Emergency Response to Typhoon Haiyan: Ways To Give

The Jewish Federations of North America are mobilizing a communal response to the super Typhoon Haiyan, which has wrought widespread destruction in the Philippines. JFNA on Nov, 10 opened a mailbox for Federations to support relief efforts by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which is raising funds for relief efforts.

JDC is consulting with local officials, the Filipino Jewish community and global partners to assess the evolving situation on the ground in the Philippines, where one of the strongest storms on record has wrought widespread destruction. More than 10,000 people are feared dead, with reports of ocean surges as high as trees. The central city of Tacloban on the island of Leyte is among the worst hit on the Pacific nation.

The Federation-supported JDC has led relief efforts for previous storms in the Philippines, and helped support the local Jewish community in a nation that sheltered 1,000 European Jews fleeing the Nazis during World War II.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Filipino people suffering from this terrible storm’s unimaginable destruction,” said Cheryl Fishbein, chair of JFNA’s Emergency Committee.

The JFNA Emergency Committee is coordinating the Federation response with JDC and its global disaster relief partners. Donations can be made on our online relief page or given by mail at Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund, The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268.

Jewish Federations have a proud tradition of supporting the Jewish communal response to disasters around the world and at home, raising tens of millions of dollars for emergency assistance and longer-term aid. Most recently, Federations supported the national response to severe flooding in Colorado. In recent years, Federations responded to tsunamis in Japan and southeast Asia, the Haiti earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast.

Other ways to give:
>>The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore: associated.org/typhoonrelief or 101 W. Mount Royal Avenue, Baltimore 21201 (Attn:Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund)

>>American Jewish World Service: https://secure.ajws.org/site/Donation2?df_id=6421&6421.donation=form1

>>B’nai Brith: 800-573-9057

>>Union of Reform Judaism: http://click.mail.rj.org/?qs=e3e3dccf3029c27b4295cd1d891f79d30e3a375361225b4a3e73ae6bbea4c64a


Follow JFNA at its
General Assembly in Jerusalem>>

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Keeping The Conversation Going

Rabbi Abraham Skorka speaks about his discussions with Pope Francis and the book the two wrote together. Marc Shapiro)

Rabbi Abraham Skorka speaks about his discussions with Pope Francis and the book the two wrote together. Marc Shapiro)

The pope is almost a mythical figure, a person with celebrity status. But Pope Francis is a humble, genuine man of the people, according to Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

He first met Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, in the 1990s at a celebration of one of Argentina’s two independence days, where Rabbi Skorka was representing the Jewish community. The archbishop asked each religious leader to talk about his favorite soccer team, and Rabbi Skorka said River Plate [in Buenos Aires], whose fans are known as chickens.

“[Bergoglio] told me … I guess that this year we are going to have chicken soup,” Rabbi Skorka laughed. And with one joke began a longtime friendship and interfaith exchange. The rabbi realized Bergoglio was opening himself up.

Rabbi Skorka spoke to a crowd of about 150 people at Chizuk Amuno Congregation on Sunday, Nov. 3, about his relationship with Pope Francis, the book they co-authored, “On Heaven and Earth,” and their mission to bring different faith communities closer together.

“He has very clear positions and a very clear understanding of the importance of the Jewish-Catholic relationship,” Rabbi Skorka said. “We, Christians and Jews, have the challenge to work closer and closer in order to bring some kind of vision to the world.”

In addition to their ongoing discussions, the two have made interfaith TV programs, come together for interfaith prayer and shared Selichot, and the pope has even spoken at Rabbi Skorka’s Buenos Aires synagogue.

“We have a lot to do and to find in order to materialize our dreams,” Rabbi Skorka said.

He said the first step to that is Christians and Jews recognizing each other — the heritage, the history and the religious customs. For Rabbi Skorka that means sharing kosher meals with the pope and visiting him at the Vatican.

While Rabbi Skorka spoke about his discussions and interactions with the pope, he also painted a picture of the man he refers to as a “very close, sincere friend.”

When an audience member asked about the pope and his emphasis on helping the poor, Rabbi Skorka described a man who tries to lead by example. When the pope visited Rabbi Skorka’s synagogue, he took the subway rather than a fancy car. He lived a very simple life before becoming pope and still maintains a “simple” apartment in Argentina, Rabbi Skorka said.

“He [doesn’t] like to be called Pope, but to be called the Bishop of Rome,” Rabbi Skorka said. “He [doesn’t look at] himself as king, but as the shepherd.”

Rabbi Skorka also spoke about the pope’s take on anti-Semitism and said the Pope has expressed deep sadness to the rabbi about recent and past anti-Semitic events.

“He’s very worried with these kind of acts, and he really suffers from these kinds of acts,” Rabbi Skorka said.

The talk offered insight into a person very few people get close to. Judy Meltzer, director of adult learning at Chizuk Amuno, said she wanted to bring Rabbi Skorka to the congregation after reading the book.

“I, personally, am very encouraged with this pope,” she said. “You’re glad to see your hopes and dreams reinforced by someone in the know. I think [the pope] practices what he preaches.”

Sima Scherr, a member of Beth El Congregation, said it was important for her to go because her brother was the late Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, who was internationally known for bridging the gaps between different faith communities. She was impressed with how much interest Pope Francis takes in Rabbi Skorka as a Jew and in Judaism.

“He’s a breath of fresh air, this pope,” she said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

A Sense Of Awe

2013 Veterans Day will be observed on Nov. 11 (Provided)

2013 Veterans Day will be observed on Nov. 11 (Provided)

For Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanski, director of the Assessment Division of the U.S. Navy staff, sharing his Judaism with both those in uniform and civilians is a part of his service to his country and to God. On Nov. 9, the Shabbat before Veterans Day, he will be able to do both.

Throughout the year, many congregations pray for the United States government, the State of Israel and the soldiers serving in the Israeli
Defense Forces. On this Shabbat, Jewish American veterans will be blessed and honored at the 5th annual Veterans Day Shabbat hosted by Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation. It will also feature as a guest speaker, Rear Adm. Shilanski.

“I think it’s good for Jews in general to know that there are sailors in the Navy who are Jewish,” said Shilanski. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to give them a sense of what is going on in today’s world, in current events and maybe a little history.”

The Shabbat program usually tributes 30 to 40 veterans who are synagogue members, as well as any other veteran of the U.S. military who wishes to attend, throughout the service with aliyot to the Torah. The event culminates with a special Kiddush in honor of the veterans for their service. The community is invited.

“Honoring our congregational veterans was not just a duty, but a privilege,” said Rabbi Emeritus Elan Adler. “So many of our members either knew someone who fought for America and came home or someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we cherish.”

Shilanski has been in the service since 1980 and is descended of Lithuanian Jews. According to JCC.org, he is also a supporter of Torah for Our Troops and the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council initiative to commission special lightweight Torahs for chaplains to use in the field, as they move from ship to ship. But his career highlights only tell a part of the story.

“The great thing is that throughout my career there were many people who I met who had never met a Jew,” Shilanski said. “They were just ignorant. It was great for me to show them celebrations. … When you’re in the middle of a Stage 3 hurricane and you’re lighting Chanukah candles on an aircraft carrier or asking the chef to save a piece of chicken because they were serving pork that night …”

Shilanski said he enjoyed sharing his Judaism and religious practice with his crew and officers. During his career, he also presided over a Passover Seder with 120 guests on an aircraft carrier and was able to procure two Holocaust sefer Torah’s for the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Harry Truman.

For Shelanski, military service and Judaism are inextricably linked.

“I always thought about serving my country, and that really goes back to my Jewish education,” he said. “Knowing about the Holocaust, knowing that the U.S. is a place unique in the world that allows for freedom and religious freedom for Jews in the world — it was part of being Jewish that led to joining the Navy in the first place.”

For Shilanski, one of his defining moments as a Jew and a soldier was when a drill sergeant in the Marines called out for any Jews in the line of soldiers in training for a special assignment. Shilanksi was not sure whether or not to reveal his Judaism in this instance.

“There are moments in your life, do you step forward or do you not step forward? I stepped forward, and I was the only one in line,” he said.

He got the special assignment, and it was his first step toward a career of stepping forward.

According to Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of MMAE, the Shabbat tribute is about gratitude.

“It’s important that we should be in awe of people who’ve risked their lives for our country,” Rabbi Shapiro said. “It’s basic gratitude to the members of our own congregational family who have served on our behalf to a country that benefits all of us.”

5th Annual Veteran’s Day
Shabbat Honoring U.S. Veterans
All are welcome

Saturday, Nov. 9
Morning prayers at 8:45 a.m.

Featuring an address by Rear Adm. Herman A. Shilanksi, director of the Assessment Division, United States Navy

Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation
7000 Rockland Hills Drive
Baltimore
410-653-SHUL (7485)

Gabriel Lewin is an area freelance writer.

‘We Want To Hear From You’

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Ten years ago, when Michael and Susie Gelman chaired the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North American in Israel, the focus was on security and solidarity. Susie Gelman remembers that it was during the second Intifada, a time of terror attacks, and many American Jews were staying away from Israel. The GA brought them back.

“We had an amazing turnout. Thousands of people came,” she said. “The highlight was a nighttime walk from Binyanei HaUma through Machane Yehuda to Kikar Tzion in downtown Jerusalem. We were all carrying signs and singing songs as we marched. The shopkeepers were applauding, handing out candy and hugging us. They were so grateful to see the shuk full of life once more. It was an unforgettable moment for all who experienced it. “

Fast forward to 2013, and the Gelmans are once again the chairs of the GA — in Israel. However, the conference, which takes place in the Jewish state every five years, will look different than it did in 2003. Scheduled to take place between Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, in a year when Israel is immersed in quiet peace talks with the Palestinians, the GA will focus on dialogue and debate, on sessions surrounding the challenges and successes of a more mature Israel.

“The agenda was developed in the context of Israel no longer being a developing country,” said Michael Gelman, “but a mature democracy and with all of the challenges and successes that entails.”

There will be a session examining the aftermath of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, a series of ongoing demonstrations in Israel involving hundreds of thousands of protesters from a variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds opposing the continuing rise in the cost of living (particularly housing) and the deterioration of public services such as health and education. Another one, moderated by Susie Gelman, will focus on civil marriage in Israel, which does not currently exist. Due to the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s authority over all matters of personal status, including marriage and divorce, 20 percent of Israelis opt to get married overseas. Other talks will feature Israeli politics, philanthropy, spirituality, women’s issues and economic issues.

But the list of dozens of plenaries and sessions, skewed heavily to a dialogue about the Jewish state, begs the question: This is the JFNA GA, so why are we talking more about Israel than our own domestic affairs?

JFNA chair of the board Michael D. Siegal said he, the GA chairs and the robust committee that has been planning this program for upward of one year, felt it was important to seize the opportunity to access Israeli thought leaders and share in a debate about the future of Diaspora-Israel relations, about what tikkun olam means in Israel and in America.

“We want to hear from you [the Israelis] about your issues and problems and understand how we can best help and how you can lead us. We can use your wonderful narrative to strengthen our community at home,” explained Siegal.

A recent Pew Survey will factor into the conversation, of course, with talks on Jewish innovation, relevancy and renewal. In a first-ever format for the GA, there will be Fed Talks, a play on the popular Ted Talks, as well as a Pitch Your Idea session, where select individuals will have two minutes to share the essence of their programming ideas; it’s almost like speed dating for Jewish communal professionals.

“With these different modalities, we are trying to give the GA a freshness that perhaps it has not had previously,” said Susie Gelman.

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

The speakers will provide a “wow” factor, too. Attendees will hear from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Mayor Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, among dozens of others.

Siegal and Susie Gelman said it was challenging to balance the scheduling, but recruiting speakers was not hard. Said Gelman: “Politicians and other public figures in Israel understand the importance of participating in the GA … that this is the pre-eminent conference of Diaspora communal leadership. I don’t think anyone has to be convinced of coming to the GA.”

JFNA represents half of the world’s Jews, with 154 federations and 300 network communities throughout North America.

And what makes it especially promising is that not only are the names big, but they are diverse. They come from all perspective of Israeli political and social life, offering people a chance to be educated, informed and to come to their own conclusions through interactive dialogue.

The Greater Washington area is sending the largest contingency of participants this year. Baltimore is also sending a hearty group, including many who will be receiving awards from JFNA. Jakir Manela, for example, will receive the JCSA Young Professional Award. Katie Applefeld will get the Harry Greenstein Young Leadership Award.

Applefeld told the JT, “I am psyched and excited. … I am traveling with an incredible group from Baltimore, and there will be just incredible programming and a chance to see our overseas partners up close and in person. There is nothing like being with a group of committed leaders from around the country, celebrating the work of the federation, while in Israel.”

Washington also has two young leadership award recipients. Mike Plostock and Josh Stevens have won the Jerome J. Dick Young Leadership Award. The Greater Washington federation is also bringing home an honor in the form of the Sapir Award for Outstanding Annual Campaigns. This award is given to local federations that exemplify the highest standard in campaign achievement.

“We are honored to receive the prestigious Sapir Award for Annual Campaign Excellence from JFNA. It’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of outstanding volunteers and professionals, working in partnership to build a strong Jewish community at home and abroad,” said Steve Rakkit, executive director of the Greater Washington Federation.

Surrounding the GA are federation mini-missions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is offering its travelers three tracks as part of its Israel Your Way mission — business, arts and culture and a first-timers mission.

Robert Zahler is on the first-timers mission. Active in the federation for decades, Zahler has traveled around the world but never to Israel. For now, he told the JT, “I am very excited for it.”

What will be the result of two-and-a-half days immersed in thoughtful dialogue with 3,000 Jewish leaders? That’s different for everyone, said Siegal, but he hopes that the conference will help to convey the message of JFNA to the younger generation, that it will reinvigorate leaders to do more locally and will spawn a dialogue that continues throughout the 2014 campaign year.

“The most exciting thing for a Jew is to be in a room with 3,000 other Jews like you,” said Siegal. “I think it is really exciting to be with people who want to explore how to bring joy into Judaism.”

Added Susie Gelman: The GA will breathe some extra energy into federation leaders, so that we will return to our home communities, redouble our efforts and deepen the dialogue between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.”

The Baltimore Jewish Times will be covering the GA from Israel. To read daily updates, visit jewishtimes.com/GA2013.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
mjaffe@jewishtimes.com

Up In Arms

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish  soldiers in Kharpert, Armenia in April 1915. Ninety-nine years after the  Armenian genocide, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian  suffering is being held hostage by the White House. (Project SAVE via Wikimedia Commons)

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers in Kharpert, Armenia in April 1915. Ninety-nine years after the Armenian genocide, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage by the White House. (Project SAVE via Wikimedia Commons)

Ninety-nine years after the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, one of the most poignant symbols of Armenian suffering is being held hostage — by the White House.

The prisoner is an 18-foot-long rug. It was woven by 400 Armenian orphan girls living in exile in Lebanon as a gesture of appreciation for America’s assistance to survivors of the genocide. In 1925, they sent the rug to President Calvin Coolidge, who pledged that it would have “a place of honor in the White House, where it will be a daily symbol of goodwill on earth.”

Unfortunately, the rug is instead becoming a symbol of the unseemly politics of genocide. An Armenian-American dentist, Hagop Martin Deranian, recently authored a book called “President Calvin Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug,” and the Smithsonian Institution scheduled an event about Dr. Deranian’s book for Dec. 16. But when the Smithsonian asked the White House to loan the rug for the event, the request was denied.

Reporters who asked the State Department about it this week were referred to the White House. When they asked a White House spokesman, they were curtly told that he had nothing to say except, “It is not possible to loan it out at this time.”

Armenian-American leaders believe the Obama administration is responding to pressure from the Turkish government, which denies that genocide took place. And Armenians have good reason to be suspicious. As a presidential candidate in 2008, then Sen. Obama declared, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian genocide.” By contrast, the statements that President Obama has issued each April on Armenian Remembrance Day have never included the g-word. Instead, he has used an Armenian expression — “Meds Yeghern,” meaning “the great calamity.” Fear of displeasing the Turks appears to be the only plausible motive for that rhetorical sleight-of-hand.

Armenian-Americans are not the only ones who should be upset. American Jews should be up in arms, too. Not only because of the sympathy that victims of genocide instinctively feel for one another, but also because if the White House can permit political considerations to trump recognition of the Armenian genocide, there is a danger that memorialization of the Holocaust could one day suffer a similar fate.

In any event, at least one president did keep his word: Coolidge proudly displayed the Armenian Orphan Rug in the White House for the rest of his term.

After he left office, Coolidge took the rug to his Massachusetts residence. It was still there in 1939, when former first lady Grace Coolidge became a leading figure in the struggle to rescue a different group of children from a genocidal dictator. Mrs. Coolidge lobbied in support of the Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted 20,000 German Jewish children to the United States. But President Franklin Delano Roosevelt refused to support the legislation, and it was buried in committee.

Ironically, FDR’s relative and predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, advocated declaring war on Turkey over the Armenian genocide.

“The failure to deal radically with the Turkish horror means that all talk of guaranteeing the future peace of the world is mischievous nonsense,” the then ex-president asserted in 1918. Teddy Roosevelt was correct to fear that tolerating genocide would pave the way for it to happen again.

Indeed, Adolf Hitler reportedly once assured his subordinates that their atrocities would not be remembered, saying, “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The genocide rug eventually made it back to the White House and was in use during at least part of the Clinton administration. But it has not been seen in public since then. If the Obama administration and the Turkish government have their way, it seems, the imprisoned rug may never again see the light of day.

In December, Americans will flock to a new movie called “Monuments Men.” Directed by (and co-starring) George Clooney, it will tell the true story of a handful of U.S. military personnel who risked their lives to rescue famous paintings, monuments, and other precious European cultural artifacts from the Nazis in the waning days of World War II. It seems that it might take a new generation of Monuments Men to rescue the Armenian genocide rug and restore the treasured heirloom to its rightful place — in a public display.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies in Washington, D.C. His latest book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.” This column was provided by JNS.org.

 

‘Tell Your Story’

110813_tell-your-storyWhile it may not seem like the breaking of glass windows at Jewish-owned buildings by the Nazis would have inspired any creativity at all, two upcoming concerts at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda prove that it takes a lot more than that to quiet art.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, more than 300 people from 22 area synagogues will perform a concert entitled Voices of the Holocaust on Nov. 10. The night before, an original opera called “Lost Childhood” will make its debut before a full orchestra.

Sunday night at 7:30, a concert featuring cantors and youth and adult choirs from the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area will perform a musical work organized in five parts. It has been arranged from 22 original melodies written by Jews while they were living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust.

“It’s a major undertaking. We are talking about a lot of volunteer choirs. Each group has to sing some Yiddish, and not everyone is comfortable with that,” said Cantor Laura Croen of Temple Sinai. She, along with Cantors Marshall Kapell of Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Susan Berkson, who teaches at Howard County Community College, are co-chairs of the event.

“It’s going to be amazing,” added Berkson, who has been cantor at Temple Emanuel in Kensington and Congregation Ohr Chadesh in Damascus. “All the cantors each are doing a solo or a duet. It’s going to be a very, very big thrill.”

“But there are moments when we will all be singing together,” said Croen.

Voices of the Holocaust marks the third time area synagogues have performed together. They also did for Israel’s 60th birthday and the 350th anniversary of Jewish music in America.

Performing along with the synagogue choirs will be singers from Juniata College in Pennsylvania. The Columbia Orchestra will accompany the singers, and Jason Love, a conductor and cellist from Howard County, will lead the entire production.

A discussion with arranger Sheridan Seyfried and moderated by Tara Sonenshine, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, will precede the concert. Following that, there will be a short service to commemorate Kristallnacht.

About two years ago, Berkson was visiting her son at Juniata College and attended a school concert with music from the Holocaust.

“We were just amazed how wonderful it was,” she said, adding that the concert became the seed that eventually led to the upcoming communitywide concert.

Individual choirs have been practicing separately and will only get together as a group two times before the actual concert.

The night before, an opera that has been 16 years in the making will be performed. It is a collaboration by two cousins and tells the story of a troubled Jew, who was a child during the Holocaust, and a younger German from a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers. It is loosely based on the book “The Lost Childhood” by Yehuda Nir, but it mainly centers around a fictitious meeting of the two as adults.

Composer Janice Hamer, who teaches at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and librettist Mary Azrael of Baltimore, who writes poetry and teaches poetry writing at Johns Hopkins University, collaborated on this production.

Azrael, the mother of two and grandmother of three, has lived in Baltimore and has written poetry most of her life. She has had a few books published, some poems set to music and is a co-editor of “Passager Journal” and an editor at Passager Books, a press that focuses on the work ofwriters over 50.

After reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a child, she knew at once she wanted to be a writer.

“I got from her that it’s really important to tell your story, because the world can change at any minute,” Azrael said about Frank.

Azrael had collaborated once before with Hamer and won a national award. “So we were kind of giddy,” and they thought they should keep working together, Hamer with the music and Azrael with the story and words.

They decided to write an opera, thinking it would consume a year or two of their lives. They spoke of doing something about Anne Frank or some other child who had been in hiding during World War II.

A set of coincidences followed, and Hamer met Nir, who gave her a copy of his memoirs, and Gottfied Wagner, the great-grandson of composer Richard Wagner. Hamer and Azrael are fascinated by the way both men’s childhood experiences continued to affect their lives.

Nir’s anger arose from his youth when he had to pose as a Polish Catholic during World War II after his father was killed by the Nazis. Wagner was horrified by his family’s strong anti-Semitic views, which he continues to fight.

“They shared a kind of anger,” said Hamer, whose parents live in Rockville. She noted that Wagner has nothing to do with his family. And Nir “called himself an angry Jew,” explaining he was not a victim but a veteran of the war. “He had kind of an aggressive stance.”

Azrael began writing the words (the libretto) after reading Nir’s book.

While Nir and Wagner “are really good friends,” she chose to place them in conflict. Their story, she explained, deals with the question, “If you are not my enemy, who are you? Who am I? This is not only a story about Jewish persecution.”

She wrote what she felt, imagining the rhythms and spirit of the music and what instruments would be played as she went along. Azrael plays piano and hammered dulcimer and considers poetry the closest word form to music.

Meanwhile, she spoke with Hamer as she progressed, working to “inspire Janice enough to write the music for it.”

Then Hamer worked on the music, hearing “the sounds in my mind, all the colors,” she said.

The result is a score of 473 pages that took about 10 years to write, five years to orchestrate and another two years to proof read. The women raised $100,000, too.

The pair utilized lots of workshops sponsored by American Opera Projects in New York. This gave them a chance to hear the work sung by top singers and get audience reactions. The opera was performed using just a piano during a summer festival in Tel Aviv in 2007. The concert by the National Philharmonic at Strathmore Music Center on Nov. 9 will be the first performance with full orchestra and soloists. National Philharmonic will make a recording of that performance, which the two women will send around hoping to convince opera companies take it on.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
On Deaf Ears: Cartoonists spoke out against Kristallnacht, called for the U.S. to help save the German Jews >>

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

On Deaf Ears

110813_on-deaf-ears“I could scarcely believe that such a thing could occur in a 20th-century civilization,” President Franklin Roosevelt declared in the wake of the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom, which devastated the German Jewish community 75 years ago next month.

Most Americans, like their president, were appalled to read of Nazi stormtroopers burning down hundreds of synagogues, ransacking thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, murdering some 100 Jews and hauling 30,000 more off to concentration camps Nov. 9 to 10, 1938. In the days following the pogrom, three American editorial cartoonists would try to channel the public’s sympathy for the victims into concrete steps to help German Jewry.

In response to Kristallnacht, President Roosevelt recalled the U.S. ambassador from Germany for “consultations” and extended the visitors’ visas of the approximately 12,000 German Jewish refugees who were then in the United States. But at the same time, FDR announced that liberalization of America’s tight immigration quotas was “not in contemplation.”

In the wake of Kristallnacht, humanitarian-minded members of Congress introduced legislation to aid German Jewry. The Wagner-Rogers bill proposed the admission of 20,000 German refugee children outside the quotas. Nativist and isolationist groups vociferously opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill.

Typical of the opposition’s perspective was a remark by FDR’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, who was the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration. She warned that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

An appeal to FDR by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to support Wagner-Rogers fell on deaf ears, and an inquiry by a congresswoman as to the president’s position was returned to his secretary marked “File No Action FDR.” Mindful of polls showing most Americans opposed to more immigration, Roosevelt preferred to follow public opinion rather than lead it. Without his support, the Wagner-Rogers bill was buried in committee.

Ironically, when Pets Magazine the following year launched a campaign to have Americans take in pure-bred British puppies so they would not be harmed by German bombing raids, the magazine was flooded with several thousand offers of haven for the dogs.

Most American editorial cartoonists, like most Americans, exhibited little interest in the plight of Germany’s Jews. But there were exceptions. A handful of cartoonists used their platforms not only to express sympathy for the refugees, but also to call for practical steps to help them.

Six days after Kristallnacht, Paul Carmack, staff cartoonist for the Christian Science Monitor, drew a cartoon titled “The Best Answer to Race Persecution.” It showed a large hand, labeled “Humanity,” handing a document titled “Assistance” to a crowd of Jewish refugees.

Five days later, the Christian Science Monitor published another editorial cartoon responding to Kristallnacht, this time by J. Parker Robinson. It showed a mass of people, labeled “Jews,” marching past a sign pointing to “Exile,” with a giant question mark looming over the horizon. He titled the cartoon “Wanted: A Christian Answer.” The question was the fate of the Jews; the answer, the cartoonist insisted, was for Christians to accept their moral responsibility to help the downtrodden.

Meanwhile, in the pages of the Chicago Daily News, another cartoonist pleaded for help for Germany’s Jews. Staff cartoonist Cecil Jensen drew a group of Jewish refugees on a large rock, surrounded by turbulent ocean waves. They can see, in the distance, a 17th-century-style ship, labeled “World Rescue Efforts.” Whether or not the ship will save the refugees is unclear. Jensen titled the cartoon “Mayflower,” invoking America’s own powerful historical symbol of refugees from religious persecution reaching a safe haven.

Sadly, few Americans heeded the appeals of Paul Cormack, J. Parker Robinson and Cecil Jensen, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht. When a “Mayflower” ship called the St. Louis approached America’s shores just a few months later, President Roosevelt turned it away.

Expressions of sympathy were not matched by deeds. There were no U.S. economic sanctions against Nazi Germany, no severing of diplomatic relations, no easing of immigration quotas.

The Roosevelt administration’s muted reaction to Kristallnacht foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis’ Final Solution.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
‘Tell Your Story:’ Two concerts to commemorate Kristallnacht, bring beauty out from the darkness >>

Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. This feature is adapted from his forthcoming book, “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” co-authored with Craig Yoe, and was provided by JNS.org.

Sound Advice

(©iStockphoto.com/retrorocket)

(©iStockphoto.com/retrorocket)

It’s clearly stated in halacha (Jewish law) what is required of an able-bodied person to fulfill hearing- and speech-related Jewish mitzvot. When there is an exception, interpretation of the law is required. Situations where people with disabilities rely upon devices to help them hear and communicate are exceptions.

So said Rabbi Mordechai Shuchatowitz, rav of Agudath Israel of Greenspring and av dayan of the Bais Din of Maryland. At a talk last Wednesday at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, he explained interpretations of Jewish law pertaining to hearing aids and cochlear implants for the fulfillment of mitzvot on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. The program was presented in conjunction with Our Way of the Orthodox Union and the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education. Our Way also hosted a Shabbaton for the Jewish Deaf community and others on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 at Suburban Orthodox
Congregation Toras Chaim.

A deaf and mute person is considered a cheresh, Rabbi Schuchatowitz explained, someone who is not functioning on a communicative level
at all and not able to develop mentally and emotionally. Lacking the developmental maturity required, they are exempt from fulfilling commandments such as reciting the Shema, listening to the reading of the Megillah or hearing the shofar.

In the 1860s, the concept of cheresh changed dramatically, and that change was fundamental with regard to interpretation of the Jewish laws. The advent of hand signing and lip reading allowed populations previously considered non-communicative to communicate effectively, to develop mentally and to become
active participants in their communities. This prompted an unprecedented halcahic decision that deaf and mute members who could effectively communicate were now obligated — and perhaps more importantly, able — to participate in Jewish life.

Since then, interpretations of Jewish laws have evolved with advancing technology and therefore can become extremely technical. Many provided by Rabbi Schuchatowitz included wrestling with the combination of the exacting words of Jewish law, technology and the physics of how sound falls upon aural nerves and is generated by mouth and vocal chords. He managed to clearly state them in laymen’s terms. Not surprisingly, at times there are differing
halachic opinions.

For example, to fulfill hearing the recitation of prayer: If someone needs an aid to hear, it can be considered non-authentic because, as one halachic body claims, a listener must hear the words directly from the person reciting the prayer. If an electronic device is used by sender or receiver it has undergone a mutation (a hearing aid converts sound into an electronic signal) so it’s not truly listening to a person, it’s listening to a machine, therefore it’s not a fulfillment of the Jewish obligation.

Rabbi Schuchatowitz explained another halachic interpretation. Because there is simultaneity of speaker and listener (it’s not a previously recorded sound coming from a machine) it still fulfills the obligation. Because even if the person listening uses a device to hear, the speech organs produce a sound that vibrates the air that is sent toward the ear, and the aural nerves receive the vibrations created by the sound of the speaker’s voice. Therefore even with a hearing aid a person is receiving the prayer sounds directly from the speaker.

Menachem Kovacs and his wife, Sara, attended the event. Sara has worn a cochlear implant for almost 10 years.

“We want to keep current on Jewish law in light of technological advancements,” Kovacs said.

“A cochlear implant has an advantage in this halachic discussion,” said Rabbi Schuchatowitz. “Because the implant doesn’t have a speaker unit and doesn’t have a secondary sound, it takes the original sound and delivers it directly to the aural nerve. Therefore there is no question of hearing a first or secondary sound, and it is acceptable according to all halachic opinions.”

As far as usage on Shabbat or other Jewish holidays, the general advice is as long as the device (implant, hearing aid, etc.) is on and charged, one can continue using it and listening through it. This allowance also applies to those hearing-abled people who speak to the person using a device. They are not breaking a Shabbat commandment by speaking through the device to a person. Once it’s on, it’s OK for all parties to use, explained Rabbi Schuchatowitz.

“Deaf and hard-of-hearing people — and anyone with a disability — are vital parts of the Jewish community,” said Rachel Delman Turniansky, coordinator of special needs programs at the CJE. “When organizations don’t provide access to programs like interpreters, there are members of our community who don’t have opportunities to participate. This affects the whole Jewish community.”

Where To Get Assistance
The Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education offers many supports to the Baltimore deaf community, including advocating for programs to be inclusive for anyone with a disability. It also provides funding assistance to organizations for securing interpreters and other resources. For more information, call 410-735-5022.

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor
mgerr@jewishtimes.com

Matisyahu Teams Up With Mobile Company For Chanukah App

Matisyahu is inviting children to join him in a musical celebration.

Matisyahu’s Happy Hanukkah Jam-Along app was released for the iPad on Thursday, Nov. 7. He teamed with Mibblio, the creator of a musical storybook app, to create his own similar app featuring one of his hit songs.

“For ‘Happy Hanukkah’ to be developed into a musical app that allows kids to celebrate the Festival of Lights is special for me,” Matisyahu said in a statement. “I’ve personally enjoyed using the app to teach the song to my kids and share in the holiday joy with them. I hope it gives parents around the world a chance to interact with their children in a fun new way this holiday season.”

The app allows children to play along with the song, as seen in a YouTube clip about the app. Matisyahu is known for bringing Jewish themes into reggae and hip-hop, and the song is catchy and easy to ‘jam-along’ with.

“Everybody who grew up celebrating Chanukah remembers those nights as a child, surrounded by family, fun and beauty,” said Sammy Rubin, Mibblio’s creative director, in a statement. “We are so proud to have worked with Matisyahu to create an app that we believe really captures the essence of the holiday.”

Notes From The Spirit

From left, Ayelet HaShachar is  composed of Lisa Aronson Friedman, Stephanie Rabinowitz and Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb.

From left, Ayelet HaShachar is
composed of Lisa Aronson Friedman, Stephanie Rabinowitz and Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb.

They’ve been compared to musical acts such as the Indigo Girls and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but local trio Ayelet HaShachar brings a unique blend of musicality, spirituality and religious devotion that sets them apart.

Ensemble members Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb (guitarist, percussionist, vocalist and composer), Lisa Aronson Friedman (pianist, composer and vocalist) and Stephanie Rabinowitz (vocalist) have been singing together for the past 12 years. The group recently released its second CD, “Matai,” which translates to “When.” They will celebrate the new album with a concert for women only on Nov. 17.

Ayelet HaShachar started when Rabinowitz, who was trained in musical theater, met Friedman, a classically trained pianist.

“I was looking for more creative expression,” said Rabinowitz. “Lisa and I connected immediately, and we were looking for a third woman. One night, Shalomis came to a women’s music event at my house with guitar in hand. I called Lisa and said, ‘I found her!’” The three women have been making music together ever since.

The group released its first album, “Ohr Chadash,” in 2005 and have performed locally and in multiple venues in Israel. Both “Ohr Chadash” and “Matai” were produced by Jeff Order of nationally known Order Productions. Ayelet HaShachar is a nonprofit entity, and all funds from ticket and CD sales go toward band expenses and to fund free concerts for senior centers and elsewhere.

“We all come from different musical backgrounds,” said Friedman, a fact that Weinreb, whose roots are in blues, folk and pop music, believes is a strength of their collaboration.

“My influences are singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, even Motown,” said Weinreb.

Since the women of Ayelet HaShachar came to Orthodox Judaism as adults, they were exposed to a range of cultural and musical influences prior to composing and singing exclusively Jewish and religious music. As part of their transitions to Orthodoxy, Weinreb, Friedman and Rabinowitz came to accept and even appreciate the fact that they only perform for other women.

“In Jewish law, there is something called kol isha. It is part of the laws of modesty. Women don’t perform in front of men,” said Friedman. “There are different interpretations of this. We’ve decided that we won’t perform in front of men, but if men want to listen to our CDs and their rabbis approve, we aren’t going to pass judgment.”

Rabinowitz said she is perfectly happy to work within religious boundaries when it comes to performing.

“The voice is really the soul, and there are clear and beautiful boundaries,” she said.

“We have to ask ourselves why we are singing. Is it about ego or is it about spirituality?” noted Friedman. “The attitude today can be self-centered. One thing that happens when you become Orthodox is you realize the world isn’t about you. There’s a higher purpose. There is work to do.”

Weinreb admitted that when she first became religious she thought observing kol isha might be a conflict for her. She discovered it was not.

“There’s a spiritual kind of sisterhood that you feel when you’re performing for a women’s audience — they really get it,” said Weinreb.

“You go from performing to get something to performing to give something,” said Rabinowitz.

Ayelet HaShachar performs only original music, and their intimate knowledge of one another as people and musicians means that Friedman and Weinreb write music with individual ensemble members in mind.

“Each new song feels like a new child,” said Rabinowitz.

After more than a decade working together, group members feel their sound has matured and tightened. Although “Matai,” like “Ohr Chadash,” deals with spiritual and religious themes, Friedman said the group feels more like an ensemble.

“There are fewer solo pieces on the new CD,” she noted.

“I think our music has become more complicated because our lives are more complicated,” said Rabinowitz. “We have shared each other’s experiences. There’s a depth to it that wasn’t there in the first album. … There is a pleading [quality in the music] like the album’s title, ‘Matai,’ (‘When’). When are you [God] going to bring us home?”

“Harmonies are really the hallmark of our sound,” said Weinreb. “When we sing the same note together we sound like one voice, but it’s not the voice of anyone of us. We are friends on and off the stage. We call each other sisters, and that shows up in the music. People have remarked on how well we get along onstage, and it makes the audience feel good.”

The three believe their music is accessible to less religious women as well as women of other religious traditions, and they hope to draw music lovers from outside the Orthodox community to their upcoming concert.

“Sometimes the fact that men can’t come is a barrier,” said Weinreb. “But think of it as a ladies night out.”

The Ayelet HaShachar CD release concert (for women only) will take place on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. at 3209 Fallstaff Road. For additional information, email Basia Adler at info@ayeletmusic.org or call 410-358-9492. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for students. Concert sponsorships are also available. CDs by Ayelet HaShachar will be available at the concert and are on sale at ayeletmusic.org and Pern’s Bookstore and Shabsi’s Judaica Center.

Preview Ayelet Hashachar’s album, Matai here

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — sellin@jewishtimes.com