On Sept. 8, congregations throughout the region will usher in the High Holy Days season with Selichot services, which over the years have morphed into opportunities to have major speakers or programs.
The journalists who unraveled a massive Torah fraud involving the Save-A-Torah Foundation will speak at a Selichot program at Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El.
Jeff Lunden and Martha Wexler’s expose, “Rabbi to the Rescue,” exposed doubts about Menachem Youlus, who had been known as the “Indiana Jones” of Torah recovery and restoration. The piece ran in the Washington Post magazine in January 2010. A subsequent investigation led to his arrest in August 2011.
Youlus spoke of incredible adventures in finding Holocaust Torahs hidden across Europe and selling them to congregations in North America. Among the Torahs he brokered were one that was donated to Beth Israel in Metairie, and the family Torah for Rabbi Foster Kawaler of Agudath Achim in Shreveport. In both cases, the Torahs were said to have been found in a Ukraine monastery by a group of visiting Israeli girls.
In February, Youlus pled guilty in Federal court to mail fraud and wire fraud, admitting that stories of finding these hidden Torahs were made up, and that he diverted funds from the foundation to his personal use.
One such story was that he discovered an old Torah hidden at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after partly falling through the floorboards of a barracks, but in reality the camp had been burned down by the British Army after the war.
Sentencing was scheduled for June but was delayed until Oct. 11. Sentencing guidelines apparently call for 51 to 63 months.
At the Sept. 8 program, Lunden and Wexler will discuss their investigation. The 8 p.m. service and program are open to the community.
Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El will kick off celebrations of its building’s centennial with “A Birmingham Rabbi, Art and Culture in Early Birmingham.” The 7 p.m. program will examine the life of Rabbi Morris Newfield, who served the congregation from 1895 to 1940, including when the current building was built.
He led the “Classical Reform” congregation through a World War and the Great Depression, and was a leader in interfaith relations.
Lester Seigel, the Joseph Hugh Thomas Professor of Music at Birmingham-Southern College, went to the American Jewish Archives in 2010 as a Jacob Rader Marcus Fellow, going through Newfield’s papers and exploring his writings on music and art, which “present a lively and highly personable picture of the art and culture of America and Classical Reform Judaism” through someone who became president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.
Birmingham’s Knesseth Israel will have a Selichot film at 8:30 p.m. and service at 11:15 p.m.
At Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, the Selichot program will be “God in the Box.” The documentary follows filmmaker Nathan Lang as he and his crew explore diverse ways that people see God, whether as God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah, Buddha, an indescribable spirituality, what agnostics question or why atheists don’t believe.
The film will begin at 5 p.m., followed by 7 p.m. dinner and discussion and the 8 p.m. Havdalah and Selichot.
Touro is also hosting “Selichot in Pajamas” for children, starting at 7 p.m. Milk and cookies will be served.
New Orleans’ Temple Sinai will have a Jewish-themed opera program, with excerpts from La Juive and a discussion of Jewish-themed opera and oratorio. Taking part in the program will be music historian George Dansker; tenor Tyler Smith; soprano Betsy Uschkrat; soprano JeAnne Swinley; and bass-baritone Cantor Joel Colman. Admission is free. A reception will be held after the program, and the Selichot service will follow.
Gates of Prayer in Metairie will have A Savory Selichot: Selichot with an International Flair. The program will include samples of cuisine from around the world. “Passports” will be given out at 7:15 p.m., and the service begins at 9:30 p.m. Reservations for the dinner portion of the program are already closed, but the service is open to the community.
Shir Chadash in Metairie will hold Selichot at 8:15 p.m. At Anshe Sfard in New Orleans, Rabbi David Polsky is looking for a minyan to hold Selichot at 10 p.m. “Our Selichot service last year was a resounding success and I'd love to repeat it this year as well,” Polsky said.
Beth Israel in Metairie will have a Selichot Kumzitz and service starting at 8:30 p.m.
In Dothan, Temple Emanu-El will screen “Cast a Giant Shadow,” the story of Col. Micky Marcus, an American who volunteered to fight in the Israeli military after Israel declared independence in 1948. The program’s time has been changed to 5:30 p.m. There will be a potluck supper, then the film will be followed by Havdalah, changing of the Torah covers to the holiday whites, and then the Selichot service.
In Mobile, Springhill Avenue Temple holds its Selichot Sunday School dinner at 6 p.m., followed by a service with the choir. Boaz Raz, the community’s new Shaliach from Israel, will be introduced.
Baton Rouge’s B’nai Israel holds its Selichot at 10 a.m. in the youth room. Beth Shalom will hold its Selichot with a Havdalah service at 8 p.m.
Temple Sinai in Lake Charles holds Selichot at 6 p.m. Alexandria will have its community Selichot at B’nai Israel, time to be announced.
Hebrew Union Congregation in Greenville will have a movie, discussion and dessert starting at 7 p.m., followed by a candlelight service in the sanctuary. Beth Israel in Jackson will have a 9:30 p.m. service and dessert reception.