Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Letter from Jerusalem: Israel's Supreme Court Decision Prompts New Haredi Discussion

As Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the “Tal Law” last week, yet another controversy erupted in the country surrounding relations between Israel’s ultra-Orthodox (“haredi”) community, and the rest of society.
The Tal Law, which has exempted religious Jews who participate in full-time Jewish learning from serving in the army since 2002, was this week ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court. The law cannot be renewed when it expires in a few months. Israel now has the opportunity to revisit military or national service requirements for those who were formerly exempt by the Tal Law, creating vibrant debate in the Knesset and wider society.

Most pundits assume that the growing dissatisfaction surrounding the special treatment of this population, combined with this week’s Supreme Court ruling, will force leadership of the ultra-Orthodox population to make significant concessions. Ultra-Orthodox leadership also faces pressure from some in their own community, who have begun to develop economic independence through successful integration into the workforce. This group is paving the way for many who are dealing with significant economic challenges.
Learn more about the changes happening in the haredi community and the evolving relationship between Israel and its ultra-Orthodox population.

The Tal Law changes add to a flood of headlines grabbing the attention of the North American Jewish community. While ongoing security concerns remain critical in Israel, increasing fragmentation in civil society is one of the greatest threats to the country’s existence. As such, JFNA’s Israel Office has provided analysis, reported on key events, and represented Federation interests to political and communal leaders in Israel.

During the spike of activity in Beit Shemesh, Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s president and CEO, joined JFNA Israel office staff and members of the Washington, D.C. Federation community (partnered with Beit Shemesh) in a series of meetings and field visits with key players. The visit demonstrated the deep concern felt by the North American Jewish community around these societal problems and reiterated the strength of North American Jewry’s connection to Israel. 
JFNA’s senior leadership met with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu this week, where they again raised this topic, expressing the deep level of concern among North American Jewry.
In addition, JFNA’s recent Board of Trustees meeting in Florida focused on how some of these civil society challenges are impacting relations with the North American Jewish community. JFNA lay leaders and professionals were also involved in a session on “Haredim and the Jewish Collective,” hosted by the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Makom at its February Board of Governors meeting in Israel.

These issues remain high on JFNA’s agenda, and we are working with Federations to determine how best to promote our ideals of equality and pluralism through activities and programs across Israel. JFNA has released several statements and sent various updates to Federations on this subject, and offers a resource page with more details, relevant links and updates.

via JFNA

Friday, February 24, 2012

Parashat T'rumah - Reflections on Tzedakah

This week's NYL Shabbat Message was written by NYL Cabinet member Jordan Berman from San Diego.

Dear Chevre:

In this week’s Parasha, T’rumah, from the book of Exodus, we read “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to the Israelite people, and have them take for Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” Furthermore, G-d tells Moses the gifts that he would accept are gold, yarn, linen goat hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, some stones and spices. The Israelites were to use these gifts to make a sanctuary so G-d could “dwell among them.”
via Tumblr

Is this not the perfect Parsha to help synagogues raise money? In fact, it is sometimes mentioned when Rabbis are trying to connect congregants to the place in which they pray and to inspire them to donate. However, last year my rabbi was not pleased when I donated yarn and goat hair to the High Holiday campaign.

So this got me thinking: what does “Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” mean? The First and Second Temple were temporary physical sanctuaries. The synagogues we attend today are also temporary sanctuaries. Does G-d want to dwell in a temporary sanctuary? If we can agree that G-d does not, then there is only one true permanent sanctuary. This sanctuary is what has sustained the Jewish people from generation to generation. This is the sanctuary within each of us.

And what of the gifts G-d describes? Maybe these gifts the Israelites are to part with are the gifts of tzedakah. I am not referring to what most of us think of as tzedakah, putting a coin into a tzedakah box or making a donation; donating money is easy. Tzedakah in Hebrew literally means “righteousness.” Striving for righteousness is difficult, and one can give more tzedakah by becoming more righteous in our daily lives. By giving the gifts of respect, tolerance, understanding, kindness and love to others, by performing tikkun olam, G-d dwells in each one of us. We become the true sanctuaries. 

As Gandhi said, "Be the change that you want to see in the world." This year I hope that every one of us gives a little more tzedakah than in the past, and that in doing so, we all let G-d dwell within us.

Have a great weekend!

Shabbat Shalom!


NYL Shabbat Message Sign-Up Sheet | NYL Cabinet Good & Welfare Form

NYL Cabinet Newsletter - February 2012 | Shabbat Message Archive

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

El Joint - Jewish In Cuba

by Raquel Benguiat, Development Manager at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

Participating in Shabbat services at El Patronato, a beautiful synagogue in Havana, Cuba, was the highlight of my last traveling adventure. My experience included chanting Shabbat prayers among dozens of Jewish locals and visitors, weaving in sections in Spanish sparkled with a charming Cuban accent. The services were led by a Cuban young woman and man, and at the end we listened to the array of programs offered to the local Jewish community (from Hebrew classes to Israeli dancing workshops). All these were tangible proof to me that El Joint (as the Cubans warmly refer to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) has been able to effectively revitalize Jewish life in Cuba.

Through my work at Federation, I have had the opportunity to experience the impact of El Joint in Israel and heard about their work all over the world - from responding to crisis in Haiti to caring for our seniors in Ukraine. Clearly embodying the Jewish value of “being responsible for one another”. Still, it wasn’t until now that I could appreciate how their operations are sustainable and cultural competent. El Joint has been revitalizing Jewish life in Cuba from within.

I learned that due to the Cuban Revolution there was a mass Jewish exodus in the late 50’s and it was not until the beginning of the 90’s that El Joint was asked to intervene and help keep Cuba’s Jewish community alive. Since then, El Joint has worked using the community’s strengths, rather than implementing their own way of “doing Jewish”. Their role is to provide vital resources to make Jewish life happen in Cuba - from offering transportation to attend services and programs to serving free Shabbat dinners.

Other valuable resources are the representatives of El Joint on the ground who live and work in the community. A charismatic Argentinean couple, Alejandra and Luciano, are dedicated to Jewish life. Cuban Jews feel comfortable interacting with them as they share similar cultural values. From casual conversations, I learned that their purpose is to empower its members to take leadership and be in charge of all that “happens Jewish” in their community. I believe this is a vital sustainability strategy of El Joint. By empowering local leaders to take ownership, it prevents the community from becoming dependent on El Joint’s presence and services. During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet these dedicated and passionate Jewish leaders and was extremely impressed with how empowered they are as they shared their insights on Jewish life in Cuba. It gave me the impression that El Joint and these leaders have created a partnership that is dependent on resources that would not be available otherwise, but without crossing the fine line in which a partnership becomes paternalistic.

Now that I have witnessed how El Joint does its work in a sustainable and culturally competent way, I believe in their mission more than ever. While I was in Cuba experiencing how El Joint revitalized a Jewish community, I learned about the extreme weather conditions in Eastern Europe and how El Joint was literally saving lives there simultaneously. El Joint has wide arms and a reach that makes it possible to care for all our brothers and sisters who are in need, wherever they are. That is why I encourage everyone who believes in the Jewish value of “being responsible for one another” to become familiar with the amazing work that El Joint does on our behalf. At any given moment, on any given day, for millions of people around the globe, El Joint is there.

The American Joint Distribution Committee is one of Jewish Federation’s overseas partners. For more information on all our partners and the work we do locally, in Israel and overseas, visit

Friday, February 17, 2012

JDC Global: Wherever in the World

Check out this awesome video from our partners at the JDC.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Homeland Security Assures Federations

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and top US security officials told Jewish community leaders in a conference call Wednesday that they believe there is no imminent threat of an attack on Jewish targets in the US.

"Officials on the call said government and security agencies are closely monitoring intelligence information amid rising Mideast tensions, but confirmed that there are no immediate threats directed at a specific target in the US at this time," said a statement by the Jewish Federations of North America, which co-hosted the call with DHS and Secure Community Network, the group which partners with JFNA to consult with Jewish communities on security.

Napolitano and top officials of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the White House spoke for an hour and "stressed that there is currently no indication of any such threat, and urged the Jewish community to continue to engage in normal activity," the JFNA release said.

A senior Homeland Security official said that Napolitano had been concerned by the level of worry in the Jewish community arising from a number of aborted attempts overseas to target Jewish institutions as well as recent arson attacks on synagogues in northern New Jersey.

Here in San Diego, The Jewish Federation of San Diego County continues to encourage all of our Jewish institutions and their staffs and users to practice good preventive security and to report things, developments and people which seem out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Europe’s Jewish Heritage Gets Online Home

Last week Jewish Heritage Europe launched its online heritage initiative in Prague, providing the only one-  stop site to access centuries of European Jewish culture. For those of us here in San Diego, this could be new and unique way to appreciate Jewish heritage, and at the very least, has some great photographs of synagogues, cemeteries and other significant remnants of Jewish culture dating back to Antiquity!

Learn more at:

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Heart to Heart Update - Live Blogging from Israel!

The Women's Journey Heart to Heart blog has been receiving some great updates from the ladies, and some great traffic! See how San Diego's finest Jewish women are making a world of difference at or

More after the break

Friday, February 3, 2012

Jewish Federation of San Diego Condemns Acts of Extremism in Israel

“The Jewish Federation of San Diego County stands in support of the following statement issued by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). We are committed to working with our partners in Israel to affect positive change in Israel and promote an agenda based on tolerance, respect and inclusion.”

- Steven J. Morris President and CEO, Jewish Federation of San Diego County

Over recent months, Israel has witnessed an abhorrent series of incidents perpetrated by individuals within the Haredi community. These actions stand in stark contrast to the Jewish and democratic values upon which the state was founded.

 The Jewish Federations of North America unequivocally condemns all such acts of violence, intimidation, prejudice and coercion. We stand firmly and resolutely behind those in Israel who have spoken out publicly against such incidents, including Prime Minister Netanyahu and leaders from across the political spectrum. We call on those who have not yet taken a public stand to do so.

We take heart in the fact that citizens and civic leaders from across the country – including from within the mainstream Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox community – are now denouncing these reprehensible actions and the extremists responsible.

On behalf of the North American Jewish community, we will continue to convey in no uncertain terms our growing concern to Israeli leaders about the impact of religious extremism and actively pursue opportunities to forge a common agenda focused on greater tolerance, mutual respect and inclusion.

The Jewish Federations remain united in our commitment to the Jewish state and all those working to strengthen Israeli society.

For more information on this issue, please visit this JFNA resource page and JFNA Webpage - Challenges in Israel's Civil Society.

JFNA will continue to monitor the situation in Israel and keep Federations informed. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jammin' for Jews - Reggae for a Reason

On Sunday, February 12th, we are proud to present Reggae for a Reason!

  • Relax your mind, spirit and soul with Bob Marley cover tunes, live on stage starting at 5pm
  • $0 cover, minimum donation of $10 is matched 100% by Jewish Federation
  • Donations support kids programs in Israel's region of Sha'ar Hanegev (San Diego's sister community) which is adjacent to the Gaza Strip.
  • Send our message of Love, Peace and Solidarity to Sha'ar Hanegev which received over 60 mortars and rockets fired in 2011.

To pre-register for this special fundraising event please click here:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Jewish Community Relations Center San Diego: Anti-Israel Activism at University of Pennsylvania - IAN Responds

As most of you I am sure are already aware, this weekend there will be a BDS conference at the University of Pennsylvania. The IAN has been assisting the Philadelphia Federation and local community to respond. In this regard, I wanted to make you aware that the Federation in partnership with Hillel will be hosting, "We Are One With Israel" an evening of unity and community solidarity featuring Alan Dershowitz, this Thursday, Feb. 2. The Federation will be live-streaming the event online – and you can attend virtually by going to at 7:30pm Thursday EST. We encourage everyone to share this information widely.

More about this conference here

via JFNA/JCPA Israel Action Network