Local women reflect on saying Kaddish

June 22, 2014

by Johanna GinsbergKaddish: Womens Voices

For a long time, E.M. Broner’s 1994 work, Mornings and Mourning, was the lone women’s voice in the literature on reciting Kaddish. Over the last two decades, that has slowly begun to change.

With the publication last November of Kaddish: Women’s Voices, an anthology by Michal Smart and Barbara Ashkenas, the void has been filled by a range of women with different backgrounds, each with a unique story surrounding her commitment to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, even in communities where some see the act as obligatory for men, and suspect among women.

Two of the entries in the collection, which won a National Jewish Book Award in March, come from local women.

For Rabbi Esther Reed of Highland Park, saying Kaddish for her father involved the conflict between remaining authentic and true to herself, while maintaining sensitivity and respect for those in her charge as senior associate director at Rutgers University Hillel.

As a person in mourning, she needed a daily minyan to say Kaddish. But she did not want to disrupt the daily minyan at Rutgers or cause offense among the Orthodox students who attend. “I recognized that the morning minyan was an Orthodox service, where students were not used to seeing a woman in tallit andtefillin,” writes Reed, a Conservative rabbi. “I didn’t want to threaten students who felt that the Orthodox community at Hillel was their ‘home.’”

She continued, “I wasn’t trying to make a statement. I just wanted to say Kaddish.” In the end, she devised a compromise: praying with the tallit and tefillin in a staff member’s office, with a view of the minyan, before joining the Orthodox worshippers to say Kaddish for her father.  Read the rest of this entry »


Prayers For Our Boys

June 19, 2014

A Statement on the terrorist kidnapping of three boys from Yeshivat Mekor Chaim and Kfar Etzion

by Ha3-Kidnapped-BoysRav Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz Shlita

The kidnapping of our students is a shocking, painful and frightening event. In a time and place that had seemed to us quiet and serene, we have been thrown into an event that we can do nothing to resolve.

Perhaps we are better off than in past times, when we were totally unable even to attempt rescue and deliverance. We are grateful to the Israel Defense Forces for all their efforts.

Still we, the families, the friends and the teachers of the kidnapped boys are standing with “idle hands” (Ecclesiastes 10:18). All we have left now is to turn to our Father in Heaven and plead. We do not despair because we doubt our Heavenly Father. Rather we feel helpless because, “God is in Heaven and you are upon earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

Thus, we can never know the extent our pleas and cries reach Heaven – and also have some effect here, on earth. What we can do – and this has been the Jewish way from time immemorial – is to add more holiness and learn more Torah. If we can, each of us should take upon ourselves something additional, no matter how small, especially and explicitly devoted for the sake and well-being of the missing boys:

Naftali Frankel (Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah)

Gilad Shaar (Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim)

Eyal Yifrach (Eyal ben Iris Tesura)

Furthermore, we Jews have always been accustomed to reciting the Psalms, and we certainly ought to do more of this, especially two psalms that seem to me most relevant: Psalms 142 and 143, chapters that literally deal with our plight. We pray also for the safety of those who are working toward their rescue.

May it be God’s will that in their merit, and for the merit of their suffering, together with our prayers and good deeds, we shall soon see our boys returned to us, God willing, safe and sound.

Click here  to read an English translation of Psalms 142 and 143 translated by Aaron Lichtenstein, Psalms in Plain English


Jewish Media Review on Journey Together

June 15, 2014

by Rabbi Dov Peretz ElkinsJourney Together: 49 Steps to Transforming a Family

As Rabbi David Aaron, well-known author and educator in Jerusalem (Isralight), writes: “Journey Together shares inspirational secrets to the ultimate meaning of Sefirat HaOmer showing how to plug into the passion and power it provides.”

And another Jerusalem author, and well-known teacher, Sara Rigler, says about this book: “Sarah Hermelin calls the 49-day process of counting the Omer, ‘a gift.’ Unfortunately, for most Jews that gift has sat on the dining room table for years and decades, wrapped, unused, and unappreciated. Even those Jews who have attempted to unwrap the gift have found a confusing jumble of disparate parts with baffling, abstract instructions. In her ground-breaking book, Journey Together, Sarah Hermelin has not only unwrapped the gift, but she has also has provided clear, practical instructions for how to use it.”

Offering a model of self-improvement rooted in Jewish thought, Journey Together: 49 Steps to Transforming a Family explains the mystical system of counting the Omer “the Jewish practice of counting the days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot” focusing on a different attribute on each of the 49 days. Following the Sefirat HaOmer calendar, the author presents daily readings of inspirational stories from the Torah, Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash, as well as uplifting narratives from modern-day life. Each chapter concludes with exercises for both adults and children, in order to bring relevance to the attribute of the day and show how it can serve to improve one’s character traits and family bonds.
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Rabbi’s book ties social justice to Jewish wisdom

June 11, 2014

by Salvatore CaputoJewishSocialJusticeWeb2

Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz holds that Jewish social justice work offers a bridge-building opportunity within the Jewish community and beyond, and that thinking is at the heart of his third book, The Soul of Jewish Social Justice, which was published May 1 by Jerusalem-based Urim Publications.

The book is a series of short discourses, articles that have appeared previously in a wide range of venues including the Jewish Forward, the Jewish Journal, Times of Israel, Ha’aretz and the Huffington Post, to name a few, and that address a wide range of issues from bullying in school to organ donation. Before he came to the Valley as director of Valley Beit Midrash, the rabbi was already known for Uri L’Tzedek, which he describes as “the first and only Orthodox social justice organization.”

“I think that the liberal denominations have done a great job for decades at promoting social justice, and the Orthodox community has done a great job at focusing on ritual and more parochial concerns,” he said. “The Orthodox community did not advance their social justice efforts at the same pace and rigor that the non-Orthodox communities did,” which exemplifies at least part of the polarization between the liberal and Orthodox streams. Read the rest of this entry »


Kaddish wins Skipping Stones Award

June 9, 2014

by Evlyn GouldKaddish: Womens Voices

Kaddish, Women’s Voices pulls at the heart strings. At times painful, at times funny, and always spiritually rich, it presents the views of many Jewish women on this essential Jewish practice for honoring the passing of our loved ones. Traditionally, the Kaddish Yatom, the Kaddish said for the dead, is read at every Jewish service in which there is a “minyan” or prayer assembly of at least ten men. Following the death of parents, we are commanded to say the Kaddish for a full year as we believe it encourages the soul to rise higher and higher on its heavenly course. It says nothing about death, but praises the source of all life. The traditional teaching requires us to say Kaddish for our parents, for whom the longest period to recite the Kaddish is prescribed. This assumes that because parents have had a decisive role in shaping our lives, we must mourn for a full year. For children, however, we are required to recite the Kaddish for only one month.Of course, there are other rituals for honoring the dead that mark the first week, the first month, the first year,and then the memory of our loved one each passing year at the time of “Yahrzeit” or yearly commemoration of the passing as it is marked on the Jewish calendar. More liberal Jews have added the practice of reciting the Kaddish for the deaths of others and to honor those lost in the Holocaust who have no one to say Kaddish for them.

While in Orthodox Jewish practice, women are “relieved” of this commandment or “mitzvah” (good deed), as they are not burdened by any time-bound “mitzvoth,” Kaddish, Women’s Voices presents what we might call the “other side” of the performance of this “mitzvah.” By other side, I mean at least two different things. First, we recite the Kaddish not only to honor the dead, but to help ourselves heal from the loss. We ritualize our response to death and we do so in community. Among Conservative, Reform, Renewal or Reconstructionist Jews, a community of ten may be made up of women and/or of men, and Kaddish is recited by all concerned regardless of gender. In these congregations, women do perform time-bound holy deeds. Second, as this book shows us so eloquently, women benefit tremendously from being able to participate in this age-old practice. In this book, we meet many women from all branches of Judaism talking about the meaningfulness of this prayer. We read their testimonials and witness the power of this prayer in their lives, in their mourning, and in the healing of the wounds of their losses. Some women speak of parents, some of children. All of them reach deeply into their own hearts and ours.  Read the rest of this entry »


Making Amends: A mysterious request leads the Canadian-raised son of a Holocaust survivor back to the old country.

June 6, 2014

by Robert Eli Rubenstein, author of An Italian Renaissance An Italian Renaissance

“There’s someone here to see you.”

“Who is it?”

“Her name is Magda Zelenka,” replied my receptionist. “She says she has something important to discuss with you, but she doesn’t have an appointment.”

It took me a moment to recall Magda. Decades earlier, my late father Bill had hired her and her husband Ferenc as superintendents of an apartment building in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. Despite his own shattered life back in Hungary, my father was remarkably free of vindictiveness, hiring Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Croats—even Hungarians—as long as they were the best qualified candidates for a job.

The Zelenkas proved excellent employees: hard-working, courteous, beloved by tenants. After long years of service, Ferenc suffered a series of heart attacks followed by a fatal stroke. Although Magda hoped to continue managing the building on her own, the challenge had proved overwhelming. She was no youngster, and hardly in the best of health herself. Nor, in spite of her lengthy residence in Canada, had she ever really mastered the English language, which made it difficult for her to communicate. With deep regret, she submitted her resignation, asking only that she be allowed to rent an apartment in one of our buildings.

By then, my father had retired and I had come into the business. I agreed to her request without hesitation, assuming she would wish to remain in her old neighborhood among other expatriate Hungarians. To my surprise, she specifically asked for a building with a large number of Jewish residents, in a predominantly Jewish area.

And now, years later, here she was. Intrigued, I ushered her into my office and in the seldom-used language of my childhood asked after her health: “Hogy tetszik lenni?” Her eyes lit up as, in her habitually formal style of address, she prepared to answer.

“I am not doing very well, sorry to say. I just came home from a long stay at the Jewish hospital”—she meant Mount Sinai, in downtown Toronto—“where I had difficult surgery. I am only here today because the excellent Jewish doctors saved my life. I have always known that your people are not only talented and successful, but also kind-hearted. That is why I am here to see you.”

Your people—the compliment made me uncomfortable in a way she surely didn’t intend. I wondered whether I was overreacting.

“I don’t really know you, Mr. Rubinstein, but I was privileged to know your late father, and I am sure you take after him. Your dad was a wonderful person, an old-fashioned gentleman. We never had the feeling he was the big boss and we were just his lowly workers. And we also felt a special connection to him because he was a fellow Magyar.”  Read the rest of this entry »


Review of The Night That Unites

June 3, 2014

by Rabbi Elan AdlerThe Night That Unites

Can you make room for 3 more at your table? You’ll want to with this new Haggadah by Rabbi Aaron Goldscheider. In this one magnificent 300-page contribution to the genre of Pesach seder volumes, the author brings us the wisdom and inspiration of 3 giants of our people: Rav Kook, Rabbi Soloveitchik and Reb Shlomo Carlebach. Their comments on various aspects and themes of Seder night are interwoven with the author’s own insights, and what you hold in your hand, and eventually read avidly from cover to cover, is a goldmine of interpretations, teachings and stories for everyone at the table.

Rabbi Goldscheider has gifted us with several valuable and practical aspects to this Haggadah which make it welcome and exceptional. First, the title of the comments of each of the 3 rabbinic giants is highlighted in a different color-Rav Kook in red, Rav Soloveitchik in green, and Reb Shlomo in blue. Keeping this in mind, the seder leader can choose comments from all the Rabbis in page order, or choose to focus on just one or two for the evening. As I read through the Haggadah, I put sticky notes on every comment that I couldn’t wait to share at my seder. Rav Kook’s “Ahavat Eretz Yisrael,” Rav Soloveitchik’s “Ahavat Torat Yisrael” and Reb Shlomo’s “Ahavat Am Yisrael” break through again and again in brief whisps of depth and elegance. The author uses conversational language in each presentation, so no seder participant needs to struggle with hard words or clunky translations of the text. Each comment of the Rabbis aims for the intellect as well as the heart. Rabbi Goldscheider skillfully chooses master lessons by each of the greats, and drops them into the Haggadah at just the right moments. No matter what “color commentary” one chooses, each individual teaching is “delicious” you can’t wait to serve it at your seder. Read the rest of this entry »