Monday, July 21, 2014

Birmingham students support local Israeli "Lone Soldier" fighting in Gaza
SJLMAGMonday, July 21, 2014

As the ground battle goes on in Gaza, students at Birmingham’s N.E. Miles Jewish Day School gathered to show their support of a Day School alumnus who is in the middle of the fight.

Corporal Asaf Stein, 29, is a member of the Golani Brigade. Born in Israel, he grew up in Birmingham and earned his doctorate in biomedicine from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Then he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces. (Photo, left, courtesy IDF)

“A lot of people ask me why a 29-year-old man would join the IDF,” Asaf said recently on the IDF blog. “I tell them I just wanted immigrate to Israel and join the army. They understand me.”

The son of Susan and Michael Stein, Asaf was home earlier this month for what was to a three-week visit, but his trip was cut short by the callup. He spoke to the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces at The Temple in Atlanta on July 10, then had to return to Israel the next morning.

Susan Stein is a teacher at the Day School, and the students have rallied around the family.

This evening, a quickly-assembled group of Day School students assembled at the Bais Ariel Chabad Center to draw posters showing support for the Steins. Though it is the middle of the summer and many students are away, about two dozen came on a moment’s notice.

Michael Duvdevani said the evening was to “send a message to the Stein family that we as a community stand with them and support them.”

Asaf is what is referred to as a Lone Soldier, someone who serves in the IDF but who does not have any family in Israel. Lone Soldiers are paired with Israeli families for support, but for the soldier’s family abroad, there is no social structure supporting them emotionally as there is in Israel.

Duvdevani and Oren Azrad, a former Olympics swimmer for Israel now living in Birmingham, coordinated the event. Duvdevani explained that the evening was one of three initiatives that started this week. He set up a WhatsApp group, “Birmingham Supports Asaf.” He made Asaf a member of the group, though he will not see any of the messages until he returns from Gaza.

Duvdevani also said that many reservists were called up with no notice, so they had no time to prepare or bring anything. He started a fundraiser yesterday that would go toward buying essentials for the soldiers — toiletries, shampoo, underwear, socks — and by this evening $4500 had been contributed.

The donations were being put to immediate use. He said a friend in Israel was fronting funds so he could bring the supplies to soldiers tomorrow, and Duvdevani would reimburse him with the funds raised. They would be presented in the name of Chabad of Alabama, he said.

In 2008, Asaf was a counselor at a children’s camp in Nitzana through the Jewish Agency. That camp was established for children from Sderot and other communities near the border with Gaza, who have dealt with years of rocket threats and dashing to bomb shelters.

At the time, he told the Birmingham Jewish Federation "I am grateful I was able to participate in a program aimed at giving these children a break from constant danger, and showing them that they are not alone; and, that the rest of Israel and Jews from all over the world will support them.”

He volunteered in Israel in 2009, and decided to stop just visiting, setting a goal of becoming a soldier in a combat unit, though he was much older than most entering the IDF.

Through persistence, last July he was accepted into the Golani Brigade, one of 100 accepted out of 350 candidates. He told Israel Hayom that in a meeting with two high-ranking army commanders, they said that only four men close to his age had ever been selected to combat units. “So I’ll be the fifth,” he responded.

Ever since Asaf joined the IDF, the Birmingham Jewish community has been supporting its home-grown soldier.

For example, in December, Day School students sent Chanukah cards and raised money to buy sufganiot — Chanukah jelly doughnuts — for Asaf’s group.

After the students and parents finished making posters of support at Chabad, the group drove to the Stein house to show their support.

With all of the students on the porch, Duvdevani told the Steins “we are all thinking about you, thinking about Asaf… we’re so proud of what Asaf is doing.”

Susan Stein said what they needed most is “prayers and good wishes.”

Afterward, she said they last heard from Asaf on Wednesday morning, when he told them that he was given three minutes to talk, and then the military would be taking his phone until he returns.

“I’m going to be gone for a few days,” she recalled him saying. “We’re just praying” and getting very little sleep.

Michael Stein showed a photo of his son with a large rifle, which he said generally is given to the taller soldiers. Because he was so good at navigation, that is his current role, so he and a partner are out in front guiding fellow soldiers.

It is a tense time for soldiers’ families, with Israel trying to find and expose the smuggling tunnels used to hide armaments, protect Hamas leaders and infiltrate Israel. The tunnel entrances are generally hidden in civilian areas, and it is estimated that the tunnel network cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct.

Early Sunday morning, 13 members of the Golani were killed in the Hamas stronghold of Shejaiya, from where a large proportion of missiles had been launched at Israel. One of the casualties was Sean Carmeli, a Lone Soldier from South Padre Island, Tex.

Carmeli was buried in Haifa. With his parents on the way from Texas, the Maccabi Haifa soccer team put out a call to support the Lone Soldier by attending his funeral; the turnout was estimated at 18,000.

For Duvdevani, the current conflict also hits home. He grew up on Moshav Talmei Yosef, a couple of miles from the Gaza border. His parents and brother still live there. While there has been the threat of Hamas missiles for years, he noted that the moshav was the “second line” of communities from the border and somewhat removed from the infiltration threat posed by tunnels under the border.

His mother, Margaret Kartus Duvdevani, is a Birmingham native. In 2012, the Birmingham Jewish community worked with Operation Lifeshield to place a rocket shelter in the moshav.

(Margaret Kartus Duvdevani and Rabbi Shmuel Bowman of Operation Lifeshield at the moshav's shelter).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Israeli basketball star Casspi traded to New Orleans
SJLMAGMonday, July 14, 2014

Small forward Omri Casspi, who signed a two-year contract with the Houston Rockets last summer, is heading across Interstate 10 to New Orleans, where he will fill a need in that position.

In a move that was confirmed last night, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in what is being seen as a surprise move. Houston coach Kevin McHale said he was caught by surprise.

The first Israeli-born player in the National Basketball Association, Casspi was traded to New Orleans in a three-team deal. Turkish center Omer Asik also goes to New Orleans, and the Pelicans will receive $1.5 million.

The Pelicans send Houston a protected first-round draft pick in 2015, along with the unguaranteed contracts of Scotty Hopson and Alonzo Gee, while the Pelicans send the unguaranteed contract of Melvin Ely to the Washington Wizards. The Wizards agreed to a sign-and-trade of Trevor Ariza to the Rockets.

The three teams have signed papers for the trades, but the league has to give final approval.

Casspi, who is 6-foot-9, began his career with the Sacramento Kings and averaged 10.6 points per game. After two years in Sacramento he signed with Cleveland, where he played for two years.

Last year, his only season in Houston, he had 6.9 points per game with 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists. He did not play in the first round of the playoffs, where Houston lost to the Portland Trailblazers.

In Houston, Casspi was active with the Jewish community, speaking at Jewish schools and working with the Israeli Consulate there to have an “Israel Night with the Houston Rockets” in January.

When he arrived in Houston last fall, he told the Jewish Herald-Voice that “When our public relations asked what kind of community service I wanted to do, the first thing I said was I wanted to go the Jewish schools,” Casspi said. “These kids are really awesome.

“I’m trying to be the best role model I can be, but I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just trying to be the best guy I can be and the best player on the court I can be.”

Casspi is expected to rejoin Israel’s national team for next month’s EuroBasket qualifiers. Matches against Montenegro, Bulgaria and the Netherlands are scheduled for mid-August.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reflections of a Birminghamian living in Israel
SJLMAGThursday, July 10, 2014

By Shaina Shealy

Special to Southern Jewish Life

On Sunday, July 6, four days after the bodies of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found outside of Jerusalem, I attended my first course of the summer semester at Hebrew University, where I’m completing a Masters Degree in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. The course covers inter-communal relations in Jerusalem, a topic that regularly puzzles, fascinates and angers me.

In the first 20 minutes of class, my classmates and I introduced ourselves with our names and a comparison between our hometowns and Jerusalem.

“My name is Jia-li, and I come from the Szechwan province, where it is hot in the summers like it is now in Jerusalem.”

“My name is Roberto, and I come from San Juan, which is a walled city resembling Jerusalem.”

“My name is Jackie, and I come from Boston, where historic architecture is all around like it is in Jerusalem.”

I was the last person in the room to share.

“My name is Shaina…”

My voice was unexpectedly shaky.

“I grew up in Birmingham, a city known for its history of racism and hate crimes. Today, systemic racism and segregation in the public sphere in Birmingham exist. I did not interact with African Americans other than grocery-store clerks, maintenance workers, house cleaners and ‘nannies’ until I was in high school. I joined dialogue groups and workshops to talk about race, and made black friends who were afraid to come to parties at my house because they did not want to be stopped by the police in an all-white neighborhood. I ventured to neighborhoods that I was told not to go to. I became comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where I am different and comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where everyone is just like me.”

I was almost in tears at the end. I did not have to explain how my hometown was similar to Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, I moved from an apartment in Nachlaot to a Palestinian neighborhood. Nachlaot is in West Jerusalem. Its residents wear high-waisted jeans picked from the racks of trendy vintage stores, American Apparel leggings (the kind of thing to stock up on when moving to Israel from the U.S.) and old leather backpacks. They are hip Jewish-Israeli artists, students and young professionals.

I moved to a Palestinian neighborhood to practice my Arabic and experience a different space of the city. My new apartment is a 15-minute walk from my old one and it feels like it’s in a separate country. Even the pavement on the streets is different.

The day that the boys’ bodies were found in Hebron, I was in the library until evening, multitasking between writing final papers and reading the news. When I got to my apartment, I squeezed through barricades of soldiers to reach my front door. I found my roommates packing overnight bags. Neither of them — a Palestinian-American and a Dane — felt safe staying in the apartment. We shared updates from our Facebook newsfeeds and the op-eds we had read. I listened to the Palestinian-American’s accounts of the situation in Gaza and Hebron. We left the apartment and headed in different directions — I walked back to Nachlaot, my old neighborhood.

Ten minutes later, I was on Jaffo Street in the city center. A mob of pre-teens emerged from an alley shouting "death to Arabs,” followed by police on horses. Young girls wearing Israeli flags laid down in front of the horses while the teens ran in the streets with sticks in their hands, cheering and shouting like they were at a football game. I started crying. I followed the mob, and watched them surround two small Arab boys against the wall of a shop. The police were gone. The boys sprinted away as fast as they could. The mob cheered.

I arrived at my friend’s house in Nachlaot and plopped down on his leather couch next to others just like me. They had gathered to comfort one another in face of the day’s painful news. The conversation vacillated between things like the health benefits of sprouted grains and how only a society of animals could celebrate something so brutal as the murder of children. I was too shaken to say anything. My 15-minute walk from neighborhood to neighborhood illuminated the separateness of the multiple realities being lived by Jerusalem’s inhabitants. These realities are divided by vast gaps, but have been built right on top of each other.

The next day, the body of Muhammed Abu Khadier was found. Another tragedy. In spite of warnings from friends, family and Israeli security, I went to Muhammed Abu Khadier’s mourning tent in Shuafat, a 15-minute walk from my university’s campus. I thought about the 15 minutes it took for me to get from Mountain Brook to Ensley — going there was the only way to bridge the gap.

Visiting Muhammed Abu Khadier’s family was sad and uncomfortable and important.

The severity of the conflict has escalated. People in Jerusalem are scared; people in Tel Aviv are scared; people in Gaza are scared; I am scared. What does this violence mean for the future of the families around me? These days have been a painful time for Jews and for Palestinians.

Today, a Muslim-American friend asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner in a place that feels mutually safe. I laughed to myself.
I responded over text message, “LOL yes!”

And then, “Sorry, not funny... just feeling confused about where that place is supposed to be.”

I am embarrassed to admit this: when I walk the streets of Jerusalem my heart remembers driving around Birmingham. It remembers being conflicted, torn and confused about where I’m supposed to be. It remembers the dialogue groups I participated in in high school — Anytown Alabama, Heritage Panel and PEACE Birmingham — that positioned me to see individuals beyond their homophobia or evangelical conviction that I was eternally dammed.

In Birmingham, I learned that trying to bridge gaps can curb violence and fear; I learned how to speak and think in I instead of we and they; I learned that no one has exclusive ownership of the truth. Is it naive to think that teaching our children to communicate — to think — could make the world more livable?

I thank you all for sending your prayers — please, continue to do so. But more importantly, let’s talk.

Reflections of an immigrant to Israel from New Orleans
SJLMAGThursday, July 10, 2014

By Katie Connell

Special to Southern Jewish Life

Editor’s note: Katie Connell made aliyah from New Orleans one year ago and settled in Beer Sheva in the Negev. She currently lives in an absorption center for new immigrants. This originally appeared in the weekly e-news of Shir Chadash in Metairie.

A few days ago, on a beautiful afternoon I was driving in Be'er Sheva and pulled to a stop at an intersection across from the shopping mall. Simultaneously, as I heard Code Red sirens, one of the people in the car with me slowly said "why are those people running.” I have heard these sirens before during a drill, but this time it was real.

I turned to my right, the driver of the car next to me rolled down the window with a look of terror in his eyes and said in Hebrew: "Sirens, those are sirens! Pull off to the side and get out!" With sirens still going, there is a hard explosion directly above us.

At that moment, I remembered what to do if you are in a car and there is a rocket attack. I realized that I am in a potential bomb if the Iron Dome failed. I hit the accelerator, pulled the car over and commanded everyone to get out and get down on the side. People all over were doing the same, lying down on the pavement as the second rocket is intercepted by the Iron Dome.

I looked around in a fuzzy, surreal blur. The faint smell of firework-like smoke jolted me into reality. After a few minutes, all of the people looked at each other with the realization that it was beginning: The recent kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah and the revenge kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, followed by riots all around Israel had finally escalated into a war.

This was how it began for me. Since July 9 (two days before this was written), over 320 rockets have been shot into Israel from Gaza, 50 just since this morning. There have been many sirens, and I have heard and felt the shaking of the Iron Done intercepting the rockets. My sleep has been interrupted in the last three nights, all around 2 a.m., with sirens and explosions.

A feeling of tension is all over the country with rockets reaching as far as north central Israel, terrorists trying to infiltrate from the sea and by parachute, and for the first time, here in the south, Bedouins throwing fire bombs and rocks at cars. As Israel prepares for what looks like a ground invasion, the end is not yet near.

More and more I realize how incredibly complex the political situation is here, and now it is personal. It doesn't matter if you are politically on the right or the left. ALL human life is precious and can add value to the world.

With that said, Hamas (whose name means "Islamic Resistance Movement") has declared itself to be a Sunni fundamentalist Islamic movement with the goal of establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of the state of Israel. They establish jihad (holy war) as the only means of solving the issue of Palestine, and establish that the commandment of jihad is an individual religious duty incumbent upon every Muslim. They refuse to recognize Israel as the Jewish State.

In short, Hamas is a particular group of people that want to annihilate us. Hamas does not want peace. They want us out of the Land of Israel. This is something that people all around the world need to understand.

Israel is going to extreme measures to reduce the risk of collateral damage and loss of innocent life, as well as bringing in humanitarian aid, food, medicine, and fuel to the residents of Gaza. However, Israel needs to put a stop to the attacks and any further escalation buy defending itself.

What is the historical reality, the reality today is that Israel is home for the Jews. People flee and are rescued from countries, such as Yemen, in which their lives are in danger due to anti-Semitism. They are taken to safety here in Israel.

Some of my friends here in the absorption center, recently rescued from Yemen, have been through so much already. Traumatized as their husbands and fathers have been murdered, daughters and sisters kidnapped and sold as wives, taken to Israel with nothing, now standing outside of the bomb shelter crying waiting for the next siren. It's heartbreaking. When does it end for them? Jews should be able to take refuge and be safe in Israel.

I just had my one-year anniversary. I came to Israel for a more meaningful life by helping to contribute the best I can to its development. The potential here is amazing, and I am part of this history.

People may think that I am crazy for wanting to live here, and are wondering if I want to come back to the U.S. The answer is absolutely not. The rockets and terror reinforce how important it is to have a strong Jewish presence here.

Pray for our soldiers, pray for peace — Am Yisrael Chai.

P.S. Code Red siren while typing this: Two Rockets.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Florida rabbi finds owners of 7 tefillin sets discovered at Scottsboro's Unclaimed Baggage
SJLMAGTuesday, July 08, 2014

Two sets of tefillin the Pilichowskis found at Unclaimed Baggage in Scottsboro, Ala. (Photo courtesy Rabbi Uri Pilichowski)

When Rabbi Uri Pilichowski and family stopped in Scottsboro at the Unclaimed Baggage Center on July 2, it was just another interesting place to see on their cross-country adventure.

It quickly turned into much more than that for the Boca Raton, Fla., family, as they found seven pairs of tefillin, setting off an Internet odyssey to return the sets to their owners.

Unclaimed Baggage purchases truckloads of suitcases from airlines, rental car companies and unclaimed cargo after the respective carriers have exhausted all avenues to return the lost items to their owners. The items are sold at the north Alabama store, and unsold items generally wind up going to charitable organizations.

Pilichowski’s wife, Aliza, had read about the store and figured it would be an interesting place to visit. They were driving from Baltimore to visit her sister in Memphis, and Scottsboro “was only slightly out of the way,” he said.

Four years ago, they set a goal of visiting all 50 states by the time their daughter Avigayil graduated from high school. Since then they had moved from California, where he was assistant rabbi at Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, to Florida, where he was at Boca Raton Synagogue and started an Israel advocacy group for high school students.

At the start of this summer they had been to 35 states — and had taken Alaska and Hawaii out of the challenge. With their decision to move to Israel later this summer, “it put a rush on our plans” to hit the remainder of the Lower 48, and they set out from Oregon to Maine before heading back to Florida.

Pilichowski said his wife found the sets of tefillin, which were marked at $45 each. “She immediately started crying” because she was sad to see them unclaimed. She quickly called him over to see what she had discovered.

He noted that in Jewish law there is a prohibition on turning away from a lost item, and a commandment to try and return items to their owners.

“We bought them all,” he said, and they quickly took pictures in the store and posted their find on Facebook, with “HELP! HELP! HELP!… We found Tefilin!!! People are missing their tefilin! Please share this entire post.”

That post was shared over 1700 times, and within a day, six of the seven sets had been claimed.

The name “Abie Malka” was on two pairs of the tefillin, so Pilichowski contacted Yossi Malka, a fellow counselor from several years back at a Passover camp in Ukraine.

Yossi Malka confirmed that they were indeed his oldest son’s, having been given to him by his grandfather, Dovid, shortly before his passing in 2011, in anticipation of Abie’s Bar Mitzvah. They became lost in Charlotte, N.C., on a Passover trip to Cancun.

Dovid Malka of Crown Heights was a chef for the Lubavitcher rebbe and Oholei Torah.

When they were lost, Yossi Malka explained to the New York Daily News, “it was devastating. I did not want to share it with the rest of my family.” He even returned to the Charlotte airport to search the lost-and-found.

Though six pairs were identified quickly, the last pair proved more challenging. It was the only one that did not have a name or initials.

According to VIN News, an Israeli man whose daughter is friends with the Pilichowskis reposted the story on Facebook and then set out to find the owner.

A sticker on the tefillin indicated they had been checked at a store in Holon, so Ami Mintzer contacted the store’s owner, who found the sofer who had checked the tefillin. He was able to verify that they belonged to Emilion Maimon of Bat Yam, whose suitcase was lost while traveling from Mexico to Denver last December.

In all, two pairs belonged to Israelis, the Malka sets went to Los Angeles and the others were reunited with owners in New York.

In a post reflecting on the odyssey, Pilichowski said “After a tragic week, in which our people collectively sat in mourning over three kedoshim, the speed in which the owners were found speaks not only to the power of crowdsourcing, but to the importance of following God’s commands, the resilience of our people, and our nation’s ability to come together in good times and bad.”

He added, “Thousands participated in this mitzvah, and it is a tribute to them that the owners were found.”

After leaving Memphis on July 8, the Pilichowskis headed back to Boca to get ready for their Nefesh B’Nefesh flight to Israel — with one more stop in Scottsboro.

“No more tefillin” on the return visit, he said. But “they knew what we were talking about this time.” Anyone who wants to look for sets of tefillin in the future should check the jewelry department, he added.

Because they are moving to Israel, this will likely be his last time through Scottsboro.

A set of tefillin “is more than a purchase, it’s sentimental value,” he said. “If you got it for your Bar Mitzvah, that’s your Bar Mitzvah pair.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Attempts to reconcile: Southern Presbyterian churches reach out to Jewish community following divestment vote
SJLMAGThursday, July 03, 2014

The vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest itself from holdings in companies they say profit from Israel’s administration of the territories has caused a great deal of concern in the Jewish community — and among the rank and file of PCUSA.

The 310-303 vote, held at the PCUSA General Assembly in Detroit last month, calls on the church to divest its holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, because those firms are said to profit from Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians.

Jewish groups across the spectrum condemned the vote as counterproductive and an unfair singling out of Israel among all nations of the world as it attempts to protect itself from terrorist actions. Presbyterian officials countered that many Jews in attendance favored the move, but they were actually from a far-left fringe group.

Over 1700 rabbis from all 50 states had signed an open letter to PCUSA calling on them to reject this move.

Rev. Elizabeth Goodrich, clerk of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley in central Alabama, wrote that “this action is not divestment from Israel, as it is often described, but rather divestment from specific companies who have shown no interest in dialogue with the PCUSA about their business practices.” She noted that “PCUSA is explicit in affirming the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation and advocating for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, free from the threat of violence.”

Rev. Ed Hurley of South Highlands Presbyterian Church in Birmingham stated that the vote “overturns the will of the last four General Assemblies which repeatedly rejected divestment in favor of investing in positive peace-promoting businesses in Palestinian territories, an effort that has produced significant positive results.”

The first of those four General Assemblies was in Birmingham in 2006, when a group of churches from Mississippi helped spearhead opposition to a similar divestment move that had been made in 2004.

Hurley wrote that “this action deeply wounds the Jewish community worldwide including our neighbors at Temple Emanu-El and Temple Beth-El… (and) at least one family member of SHPC members who works for Hewlett-Packard, a company now deemed unworthy of being underwritten by Presbyterian funds.”

The Saturday after the vote, Hurley visited Emanu-El and spoke briefly about the vote. The following day, Judy and Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Emanu-El attended the service at South Highlands.

Hurley and Rev. Conrad Sharps of Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham issued a statement that they “deeply regret” the vote and believe it “removes our voice, the voice of our Church as an unbiased mediator and spiritual witness to the suffering on all sides of the conflict” by placing “the blame on the stalemate on one side only, Israel, without a fuller and more meaningful appreciation of the complexities involved and the responsibilities that all parties have in the ongoing nature of this conflict.”

Also on the Presbyterian agenda at the General Assembly was a measure that did not pass — changing the language in hymnals so that the term “Israel” is not used or is referred to as ancient Israel. Instead, there was the recommendation of having a sticker placed on hymnals to explain that when Israel is mentioned, such as “God’s covenant with Israel,” it refers to ancient Israel and not the modern-day state.

Rabbi Edward Paul Cohn of Temple Sinai in New Orleans said he received an immediate call after the vote from Rev. Don Frampton of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, “who was terribly embarrassed and disheartened by this decision of his denomination.” They agreed to hold a program at Sinai for both congregations on July 8 at 6:30 p.m. The event will be a potluck supper and the community is invited. After dinner, Cohn and Frampton will discuss what happened, “share our hearts and thoughts… and where we should go from here in our interfaith dialogue.”

In its weekly bulletin, Temple Emanu-El in Dothan noted their congregation’s “good relationship with Evergreen Presbyterian Church” and that “Rev. Joseph Johnson does not agree with the vote.” He contacted Emanu-El and volunteered to speak to the congregation, which he will do at Shabbat services on July 11 at 7 p.m.

Conversely, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke of Louisiana praised the Presbyterian move against “the ultra-racist, Jewish supremacist, murderous, ethnic cleansing, terrorist state of Israel.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Southern communities join in mourning the three murdered Israeli teens
SJLMAGTuesday, July 01, 2014

Israeli flag at half staff outside the Jewish Community Center in Austin.

With the discovery of the bodies of three missing Israeli teens, planned vigils have turned into memorial services.

The Israeli Consulate in Atlanta stated “we are heartbroken to report the senseless killings of the three Israeli teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gilad Sha'ar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, z"l, who were kidnapped near their school on June 12” by Palestinian terrorists presumed to be aligned with Hamas.

Their bodies were found in a field near Hebron on June 30. The discovery set off a wave of mourning throughout Israel and worldwide.

Numerous groups immediately issued statements of solidarity, and even the United Nations Security Council expressed “profound outrage” at the murder.

Frenkel was a dual citizen of Israel and the United States.

The Israeli consulate, Atlanta Rabbinical Association and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta are holding “a demonstration of solidarity and support” with a memorial service at Ahavath Achim, July 2 at 6:30 p.m.

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans was “devastated” to hear about the murders. “The abduction and murder of these three is a vile act of terrorism.”

In a statement, the New Orleans Federation said “People everywhere have prayed in hope, because every child counts. Today we stand united in expressing our outrage, in sending our sympathy to the families and in expressing our hope for peace and security for children everywhere and in the Middle East.”

A vigil had already been planned for July 2 at 7 p.m. at the Uptown Jewish Community Center in New Orleans, it will now be a #PeaceForOurBoys memorial. Attendees will light memorial candles for the boys.

Rabbi Ethan Linden, president of the Rabbinic Council of Greater New Orleans, and Brenda Brasher, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, will speak. Their organizations are planning the event.

Cantor Joel Colman of Temple Sinai will also speak. His son, Josh Colman, is a soldier in the Israel Defense Force.

“Our community is deeply saddened by the murder of these three teenagers,” said Linden “We condemn those responsible for the act itself, and we condemn those who would attempt to justify this horrific crime by reference to Israeli policies. We reject the culture of violence and vengeance that inspired this taking of innocent life, and we stand by our brothers and sisters in Israel as they mourn the loss of these children. We hope and pray for peace.”

“This is not about politics,” noted Brasher. “This is about innocent lives. It’s an issue of human compassion and a concern for the balance of peace and justice in the wake of unimaginable grief.”

In Birmingham, the Hillel at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is coordinating a candle prayer vigil on July 2 at 6 p.m., on the Campus Green off University Boulevard between Heritage Hall and the recreation center. Rabbi Randall Konigsburg of Temple Beth-El will speak.

The Birmingham Jewish Federation expressed its “profound grief and sadness,” and said “This is a time for the Jewish world to stand together, not only with these three families, but with the entire State of Israel in unity, solidarity and sadness.”

The leadership of Temple Beth-El stated the congregation “mourns with the entire state of Israel the death of the three teens” and prays “for a time when all people, men, women, and children, will be able to ‘sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to make him afraid’ (Micah 4:4).”

Birmingham’s Jewish community had held a service for the boys on June 22, while they were still missing. Rabbi Eytan Yammer of Knesseth Israel, who organized the event with all of the local congregations, said that evening he had felt the “love of a unified Jewish world calling out to their creator.”

Though the unity now turns to mourning, Yammer said “I am still filled with hope. That the unity of Am Yisrael is not broken by the murder of our sons, that we find times to gather once more, at times of hope, at times of loss and, with God's help at times of great celebration.”

Huntsville’s Jewish community will be joined by local Christians and Muslims for a memorial service on July 2 at 7 p.m., at Temple B’nai Sholom. Aladin Beshir, a NASA scientist, will offer prayers for peace from the Islamic tradition.

Beshir told that “"This is a funeral in my neighbor's house, and regardless of whether we agree, disagree on occupation, these are neighbors who are mourning… Any bloodshed — any drop of blood shed, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist — it doesn't matter — is prohibited.”

Rabbi Scott Kramer of Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery said in light of the news, “I am afraid of what is now going to happen in light of the danger posed by ISIS having its sights against Jordan and now this. I pray for Israel and I send comfort to the families of these three boys. I can only hope that our boys and girls in arms will protect our land and our people and calmer heads prevail as we search for the ever disappearing "better angels of our nature.”

In Houston, the community will hold a memorial service on July 2 at 6 p.m., at Beth Yeshurun.

Memphis will hold a memorial service on July 7 at 5:30 p.m., at the Jewish Community Center, and Nashville held a service on July 1 at their JCC.

On July 2 it was reported that a Palestinian youth had been found murdered in Jerusalem. While it is unclear if it was in revenge or a non-related criminal act, the murder was swiftly condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, along with a wide range of Jewish organizations and family members of the three slain Israeli teens.

Israel Defense Forces are reporting that it likely was an "honor struggle" within the family, as the victim's brother had been taken in a similar fashion the week before, and family members are being interrogated.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Statement from Birmingham Jewish Federation
gingerMonday, June 30, 2014


It is with profound grief and great sadness that we mourn the murders of the three young Israelis  Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, who were kidnapped on Thursday, June 12.

Since their abduction, our Birmingham Jewish community, friends of our community and Israel, and Jewish communities around the world have come together in solidarity.

Our thoughts are with the families of these three boys during this tragic time, and we continue to stand with Israel as the search continues for the terrorists who committed this heinous crime. We hope that the perpetrators are soon caught and justice is done.

This is a time for the Jewish world to stand together, not only with these three families, but with the entire State of Israel in unity, solidarity and sadness.

Statement from New Orleans Jewish Federation
gingerMonday, June 30, 2014

A message from Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans Executive Director, Michael Weil

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans was devastated to learn that the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers—Naphtali Fraenkel 16, Gilad Shaar, 16 and Eyal Yifrach, 19—were  found today in a field near Hebron.

These innocent students were abducted on June 12 as they were trying to return to their homes for Shabbat from their boarding schools. The abduction and murder of these three is a vile act of terrorism.

For the last 18 days, the Israel Defense Force, together with Israeli intelligence services, have conducted a huge manhunt across that area of Israel to find the boys and confront their kidnappers.

For the last 18 days, the whole of Israel has talked of nothing but the abduction and the fate of the three teenagers.

For the last 18 days, communities around the world—from Australia to Germany, from Brazil to the United States—have held rallies and solidarity events centered around the slogan “Bring Back Our Boys.”

People everywhere have prayed in hope, because every child counts.

Today we stand united in expressing our outrage, in sending our sympathy to the families and in expressing our hope for peace and security for children everywhere and in the Middle East.

Today we pray instead for “Peace For Our Boys.”

All are welcome to join a community vigil on Wednesday, July 2 at 7:00 the Uptown Jewish Community Center (5342 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans). To learn more, please contact Cait Gladow at 504-780-5614or at

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Celebrating Shabbat and Independence Day
SJLMAGSunday, June 29, 2014

With Independence Day falling on Friday, some congregations are changing their Shabbat evening service plans.

Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will hold a later than usual service — at 7 p.m. It will be followed by a dinner with hamburgers and hot dogs. Dinner reservations are required by July 1, cost is $6 for adults and $3 for ages 12 and under. After dinner, Thunder on the Mountain, the annual 9 p.m. city-wide fireworks display over Red Mountain, will be viewed from the parking deck.

Birmingham’s Knesseth Israel
will have a barbecue Shabbat dinner, with kosher sausages, sliders and chicken, following the 6:45 p.m. service. There is a suggested donation of $18 before Shabbat.

In Dothan, Temple Emanu-El is holding a short 6 p.m. service in the garden of Harold and Helon Cutler.

Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery planned a 6 p.m. musical service followed by a cookout.

Pensacola’s Temple Beth-El is having an early service, at 4:30 p.m., at the Azalea Trace chapel. Rabbi Joel Fleekop will lead the service from the Union Prayerbook. The congregation is invited to join the Azalea Trace residents and there will not be a service at Beth-El in the evening.

In New Orleans, the Reform congregations’ joint summer services move to Temple Sinai for July. The congregation will host “Red, White and Jewish” on July 4 at 6:15 p.m., followed by a picnic-style Oneg.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jewish young adults from region gathering at Chosen Weekend in Austin
SJLMAGThursday, June 26, 2014

Jewish young adults from throughout the region will converge on Austin the weekend of July 25 for The Chosen Weekend.

Co-founder and co-chair Samantha Tugentman said “We founded The Chosen Weekend as a way for Jewish young professionals from all across the South and Southwest to meet, share ideas, and network. It is a completely unaffiliated event where you don’t have to be a specific “type” of Jew — just a place to have fun, socialize, and meet people.”

Aimed at ages 22 to 40, the weekend begins with an all-you-can-eat fajita buffet, challah and margaritas to bring in Shabbat. An after-party continues at a Donn’s Depot Piano Bar and Saloon.

A Saturday afternoon pool party will be followed by a “Party of 8 Dinner” where participants are matched with seven others who have similar interests. The Chosen Night Party begins at 9:30 p.m. at the Majestic Music Hall, with open bar, dancing and networking. A brunch concludes the weekend, starting at 11:30 a.m. on July 27 at the Cedar Door, home of the original Mexican martini.

Travel and ticket information are available on the website. Planning representatives were organizing delegations from Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, and New Orleans representatives were being recruited.

Tugentman said they were proud of the inaugural weekend’s success last year. “I hope that The Chosen Weekend will become a great summer tradition for years to come that will allow our generation to mix and mingle while enjoying a few days in our wonderful city of Austin!”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Abroms-Engel Institute boosts the arts world at UAB
SJLMAGThursday, June 19, 2014

Across the street from the Alys Stephens Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts is changing the art world in Birmingham. And many in the local Jewish community played a major role in making it happen.

Opened in January, the institute houses three galleries with adjustable walls to make one large space. Upstairs there are numerous state-of-the-art classrooms, art and design studios and faculty offices.

Curator John Fields said the idea was to have a medium size to large-scale contemporary exhibition space, something that has been missing in Birmingham because of limitations at the Birmingham Museum of Art’s facilities.

The 6,000 square feet of exhibit space will be dedicated to contemporary art. There will be a mix of student shows and shows from local, national and international artists.

The choice to focus on contemporary art was to not compete with the BMA, with whom the institute has a great relationship.

Much of UAB’s 600-piece permanent art collection has been stored at the downtown museum because of a lack of climate-controlled storage facilities. That void is also being met by the Institute.

Key to the Institute’s completion were Judy and Hal Abroms.

The Abromses first became involved with UAB in 1985 as the Hess-Abroms Scholarships were established in the university’s honors program. Abroms was asked to chair the advisory board, and he said UAB has been “very good from the very beginning in keeping us in touch with our students,” many of whom have gone on to impressive achievements, including two Rhodes Scholars.

In 2005 Abroms was asked to be the interim vice president of development for a year, which he did as a volunteer. In 2006, “we had an opportunity to make a significant gift somewhere and we hadn’t really done anything for UAB” since the scholarships. He approached then-president Carol Garrison, who presented him with three ideas.

The one that resonated was an art museum and teaching facility. “We didn’t know what it was going to cost, who was going to be the architect,” he said. “The only thing we knew was where it would go.”

The art facility had been a dream of Bert Brouwer, dean of the school of arts and humanities, for years.

Fields noted that when he was a student at UAB, Brouwer said the facility would be finished before he graduated. He graduated in 2003 and got his Master’s from the University of New Orleans in 2007. “I was told I’d be in the first class to graduate from this building. Now I’m the first employee,” he said.

After an architect was selected, Shirley Salloway Kahn, who had become the vice president of development, called Abroms and said they had a dollar figure for the building, but he really ought to bring a friend because it was a large amount.

“We knew Marvin Engel loved the arts too, so it was a perfect fit for us,” Abroms said. After that, he quipped, “we went to our friends who always came to us” to fundraise. “We had some people who really stepped up.”

The facility’s lecture hall is named by the Hess family, the Elsas family did the seminar room and the grand atrium was named by Gail and Jeffrey Bayer. Numerous other families in the Jewish community also made contributions.

In April, the Institute housed the 38th annual juried exhibit of student art. A nationally-known figure in the art world judges the works, and some space is offered to that artist.

This year, the guest exhibit was based on a Bar Mitzvah photo. George Ferrandi did an installation called “The Prosthetics of Joy.”

Ferrandi’s works respond to the specifics of a site, audience or situation, employing whatever medium is best suited for the task. Based in Brooklyn, Ferrandi made news recently with her “daring” site-specific performance piece, “it felt like i knew you,” which tests the limits of a subway car’s shared spaces.

At UAB, she spent a week building forms that re-created poses from a large group photo at a nephew’s Bar Mitzvah party. On March 20, about 60 students and faculty members got into those forms to create a photo reminiscent of the original. The prosthetics were then displayed the rest of the month.

In late August, New York artist Amanda Browder will drape two huge fabric installations to celebrate the new UAB Cultural Corridor. Magic Chromacity will drape both buildings starting on Aug. 26. Sewing days are set up from July 9 to 12 for members of the community to take part in the works’ creation.

Faculty members from other divisions of the university are contacting the Institute to develop interdisciplinary lessons, tying art to their departments.

Abroms said, “as much as we dreamed about it and as much as we are excited about it, it exceeded our expectations.”