Tag Archives: New York

The Haredi PR Problem: Bad For (All) The Jews

by Ezer Smith

There has been some outrage recently over an Orthodox custom known as metzitzah b’peh, and justifiably so: The custom, during which the mohel sucks blood out of the circumcision wound with his mouth, has caused 11 cases of genital herpes in newborn boys since 2005. Two have died, and according to the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, some “became seriously ill” and others “developed brain damage.” This has prompted reactions from all areas of the journalistic and intellectual spectrum: Publications such as The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast have carried articles; Cantor Philip L. Sherman (a mohel) has included a short F.A.Q. about it on his website; Christopher Hitchens condemned it with his usual brand of anti-religion vitriol; and Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organization in Brooklyn has defended it, staunchly and vigorously.

What has been left out of the discussion is the effect this sort of thing has on the Jewish community, particularly in New York City, but elsewhere as well. And by “this sort of thing,” I mean, in addition to this most recent episode of bad press, the now well-publicized tendency of Haredim in New York City to underreport (if at all) accounts of child molestation and sexual assault within their community. I mean the anti-Internet protests held by this same group of Haredim that filled a baseball stadium.

I realize that there are two sides to every debate: the Internet really can be corrosive and disgusting; metzitzah b’peh is a 5,000-year-old tradition; and the molestation issue can be satisfied with Jewish law and custom. These arguments, particularly the latter two, may sound hollow and even morally repugnant, but they are arguments nonetheless. They are a necessary part of any conversation about the issue; self-righteousness and ethical bombast, from either side, won’t solve anything. But many Haredim don’t seem to be concerned with ‘debate,’ much less respecting anyone else’s opinion. They believe that they are a sacred community, bound together by God’s sacred word, and that this entitles them to whatever societal system they want to use. I think the logic goes: “American society and the American political system cannot exist forever, but God, and God’s commandments, will.”

My usual response to opinions like these is to throw my hands up and walk away. If people hold to their views that relentlessly, there can be no hope for reconciliation. This case is an exception, however. The ultra-Orthodox are no isolated group: they are Jews, and Jews come in all shapes, sizes, colors, personalities and ideologies. Whether they like it or not, at some level, these Haredim are lumped together with all the Reform, Conservative, Recontructionist, Sephardic, Humanistic and secular Jews the world over. This is what worries me: anything the Haredim do is tossed into the general category of ‘Jewish.’

At first blush, this may seem a bit selfish, and it is true that this problem does hold personal implications for me. At some level, as someone who defines “Jew” as “anyone who defines themselves as a Jew,” I really care for the Haredim. They are, for better or for worse, my brethren, my family. More than that, I think that they provide a unique perspective on Judaism and on life in general, one that must be considered. To marginalize or dismiss Haredi Jews is to do the same to their outlook, outdated and irrelevant as it may seem. I am for a Jewish tradition that welcomes all opinions, so as to let its members decide, after careful consideration, which one(s) suit them best.

This brings me to the problem of image as it relates to the broader Jewish community. Serious Orthodox Jews have never attempted to market themselves, and why should they? They have no dearth of new members: the birth rate per woman for Haredi Jews is around 6.5, comparable to that of Afghanistan. (The U.S. national rate, meanwhile, is about 2.1.) But a new report from the UJA-New York shows an interesting and perhaps troubling trend: Like the American political system, the Jewish population is expanding at its ideological edges. Secular and highly Orthodox Jews were the only groups that grew in population; all others declined.

The risk in these new numbers is clear: an increase in population in the two groups most at odds with each other means a growing split within the larger Jewish community. I have watched with growing consternation as the New York City Haredi community has blundered its way through these most recent incidents, and I’m sure many of my Jewish friends feel the same way. Most of the Jews I know would say they identify more with the principles of liberalism and fairness than those of Talmudic law; in fact, the two are not so different. It’s time for both groups, the secular Jews and the Haredim, to open lines of dialogue with each other about contemporary Jewish issues, because if they do not, we, as a Jewish community, risk a complete split. That would not be good for the Haredim, and that would not be good for the Jews.

A New Jew?

by Kara A. Kaufman

A landmark study of Jewish life released today reveals the deep and sometimes surprising changes the Jewish community has undergone over the past decade.  The study, conducted by the UJA-Federation of New York and based on nearly 6,000 interviews in eight counties in New York, is the largest North American Jewish community study to date. The data help us better understand the contours of who we are as modern Jews in America, challenging popular stereotypes and pointing out the connections between trends within the Jewish world and those within broader American life.

The report illustrates several clear developments over the past decade. First, the size of the New York Jewish population has been growing over the past nine years, reaching 1.5 million in 2011. The study’s authors ascribe this rise to three primary factors: A rise in birth rates; increasing longevity (two factors that contribute to a ballooning of both young and old populations); and more fluid boundaries within the Jewish community. The number of people identifying as “Jewish” includes people of a wide spectrum of beliefs and backgrounds, including 12 percent of participants who self-identified as “partially Jewish.” Immigration, a driving force in population increases in the past, was not a prominent factor in the observed rise of the past decade.

Second, the report illustrates that New York’s Jewish community is increasingly diverse. People vary in their self-reported religious affinity, Jewish engagement, gender, race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. Five percent of study respondents live in an LGBT household (one in which at least one member identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender). Twelve percent of Jewish households surveyed are biracial or non-white. Fourteen percent of households in the study are Russian-speaking (most of whom live in city centers rather than the suburbs). These statistics paint the picture of an increasingly diverse Jewish family, in which parents may marry interracially, adopt non-white children and/or convert to Judaism from other religions.

Within New York’s Jewish world, nuanced sub-populations are growing. For instance, the Orthodox population, which some may consider homogeneous, is far from monolithic. Respondents self-identified with sub-groups such as Modern, Hasidic, Yeshivish, Haredi, Chabad and Lubavitch. While the striking diversity of New York is not representative of the entire United States, these statistics nonetheless suggest that Jews in America are individualizing the Jewish experience.

A third major trend is that, consistent with national figures, Jewish poverty is on the rise. Using 150% of the federal poverty guideline as the definition of “poor,” the study found that a striking 1 in 5 Jewish households in the sample area is poor, stating that “by all measures, the levels of Jewish poverty grew considerably since 2002.” Each year over the past decade, an average of 12,000 Jewish people were added to the numbers of those living in poor households. This rise in poverty is not limited to urban centers; in fact, the number of poor people in Jewish suburban homes has grown by 56% since 2002. This rise in overall and suburban poverty is consistent with larger regional and national trends, as illustrated by U.S. Census reports from the past decade.

Before reading this study, if someone had asked me to draw the picture of “a Jewish person in America” in 10 seconds or less, I would likely have sketched one of several people: a middle-aged Orthodox male bent over his siddur; a Conservative woman donning a tallit and ascending to the bimah; a Reform student on a Birthright trip to Israel. If that person had given me more time, I might have drawn dozens of figures, including a secular person who does not believe in God. But all would have shared certain things in common: All of my subjects would have been white; I would have assumed that they were middle- to upper-class, with the choice of sending their children to Jewish day school; and they may have spoken with a recognizable New York accent.

This study changes the portraits we would instinctively draw. It implores us to consider that one in five Jews in New York lives close to the federal poverty line; that 12 percent are black, Hispanic, Asian, biracial or multiracial; and that the language New York Jews speak at home may not be English. It begs us to question our assumptions about Jews in the United States, and consider what programs may be most needed to remediate increasingly important issues, like poverty, that affect us all. Although this study is at its core bound to the New York community and cannot be extrapolated infinitely, it nonetheless points to the fact that the Jewish community is diversifying, that people are individualizing their Jewish experience, and that—in the cases of socioeconomic status and age—the population is shifting more rapidly to the poles than the middle. Hopefully, policymakers will use this report to meet the needs of the present, not the past.

The full report, as well as an executive summary, are available online.

Not So Secular: Jews Occupy Wall Street

by Steven Philp

The Occupy Wall Street movement is populated by the disaffected and anti-religious left–that is, if you ignore the Jews. A recent article by Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times argues that counter to much of American history–where faith communities often stood at the vanguard of progressive causes–this particular movement shows the widening gap “between the religious right and the not-so-religious left.”

Landsberg finds evidence of this in his cursory examination of the Occupy L.A. protest, where the only signs of faith communities are a meditation tent and a sukkah. Yet Landsberg gives those short shrift, pointing instead to the lack of organized Christian involvement. He interviews John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. Green bemoans the dearth of Christian representation. “Where are the mainline Protestants? Where are the Quakers?” Green asks. “There’s been relatively little denominational involvement.”

What Landsberg fails to recognize is the  Jewish involvement in the protests that extends beyond a small, temporary structure outside Los Angeles City Hall. Our participation in the movement is organized, pervasive, and–most importantly–inspired by the values of our community. In early October, Jews of all ages came out en masse to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidre service. According to an article published by the Huffington Post, several hundred people attended the event in New York, with sister services occurring in other major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. The Wall Street service was sponsored by Jewish organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Shalom Center; 100 prayer books were donated by the Rabbinical Assembly, the governing body of the American Conservative movement. Daniel Sieradski–one of the event planners–found his inspiration to organize the service from his Jewish values. Paraphrasing Isaiah 58:5–the haftarah (additional reading) for Yom Kippur–Sieradski explains, “You can fast for a day, you cover yourself in ashes, you can wear a sack cloth, but who cares if you are not out there feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, breaking the bonds of oppression?”

Following this event, temporary structures started springing up at protests across the United States as part of a coordinated effort to Occupy Sukkot. Facebook pages were created to arrange for the provision of sukkot, lulavim and other ritual objects necessary for Sukkot observance. Sukkot were raised in cities with large Jewish populations like New York and Los Angeles, and in smaller Jewish enclaves like Seattle and Portland.

The connection between Sukkot and the Occupy Wall Street movement was a natural one. Writing for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu explains: “For the newly or long-time homeless, the sukkah provides shelter. For those in danger of losing homes, the sukkah is a fragile home that nonetheless stands firm. For those who have lost jobs, the sukkah offers a bountiful table for all, old and young.” For eight days the sukkah became a powerful symbol of the Occupy movement, and of the Jewish resolve to stand on the side of justice in the face of adversity.

In a way, the Occupy Judaism initiative has become a movement within a movement. With a Facebook page, Twitter account, and e-mail lists, it has the ability to rapidly mobilize hundreds of Jews, who share the dissatisfaction of their peers while simultaneously drawing inspiration from the Jewish tradition. Even with the diversity of opinion among Jewish participants, this population belies the characterization of the Occupy protests as a secular movement–rather, the character of Occupy Judaism is the distinctly Jewish mix of the spiritual and cultural. Sieradski explains, “I am less concerned about halakhah–Jewish law–and traditional observance than I am about the prophetic character of recognizing the divine in my fellow human being.”

A Shakeup in District 9

by Theodore Samets

In Monday’s Huffington Post, Ed Koch, the former Democratic mayor of New York City, and an outspoken supporter of Israel, did something scandalous: He advocated that his former constituents in Brooklyn and Queens elect a Republican in the special congressional election taking place this September.

Koch’s principal reason for advocating this, according to his HuffPo column, is what he perceives as President Obama’s “hostility to the state of Israel.” Koch claims that by electing a Republican, the Jewish-dominated 9th district (until recently represented by the Honorable Anthony Weiner) will send a message to the president that he must “change his hostile position on the state of Israel” if he wants to be reelected next year.

Yet Koch is wrong when he claims that supporting a “Scott Brown”-style insurgency is the right tactic. Koch says he will support Republican candidate Bob Turner if he acquiesces to certain demands–committing not to cut Medicare or Social Security, for example. Who is the Democrat Koch will, in turn, oppose? David Weprin–a state assemblyman, former city council member, and according to The Jewish Week, an Orthodox Jew.

So in order to encourage the leader of the Democratic Party to be more pro-Israel, Koch wants Jews to abandon an Orthodox candidate, significantly favored by the political establishment, who last week had this to tell PolitickerNY about the “1967 lines” issue that Koch cites as his major concern with Obama:

“I think our commitment to Israel should be unequivocal,” said Weprin, when I asked about the president’s handling of the Mideast peace process and relationship with Israel. “It’s the only solid ally we have in the Middle East.”

Then, Weprin added, “I don’t think we should be going back to the pre-’67 boundaries. It’s clearly been part of Israel for many, many years.”

This just doesn’t seem like the right guy to be attacking in an effort to get the Democratic Party in line on Israel.

Koch’s concern about where President Obama stands on Israel is not entirely misplaced; the former mayor rightly identifies instances when this administration has not shown friendship to the Jewish state in the way previous presidents have. He’s been on this crusade for a while, after originally endorsing Obama and campaigning on his behalf in 2008. And he’s not the only Democrat concerned with the party’s trend on Israel. (I wrote on this issue a few weeks ago, and Politico’s Ben Smith, who has followed Obama’s relations with the Jewish community since 2007, raised the alarm in a much talked about piece at the end of June.)

What is the best way to address this? The Jewish community is actively engaging with the administration, and the Obama reelection campaign is working hard to promote what they believe is their candidate’s strong record on Israel. In the meantime, it seems that elevating strongly pro-Israel voices like David Weprin is a better move for Jewish Democrats than trying to tie him to a president’s policies that only some consider anti-Israel.

After all, in the same interview with PolitickerNY, Weprin also stated his support for Nancy Pelosi as leader of the House Democratic caucus. And who does Koch identify in his HuffPo column as a better spokesperson for his beliefs than President Obama? Nancy Pelosi.

Jew vs. Jew

by Steven Philp

In light of the fact that anti-Semitism exists within contemporary society, a large number of Jews devote their time and energy to organizations—like the Anti-Defamation League—that combat intolerance and bigotry. Yet rather than address hatred within our own community, there is a tendency toward finger pointing or—worse—ignoring the issue altogether.

Every now and then a case of Jew-on-Jew violence comes to the attention of national media, such as the recent firestorm generated by the assault on Aron Rottenberg in the Skverer Hasidic enclave of New Square, NY. According to an article posted by the Associated Press, Rottenberg claims that Grand Rabbi David Twersky ordered his 18-year-old butler, Shaul Spitzer, to target Rottenberg after he started attending services at a nearby minyan rather than the main synagogue. The May 22 attack left Rottenberg with third degree burns on half of his body. Spitzer, who also suffered injuries to his hands and arms, has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, attempted arson and assault.

Regardless of the trial’s outcome, Rottenberg’s testimony of psychic and physical coercion at the hands of fellow Jews—detailed in a New Jersey Jewish Standard article—is a disturbing testament to the intolerance that can exist between members of our community; in this case, over difference of opinion in a small Hasidic neighborhood. Others have confirmed Rottenberg’s report; one New Square resident, interviewed outside the town under the pseudonym Weiss, says that dissenters can expect to be treated “like a goy”: Neighbors will not acknowledge their presence, their children will be expelled from religious school, their car tires may be slashed or their house windows may be broken in.

Unfortunately, another instance of inter-Jewish violence came into the spotlight following the historic vote to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State. According to the blog Capitol Confidential, a short scuffle broke out between a group of Orthodox men and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in New York, NY. Reports indicate that the men had been standing outside the State Senate antechamber, chanting “No vote for LGBT supporters” while the congressmen and women considered a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. They were countered by marriage equality advocates, one of whom was Rabbi Kleinbaum, known for her positive—if not at times controversial—stance on LGBTQ issues within the Jewish community. When Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. joined the protestors, they began to move away from the antechamber. In video footage of the incident, Rabbi Kleinbaum—wearing a tallit, and carrying a sign that reads “Equality for All Families” and “Marriage Now”—attempts to insert herself between Senator Diaz and the cameras. After being jostled out by the group of Orthodox men walking with Diaz, she elbows her way back in to the crowd and puts her arm around one of them. This causes him to react forcefully, pushing her away and spitting, while one of the men repeats, “You’re not a Jew! You’re not a Jew!”

Reports of the incident vary widely, as do opinions within the Jewish community. According to the blog Failed Messiah—a watchdog site that reports on events within the Orthodox movement—it was a “Satmar Hasid” who spit on Rabbi Kleinbaum. Online comments on the article contradict the report, saying that the man did not spit at all or that he spit at the floor. Others point out that the man may have been a member of the Neturei Karta, a Haredi group known for their anti-Zionist stance. An article in the Five Towns Jewish Times accuses Rabbi Kleinbaum of sexually harassing the Orthodox man. Calling her “rabbi,” the author claims that she made an “unwanted physical advance.” Here commentators argue over whether her touching the man was a sign of Jewish solidarity or a violation of Orthodox physical modesty, something that—as a rabbi—she should be aware of.

While opinions have been generated by members from both the Orthodox and liberal Jewish communities, it seems that no one has stepped forward to promote dialogue between opposing sides; we have pointed fingers, rather than ask questions. Some call the Orthodox men involved in the scuffle violent and intolerant, while others point out that Rabbi Kleinbaum stepped over the line, and showed a lack of knowledge about communities other than her own, when she did not respect their modesty. There is some truth in both statements, but the inflammatory nature of either argument comes at the cost of understanding. As made evident by the articles and their respective comments, this exacerbates the divisions that already threaten the solidarity of our small community, and belies the call for every to Jew to show compassion for klal Yisrael—all of Israel—even when their opinion is different from our own. In a society where anti-Semitism does exist, is it not enough that we face hatred from the outside that we permit it to take root within our community as well? Nothing can be generated from assigning labels of extremism or violence to the Orthodox men at the protest, nor is anything gained by disregarding Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum’s title and role within the Reform movement. Instead, we must each patiently explain our respective positions and listen. After all, it is the central imperative of our tradition: sh’ma Yisrael. Listen, Israel.

Stay Salty, Smoked Salmon

by Theodore Samets

Growing up, I was scared of lox.

Well, at least I thought it was lox. Turned out, the slimy, pinkish orange, cold fish I abhorred—but have come to love—wasn’t lox at all, as my parents called it. It was nova.

As I grew older, I fell in love with the stuff. But in rural Vermont, where I grew up, it can be hard to find anything but pre-packaged “smoked Atlantic salmon,” $5.99 for a four-ounce package.

Then, a few weeks before my bar mitzvah, friends of my parents brought some fresh lox back from Montreal. It looked the same as smoked salmon, but boy was it different. I was a man; it was time to give up kids’ fish and move to the grownup version.

I had been introduced to belly lox, and life would never be the same.

Incredibly salty, bright orange, and full of flavor, belly lox isn’t smoked; it’s cured. Fold it over a half of a sesame bagel—with cream cheese, of course—and you feel like you’re eating the real deal.

There is no debate as quintessentially Jewish as “nova vs. lox”; experts move beyond this question to “Russ and Daughters vs. Zabar’s” and “Montreal vs. New York bagels.” (For me, there’s no question: If there was a way to get fresh Russ and Daughters lox onto a just out of the oven “white” Montreal bagel, I’d be in heaven.)

Fans of belly lox know one thing: We’re in a minority. Indeed, on a recent visit to Russ and Daughters, I ordered lox, only to be asked by the woman behind the counter, “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

“Yes,” I responded, “Belly lox please.” Many people, it seems, order lox when they really want smoked salmon.

Despite the supposed Jewish affinity for either type of cold salmon, it seems accidental that lox is a Jewish food at all. Several years ago, a New York Times exposé looked at just how lox and a bagel became the stereotypical New York brunch.

In the essay, Erika Kinetz wrote that it was a feat of timing combined with the then-inexpensive costs that connected smoked fish to the Jews:

Eastern European immigrants would have appreciated lox both for its price—9 cents for a quarter-pound in the 1920’s and 30’s—and for its convenience. It was easy to handle — and pareve, making it acceptable with milk or meat. It fast became a staple.

Today, lox may still be a staple of the Jewish diet, but it’s certainly not cheap. My lunchtime order (belly lox and light plain on toasted everything) at Ess-a-Bagel runs $10.75 before tax, and a quarter pound of fish there will run you $9.25. That said, it’s worth every penny.

Despite the differences between lox and smoked salmon – and let’s be clear, these differences are important – there’s something that makes the fish a unique connector between Jews all over North America.

Kinetz points out that, historically, lox is more of a New York phenomenon than a Jewish one. The claim is verified by by Leo Rosten in The Joys of Yiddish, where he writes, “The luxurious practice of eating lox, thought to be so typical of eastern European Jews, actually began for them in New York. Lox was almost unknown among European Jews.” Still, the fish has taken on a life of its own among Jews. Lox’s natural partner, the bagel—according to Rosten, first mentioned in print in the 1610 Community Regulations of Cracow, which stated that “bagels would be given as a gift to any woman in childbirth”—has been part of Jewish cuisine for 400 years, making “lox and bagels” an appropriate alternative for expressing oneself as Jewish in the ever-complicated “religion” box on Facebook.

Bagels may have the more overtly Jewish history, but they’ve become part of the American culinary mélange. (It’s hard to imagine, but less than 30 years ago, only one in three Americans had tried a bagel.) Even though it’s the bagel that’s Jewish more than lox, the orange fish still has a Jewish air about it, as it’s intrinsically linked to the food with which it is most commonly served.

If recent musings in the Times and elsewhere are any indication, the assumed Jewish connection to cold, salty orange fish isn’t going anywhere. In an era where Jewish leaders are worried that future generations won’t hold on to everything from federations to Israel to kashrut, lox seems safe.

Just don’t tell those young people that what they’re eating might not actually be lox.

G-d Comes Out on the Side of Equality

by Steven Philp

In the national debate concerning equal rights for the LGBT community, the opposition has consistently claimed that they have G-d on their side. Only this week, the anti-equality group National Organization for Marriage held a rally in the Bronx featuring several prominent clergymen and women from local congregations, all of whom advocated for a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. According to a video posted on Good as You, religious leaders like Reverend Ariel Torres Ortega of Radio Visión Cristiana – citing the Bible as witness – stressed that LGBT people are “worthy of death.” The same blog snapped a picture of Rabbi Yehuda Levin, a prominent Orthodox community leader who – according to a media release posted on the Christian Broadcast Network – has blamed the LGBT community for causing the September 11th terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, among other catastrophic events. Although there are strong advocates of LGBT rights within the faith community, such as the Right Reverend Gene Robinson of the New Hampshire Episcopate, many are LGBT-identified themselves. And even so, the perception has been created that allies within congregations are few and far between.

Yet in early May the Empire State Pride Agenda, an LGBT civil rights and advocacy group, issued a press release that gives cause for a little faith. The announcement names 727 clergymen and women from across New York State who have come out in support of marriage equality legislation, currently heading to the state Senate and Assembly. Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly stressed the importance of LGBT rights under his administration; this particular bill is “among his top priorities to achieve before the current legislative sessions ends in June.”

The listed names and their respective congregations represent a wide range of faith traditions, although the vast majority of the signatories are Christian. But among the clergy included in the press release are a number of Jewish leaders. “Jewish tradition prizes family as the basic building block of a community and we know that the stability of the family is enhanced when the family unit enjoys legal protections,” said Rabbi Debora S. Gordon of Congregation Berith Sholom in Troy, New York. “It is in accord with very important Jewish values to recognize and protect the bonds between loving couples, irrespective of the gender of those two adults.”

Not surprisingly, all of the rabbis quoted in the press release – in addition to the vast majority of rabbis listed among the signatories – are members of the Reform movement. In fact, only one rabbi unassociated with a congregation listed his affiliation with the Conservative movement; all others were labeled as Reform or Reconstructionist. “The Reform Jewish Movement has long held that all loving, committed couples deserve the opportunity to celebrate their relationships and have them recognized in the eyes of the law,” explained Honey Heller and Donald C. Cutler to the Empire State Pride Agenda, co-chairs of the Reform Jewish Voice of New York State. “Too often we see opponents of marriage equality using faith as their shield. However we believe that faith demands of us that we treat all couples equally.”

What is striking about these statements is that each of the clergymen and women attributes their attitude toward LGBT equality to their faith. The Jewish leaders who listed their names among the signatories did not do so because they felt it was the politically expedient thing to do, but rather because they were motivated by their engagement with the Jewish community. “As a rabbi, I am honored when families invite me to share in their lives, in the daily routine as well as times that are very special,” explained Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, Director of the Concerned Clergy for Choice. “My pastoral experience demonstrates the value and sanctity of marriage, and the importance of extending the protections and responsibilities of legal marriage to same gender couples.

As we wait for the marriage equality bill to weather the State Assembly and Senate, it is important to identify allies in our respective communities. For many Jews, this includes our individual temples, shuls, and synagogues. And whether or not this particular legislation is successful, at least we know one thing: according to 727 clergymen and women, G-d is on our side.

Jailhouse Hora

By Michelle Albert


These days, to have a truly memorable bar mitzvah, it has to be somewhere special. Like jail.

According to the New York Times, New York City’s Department of Investigation is pursuing an inquiry into how an inmate held in a jail in Lower Manhattan could have arranged a bar mitzvah party for his son last year. The party, held in the gymnasium of the Manhattan Detention Complex, featuring Orthodox singer Yaakov Shwekey as the night’s entertainment, boasted 60 guests and lasted six hours. It seems a good time was had by all.

The problem, according to the City, is that the party featured real silverware, including metal knives (not allowed in jail), and that the guests brought their cellphones with them (also not allowed). The city is also flummoxed at how Tuvia Stern, the inmate who planned the shindig, could have pulled it off. Rabbi Glanz, a chaplain for the New York Department of Corrections, was suspended from duty. Peter Curico, the Corrections Department bureau chief of facility operations, retired.

Though the party was against the rules, it was something the bar mitzvah boy will never forget. Who else in New York has had a bar mitzvah that caused both the Department of Corrections and Mayor Bloomberg to get involved? Apparently, there is such a thing as too much fun.

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Sonia Sotomayor and the Menorah

By Jeremy Gillick

Among the many decisions made by New York Court of Appeals judge and newly nominated Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor is a 1993 ruling to allow a Chabad rabbi from White Plains, New York to display a large menorah in a public park.

The city had rejected several similar requests by Flamer in previous years, but that didn’t prevent the rabbi from celebrating. From Sotomayor’s ruling:

Shortly around sundown on December 1, 1991, the first day of Chanukah, Rabbi Flamer and approximately thirty other individuals gathered in Tibbits [park] to celebrate the beginning of Chanukah. Rabbi Flamer brought a two and one-half foot menorah, which was not lit. The gathering lasted approximately twenty minutes, during which time the assembled group performed several traditional dances.

Ironically, the city’s ban seemed to stem largely from Jewish opposition. Sotomayor again:

On December 2, 1991, all seven members of the Common Council met in a public meeting attended by Rabbi Flamer, Corporation Counsel Anthony J. Grant, and numerous community residents. During the Common Council meeting, Rabbi Flamer’s proposed menorah display came under strong attack from members of the White Plains Jewish community. Rabbi Mark Weiner of the White Plains Jewish Community Center asserted at the meeting that the “overwhelming majority of the Jewish community” felt that the proposed menorah display should not be allowed. The American Jewish Committee submitted a letter opposing the display which was read into the record. Continue reading