Female activist arrested at Western Wall to speak in Scarsdale

Anat Hoffman, a leader of Reform Judaism who received international attention in July for being arrested for carrying a Torah at the Western Wall, will speak next Friday (Oct. 22) at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale.

Hoffman is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and co-founder of Women of the Wall, which fights for the right of women to “wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.”

The Shabbat service with Hoffman will start at 7:45 p.m. at WRT.

According to news reports, Hoffman was interrogated for hours after her arrest.

In a 2008 interview, Hoffman, who grew up in Israel, explained how she became a rare Reform activist in Israel: “I was a totally secular Jew—the choice I’d seen in Israel was to be Orthodox or nothing—and there was a general agreement among us Israelis that we didn’t do “Jewish stuff.” But my attitude changed when my husband and I got involved with the Westwood Free Minyan, which met at UCLA Hillel. It opened our eyes to the fact that rabbis could be friendly and accepting. I also learned that there is more than one way to be a Jew, and returned to Israel with a strong desire to be a religious-pluralism activist.”

A video shows that Hoffman got pretty roughed up by police when she wouldn’t cooperate:

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NYC seminary to host Jewish/Muslim forum

Just announced: The Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC will host a forum on the Jewish and Muslim experiences in America and how to foster Jewish/Muslim cooperation on Oct. 25.

The 7:30 p.m. program is being sponsored by the seminary (the main seminary of Conservative Judaism), the Islamic Society of North America and Hartford Seminary.

The seminary is hailing the event, called “Judaism and Islam in America Today: Assimilation and Authenticity,” as a “landmark program.”

In 2007, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Reform Jewish movement, addressed the Islamic Society of North America.

According to a release:


The participants in the roundtable include Arnold M. Eisen, chancellor of JTS; Sherman Jackson, professor of Islam at the University of Michigan; and Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary. The moderator will be Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America and director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary. The panel will discuss the shared challenges faced by Jews and Muslims who live in this country, focusing on the delicate balance between assimilation into a predominantly secular and Christian society and the desire to retain one’s religious and cultural authenticity.


When Eisen became chancellor of the seminary a few years ago, he said that one of his priorities would  be to make JTS a center of Jewish/Muslim dialogue. This would appear to be a step in that direction.

The release also says:


Despite a history of close relationships and religious dialogue spanning more than a millennium, the difficult recent relations between Jews and Muslims have created a degree of mistrust and misunderstanding that many religious and communal leaders are eager to resolve. Both the workshop and public roundtable will offer an opportunity for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders to come together and discuss the points of commonality in Jewish and Muslim experience in this country. Participants will also explore ways in which American Jews and Muslims, with all that they share, can work toward better cooperation.

Carville/Matalin at Al Smith Dinner

The guest speakers at this year’s Al Smith Dinner will be your favorite husband-and-wife comedy/political analysis/talking heads team, James Carville and Mary Matalin.

The 65th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner will be on October 19.

You have to figure that Matalin will be the favorite of the crowd. The Al Smith Dinner is the big annual fundraiser of the Archdiocese of NY, with millions going to the aid of sick, poor and underprivileged children in New York.

Will Carville, the “Ragin’ Cajun,” be out of his element with NYC’s high society? You’ll have to go to find out.

For ticket info, contact Meghan McGuinness, Executive Director, at 646.794.3315 or meghan.mcguinness@archny.org.


A host of Jewish courses/conferences coming to Westchester

Jewish programming galore:

1. First off, the Westchester Jewish Council (formerly the Westchester Jewish Conference) is now running the Westchester Adult Jewish Education Project — 10-week courses on Jewish topics that are offered around the county.

Three tri-mesters between now and next June will offer classes on subjects like “Survey of Jewish-German history,” “Women’s Inclusion in Modern Judaism,” “Jewish Short Stories,” “Leviticus,” “The Rise of Zionism,” “Introduction to Jewish Mysticism,” “Israel: Conflicts and Contradictions,” “Why We Pray What We Pray” and more.

Good stuff.

I can’t find a single listing for all the courses on the WJC website, but you can look them up individually on the website calendar or contact Nina Lubin at waje@wjcouncil.org.

2. On Saturday, Nov. 13, the WJC and the Westchester Board of Rabbis will offer 30 different courses taught by 30 different Westchester rabbis on ONE NIGHT at Temple Israel Center of White Plains. It’s the “Chevruta-Night of Jewish Learning and Celebration.”

According to a release: “After 2 rounds of 45 minute classes, we will gather for a “Beit Cafe/Coffee House” featuring the music of the “Moody Jews” accompanied by the best kosher Chinese food, sushi, and drink you can find.  The event will take place at Temple Israel Center of White Plains with registration beginning at 7:00 pm.  The cost is $20 per person before Oct 31 and $25 thereafter.  Registration details will be announced next week.  Stay tuned and plan on attending with your friends (adults only please).”

The Moody Jews!

If I get more details, I’ll pass them along.

3. Also at Temple Israel Center, UJA-Federation of New York’s Westchester branch will bring together congregational leaders next Sunday (Oct. 24) to talk about…sharing resources.

If government can do it (well, talk about it), why not synagogues? Times are tough for everyone.

The goal of the SYNERGY program is to maximize resources. It will be interesting to see what congregational leaders come up with.

4. Finally, the WJC is also sponsoring a program on Oct. 21 about how Jewish families can measure support for Israel (or lack thereof) on college campuses when going through the college selection process.

According to a release: “The workshop is not designed to steer students towards or away from any particular school nor will the workshop evaluate the Israel tone of any one school.  Rather it will help students and their parents learn how to evaluate the school’s position and general tone towards Israel as part of the increasingly complex college selection process.”

The workshop will be at 7 p.m. at at the Solomon Schechter School in Hartsdale. Details are HERE.

Statements on gay bullying (Episcopal) and political involvement (Catholic)

I received two statements this morning from New York religious leaders about issues of great importance to them (and to many others).

First, I got a statement from Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of NY, about the several recent examples of bullying of gay people.

Not long after, I got one from the New York State Catholic Bishops Conference — representing Archbishop Dolan and seven other bishops — about why and how Catholics should take part in the political process.

Two very different issues.

Sisk writes, in part:


No doubt you are aware of the recent widely reported incidences of bullying and invasion of privacy that resulted in the suicides of five young people in California, Indiana, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Texas. The tragic story of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge last week, may have struck closest to home. But each of these deaths strikes at the body of Christ, and calls us as Christ’s disciples to answer cruelty and intolerance with loving compassion.

The Episcopal Church has long affirmed the dignity, equality and inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That these latest deaths should occur so near to the anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Wyoming 12 years ago (Oct. 12, 1998) reminds us that there is much work yet to do to instill these values in the communities we serve.


He concludes: “I urge you to remember lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth in your prayers. May Christ comfort and heal the hearts of those most affected by these recent tragedies. And may their memories inspire us to more vocal expressions of justice, compassion and love.”

The Catholic bishops, meanwhile, open with this:


We Catholics are called to look at politics as we are called to look at everything – through the lens of our faith. While we are free to join any political party that we choose or none at all, we must be cautious when we vote not to be guided solely by party loyalty or by self interest. Rather, we should be guided in evaluating the important issues facing our state and nation by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of His Church.

Our national and state elected officials have profound influence on countless matters of great importance, such as the right to life, issues of war and peace, the education of children and how we treat the poor and vulnerable. We must look at all of these issues as we form our consciences in preparation for Election Day.


The bishops focus on the right to life: “The right to life is the right through which all others flow. To the extent candidates reject this fundamental right by supporting an objective evil, such as legal abortion, euthanasia or embryonic stem cell research, Catholics should consider them less acceptable for public office. As Faithful Citizenship teaches, “Those who knowingly, willingly, and directly support public policies or legislation that undermine fundamental moral principles cooperate with evil.” ”

The bishops’ statement also outlines questions that Catholics should ask politicians (and themselves) about the right to life, “parental rights in education,” “protecting marriage,” immigration reform, access to health care, protecting the poor, and religious liberty.

The statement ends with a plea to vote on Election Day.

God is coming to public television

On three nights next week — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — PBS will show a 6-hour documentary called…“God in America.

It’s no big deal, just 400 years of religious history in the U.S.

WNET — Channel 13 in New York — will show it each night from 9 to 11 p.m.

I’ll let PBS explain it:


God in America examines the potent and complex interaction between religion and democracy, the origins of the American concept of religious liberty, and the controversial evolution of that ideal in the nation’s courts and political arena. The series considers the role religious ideas and institutions have played in social reform movements from abolition to civil rights, examining the impact of religious faith on conflicts from the American Revolution to the Cold War, and how guarantees of religious freedom created a competitive American religious marketplace. It also explores the intersection of political struggle and spiritual experience in the lives of key American historical figures including Franciscan Friars and the Pueblo leader Po’pay, Puritan leader John Winthrop and dissident Anne Hutchinson, Catholic Bishop John Hughes, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, reform Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, Scopes trial combatants William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, evangelist Billy Graham, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell.


You can read program summaries HERE.

IN ADDITION, Channel 13 will add a local show called “God in New York” on Monday from 11 p.m. to midnight.

As WNET describes it:


God in New York is a one hour program that address how religion has shaped the social and cultural landscape of New York City. By tracing the roots of New York’s religious history, God In New York examines how New York evolved into an urban center of religious diversity where Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others peacefully live and worship alongside one another.

Gay wedding announcement in Jewish paper leads to debate

It’s been several years since many newspapers — including the NY Times and the Journal News — began printing engagement and wedding announcements for same-sex couples.

I haven’t heard much of an outcry. But I don’t know how many papers in the South and Midwest print gay announcements. It would be interesting for some media prof to study, don’t you think?

Anyway, a Jewish newspaper in Jersey recently ran a wedding announcement for two men, complete with a picture of their two smiling faces. Apparently, the New Jersey Jewish Standard took a lot of heat from the region’s Orthodox  community and announced that it would not make the mistake again.

The paper’s statement included this: “The Jewish Standard has always striven to draw the community together, rather than drive its many segments apart. We have decided, therefore, since this is such a divisive issue, not to run such announcements in the future.”

But the Jewish Week reports that the vast majority of comments to the paper are disappointed with the paper’s flip-flop.

Publisher James Janoff told the JW: “We did not expect the heated response we got, and — in truth — we believe now that we may have acted too quickly in issuing the follow-up statement, responding only to one segment of the community. We are now having meetings with local rabbis and community leaders. We will also be printing, in the paper and online, many of the letters that have been pouring in since our statement was published.”

If you go the Jewish Standard’s website, beneath its initial statement, you can read dozens of comments.

A new approach to running Catholic schools in New York

Well, the Archdiocese of NY is finally preparing to take a big step to improve the financial health of its school system.

No, I’m not talking about closing more schools — which is also going to happen.

I’m talking about breaking the traditional link between parishes and parish schools, which puts tremendous financial pressure on many parishes to support money-losing schools. Many pastors have told me over the years about the tensions created by having to prop up schools.

The archdiocese is moving toward a new regional system that will allow groups of parishes — led by new regional boards of education — to oversee groups of Catholic schools.

The church outlined what’s coming in a new report released today, which describes a three-year period of planning and reconfiguring things. Archbishop Dolan has been talking about this for months, but now the process, it appears, is underway.

What is certain to get the most attention, at least for a while, will be point 1.iii on page 18: “Recommend schools to close or merge for the 2011-12 school year and provide suitable alternative Catholic school options to affected families.”

The archdiocese has closed dozens of schools in recent years. Are we talking about 5 more? 10? 20? Who knows.

But the real plan, the report makes clear, is to provide a LONG-TERM foundation for Catholic education in the 10 counties of the archdiocese. This means not only coming up with a new regional system for operating remaining schools, but also improving and modernizing academic standards and facing the bedrock question of how to best give Catholic students a firm Catholic identity.

It’s all in the report, Pathways to Excellence. You can read it HERE.

Segregation vs. diversity in church

It was in 1963 that Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous observation about Sunday mornings:


We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. Now, I’m sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body. Now, I’m not saying that society must sit down and wait on a spiritual and moribund church as we’ve so often seen. I think it should have started in the church, but since it didn’t start in the church, our society needed to move on. The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God.


A new study by two profs shows that things haven’t changed all that much: 9 in 10 congregations have a single racial group that accounts for more than 80 percent of membership.

Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University, and Christopher P. Scheitle, senior research assistant at The Pennsylvania State University, published the findings in the academic journal Sociological Inquiry in August.

“Socially, we’ve become much more integrated in schools, the military and businesses. But in the places where we worship, segregation still seems to be the norm,” Dougherty says in a statement.

The study shows that churches have a particularly hard time keeping minority members they already have.

Congregations that are diverse share certain characteristics: diverse leadership; racially inclusive worship; and they provide opportunities for members to get togetheer.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a white member of a Latino church or a black attending a white church or what the specific groups are,” Dougherty says. “If you’re the under-represented group, do you call it ‘my church’? That feeling of ‘us’ is the key.”

Photo: Library of Congress

Interfaith Sunday

A couple of Westchester interfaith notes for this coming Sunday (Oct. 3):

1. Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua and the Upper Westchester Muslim Society, currently based in Thornwood, will meet at the mosque at 11:30 a.m. to pack relief boxes for victims of Pakistan’s terrible flooding.

They’re inviting neighbors to contribute goods — bed sheets, biscuit packs, fruit bars, powdered milk, nuts, soap, etc. — and to help with the packing.

The UWMS is located at 401 Clairmont Avenue in Thornwood.

2. Also Sunday, the American Muslim Women’s Association, a Westchester group, is holding an “interfaith movie night” from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at Scarsdale library (no, it’s not really nighttime).

The movie is “Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.”

A panel discussion will include Rabbi Richard Jacobs of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, Rev. Carol Huston of Community Unitarian Church at White Plains and Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan of the American Muslim Women’s Association.