I don’t want to contribute to my own retreat further into a bubble of people who share all my opinions. But I won’t back down because I believe this is an important discussion to have, and I know Jewish tradition expects us vigorously pursue justice. The quote from Mishnah that I’ve plastered on my social media channels today sums it up for me: “In a place where no one is behaving like a human being, be the human being.”

I have long since disavowed any affiliation with the Conservative movement that was once my home, but incidents like this confirm for me that I’ve made the right choice. I know, I shouldn’t judge an entire stream of a religion based on a couple of vocal leaders, but, well, you see the irony there.

JewishBoston.com: Four Questions with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2011-05-09Last month, Rabbi Jill Jacobs became Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights – North America, an organization working to involve Rabbis in the United States and Canada in being moral voices in current human rights issues both at home and in Israel. Rabbi Jacobs is the author of There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition (Jewish Lights, 2009) and Justice Shall Dwell There: A Hands-on Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community (Jewish Lights, forthcoming in June 2011). She writes a regular column, “Public Judaism,” for the Forward, serves as a panelist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, and blogs at the Huffington Post. She was Rabbi-in-Residence of Jewish Funds for Justice from 2005 to 2010, and Director of Education and Outreach at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs from 2003 to 2005. Rabbi Jacobs received rabbinical ordination and an MA in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary, an MS in Urban Affairs from Hunter College, and a BA from Columbia University. She is an alumna of the Wexner Fellowship Program and spent the 2009-2010 academic year as a Jerusalem Fellow at the Mandel Leadership Institute. And perhaps most relevant to JewishBoston.com, she grew up in Framingham, MA.

What’s the origin of your passion for social justice?

My very first social justice campaign ever was when I was a junior in at Framingham High School, and my principal was quoted in the local newspaper saying there was no teen pregnancy problem in Framingham. I thought otherwise because I walked the halls of my school and saw pregnant teens. I did a little research, called Planned Parenthood, and found that Framingham had one of the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the US. We were one of the few schools in Massachusetts that had no sex education whatsoever, and I figured those two facts weren’t disconnected.

I started meeting with the school board about making sex ed and condoms available at our school. At the time, I had no idea that was connected to Judaism – that Jewish women had been involved in reproductive health battles for a long time.  I did notice that my parents were supportive and that my synagogue was supportive, so I knew there was something vaguely Jewish about it, but I couldn’t put it together. Only as an adult did I learn that Jews had been involved in reproductive health forever, and Jews had been involved in social justice work, and Jewish law includes thousands of pages on how we should behave in civil society.  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Marry The Man Today

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

Remember how I promised more “Lies We Were Taught in Hebrew School” posts? Well, here we go, although this will take quite a different tack than the previous one.

Today, I’d like to take on the institution of marriage. I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage in the last five years or so, although not (unfortunately) because I’ve gotten any closer to it myself. However, between seeing many of my friends and relatives get hitched and watching the national debate over the nature of marriage in politics, it’s been hard to avoid thinking about the subject.

If you want to skip directly to the controversial point of this post, here it is: Rabbis should get out of the marriage business. However, if you read this sentence and then skip straight to the comments to call me a godless lefty pinko homosexual heretic (and, to be fair, you’d be about half-right) you will miss the point. Read on.
Continue reading

The Jewish Advocate: New Brighton Rabbi Aims for Inclusiveness

Originally published in The Jewish Advocate.

BRIGHTON – At first glance, Azriel Blumberg could easily be mistaken for a visiting yeshiva student. Yet in reality, this youthful man is the new rabbi of Congregation Kadimah Toras-Moshe, Brighton’s oldest Orthodox congregation.

This New York transplant takes on the leadership of the congregation from retiring Rabbi Abraham Halbfinger, who served the community for 39 years. Kadimah Toras-Moshe is Blumberg’s second pulpit, following Young Israel in Eltingville, N.Y., on Staten Island.

He arrived last week with his wife Michal, a social worker, and his four children, ranging in ages from nine months to 5-1/2. On Monday, he welcomed The Jewish Advocate into his synagogue to share his enthusiastic vision for the future.

“I want to build a sense of energy, vitality and focus,” he said. “I’m very impressed by the precedents set by Rabbi Halbfinger. He set up a shul where he never made himself into the be-all/end-all of the community. He encouraged the participation of all.” Blumberg noted that the synagogue’s motto, coined by Halbfinger, is “all are welcome.” He aims to intensify the message into “all are important.”

“Each person is counted on to be a vital part of decision-making and vision: practical aspects of the day-to-day as well as long-term goals,” he said. “One of the best compliments I know is to say, ‘We need you.'”

The goals Blumberg has set out for himself and his community are broad. He looks to enlarge the community’s reputation as an Orthodox synagogue where all Jews can feel comfortable, regardless of their individual level of observance. He also looks to further strengthen the congregation’s relationship with other Jewish institutions in the community.

But it is clear that Blumberg’s most important goal, the one he keeps returning to, is deepening his members’ investment in their own community at Kadimah Toras-Moshe. “There is no typical demographic of who belongs here – from the very educated to the not very educated, people who speak only English, or only Yiddish, or only Russian, people who would identify as right wing, as left wing,” he said. “The great thing about the shul is it doesn’t matter. We’re all here for the same goal: to get closer to God.”

Blumberg has launched himself into this endeavor at full speed. Barely a week since his arrival, Blumberg is opening his home to the congregation’s teenagers to foster the establishment of a teen program. He acknowledges the existence of a strong children’s program, and in the same breath he talks about formalizing and enlarging it.

Far from ignoring the needs of his adult constituency, Blumberg speaks enthusiastically about offering spiritual learning programs along with enjoyable community-oriented events. “People will feel this is not just a place to come and daven, but a nucleus of the Jewish community,” he said. “We want to be involved in all aspects of their lives.”

Looking at the task ahead of him, Blumberg sees both challenges and opportunities. But at the center of it all, he sees the individuals that make up his congregation. Summing it up, he said, “As we go forward, I’m going to make sure we take everybody along with us.”