Conservative Synagogues Under Fire

The Jewish Week writes:

With the Conservative movement’s congregational arm under attack on two fronts, the group’s incoming executive stepped into the fray this week with bold promises for sweeping change.

“One of the greatest frustrations is that the United Synagogue is not transparent or sufficiently responsive to the needs of the synagogue,” the executive, Rabbi Steven Wernick, told The Jewish Week. “I want to re-energize and re-engage the synagogues by creating priorities and an agenda of the United Synagogue and therefore also the movement.

“I’m going to do it using the phone, by traveling and through electronic meeting spaces. I’m going to listen. People are doing great things, and we need to talk to each other … I plan to have serious conversations with the leadership of synagogues on a local level.”

The United Synagogue has come under withering criticism in recent weeks from two groups — clergy as well as synagogue presidents — who charge that congregational arm lacks vision, transparency and needs a dramatic overhaul. Rabbi Jerome Epstein, United Synagogue’s current executive vice-president, said he had invited representatives of both to a meeting here this week.

Leslie Katz writes in the San Francisco Examiner:

“Rabbi Sam,” Charlie Varon’s new solo show at The Marsh in San Francisco, is, of course, of particular interest to Jews. Yet it’s really for anyone who has contemplated the state of organized religion in the 21st century.

Varon, possibly best known for the hilarious one-person “Rush Limbaugh in Night School,” spent years developing “Rabbi Sam,” and it shows.

Varon, his longtime collaborator (and director) David Ford and Jews with whom they consulted seem to have left no issue or position about the role of Judaism in modern American life unexplored in this wonderfully dense, rich, funny, provocative and poignant piece.

Varon is a phenomenon playing all 12 characters in the story of how a controversial, free-thinking rabbi challenges board members of the Southern California congregation who recently hired him, and have the opportunity to fire him, too.

It’s just a matter of moments before the audience is able to distinguish between the colorful characters of Congregation B’nai Am.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Reporting from Moscow — Two and a half years ago, a young Orthodox rabbi from New York set down in the port city of Vladivostok, family in tow. Yisroel Silberstein came with a mission, and he expected to stay for good.

Out on Russia’s rough-and-tumble eastern frontier, Silberstein set out to revive a Jewish life that, he says, had almost disappeared. He reached out to several thousand local Jews, organizing services, holiday parties and a summer camp where children learned about Judaism and swam in the Sea of Japan.

"We thought we were making a great difference in people’s lives," he said in a telephone interview.

"People went from not even knowing they were Jewish to becoming very interested in Jewish life and Jewish activities."

But last month, Silberstein, his wife and two children were abruptly deported from the country, and banned from returning for five years. Zvi Hershcovich, a Canadian rabbi who had been leading a small Jewish community in the southern city of Stavropol, also was expelled.

Both men were accused by immigration authorities of visa violations.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg writes in The Jewish Press:

To be a Yankee isn’t always easy. The Yankees carry themselves in a professional way. You don’t show up the other team when you’re a Yankee. Any home run, great play in the field, or game-ending strikeout is celebrated with dignity. The Yankees’ clubhouse demeanor is different. They have to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, act a certain way and, in reality, just be a certain way.

The Yankees have a tough boss who expects – no, demands – excellence from his players. If they achieve success they are handsomely rewarded, but if they lose, there is nothing worse.

Because they have dominated baseball for so long, other teams, though they bear them a grudging respect, will go out of their way to hurt them. If the Yankees want to make a trade with another team they always have to give something extra. Nobody will let the hated Yankees get the best of them. When the Yankees lose, fans of other teams rejoice. They are quite sick of seeing them have so much success.

But just about anyone who has played baseball would almost certainly jump at the chance to just once put on those hallowed pinstripes and be – even for one day – a Yankee.

By now a reader might rightfully wonder about the point of this little essay. Is it really necessary for a rabbi to pontificate about some grown men playing a child’s game?

Yes – because the story of the Yankees is merely a mashal, a parable, for Klal Yisrael. For we too have a glorious history with the greatest of leaders who have impacted the world for good. We have had many magnificent moments and have achieved far more than our meager numbers would indicate. Non-Jews sense this and world history has been filled with contempt, hatred, loathing – and at the same time grudging respect – for the Jew.

Alyssa Noel writes:

The International Palestine Awareness Committee has invited several anti-Zionist rabbis and a well-known American professor to speak at a public conference this weekend.

Zionism Exposed is meant to show Edmontonians that there is a difference between Zionism – defined as a movement to create a national homeland for Jewish people in Palestine or elsewhere – and Judaism, said Nedal Huoseh, a spokesman for the committee.

He said the group hope to attract people from all backgrounds to hear Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss and Dr. Norton Mezvinsky.

“A lot of people don’t know what Zionism is and people need to understand that, first of all, there’s a big difference between Zionism and Judaism,” Huoseh said. “To equate the two is not correct … Zionism, is a form of extremism.”

Speakers will lecture for free from Sunday until Tuesday at the Edmonton Islamic Academy, the University of Alberta’s Telus Centre and at the Canadian Islamic Center.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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