Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Israel's ambassador to speak in New Orleans

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, will speak in New Orleans on Dec. 11.

The briefing will be an Israel Bonds event, at the Uptown Jewish Community Center. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m., with the program starting at 7 p.m. There is no charge.

Born and raised in Miami Beach, Fla., Dermer earned a degree in finance and management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University. For three years, he was a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

In 2004, Dermer co-authored the best-selling book, “The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror” with Natan Sharansky. The book has been translated into 10 languages.

From 2005 to 2008, he served as Israel's Minister of Economic Affairs in the U.S. From 2009 to 2013, he served as senior advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The JCC was originally scheduled to host author Tova Mirvis that evening as part of Jewish Culture Month, but her visit will be rescheduled. The Wine and Wonder evening planned by the Jewish Community Day School for Dec. 11 is cancelled.

The Latkes with a Twist fundraiser for Jewish Children's Regional Service, starting at 8 p.m. at Bellocq, will go on as planned. The event features Mark Rubin and His Fellow Travelers, a latke bar from Domenica Chef Alon Shaya and a silent auction.

Pre-registration with the Israel Bonds regional office in Atlanta and ID are required for Dermer’s talk. The Atlanta office can be reached at (800) 752-5649 or emailing atlanta (at) israelbonds (dot) com.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alabama Baptists "unanimously" declare support for Israel, condemn anti-Semitism

At a time when some church denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), are considering or passing one-sided resolutions critical of Israel or, in the case of PCUSA, divesting from businesses they see as profiting from Israel’s “occupation,” Alabama’s Southern Baptists said that won’t fly with them.

At the Alabama Baptist State Convention, held Nov. 11 and 12 at Lakeside Baptist Church in Birmingham, resolutions were passed “In Support of the Right of the State of Israel to Exist” and “In Opposition to Anti-Semitism.”

At a Christians United for Israel pastor’s luncheon at Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham on Nov. 18, Rev. John Killian informed pastors about the resolutions and that they had passed unanimously. Killian, immediate past president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and pastor of Maytown Baptist Church, told the CUFI gathering “let’s let everybody know Alabama Christians stand for Israel.”

According to the Alabama Baptist, the convention’s 13 resolutions passed with “no significant debate nor changes.”

The anti-Semitism resolution cites increasing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial in Europe and supports the right of the Jewish community “to fellowship without harassment.” It concludes that “Alabama Baptists will teach respect for our Jewish neighbors and would discourage those anti-Semitic attitudes which may seek to find a place in public policy.”

The Israel resolution notes the “historic connection” of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, and that in 1943 Alabama was the first state to pass legislation calling for a Jewish homeland.

It expresses “abhorrence” of terror, denounces “revenge in any form as a response” but supports “the right of sovereign nations to use force to defend themselves against aggressors.”

Israel, the resolution adds, must be held accountable in the same manner “as any other nation,” and the Palestinian people are called upon to “reform their government structures to repudiate terrorism and tyranny.”

One passage likely to raise eyebrows on both sides states that “We affirm God’s love for and offer of salvation in Christ to all people, including both Jewish and Palestinian people.” The next statement then says “Both Old and New Testaments affirm God’s special purposes and providential care for the Jewish people.”

The resolution concludes with “we pray that the true peace of our Lord will reign in the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people and that this peace will bring blessing to this war-torn land.”

Nationally, the Jewish community and the Southern Baptist Convention have had a roller-coaster relationship given the Southern Baptist Great Commission mandate to witness to the entire world, including the Jewish community. Calls to evangelize the Jewish community, including a controversial 1996 resolution, have been widely criticized in the Jewish community, as has Southern Baptist support for “messianic” congregations.

Below is the entire text of the 2014 resolutions:



WHEREAS, We recognize that long-standing hostility has existed between Israel and her neighbors; and

WHEREAS, The Scriptures call for us to pray for the peace of Israel (Psalm 122:6); and

WHEREAS, We affirm God’s love for and offer of salvation in Christ to all people, including both Jewish and Palestinian people; and

WHEREAS, Both Old and New Testaments affirm God’s special purposes and providential care for the Jewish people (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 17:1-21; Romans 9-11); and

WHEREAS, The Jewish people have a historic connection to the land of Israel, a connection that is rooted in the promises of God Himself; and

WHEREAS, The Alabama legislature passed a resolution supporting the right of a Jewish Homeland in 1943, the first state to do so; and

WHEREAS, The international community restored land to the Jewish people in 1947 to provide a homeland for them and re-establish the nation of Israel; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, November 11-12, 2014, support the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we express our abhorrence of all forms of terrorism as inexcusable, barbaric, and cowardly acts; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we denounce revenge in any form as a response to past offenses (Romans 12:17-21) but support the right of sovereign nations to use force to defend themselves against aggressors; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm that Israel must always be held accountable to the same standards of national righteousness as any other nation, particularly in light of the Old Testament mandate that Israel maintain justice for the strangers and aliens in her midst (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:19); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the Palestinian people to reform their government structures to repudiate terrorism and tyranny; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the Israeli and Palestinian people to pursue policies that promote genuine religious liberty and peace between themselves and their neighbors; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we call on the United States and the nations of the world to offer whatever assistance they can to help secure peace in the Middle East; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we pledge to pray for peace in the Middle East, and especially for Israel; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we pray that the true peace of our Lord will reign in the lives of the Israeli and Palestinian people and that this peace will bring blessing to this war-torn land.



WHEREAS, Scripture tells us that believers are to be known for loving others (John 13:35, Matt. 5:43, Matt. 19:19, Mark 12:31); and

WHEREAS, Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists have long opposed racial and ethnic stereotyping and hatred; and

WHEREAS, A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League has determined that 26% of those surveyed in 100 nations around the world hold to unjust stereotypes of the Jewish community; and

WHEREAS, International press reports indicate a great rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, including denial of the Nazi Holocaust; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, November 11-12, 2014, support the right of the Jewish community to fellowship without harassment; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Alabama Baptists deplore anti-Semitic attitudes, including Holocaust denial; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That Alabama Baptists will teach respect for our Jewish neighbors and would discourage those anti-Semitic attitudes which may seek to find a place in public policy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"Horn for Louis" author relates Louis Armstrong's NOLA Jewish connection

Eric Kimmel has written dozens of books for children, but one in particular is about a New Orleans mitzvah that the world still benefits from a century later.

“A Horn for Louis” is based on the real-life interaction between jazz legend Louis Armstrong and a Jewish immigrant family in New Orleans, the Karnofskys, when Armstrong was a child. The mitzvah detailed in the book helped set him on his musical path as one of the most influential figures in jazz and one of the first African-American entertainers to find a wider audience in American society.

Kimmel, who has over 50 books to his credit, will speak in New Orleans on Nov. 23 as part of Jewish Cultural Arts Month. His visit is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Day School, PJ Library and Vicky Karno.

Kimmel will discuss “A Horn for Louis” with religious school and Day School students at Temple Sinai in New Orleans at 9:30 a.m. At 2 p.m. there will be a story hour and book signing at Octavia Books, where he will share some of his favorite stories.

Armstrong grew up in “the Battlefield,” part of the Storyville district that was notorious for prostitution. His father abandoned the family when he was an infant.

As a child, Armstrong made money by hauling coal to Storyville, and he also did odd jobs for the Karnofskys, who took him under their wing. Armstrong later wrote about his discovery that the Karnofskys were also subjected to discrimination by “other white folks’ nationalities who felt that they were better than the Jewish race.” Even at that young age “I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.”

Armstrong was captivated by music and listened to bands and performers in Storyville, especially Joe Oliver, who later became a mentor to him.

While working with the Karnofskys, he would pass a pawn shop each day, and he noticed an old cornet in the window. He longed to play a cornet but could not afford one.

The Karnofskys purchased the cornet, but Armstrong was not one to accept charity. They made an arrangement where $2 in salary was advanced to him to purchase the cornet, and then 50 cents a week was set aside until the $5 cost had been met.

In Kimmel’s novel, the transaction is written as a surprise for Chanukah, which Armstrong feels embarrassed about accepting as a gift.

In the book, Karnofsky explained to Armstrong how he had been the recipient of help, and now could help someone else. Kimmel notes that his account is based on the true story, and should not be taken as historically accurate.

Nevertheless, Armstrong later cited the “real life and determination” that he saw in the Karnofskys, which led him to wear a Star of David pendant throughout his life, and he also often had traditional Jewish foods in his home, having developed an affinity during his time with the Karnofskys.

Today, there is a Karnofsky Project in New Orleans that seeks to collect used band instruments and other donations to equip children who could not otherwise afford to buy a band instrument. The project also assists with music lessons.

Though “A Horn for Louis” was first published in 2006, it became a PJ Library selection in 2012. Several of Kimmel's books have been distributed by PJ Library.

Kimmel has won numerous prestigious awards, including the Caldecott Honor Medal for “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” and the Sydney Taylor Picture Book Award for “The Chanukkah Guest” and for “Gershon’s Monster.” He is the only author to win the National Jewish Book Award for picture books twice, winning for “The Chanukkah Guest” and for “The Mysterious Guests.”

Friday, November 7, 2014

New Orleans stories, connections as Rabbi Greenberg installed

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg
The installation of Rabbi Gabe Greenberg at Beth Israel in Metairie was a blend of the past, the future and family.

The weekend culminated in an installation ceremony and congregational fundraiser at the Audubon Tea Room on Nov. 2.

Festivities began with a Shabbat service and dinner on Oct. 31, with guest speaker Ruthie Simon, director of placement and alumni affairs for the rabbinical school at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

Greenberg, wife Abby and daughter Adra arrived in New Orleans during the summer. Greenberg succeeded Rabbi Uri Topolosky, who came to New Orleans in 2007 and moved to Maryland in 2013 to become rabbi of a congregation in the community where he grew up.

A native of Newton, Mass., Greenberg was a “lifer” at Camp Ramah of New England, and his grandfather was a long-time pulpit rabbi.

He was on the track team at Wesleyan University, which he said has a reputation of being the most God-less in the country, but he kept pursuing opportunities to study Judaism and seek leadership roles.

He decided to study at a yeshiva for one year in Israel, but that turned into three, after which he returned to the U.S. and entered Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

He became active in environmental concerns, especially their relationship to Judaism. He founded and ran the Kayam Farm Kollel outside Baltimore, where he met Abby.

While in rabbinical school, Greenberg served congregations in Norwich, Conn., and Berkeley, Calif. He was also the first rabbinic intern at the Hillel of the New School in New York.

Upon ordination he became rabbi and senior Jewish educator at Hillel at the University of California at Berkeley.

When Beth Israel started looking for a successor to Topolosky, Simon mentioned Greenberg to Bradley Bain, who chaired the installation weekend. Bain reached out to Greenberg “unofficially while he was at Hillel.”

Bain noted, “He hadn’t thrown his hat into the ring, we had just heard that he was a young, dynamic rabbi and that he would be a great fit for the community.” Then Bain discovered that Greenberg’s wife was from Houston, had family in New Orleans and had attended Tulane.

“What was supposed to be a five minute call turned into an over an hour conversation,” Bain said.

Greenberg had a contract with Hillel through the summer of 2014, but Beth Israel was hoping to hire a rabbi to start during the summer of 2013. The committee tried to convince Greenberg to go ahead and apply, even promising that his moving truck would not be broken into as had happened the year before when he moved to California, but he insisted on fulfilling his commitment to Hillel.

That “really frustrated but also impressed the committee,” Bain noted. As interviews continued, Bain said they brought in an “incredible selection of candidates… but in the back of everyone’s mind, they were just no Gabe Greenberg.”

They brought in Greenberg for an official weekend, but as his daughter had just been born his wife did not accompany him. Bain gave “a perspective of how impressed we were” with him because they decided to offer him the position “not knowing the whole package.”

And, he said, Beth Israel hired him “knowing they would not be here for a full year.”

Greenberg did come in for several weekends during the interim year, and this summer when he arrived for good, he was put into action immediately. Bain said he officiated a funeral, an unveiling and a bris, “all the weekend before his contract officially started.”

Bain told Simon that “you’ve truly made today possible.”

Bradley Bain and Eddie Gothard go over the program
Eddie Gothard, who emceed the installation, noted that Bain had been elected president of Beth Israel on Oct. 26, then the next day he and wife Daniela had their second child.

The Oct. 27 birth was an emergency C-section after a screening showed a previously-undiagnosed heart defect. On Nov. 5, the newborn underwent an eight-hour operation in Boston.

Despite more pressing concerns with the birth, Bain continued to coordinate the weekend. Gothard told Bain “I can’t express… how much you have amazed and inspired everybody you have come into contact with.”

Greenberg said one of the best aspects of being at Beth Israel for the last few months is learning the family stories in the congregation.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Richard Stone and Allen Fagin
One such story at the installation came from Richard Stone, past chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Stone noted that “I kind of pushed myself into this event” to become one of the speakers.

He said he returned to his hometown congregation because “I have a lifelong attachment to Beth Israel,” but there was a much more personal family connection.

He explained that he left New Orleans after high school “with very strong feelings of Yiddishkeit,” which he especially developed in Bogalusa with his grandparents.

“Over the years I discovered how many great scholars in the European yeshivas ended up briefly in Bogalusa or were related to people in Bogalusa,” he said.

“We had Yiddishkeit in the air in Bogalusa,” but also “on my father’s side at Beth Israel on Carondelet Street,” and he often returned to Beth Israel, including the weekend before Katrina.

But what brought him to the installation went back to his Bogalusa days, when relatives from Houston would often visit the “family headquarters.”

As a child, Stone developed a fondness for one cousin in particular, who later died young after having three children. “One of those children, Risa, is here today. She is the mother of Abby Greenberg.”

He added, “If Beth Israel has come to Bogalusa, I gotta come back to Beth Israel one more time,” and especially for his late cousin and her descendants.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of Chovevei Torah, referenced the week’s Torah portion where Abram left his ancestral home to go where God instructed. “In your lech lecha, you have come to a place steeped in tradition,” he said.

Lopatin charged Greenberg with the responsibility of working with all of the congregations and rabbis in the New Orleans area.

He called Greenberg “a standard-bearer for modern Orthodoxy, committed to our tradition and unafraid to build and rebuild for the future.”

Lopatin said “This is an incredible community for you to serve and to lead, and together to show the world that we can rebuild, we can reunite, we can pick up the pieces and move ahead stronger and more vigorous than ever.”

In introducing Allen Fagin, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, Gothard spoke of how the OU had stood by the congregation when its building was made unusable by the flood following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The OU has stood by us to provide the resources and support, without which we may not have survived, much less flourished,” he said.

Rabbi Eitan Katz, New Jersey regional director for NCSY, was at the installation and was recognized for leading over a dozen youth trips to New Orleans for service projects and rebuilding efforts through Alternative Spring Breaks.

Fagin spoke about how Judaism does not have a holiday celebrating the building of anything, but there are celebrations about rebuilding, and the strength needed to rebuild is greater than what is needed to build in the first place.

Before joining the OU staff, Fagin was chairman of the Proskauer Rose law firm.

About a decade ago Fagin was “privileged” to open an office for the firm in New Orleans. “Many people questioned what a large international law firm was doing opening an office in New Orleans,” he noted.

But “the plans we worked so hard to accomplish were subject to forces we don’t control,” because shortly after the office opened, Katrina closed it. The office was relocated to Boca Raton, Fla., after making sure every staffer was accounted for.

The firm procured condos on the beach in Florida, arranged schools for families and took care of their needs. “We had them really well set up in Florida,” Fagin said.

Not long afterward, Howard Shapiro, the person who had been running the New Orleans office, said there was a hospital and grocery store that had reopened in New Orleans, and “we all want to go back.”

Fagin said it was “a really remarkable lesson in the power of resilience and a really remarkable testament to a remarkable community, and the love that every member of that staff had for their city, for their community and its future.”

Fagin praised the work of Greenberg’s predecessor, Rabbi Uri Topolosky, in the last few years. “The transition of leadership is a core value for a vibrant and forward-looking community,” Fagin noted.

He added, “We’ve been with you in times of pain and we’ve been with you in times of joy… I’m honored to share this event with you.”

In his four months in New Orleans so far, Greenberg said, “I learned quickly that the most mportant question you can be asked is what high school did you go to. I, of course, don’t have a good answer.”

Members have shown him all sorts of congregational memorabilia, including a program from a 1970s Israeli folk song sing-a-long, something “which we’re going to bring back soon.”

After a long day during his interview, even though it was almost midnight he was urged to watch the DVD of Beth Israel’s building dedication from two years ago, to better understand the congregation.

“All of theses stories, customs, traditions that these parents, grandparents and great-grandparents planted and have grown,” he wondered, “How do I tend to these trees? Our physical structure is mostly new… but what are the spiritual elements, the vision, the values planted by the progenitors of Beth Israel that we choose to make our central beam going forward?”

The first aspect he mentioned is “a shul community deeply devoted to Jewish education.” Every child in the shul is entitled to weekly one-on-one learning with Greenberg. “This program has been a joy for me” in getting to know the families better, and he also is emphasizing adult education.

He also mentioned love of the Jewish people and the land of Israel, encouraging learning, connection and love among Jews of different “denominations and flavors.” He noted the close relationship with Gates of Prayer, the Reform congregation next door.

He also mentioned Shabbat as “a centerpiece of Beth Israel life.”

He mentioned increasing the role of women “within the bounds of halacha” and keeping the building available for use by the greater community.

After Greenberg concluded his remarks, impromptu dancing broke out in the front of the room.

Jefferson Parish President John Young made brief remarks, and Rabbi Ethan Linden of Shir Chadash led the Hamotzi.

Alex Harvie paints the installation
During the luncheon, artist Alex Harvie painted a portrait of the installation. The painting was raffled off at the conclusion of the luncheon.

Greenberg will be seen as part of the New Orleans community nationally in the ninth episode of “NCIS: New Orleans,” which has a Jewish theme. He is cast as — what else? — a rabbi, and part of the episode was filmed in one of the local Jewish cemeteries. Though nothing has been announced for certain, it is expected that the episode will air on Nov. 25.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Telling the story of Louisiana's Alsatian Jewish immigrants -- all of them

In 2012, Carol Mills-Nichol published a comprehensive history, “The Forgotten Jews of Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.” Her new book, which just came out, is even wider in its scope.

“Louisiana’s Jewish Immigrants from the Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France” details the French Jewish immigrants who settled in 49 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in the 19th century. Mills-Nichols gives short biographies of 638 Jewish men and women who immigrated to Louisiana between 1845 and 1915.

Naturally, many familiar names are in the book, including Baer, Bernheim, Bloch, Dreyfus, Goudchaux, Heymann, Kahn, Klotz, Lehmann, Levy, Weil, Wolff and numerous others.

She begins the book with four case studies of “genealogical brick walls” researchers face and how to use on-line resources to trace genealogy.

While many of the immigrants chronicled in the book achieved great success, others met tragic ends — including murder and suicide, and roughly 7 percent of those in the book died of cholera, typhoid or yellow fever.

Many immigrants remained in the New Orleans area while others scattered to larger communities and small towns statewide. Some worked as store keepers on plantations whose names are familiar to this day.

Naturally, there are stories that involve those who wound up in neighboring states and glimpses of history from Jewish communities throughout Louisiana.

Mills-Nichols became interested in Louisiana Jewish genealogy by accident. The only child of an only child, Mills had been told while growing up that she had no relatives, so she embarked on a personal quest to learn more about her mother’s ancestors.

Born in Michigan and raised in Long Island, Mills made her first visit to her ancestral home of Avoyelles Parish in 1999. Randy DeCuir, editor of Marksville Weekly News, said to her, “You do know you are Jewish, don’t you?”

Michael Suss, whose family name would become Siess in later generations, is her third-great-grandfather, and Abraham Rich is her great-grandfather. After exploring her family, she started exploring other Jewish families in the parish, who were well-intertwined through marriage.

She spent 10 years doing research before publishing her first book. By then there was only one Jew remaining in Avoyelles Parish, but a hefty proportion of the population has Jewish ancestry.

The book is available on Amazon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tulane Hillel will honor “Big Pastrami” Sarah Mack at first Schmancy gala

Tulane Hillel will hold a “Schmancy” benefit evening on Nov. 20 at the Goldie and Morris Mintz Center for Jewish Life. The Hillel’s first gala will have “the allure of a classic New Orleans Speakeasy and all the comforts of a Lower East Side Manhattan delicatessen.”

As part of the evening, Tulane Hillel will present its first Big Pastrami Award, which will recognize leaders in New Orleans who have made an impact on the city’s resurgence and recovery. The first award will be presented to Sarah Mack, a leader in the movement to monetize wetland carbon offsets, which is anticipated to stimulate up to $1.6 billion of private investment into wetland restoration over the next 50 years.

A Ph.D. in the field of Global Sustainable Resource Management from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Mack has become an internationally recognized leader finding innovative solutions to address the global challenges of climate mitigation, urbanization, and pollution through wetland and water management.

Previously, she worked as Technical Administrator of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board, serving as emergency liaison between S&WB and other agencies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Rabbi Yonah Schiller, executive director of Tulane Hillel, said Mack “provides an inspiring example of an innovative leader. Her efforts in the critical field of environmental research and development speak for themselves, and she is an incredible role model for the more than 150 Tulane undergraduates who participate in Tulane Hillel’s leadership incubator each year. New Orleans is lucky that Dr. Mack has made it her home, establishing herself as an international expert in introducing wetlands to emissions trading markets. I look forward to her sharing her experiences with our leadership students in an upcoming seminar.”

The Hillel is also establishing the Leading Forward Awards, which will be presented to roughly half a dozen individuals who have been nominated by the community. The awards will recognize those who represent the mission of Tulane Hillel. Nominations were being taken through Oct. 31.

Schiller noted that “Leading Forward is the name of our student leadership incubator, and it was a natural extension to create community-wide “Leading Forward” Awards. As we inspire our student leaders to make an impact in the local community, we will showcase local leaders, across a wide variety of professions, who have made community involvement a priority in their busy lives.”

Schmancy will start with a patron’s reception at 6:30 p.m. and the party at 7:30 p.m. The Speakeasy will be upstairs and the deli will be downstairs. Admission is $99, with patron levels starting at $250. Dress code is “schmancy,” and valet parking will be provided.

To celebrate the Big Pastrami Award, Tulane Hillel and Hillel’s Kitchen will have an organic pastrami sale from Nov. 3 to 21, where one can buy a Pastrami-Gram, an individual sandwich or a tray of sandwiches.