Finding seats for the High Holys

This time of the year, I always get a few calls from suburban Jews wondering where they can go to High Holy Day services.

Even though there are dozens of vast synagogues up and down the LoHud, probably half the Jews in the region are unaffiliated. Maybe more.

It can be hard to get tickets for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, especially without having to pluck down several hundreds bucks.

Here’s a couple of ideas:

tjndc5-5bhypj3d6w2zm5626jw_layout.jpgA New Rochelle rabbi named Mathew Hoffman has been running High Holy Day services for years, open to any and all. He offers educational programs, too. It’s all known as The Flame (you may have seen the ads in the Journal News over the years.)

He’s changed locations several times for the High Holys, but this year he’ll be offering services at the brand, spanking new Young Israel of New Rochelle.

There is no charge, although a donation is requested to cover expenses. You can check service times and make reservations at his website. (That’s Hoffman outside the kosher Chinese restaurant in New Ro where he held services the past couple of years.)

Also, Reconstructionist synagogues in New York and Jersey have set aside seats for High Holy Day services for unaffiliated Jewish families.

You can read about the “Open Seats Campaign” here. For information, you can call 212-870-2484.

Synagogues taking part are Bet Am Shalom in White Plains, the Hebrew Congregation of Somers, Mvakshe Derekh in Scarsdale, and the Mishkan Ha’am group in Yonkers, which will hold services at the Park Hill Raquet Club.

What is Reconstructionist Judaism, you ask. Here is an explanation from the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation:

Reconstructionist Judaism is a progressive, contemporary approach to Jewish life which integrates a deep respect for traditional Judaism with the insights and ideas of contemporary social, intellectual and spiritual life.

Judaism as the Culture of the Jewish People

For Reconstructionists, Judaism is more than Jewish religion; Judaism is the entire cultural legacy of the Jewish people. Religion is central; Jewish spiritual insights and religious teachings give meaning and purpose to our lives. Yet our creativity as expressed through art, music and drama, languages and literature, and our relationship with the land of Israel itself are also integral parts of Jewish culture. Each of these aspects provides a gateway into the Jewish experience that can enrich and inspire us.

Community as Cornerstone

While deeply connected to the historical experience of the Jewish people, we find a profound sense of belonging in our contemporary communities as well. This connection often leads to increased ritual observance and experimentation with the ritual rhythms of Jewish life. We find meaning in rediscovering the richness of traditional ritual and creating new observances which respond to our contemporary communal and personal cycles.

Reconstructionist communities are characterized by their respect for such core values as democratic process, pluralism, and accessibility. In this way, they create participatory, inclusive, egalitarian communities committed to exploring Jewish life with dedication, warmth and enthusiasm.

Maryknoll Youth Day on Saturday

A reminder: Maryknoll will hold its big “Youth Day” THIS Saturday, Sept. 20.

It will be an all-day affair, from 1 to 8 p.m. at the Maryknoll HQ in Ossining, 55 Ryder Road.

From all I’ve heard, it promises to be something special.

David Ushery and Monica Morales from NBC News will host, along with the terribly funny Lino Rulli — known far and wide as The Catholic Guy — from the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio.

Maryknoll missioners will be on hand to talk about their experiences serving the poor around the world.

David Golemboski, a 23-year-old Harvard Divinity School student, will give the keynote.

There will be lots of live music, including several bands that performed at the papal youth rally in Yonkers five months ago (doesn’t it seem longer?).

And there will be FOOD from regions around the world where Maryknoll missioners do their work.

The event is free. You can register at or just show up…


Vatican conference on evolution to squeeze out ‘intelligent design’

A Vatican-sponsored conference on the theory of evolution that will take place in Rome next March will not include any proponents of “intelligent design” or creationism.

science_charles_darwin_2.jpgThe conference will mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species.”

The Rev. Marc Leclerc, a Jesuit and a philosophy prof at the Pontifical Gregorian University, tells Catholic News Service that organizers “wanted to create a conference that was strictly scientific.”

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that scientists who believe that the theory of natural selection precludes the possibility of a divine creator were also not invited.

Interestingly, Notre Dame prof Phillip Sloan says that the debate over evolution in the U.S. “has been taking place without a strong Catholic presence…and the discourse has suffered accordingly.”

Inside the ‘cry room’

Any time I hear about a “cry room” at a church, I can’t help smiling.

Why call it a family room when the real purpose is to quarantine all those crying babies and toddlers? As a parent, I get it.

But I love this soothing mural that an artist, Minerva Barrera Calderon, painted in the cry room at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Congers. It’s called “Jesus and the Children.”

It should help all those crying monsters calm down and remind parents where they are…


LATE NOTE: I’ve learned some more about the artist — Minerva Barrera Calderon. She is from Mexico City and has been painting since she was a little girl. She came to New York in 2004 and lives in Congers.

I’m told that she loves to paint, especially when she’s homesick.

She met the pastor of St. Paul’s, the Rev. Arthur Mastrolia, last spring and offered to paint a mural in the cry room…

Reporting on (your own) religion

Until not long ago, journalists kept their views — and their personal lives — to themselves.

Today, of course, the blogosphere has helped form a whole new kind of journalist — people who report the news and comment on the news and mix in their own life stories.

In the world of religion journalism, Rod Dreher is one such person.

2861604522_9fb1426db8_o.jpgHe writes the Crunchy Con blog for Beliefnet and is an editorial writer and blogger for the Dallas Morning News.

He used to write quite a bit about being a (rather orthodox) Roman Catholic. Then, after he covered the sex-abuse crisis, he wrote about leaving Rome to become an Orthodox Christian.

Andrea Useem, who writes the blog, recently interviewed Dreher about what it’s like to be a journalist who pours it out in first person.

Here’s one snippet:

Andrea Useem: “Orthodoxy and Me,” your 5,700-word posting on how and why you converted from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy, has been your most highly trafficked and most-commented-on post to date. Why did you decide to make that personal choice public on your blog almost two years ago now?

Rod Dreher: I felt that I owed it to my readers. I converted to Catholicism back in 1993, and since then I had made my Catholicism a central part of my journalism. When the sex-abuse scandal broke in 2002, I took a role front-and-center writing about it, advocating for reform and castigating the bishops. That role as a Catholic reformer came to define who I was for a lot of my readers. So when I lost my Catholic faith, and ended up moving to Eastern Orthodoxy, I felt I had a professional obligation to my readers to explain why. But I also wanted it to be a confession and a warning to others. I had been very prideful about my Catholic faith and had really thought that, as a Catholic, I was on the intellectual A-Team of Christianity in America. I depended on intellectuality, if that’s a word, to sustain me. Well, I was wrong about that. And I wanted to own up in public to my own responsibility for what happened to me, and not just blame the bishops and the bad priests. There were things that I did or failed to do that resulted in me losing my Catholic faith. If I had been a different kind of Catholic, I might have been able to withstand the time of testing and done what I believe is my duty as a journalist and as a Christian to defend the defenseless and speak out against injustice without blowing up my own faith.

Fordham targeted for plans to honor Supreme Court Justice Breyer

The Cardinal Newman Society, which demands orthodoxy at Catholic colleges and universities, is going after Fordham U for planning to honor Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

009_breyer.jpgHe wrote the decision in the case striking down state laws that ban “partial-birth abortion.”

According to a release from the CNS, its president, Patrick Reilly, contacted Fordham President the Rev. Joseph McShane, asking him to not to honor Breyer. Reilly says he has not received a response.

Fordham’s Stein Center for Law and Ethics plans to give Breyer its Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize on Oct. 29 at a dinner in NYC.

Reilly says:

The choice by Fordham University of Justice Breyer to receive this prestigious award is a far cry from an award established to recognize the ‘positive contributions of the legal profession to American society.’ Justice Breyer did not act objectively in Stenberg, but rather overstepped his authority and legislated from the bench.

If Fordham truly aspires to follow its own mission statement and be ‘Guided by its Catholic and Jesuit traditions,’ then it must rescind the offer of this award to Justice Breyer.

The case in question, Stenberg vs. Carhart (2000), struck down a Nebraska law that sought to criminalize “partial-birth abortion.”

Not surprisingly, Reilly cites Cardinal Egan’s recent statement on abortion. He also cites Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, which included: “I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court’s jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott.”

The website for the Stein Center for Law and Ethics describes the Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize like this:

Since its inception 33 years ago, the Fordham Stein Prize has become the honor roll of distinguished Americans whose dignified and dutiful careers in the law persuasively demonstrate the pervasive and positive contributions of the legal profession to American society.

Administered by Fordham University School of Law’s Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, a leading resource for the discussion and study of ethical issues confronting the legal profession, the Fordham Stein Prize honors individuals whose work exemplifies outstanding standards of professional conduct, promotes the advancement of justice, and brings credit to the profession by emphasizing in the public mind the contributions of lawyers to our society and to our democratic system of government.

Unless I’m missing it, the website does not explain why Breyer was chosen.

Rabbis reach out to Lehman Bros

A Jewish cultural group in NYC says it will offer counseling to people affected by today’s Wall Street meltdown.

stockbrokers.jpgThe group, Aish Hatorah, will hold a meeting tonight to discuss the implications of what’s happened. And rabbis will be made available for one-on-one counseling.

Rabbi Adam Jacobs of Aish Hatorah said:

Today’s devastation on Wall Street is something affecting New Yorkers of all walks of life. We feel the need to provide a religious forum for people who may want to speak with a Rabbi or to understand that no matter how difficult it may seem there is a greater good overlooking us. We expect many Wall Street employees, executives and others to join us to better understand the religious viewpoint on the collapse of two Wall Street giants, and to discuss their emotions and options.

Kerry Kennedy on the meaning of church

I interviewed Kerry Kennedy the other day about her new book, “Being Catholic Now.” I’m writing a feature about her that should be on LoHud/The Journal News in a few days.

tjndc5-5lqaied0bao1a67d5z8_layout.jpgWe spoke at the Borders Book in Mount Kisco, not far from where she lives.

One of RFK’s 11 children, she has been a lawyer for human rights causes for decades. She also had a much-publicized divorce from Andrew Cuomo.

She is a liberal/progressive/pro-choice Catholic who is not all that concerned about criticizing (or ignoring) the church hierarchy. She talks about it here:


Archdiocese of NY lashes out at media

There is a buzz building about a statement on page 4 of the new Catholic New York.

It is from Joe Zwilling, the long-time communications director for the Archdiocese of New York. It begins:

“Of late, the Archdiocese has received an unusual number of contacts from reporters who indicate that they are about to write scandalous or damaging information about the Archdiocese or the Archbishop.”

The statement then mentions a report in the Boston Globe about Kerry Kennedy’s new book, in which Judge Anne Burke was critical of Cardinal Egan. I blogged about this a few days ago.

The statement also mentions an article in Vanity Fair about Raffaello Follieri, the Italian con-man who pled guilty this week to conspiracy, money laundering and fraud. The article alleges a relationship between Egan and Follieri that the archdiocese denies.

What I’ve heard a few people ask this afternoon is…Can that be all? Or are other “scandalous or damaging” reports coming?

The statement, by the way, also includes this about the article in the Boston Globe:

“Interestingly, when the reporter heard Mr. Zwilling’s responses and was told that both his questions and the answers would be published in Catholic New York, he pleaded that his name not be mentioned. Evidently, he does know the importance of one’s good name — at least his own.”

It could be me, but I can’t find the statement on the CNY website…

Rev. Lacey remains papa of PAPA

tjndc5-5baqxu698s8sd28l6bw_layout.jpgThe Peekskill Area Pastor’s Association — known as PAPA — has re-elected the Rev. Adolphus Lacey, pastor of Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill, as its president.

The group also chose Archbishop Michael Champion, metropolitan of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church of North and South America and the Diaspora, as its vice president.

They begin one-year terms.