Analysis: A Closer Look At The P5+1-Iranian Agreement

There wasn’t a news site by last Sunday morning void of a story about the historic deal — or “mistake,” as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was calling it — which was signed between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France plus Germany) late last Saturday night.

But, according to analysts, many of the headlines that cluttered the Internet were inaccurate and deceptive. There was no “freeze,” “halt” or “stopping” of Iranian nuclear proliferation as many newspapers and websites described. Rather, said Dr. Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute, on a Jewish Federations of North America leadership briefing Monday afternoon, “it impedes or limits” nuclear progress.

What does Iran give up? What does it get to keep?

Iran’s key commitment is to limit its enrichment of uranium — the element needed to make a nuclear bomb — to 5 percent, according to a summary of the agreement released by the White House. Iran will dilute its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium down to 5 percent, freeze many of its centrifuges that produce uranium and disable some technical features of some centrifuges. Iran also will stop construction and fuel production for its unfinished plutonium reactor and not expand its enrichment capabilities.

Under the agreement, Iran may continue to enrich uranium and does not need to dismantle any centrifuges or its plutonium reactor — conditions Netanyahu has said are necessary.

What is the significance of different levels of uranium enrichment?

Only a rare and specific type of uranium, uranium 235, can be used for a nuclear weapon. Enrichment, which is conducted using centrifuges, is the process of separating that material from the rest of the uranium supply. Five percent enrichment, for example, means that 5 percent of the uranium stockpile in question is uranium 235.

Five-percent-enriched uranium can be used for civilian purposes such as nuclear power; to be used for a nuclear weapon, uranium needs to be enriched to 90 percent. Iran has long claimed that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.

The agreement aims to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment at 5 percent. However, getting uranium from 0 to 5 percent is the hardest part of enrichment; jumping from 5 to 90 percent is easier. So by allowing Iran to enrich to 5 percent, the agreement allows Iran to continue clearing the biggest enrichment-related hurdle to bomb-making capacity.

Iran also possesses “next-generation” centrifuges that allow it to jump from 5 to 90 percent in a matter of weeks — what Israelis call a “breakout capacity.” The agreement freezes those centrifuges but doesn’t require Iran to fully dismantle them.

In exchange, most of the sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors will stay in place, including $100 billion in holdings that Iran cannot access, but there will be $7 billion in relief, including the release of funds from some Iranian oil sales and the suspension of sanctions on Iran’s auto, precious metals and petro-chemical industries.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is calling the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran a “historic mistake.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is calling the agreement between the P5+1 and Iran a “historic mistake.”
(Haim Zach/ GPO/FLASH90)

And this is why Israel is calling the deal a “historic mistake,” as Netanyahu put it during his Sunday cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu said, “Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

“If a nuclear suitcase blows up five years from now in New York or Madrid,” said Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Jewish Home party and a government minister, “it will be because of the deal that was signed [in Geneva].”

Several American congressmen and senators — as well as analysts — are seconding that notion.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said in a statement that she feels the agreement reached with Iran “leaves unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities. … The agreement … simply does not go far enough to ensure our national security interests and those of our allies, like the democratic Jewish State of Israel.”

Opponents of the deal were spewing off terms like “worried” and “suspicious” in blogs and on social media, as well as in official statements disseminated to supporters and the media. Concern came from those in official capacities, as well as Jewish citizens in the area.

“I have serious concerns,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in a statement.

“I am deeply concerned,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

“I have little trust in the Iranian regime,” noted Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee. “We will need to scrutinize Iranian behavior to ensure they do not cheat.”

Dr. Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said he is not confident. He said, “I am suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.”

In Baltimore, Israel Orange of Israel Orange Studios, told the JT, “I am worried,” and asked, “How can this be good?”

Shimmy Rosenblum from Silver Spring, now living in Israel, said, “It will work well for Iran bombing its enemies. [President] Obama has shown a new low in world diplomacy.”

Added the Maryland/Israel Development Center’s Peter Telem, “Substitute the words ‘Nazi Germany’ for Iran, then think again about how this will turn out.”

Working For Change

These days, it seems that everyone is starting a nonprofit. What’s the appeal?

“The reason people start nonprofits is because they see a need and a void that they are passionate to fill,” says Paddy Morton, attorney with Maryland Nonprofits, an organization that serves to strengthen and educate the state’s nonprofit sector. “They’re doing public cleanup projects; they’re doing mentoring projects; they’re doing environmental projects or animal-rights projects. They’re filling the gap that the government can’t complete.”

But it takes more than a good idea and passion to start a successful nonprofit.

“You can’t run a nonprofit these days with a nonprofit mentality; you have to run it with an entrepreneurial mindset,” says Ed Hartman, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Reisterstown, which works to prevent homelessness through various forms of assistance. “You have to run it like a business.”

While passionate advocates may feel driven to form their own nonprofits, others effectively partner with existing organizations, and some raise money by participating in marathons, yogathons or other fundraising events.

Officials at Maryland Nonprofits recommend that those intent on starting nonprofits do their homework. The process involves following legal procedures and creating business-development strategies. Filing IRS documents, articles of incorporation and bylaws are required on the legal side, and for business development, a nonprofit needs to identify its donor base, volunteers and board members and come up with a model for growth and success.

Carl “Diesel” Galler (second from right) and members of Motorcycle Club Five give food to the needy at one of the Community Crisis Center’s food giveaways in Reisterstown. (Marc Shapiro)

Carl “Diesel” Galler (second from right) and members of Motorcycle Club Five give food to the needy at one of the Community Crisis Center’s food giveaways in Reisterstown.
(Marc Shapiro)

A Baltimore County motorcycle club, MCV (Motorcycle Club Five), formed its own 501(c)(3), MCVcares, in 2012 after the club already had been involved with charity work such as sending holiday packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. Club members say establishing the formal nonprofit gave them more legitimacy and made corporate entities more willing to donate.

“We would do it [the charity work] one way or the other,” says Carl “Diesel” Galler, vice president and co-founder of MCV. “Having the 501(c)(3) status adds some legitimacy and adds a level of confidence. It lends credibility to those folks [who donate] that we’re not just a ragtag bunch of people.”

The club, whose members are from Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Westminster, picks one charitable endeavor each year. Last year, it raised about $5,000 for the Hannah More School in Reisterstown, and this year it is hoping to raise $10,000 for the Living Classrooms’ Fresh Start program, which provides job training to young men who are recovering from substance abuse or coming from the juvenile justice system.

“Some of our members have lost some children to the disease of addiction, and we felt this dovetailed nicely with what we were doing,” Galler says.

In 2012, there were 23,739 501(c)(3) organizations operating in Maryland. The nonprofit sector is the fastest-growing employment sector in Maryland — and in the country, Morton says.

In Maryland, nonprofits have paved the way for lead abatement, which has significantly reduced the number of cases of lead poisoning. Hospice care also has benefited from the work of nonprofits, according to Maryland Nonprofits president and CEO Greg Cantori.

“Passion overrides the need for profits,” Cantori says. “There tends to be a very strong feeling that something is not just and that it needs to change. It could be anything from ‘Why are these kids not getting art education in schools?’ to ‘Why don’t they have a mentor in their life?’”

The lackluster music education program in Baltimore City’s public schools and a desire to give back using his musical skills led Kenny Liner to form Believe in Music. Liner, who toured with Baltimore rock band The Bridge for 10 years, has been teaching music in the city’s largest housing project, Perkins Homes, since September 2012.

But rather than starting his own nonprofit, he partnered with Living Classrooms.

“I really loved what Living Classrooms was doing already, and felt that I fit into what their mission was,” he says. “That’s a good way to get started, to partner with an already-established nonprofit whose mission coincides with yours.”

While he mainly raises his money from benefit concerts, utilizing contacts he made as a touring musician, he says he never turns down a good volunteer. Many nonprofits survive thanks to the work of volunteers.

“There are a lot of things that go behind being able to say ‘Oh yeah, we do dental, we give 3,000 pounds of food out a month,’” Hartman says. “There’s a lot of setup work before you do that. That’s all volunteers.”

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen started a yogathon  to raise money for the National Lung Cancer  Partnership after her mother died of lung cancer.

Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen started a yogathon to raise money for the National Lung Cancer Partnership after her mother died of lung cancer.

Some people find themselves volunteering through unfortunate circumstances, such as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Rabbi Elissa Sachs-Kohen. In 2008, her mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and died 10 weeks later.

“I was shaken and looking for something to do,” she says.

She came across Free to Breathe, an organization that raises money for the National Lung Cancer Partnership. While she knew nothing about lung cancer prior to her mother’s diagnosis, she soon found out it kills more people than any other form of cancer. She learned about about a yogathon in North Carolina, and as a yoga devotee herself, she was intrigued.

“I ended up calling the organization expecting to just participate in an event and found myself running one,” she says. “I think that’s how this stuff happens.”

Rabbi Sachs-Kohen and Free to Breathe spearheaded Baltimore’s fifth event on Nov. 10, at the B&O Railroad Museum. This year, 141 people participated. While fundraising continues through the end of the year, more than $31,000 already has been raised.

“When you hear these stories of people who say we’ve changed their lives, it means the world,” says Gabi Green, endurance manager at Team Challenge, a half-marathon training program of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

These good feelings do a lot more than make people feel warm and fuzzy, Cantori says. Research shows that the more people give of themselves, the better they feel physically and psychologically. Events such as marathons, yogathons and the like give people extra incentive and engage them further in causes, he says.

The Polar Bear Plunge, for example, raises money for the Special Olympics through people jumping into the frigid Chesapeake Bay at Sandy Point Park during the winter.

“Who in their right mind would jump into 30- or 40-degree water? But they do, and they have a blast,” Cantori says. “It is fun, it’s kooky and it’s for a great cause.”

Rabbis Raised With Christmas

When Eric Woodward started rabbinical school at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, he assumed he would be the only student who grew up celebrating Christmas along with Chanukah.

But midway through his training, when Woodward started a discussion group for students of interfaith families, more than 20 people showed up.

Not all were children of intermarriage such as Woodward, who was raised in Los Angeles by a secular Jewish mother and a non-practicing Catholic father. Some were Jews by choice. Others had parents who converted or families with a mix of Jewish and non-Jewish members.

“I don’t see a family being interfaith as a shame or a stigma,” said Woodward, 31, who was ordained in May and is now assistant rabbi at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus, Ohio. “It didn’t preclude me from having a Jewish journey, and it won’t preclude someone else.”

Fifty percent of Jewish millennials — a generation roughly defined as those born in the 1980s and 1990s — grew up in intermarried homes, according to last month’s Pew Research Center study of American Jews. And while most of them don’t end up becoming rabbis, it is no longer uncommon to see such Jews in the non-Orthodox rabbinate.

No precise statistics are available on the percentage of clergy or rabbinical students from interfaith families, but they are a noticeable minority at the Reform and Reconstructionist seminaries. Informal estimates put the proportion of children of intermarriage at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion anywhere from 20 to 50 percent. Marley Weiner, a second-year rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, reports that six of 12 students in her class were, as she was, raised by a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother.

“I think it’s great,” said Rabbi Renni Altman, who directs the rabbinical program at HUC’s
New York campus. “They bring a richness to the community and a sensitivity and awareness that’s also wonderful.”

Altman said such rabbis show the potential of a group many demographers write off — a point echoed by the author of the new Pew analysis, Theodore Sasson, a senior researcher at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.

“This is a population that feels itself a part of the Jewish world but typically knows little of it,” Sasson wrote this week in the online magazine “Tablet.” “How Jewish organizations address this challenge will determine — more than any inexorable laws of demography — the future character of American Jewry.”

Rabbis raised in interfaith homes are a mixed lot. Some officiate at interfaith marriages; others do not or have not yet made up their minds. Some were raised Jewish; others embraced Judaism as teenagers or adults. Some felt welcomed by the Jewish community as children; others not so much.

But they all say their families, Jewish and gentile alike, support their decision to become rabbis. All see their backgrounds as something that makes them sensitive to the needs of intermarried families and comfortable with the diversity of practices among American Jews. And all are testaments to the unpredictable ways in which younger people are forging their own paths to Jewish identity despite their upbringing.

“People whose lives are messy can still find joy and a home in Judaism,” said Weiner, 26, whose parents, at her request, joined a synagogue and enrolled her in Hebrew school when she was 12.

Rabbis with non-Jewish fathers —such as Joshua Caruso and Sara O’Donnell Adler, both 44 — are used to questions about their names. O’Donnell Adler, a chaplain at the University of Michigan Hospitals in Ann Arbor, said she deliberately kept O’Donnell when she married — not just because she is close to her Irish Catholic family, but because the name is a good icebreaker as she makes the hospital rounds.

“Some people make the assumption that I’ve converted to Judaism, and that’s OK,” she said. “It builds bridges of conversation and allows people to talk about their families. If I meet interfaith families, it seems to foster a connection.”

For Erik Uriarte, 35, a first-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College, it’s not just the name but his Latino looks that raise eyebrows. He is constantly asked if he converted to Judaism to marry his wife — even though it is his wife, whose mother is not Jewish, who converted when the two joined a Conservative synagogue.

The rabbis whose mothers are not Jewish face different challenges, since without a conversion they are not considered Jewish under religious law.

Weiner declined a formal conversion, even though several professors at the Jewish Theological Seminary offered to facilitate one while she was an undergraduate there. She knows conversion would mean she is recognized as Jewish beyond the non-Orthodox movements, but she wants to signal her acceptance of patrilineal descent.

“It’s not my job to be all things to all people or convince everyone I’m right,” Weiner said.

Rabbi Karen Perolman, 31, the assistant rabbi at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, N.J., took a different approach, opting for a Conservative conversion after she was excluded from reading from the megillah at a community Purim celebration in college.

But perhaps the biggest dilemma for these rabbis is whether to officiate at intermarriages. Weiner anticipates that she will; Uriarte says he is leaning against — a position he acknowledges is “slightly ironic” given his background.

“I totally 100 percent support people marrying people they love and are going to get along with,” Uriarte said. “Where my concern comes in is regarding the children and how they’re raised. There’s a certain level of confidence you can have in marrying two Jewish people, even if they’re pretty secular, or two people when one is on the road to converting to Judaism. That, to me at least, would perpetuate a sense of Jewish identity.”

Many of the rabbis say their interfaith background has better prepared them to handle the challenges facing interfaith couples. Caruso believes he has credibility in explaining that his refusal to officiate at an intermarriage doesn’t imply rejection of the couple. Weiner says her background makes her more conscious of her obligation to care for both the Jewish and non-Jewish partners in a relationship. And Woodward says it makes him more conscious of the language he employs.

“Welcoming interfaith families doesn’t just mean not being mean to them,” Woodward said, “but saying we want you here.”

Non-Jews In The Pews

Among the issues Conservative synagogues are debating is whether a non-Jewish parent may stand near the Torah during his or her child's bar or bat mitzvah. (Konstantin Goldenberg/Shutterstock)

Among the issues Conservative synagogues are debating is whether a non-Jewish parent may stand near the Torah during his or her child’s bar or bat mitzvah.
(Konstantin Goldenberg/Shutterstock)

To an outsider, the battles might seem to be over trifles — in some cases, just a few feet.

Where may a non-Jewish parent stand in the synagogue during his child’s bar mitzvah? Can a non-Jew open the holy ark? Should non-Jewish synagogue members have voting rights?

Such questions have been pushed to the fore by the growing percentage of Conservative homes that include non-Jewish family members — more than one-quarter of them, according to the recent Pew Research Center survey on American Jews.

For many Conservative synagogues, the issues are not trivial. They cut to the heart of a philosophical and practical debate about how open they should be toward the non-Jews in their midst.

“For a variety of reasons, my colleagues are being challenged to rethink positions that in the past we accepted almost as dogma,” said Rabbi Charles Simon, who, as executive director of the Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, organizes seminars for Conservative synagogues on how to be more inclusive of non-Jews. “It doesn’t mean that the standards of Conservative Judaism are changing. It means that my colleagues are metaphorically learning they have to broaden their own tents.”

In some ways, the dilemma is not unique to Conservative Judaism; the Reform movement has grappled with some of the same issues. But Reform synagogues are not bound by Jewish law, and the movement accepts intermarriage — two key distinctions from Conservative Judaism. On the Orthodox side, the line against non-Jewish participation is pretty clear; many strictly Orthodox synagogues won’t even allow the Jewish partner in an interfaith marriage to lead services.

Conservative synagogues are navigating the parlous middle, wrestling with how to adapt to an era of increasing non-Jews in their ranks while still adhering to Conservative principles of Jewish law that among other things forbid intermarriage.

The discussions also come at a time of serious decline for the Conservative movement, whose share of the American Jewish population has fallen to 18 percent, according to the Pew study.

“Since such a large percentage of our younger families include interfaith marriages and relationships, we want very much to keep our children as loyal and involved Conservative Jews, and we realize that in order to do so we need to be welcoming to their partners and spouses and families,” said Rabbi Raphael Adler of the Woodbury Jewish Center in New York. “Many in our congregations are not willing to give up our children and our families to Reform synagogues or to no congregation at all. It seems wrong.”

The ways in which Conservative synagogues are adapting varies widely. Many offer non-Jews the honor of reciting the English prayer for the government, Israel or peace. Some allow non-Jews voting rights but bar them from board positions. Others exclude them from membership.

For Debbie Burton, who was married to a Jew and raising her kids as Jews but wasn’t Jewish herself, exclusion from synagogue ritual roles never really bothered her until her daughter’s bat mitzvah, when she was told she could not speak from the pulpit of her Chicago-area synagogue.

“It was the first time that I had ever felt that I was excluded from a minyan activity because I was not Jewish,” Burton, a professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern, wrote in a 2010 essay for “I was hurt to feel prevented from publicly sharing my thoughts on the occasion of a Jewish milestone of my child. After all, even though I wasn’t Jewish, I had played an important role in my children’s Jewish education and upbringing.”

Burton said that the experience prompted her to push for changes in her synagogue’s policies, though in the end she didn’t require the changes for herself because she converted.

During life-cycle events, many Conservative synagogues now offer non-Jews a place of honor, but with limitations. At the Woodbury (N.Y.) synagogue, non-Jewish parents may join their Jewish spouses when receiving an aliyah to the Torah during a bar mitzvah service, but the non-Jew must take a couple of steps back when the blessings are recited. A non-Jewish grandparent may offer an English blessing composed by the rabbi, but only from his place in the pews, not from the bimah.

Rabbi Adler said reaction to the changes has been mixed: Some members have threatened to quit if certain changes are adopted.

Rabbi David Booth of Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Calif., recently began giving non-Jews in his congregation a stand-alone ritual role unconnected to life-cycle events: opening the ark. Last month, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards formally endorsed the practice.

At Congregation Kneses Tifereth Israel in Port Chester, N.Y., Rabbi Jaymee Alpert offers a public blessing to interfaith couples right before their wedding in an adaptation of the traditional Shabbat “aufruf” celebration that precedes a Jewish wedding. Rabbi Alpert also presents the interfaith couple with the same synagogue gift bestowed upon Jewish couples.

“We should be as open and inclusive as possible within the parameters of Jewish law and the Conservative movement,” she said. “It’s not that the congregation is advocating intermarriage, but I think there’s a little bit of acceptance that this happens, and don’t we want our children and the next generation to feel comfortable in the synagogue?”

Rabbi Alpert said she finds it painful to have to explain to interfaith couples why she cannot officiate at their weddings. Though the Conservative movement also bars its rabbis from attending intermarriages, the rule often is ignored.

Like many Conservative clergymen in Canada, Rabbi Jarrod Grover of Beth Tikvah Synagogue in Toronto considers intermarriage a breach of Conservative Judaism. At Beth Tikvah, non-Jews are barred from membership. Synagogue mail sent to interfaith homes omits the name of the non-Jewish spouse. The synagogue does not allow blessings for interfaith unions.

“We do not recognize the validity of intermarriages — period. There’s no Simcha, there’s no aufruf,” Grover said.

He believes the best way to welcome non-Jews and encourage them to raise a Jewish family is to lower the bar for conversion.

“The danger of making the shul too welcoming for the intermarried is that there stops being any reason to convert, and I don’t want that,” Rabbi Grover said. “I want to push conversion because the right way to raise Jewish children is with two Jewish parents.”

Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles rejects that approach.

“Parents who have made a commitment to raise a Jewish household and they don’t convert, I think they’re heroes,” Vogel said. “I think they deserve our praise and recognition. Instead, what do they get? At best, a feeling that they’re accepted.”

Rabbi Vogel’s synagogue doesn’t just welcome interfaith families but celebrates them. On “anniversary Shabbats,” when couples celebrating anniversaries are acknowledged in shul, intermarried couples are honored along with everybody else. At bar mitzvahs, the non-Jewish parent is invited to be part of the tallit presentation but must step back when the blessing is recited.

Vogel even officiates at funerals for non-Jewish congregants, noting in his eulogy that the deceased was not Jewish but was an “ohev Yisrael” — a lover of the Jewish people. Vogel’s synagogue also allows non-Jewish spouses who have lost their Jewish spouse or are divorced to remain a member of the congregation.

“Some of my most committed congregants are non-Jewish congregants,” he said.

Vogel said he initially was resistant to many of these changes, but his attitude shifted over time.

“My actions have been changed by the personal interactions with congregants and seeing how with a change in attitude we can really inspire them Jewishly,” he said. “Someone who might otherwise turn away is now validated and sanctified. It’s so affirming.”

Uriel Heilman writes for JTA Wire Service.

Off With His Head

Judith with the head of Holofernes by Italian master painter Titian.

Judith with the head of Holofernes by Italian master painter Titian.

Judith is a beautiful widow who has fascinated artists, writers, poets and composers through the centuries. The heroine of the Book of Judith, a text that was never accepted into the Jewish cannon, Judith serves the role of holy Jewish widow, of seductress and of soldier.

Here is a quick rundown:

Judith comes onto the scene in chapter 8 of her book, introduced by a lengthy genealogy, which connects her to several important biblical characters, including the Forefathers. She summons the town elders and rebukes them for questioning God’s plan and their willingness to surr-ender to the enemy. She presents a secret plan to save her community, prays to God for assistance, beautifies herself in preparation for her journey and leaves her hometown of Bethulia with her maid. Almost instantaneously, Judith is (likely by design) captured by the Assyrians. She presents a “vision” for how the Assyrian army can win the war without loss. She is taken to General Holofernes’ camp, attends an intimate banquet and cuts off Holofernes’ head while he is drunk. Then she returns to her hometown with the head, meets with the elders, is praised, they celebrate, and she goes back to her life as a widow.

Most scholars consider the story of Judith to be fiction. For example, it takes place in a city called Bethulia in Palestine, but no such place is known. In addition, explained Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, who referred the JT to a chapter she wrote in the 20th anniversary edition of “Women’s Bible Commentary,” “The book opens in ‘the 12th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Ninveh’ (1:1). Yet, Ninveh was destroyed in 612 BCE, before Nebuchadnezzar became king in 605 BCE; he ruled the Neo-Babylonian Empire from his capital city of Babylon. It is not possible that the Jews had recently returned from exile and rebuilt their Temple (5:18-19) since Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple in 587 BCE and the Temple was rebuilt in 520 to 515 BCE under the Persians.”

But Judith’s story, said those interviewed, is not meant to be a history as much as it is meant to be a meta-phor, a discussion of the themes of Jewish survival and identity in a gentile world and of female survival in a man’s world.

“From a Jewish perspective,” said Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, a professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College, “Judith preserves Jewish tradition but is not sacred.”

The book is referenced at Chanukah because although there is debate as to exactly when the story is supposed to have taken place — and the beginning of the book makes it sound as if the events took place centuries earlier — most scholars believe that it was written during the Hellenistic period, the time of the persecutions and battles that eventually are commemorated by the celebration of Chanukah.

“In this sense, it is a companion piece to the book of the Maccabees, which likewise is not part of the Jewish Bible but was written by and for Jews,” explained Eskenazi.

Robin Gallaher Branch, professor of biblical studies at Victory University in Memphis, Tenn., said there are many ways that one could describe Judith,
including planful, verbose and powerful. She said that Judith is a similar character to others who are in the Jewish cannon, including the judge Deborah (in her leadership) and the almost-uncannily similar story of Yael in the Book of Judges. The Israelites are at war with King Jabin. When Jabin’s army goes to attack, led by Sisera, Yael welcomes Sisera into her tent with apparent hospitality. She gives him warm milk and other foods and when he lies down to sleep, Yael creeps up to him, holding a tent peg, and forces it through his temple and into the ground. As a result of the killing of Sisera, God gives the victory to the people of Israel.

But what do we make of a character who beheads a foreign general and hangs it on display?

“To interpret Judith today is not simply to determine whether or not Judith offers a positive or negative role model for women in her time or our own,” noted Hopkins. “Rather, it is to recognize how she challenges all stereotypes. As she moves across the gender spectrum from widow to seductress to soldier, Judith subverts the presuppositions about gender that we bring into the text.”

Hopkins said that on the one hand Judith seems to be an ideal woman for her time — beautiful, loyal, pious, intelligent and initially silent — who remains in her home when she is widowed, leaves it only in times of crisis and returns after her victory. On the other hand, she rebukes the town elders, manipulates people and vacillates between proclaiming her subservience to God and carrying out her initiative (though in the end, it is clear that God endorses what Judith has done).

Eskenazi defends Judith’s character.

“Judith is presented as a highly savvy, even brilliant, strategist who plans every move to bring about the downfall of her people’s chief enemy,” said Eskenazi, describing Judith’s power not just as physical (i.e. using her beauty), but also as linguistic. She said Judith acted out of self-protection.

“If anything, the killing of this one man saves many lives,” Eskenazi said.

Judith, in Hebrew Yehudit, literally means woman of Judah, and Eskenazi feels Judith represents the Jewish people under siege at the time of Greek subordination.

“The metaphor and message encourage people to trust that piety and action can combine to bring relief and a secure future,” she said.

Is Judith a feminist role model? Eskenazi said yes — “her independence is exceptional.”

Noted Branch: “Judith relates well to other women. … They identify with her. She inspires them.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief

U.S. Senate Passes ENDA Bill, Questions Remain

When the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (64 to 32) on Thursday, Nov. 7, it was widely applauded by a number of advocacy groups, including those inside and outside the Jewish community.

Eric Fusfield (left) of B’nai B’rith International praises the passing of the  Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Rabbi Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel  is skeptical.

Eric Fusfield (above) of B’nai B’rith International praises the passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Rabbi Abba Cohen (below) of Agudath Israel is skeptical.

“It is legislation whose time has come,” said Eric Fusfield, director of legislative affairs at B’nai B’rith International. “Attitudes have shifted.”

The act, ENDA for short, would protect against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal law currently protects against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, age and disability, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. ENDA has been introduced in almost every congress since 1994.

“LGBT rights are at the forefront of the civil rights agenda, and the Jewish community needs to be one of the leaders in that struggle,” Fusfield said. “We have suffered discrimination ourselves, and we need to defend others.”

Although ENDA included a provision that exempted religious organizations, some say it didn’t go far enough to ensure the protection of those groups.

“The religious exemption that is in [ENDA] is vague and not specific as to what kinds of entities it would cover and what kind of religious entities it wouldn’t cover,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president of federal affairs and Washington director at Agudath Israel of America, a Haredi Jewish organization.

He said different courts have interpreted similar protections differently, giving the example that even after Boy Scouts of America was legally allowed to bar homosexuals from joining the organization, it was still barred from using some parks.

112213_enda2Cohen’s concern is over what constitutes a religiously affiliated group, noting that there are a variety of organizations that are not houses of worship, but still Jewish-affiliated.

“How affiliated do you have to be?” he asked. “That could be a judgment call, and different courts have to come to different conclusions.”

Agudath Israel was joined by a coalition of other groups, including evangelical Christians, and he said the coalition plans to lobby for stronger religious exemption provisions on the U.S. House side.

But Fusfield and others are doubtful that the bill will fare as well on the house side. House Speaker John Boehner said he would oppose the bill.

“We know it’s going to be an uphill climb, and, certainly, we don’t expect a vote this year, and in 2014, we’ll see,” Fusfield said. “We understand the majority in the House is not receptive to this bill so we’re going to have to keep pushing for it. But we’re not going to stop.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin urged his colleagues in the house to approve ENDA so it can be signed into law, he said in a statement.

“We should leave no doubt that Congress is united against discrimination in any form,” he said. “Passage of ENDA will reinforce U.S. leadership around the world and help support the LGBT community in places like Russia, Africa and some countries in Europe that have taken discriminatory actions to marginalize lesbians, gays and those who, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have been discriminated against.”

According to the Center for American Progress, 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies have sexual orientation non-discrimination policies, and 49 percent have gender identity non-discrimination policies. Maryland is one of 21 states that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Several municipalities, including Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Howard County, prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity.

“If we are going to be able to adequately compete globally, we need to empower all of the people of this country,” Cardin said in his statement. “We can’t leave anyone behind.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

Weinberg Foundation Distributes $106 Million In Grants

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Tuesday evening celebrated a year of giving at its annual community gathering. At the event, which was held at Beth El Congregation and welcomed 1,000 people, the foundation announced it had distributed $106 million in grants this past year. The grants were made to nonprofits serving low-income and vulnerable individuals and families.

The event took place on the backdrop of a recent announcement by the foundation of an additional $4 million grant to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany to provide emergency assistance to Holocaust victims in North America. The grant, which will be allocated through 2016, supplements the $10 million, five-year grant that the Weinberg Foundation provided the Claims Conference in 2010 to help elderly Jewish victims of Nazis live out their lives with dignity. The $4 million grant will be distributed as follows: $500,000 in 2014 (in addition to the $1.5 million from the previous allocation); $2 million in 2015; and $1.5 million in 2016.

“Aging Jewish Holocaust victims, abandoned by the world in their youth, must now know that they are remembered and cared for in their final years,” said Claims Conference Executive Vice President Greg Schneider in a statement thanking the Weinberg Foundation.

Foundation President Rachel Garbow Monroe told the JT that the foundation decided to extend the grant because “it was clear to us … that not all the issues [of the survivors] would be resolved.” She explained that the initial $14 million was spread out among survivors to average a grant of $830 per person.

“That tells us we are helping roughly 16,800 individuals,” she said.

Monroe said the grant to the Holocaust survivors “fits perfectly” into the mission and heart of what the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation stands for.

“If you were in our board room, you would see a photograph of Harry and Jeanette at the time of their marriage, and it states that while others solve the ills of the world, someone will be hungry, someone sick, someone cold — that is our job.” … The single largest population we support through grants is poor, frail older adults.”

In the last year, the Claims Conference has come under scrutiny for mismanagement and allegedly facilitating fraud. Monroe said the foundation had no concerns about this — “the work they are doing with us on this emergency assistance fund is beyond reproach” — and that there are oversight and reporting requirements in place.

Created with flickr slideshow.

“They have been honorable and transparent every step of the way,” Monroe said, restating the need, as 25 percent of all survivors live in poverty and that one in three lives alone.

As much as 40 percent of all Weinberg Foundation funding remains in Maryland, and roughly half is distributed within the Jewish community. Monroe said this vision — and the Tuesday event — highlights the legacy of Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, and she also expressed gratitude to the foundation’s partners and grantees “for their exceptional, meaningful work this and every year.”

Learn more about the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation at

JWB-Endorsed Navy Chaplain Wins Witherspoon Bible Award

Rabbi Josh Sherwin  is fondly known as  “R-10” or “RX.”

Rabbi Josh Sherwin is fondly known as “R-10” or “RX.”

Each year the National Bible Association awards the prestigious Witherspoon Award to one chaplain from each military service branch, recognizing special creativity and achievement in inspiring others to read the Scriptures. This year’s Navy recipient is LT Josh Sherwin. Endorsed by JWB Jewish Chaplains Council in 2009, Chaplain Sherwin has served with the second Marine division out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, deploying to Afghanistan, and is currently stationed at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Retired Admiral Rabbi Harold Robinson, director of JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, said, “We are very proud of Josh and his work, encouraging men and women to engage more deeply and thoughtfully with the Scriptures.” A division of JCC Association, JWB Jewish Chaplains Council is a government approved agency that endorses Jewish chaplains for the armed forces and provides support for Jewish military personnel and their families as well as veterans. “It’s an honor that my colleagues submitted me for [the award],” Sherwin said. He will receive the Witherspoon Award at a gala dinner in New York City.

The National Bible Association states, “Chaplain Sherwin exemplifies the mission of the Chaplain Corps, and is consistently engaged with creative and innovative programming to encourage others not just to read the Bible, but also to engage with the text and to apply it to daily life.” The award, named after the famous World War I and II Chaplain Maurice Witherspoon is given to three chaplains of the U.S. Armed Forces who demonstrate and promote Bible reading in a unique and effective way over the course of one year. Chaplain Sherwin is the second rabbi to be presented with the Witherspoon Award; the first was Major Carlos Huerta, West Point chaplain, in 2011.

Rabbi Sherwin organized an interfaith trip to Israel for a group of midshipmen, and in preparation, the 30 participants attended sessions detailing the development of the three Abrahamic faiths. A Protestant chaplain spoke on Christianity, a professor of Islam lectured on Mohammed, and an expert on modern Israel talked about the development of the Jewish state. A diverse group of Jews, Christians, a Buddhist, agnostics and atheists went on the 10 day trip over spring break, visiting sites holy to the three monotheistic faiths. They also traveled to the north, and “people were shocked at how small and green Israel is,” Sherwin said.

The National Bible Association is a nonprofit, educational association that provides a platform to encourage people to read the Bible. Created in 1940 by a group of business and professional leaders in New York City, it has focused exclusively on encouraging America to read the Bible in every sector of society regardless of religious or political distinction. The Association also sponsors National Bible Week.

Read also, Attention on Deck >>

Israeli-Iranian DJ Group Spins For Peace In Berlin

It’s 4 a.m. at the famous Kater Holzig club and hundreds of beautiful young people are going crazy on the dance floor to the sound of heavy electronic beats.

Israeli DJ Roy Siny (left) and Iranian DJ Afagh Irandoost at the first No Beef party in Berlin.

Israeli DJ Roy Siny (left) and Iranian DJ Afagh Irandoost at the first No Beef party in Berlin.

To the casual clubber, it’s just another ordinary night out in Europe’s hottest city. But this gathering is far from ordinary. Many of those dancing are immigrants from two countries whose ongoing tensions could explode in the world’s face at any given moment.

Welcome to the first Iranian-Israeli techno party organized by the Iranian-Israeli collective No Beef.

It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Berlin: Iranians and Israelis clubbing together inside a World War II-era German soap factory that now houses some of the city’s best parties, high, happy and sweaty, grinding it like there’s no tomorrow to tunes spun by DJs from Tehran and Tel Aviv.

A couple of them sit around a small campfire outside the main dance hall, on the banks of the Spree River, passing around sweet-smelling peace blunts and munching on hummus and Persian chicken stew prepared by a Persian-Jewish Israeli restaurateur.

The air is filled with small talk in Hebrew, Farsi and everyone’s common language, German. Nobody talks about politics or nuclear bombs. It’s just a bunch of young people sitting together, enjoying the moment and connecting to each other through the music.

It’s what connected the party’s two organizers, Reza Khani and Roy Siny.

Khani, 36, is a well-known figure in Berlin nightlife as the proprietor of a successful bar in the hip Kreuzberg neighborhood. Siny, 35, is a doctoral student at Potsdam University by day and a popular techno DJ by night.

The two first met at Khani’s bar. Siny was having a few drinks with his girlfriend and ended up playing a spontaneous set. Few words were exchanged, but the pair connected again on Facebook, at the bottom of a long comment thread about the situation in the Middle East.

Siny was engaged in a heated discussion with radical German anti-Israel activists. Khani, who was tired of seeing the argument popping up on his feed, messaged him privately and told him to take it easy.

“I told him he’s wasting his energy on people who have no real understanding of our reality,” Khani said. “That these guys are only interested in arguing, not in finding solutions. We started talking, and it was very clear we have much more in common than just our love for music.”

It was clear as well that Siny was different from other Israelis Khani had met — most of whom, he says, are suspicious and assume he must be an anti-Semite.

“Roy was on a completely different frequency,” Khani said. “We talked and talked and eventually decided we must do something together — something good that can bring other people like us together.”

Thus was born No Beef. Israeli Guy “Katzele” Kenneth and Iranians Namito Khalaj and Afagh Irandoost were the first to join. DJ Asaf Samuel (Michatronix) was hauled over from Tel Aviv to play the first party on Aug. 17. A massive queue of hundreds of people stretched 300 feet down the block.

“We decided we don’t want any kind of brochures or political talk in our party, just good music and good vibes,” Siny said. “I have been to many politically themed parties here in Berlin, and I really didn’t like them. You always see the same faces.

“The German left-wing scene is very closed and narrow-minded. It seems like people there get together not to have fun but because it’s part of some routine. Nothing good can come out of that. We wanted people coming to our party to feel at home and connect with each other, and I think we succeeded in that.”

After recovering from their first party, Siny and Khani sat down to plan a mutual trip to Israel — and another party. If someone had stumbled into the meeting, if would have been hard to tell who was the Israeli and who was the Iranian — except for the fact that Siny was wearing a Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC T-shirt. Germans can’t really tell them apart.

“We are similar in so many ways,” Khani said. “It’s not only how we talk or how we see things that are so alike. Iranians and Israelis have gone through a lot of tough experiences in their lives and it makes them, in a way, a bit melancholic. It’s something we don’t have in common with, let’s say, Canadians.”

Siny said Khani told him of his most vivid childhood memory — hiding from Iraqi bombers strafing Iran during the eight-year war between the countries. Siny had the same memory of running to the bomb shelter as Iraqi rockets fell on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

“Young Germans, for example, will never be able to understand that,” Siny said. “They lead very comfortable lives. They don’t know what war is. Many of them come to Berlin, they party, they sometimes study, they don’t really need to work, and they don’t even realize how privileged they are and always complain about the stupidest things. They’ve never had to struggle to survive like us.”

Both men say their parties are intended not only to bring together two peoples who have much in common, but also to show the rest of the world that Iranians and Israelis are not enemies — that there is, well, no beef.

“The truth is that historically speaking, Persians and Jews were never enemies,” Khani said. “What’s happening now is a result of Israeli policy in the occupied territories and of the Islamic radicalization in Iran. It’s all politics. It has nothing to do with the real will of the people.”

Will they ever be able to throw the same kind of party in Tel Aviv or Tehran?

Not in the near future, as far as the two friends can tell. Both agree that Berlin, where thousands of Iranian and Israeli immigrants live side by side, is the perfect location for them.

“My utopian vision, which might sound a little bit like a John Lennon song or a 12-year-old girl’s dream, is a world where race and religion play no importance and everybody lives together in harmony and peace,” Khani said. “Until that happens, Berlin is the closest thing there is.”


‘I Don’t Feel Threatened’

According to a 1983  Supreme Court decision, opening a government meeting with prayer is acceptable as long as there is no attempt to proselytize (Architect of the Capitol)

According to a 1983 Supreme Court decision, opening a government meeting with prayer is acceptable as long as there is no attempt to proselytize (Architect of the Capitol)

The Montgomery County Council begins each of its Tuesday meetings with a prayer.

Clergy from a wide array of faith traditions are invited to lead the prayer, noted council member-at-large George Leventhal.

“I have not felt uncomfortable during our opening prayer,” Leventhal said. “I am quite comfortable with my own religious identity, and I don’t feel threatened.”

Leventhal, a Jew, said despite attending numerous meetings and events, “I never once have been asked to do anything that violates my faith.”

But for others, the issue is real and makes them feel unwelcome in civic meetings. That is why Susan Galloway, a Jew, and Linda Stephens, both residents of Greece, N.Y., have taken their concern — that they are subjected to sectarian prayer during governmental meetings — all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last week, Supreme Court justices listened to arguments on whether the town violated the Constitution by beginning its meetings with mostly Christian prayers. The court is expected to rule by the end of June 2014.

This is the first time the Supreme Court will rule on prayer at government meetings since a 1983 ruling allowed the Nebraska legislature to open its meetings with a prayer by a paid Presbyterian minister as long as there was no attempt to proselytize. Also, the process of getting a prayer leader could not be discriminatory, the court ruled.

The First Amendment is not violated as long as there is no attempt to establish a religion, according to the Supreme Court ruling.

That makes perfect sense to Sidney Katz, mayor of Gaithersburg. At his city meetings, “we have a moment that we could have prayer. It has really ended up as a moment of silence.”

Katz is not concerned by the occasional prayer he hears at meetings.

“The vast majority of the time people are respectful,” he said.

Katz noted that “every now and then someone will name a deity the way they normally speak to God. It’s just the way they normally end the prayer.”

At the Montgomery County Board of Education, “it is not an issue for us,” declared Phil Kauffman, vice president. The board “does not begin its meetings with a prayer and to my knowledge has never done so,” he wrote in an email.

Hadar Susskind, director of Bend the Arc Jewish Action, said it is “very, very rare” for him to hear a prayer offered at the numerous political events he attends unless that meeting is faith-based.

Susskind said prayer at meetings is more of an issue outside of D.C. and that Bend the Arc has no official position on the matter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said that the particular case before the Supreme Court is an important one.

“These are public fathers. There is a clear pattern here of choosing only Christian clergy,” Nathan said.

D.C. public meetings do not begin with prayers, and “we get along quite well without it.” Chaplains in the U.S. Congress do offer prayers but are sensitive to their audience, he said.

That is an important point to Debbie Linick, director for D.C. and Northern Virginia at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. She pointed to Rabbi Devorah Lynn, who previously was at Beth Sholom Temple in Fredericksburg.

“When she offers a prayer [before a mixed audience], she is really not thinking about who is she praying to, but for whom she is praying,” said Linick.

In Virginia, there is a policy of opening the legislature with a prayer, and in many of its towns, particularly those farthest from the beltway, those prayers are often specifically Christian. Earlier this year, state Sen. Bill Stanley, a Republican, withdrew a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have restricted the government from regulating prayer in public schools and government meetings, Linick said.

The JCRC was “able to educate the senators,” she said, adding that her organization works “to be an honest broker to what the court guidelines permit and don’t permit us. We tell them where the line is drawn.”

In another case, a former Virginia delegate who had been a state trooper, spent time speaking with young people about the dangers of using drugs. “He would often invoke ‘What would Jesus do?’ and that was inappropriate when talking to students,” said Linick, adding the former delegate no longer does that.

“In this past year, we actually had six different issues we successfully advocated” concerning the separation of church and state, she said. “We are being successful educating legislators.”

Attorney Nathan Lewin, a practicing Orthodox Jew who is working on a case that would allow Israel to be listed as a country of birth on American passports, filed a brief to the Supreme Court in support of the town of Greece.

In that brief, he noted that “sectarian Christian prayer in public by a clergyman or other religious official as part of a governmental ceremony, or at the inception or conclusion of a governmental assembly, is, however, a well-ingrained American tradition.” That tradition does not “impair religious freedom” as long as it is not coercive or involve proselytizing.

Lewin believes that neutral prayer may be correct in form but without any substance. He also wrote in his brief: “The personal injury suffered by an unwilling listener to distinctly Christian legislative prayer is no more than “discomfort” or “offense.” Such psychic injury is inadequate to warrant restraint on speech, and it should be insufficient to restrain religious expression.”

Rabbis have been invited to lead prayer in government, and Lewin pointed to Rabbi Morris Raphall, the first person to recite a Jewish prayer in the House of Representative on Feb. 1, 1860.

It offended some in America’s Christian community. A comment in The New York Herald in 1860, warned that “the next thing we shall have will be a Shaking Quaker dancing a reel.”

Another brief was filed by AJC’s general counsel, Marc Stern, on behalf of that organization.

“To be clear, we do not argue for banishing prayer from the public sphere,” it was stated in the brief filed by AJC and Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

However, the town of Greece “clearly crossed the vitally important line separating permissible government acknowledgment from unconstitutional government coercion, proselytization, advancement, endorsement, sponsorship and encouragement of religion.” Therefore, the two organizations urged the court to allow prayer in governmental meetings as long as there is no attempt at establishing a particular religion.

The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty also filed a brief before the Supreme Court, noting that this country’s founding fathers “knew what it meant to have a state church, and legislative prayer doesn’t come close. … Legislative prayer wasn’t what they banned when they said there would be no official state church,” wrote Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel.

“This case is about whether the professional offended will be able to strong-arm cities into banning anything that could be remotely interpreted as religious,” Rassbach stated in his brief. “Courts should get out of the business of trying to make everyone happy with the government. All too often it is the grouchiest members of society who get their way at the expense of honoring religious diversity.”

Suzanne Pollak writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.