October 25, 2007
Briefs: Chabad launches Israel education program, Shoah indexer to speak, Halachah in the age of tes
In an effort to create greater attachment between American Jews and the Jewish state, Chabad next week will begin teaching a course called "The Land and the Spirit: Why We All Care About Israel."
The program, free except for the cost of a textbook, will be open to the public and offered at various times at hundreds of locations nationwide, including more than 30 in California. Details are available at http://www.myjli.com.
Two years in development, the course is coincidentally taking place a few months after a study by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman found significant levels of detachment between younger Jews and Israel, with less than half of respondents under age 35 agreeing that "Israel's destruction would be a personal tragedy."
"We've been teaching Israel the wrong way -- instead of talking about it on a spiritual level or a historical level, that it is intertwined with the Jewish soul that goes back to Abraham, that it is a spiritual land," said Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie, a member of Chabad's national advisory committee who will teach a course in Yorba Linda and another to doctors at UC Irvine Medical Center. "If you don't deal with the essential spiritual connection, then you are up a creek without a paddle."
-- Brad A. Greenberg, Staff Writer
Holocaust Records Access in the Works
Next time you complain about digital overload, think about processing more than 100 million pages of paper, cards and images, containing 17.5 million names.
That's the job facing Paul A. Shapiro, director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Shapiro, who will speak at two local universities on Nov. 1, is the man credited with spearheading a seven-year effort to pry loose from the International Red Cross and European governments the massive hoard of Holocaust-related documentation, known as the International Tracing Service.
Located at Bad Arolsen in Germany, the service's primary job has been to allow relatives to track the fates of Holocaust victims and to back up compensation claims by concentration camp inmates, slave laborers and others.
Jews make up about one-fourth of the 17.5 million recorded names, Shapiro said in a phone interview. The others are political opponents, deportees, displaced persons and other non-Jews targeted by the Nazis.
Obtaining the records for public dissemination was a bureaucratic nightmare, requiring the assent of 11 different governments, financial support by the German government and cooperation from Red Cross functionaries, said Shapiro.
The long-range process of digitizing the material for online access has begun, and the Holocaust museum expects to start accepting public inquiries by the end of this year.
Museum authorities have come under severe criticism by some survivor groups for not making all the material available at a much faster clip.
"I can understand the frustration of the survivors, and it is one of the great tragedies that so many passed away while we were trying to get hold of the records," Shapiro said.
However, he explained, the millions of papers must first be analyzed and categorized before they can make any sense to concerned family members or historians.
Nevertheless, the criticism has stung enough for the Holocaust museum to embark on a national outreach program, which includes Shapiro's two talks here.
His main talk, sponsored by the Sigi Ziering Institute, will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Gindi Auditorium of the American Jewish University (AJU, formerly the University of Judaism). To RSVP, phone (310) 440-1279, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier in the day, Shapiro will speak at 12:15 p.m. at the Athenaeum of Claremont McKenna College in Claremont. For information, phone (909) 621-8244. -- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
Medicine, Technology and Halachah
Does an egg donor have to be Jewish for the baby to be Jewish? What about a surrogate mother? Are Jews allowed to donate their organs? At what point is life support allowed to be removed?
Such questions about modern medicine weren't directly addressed by our sages thousands of years ago, because they involve technologies that didn't exist yet. But as medicine advances daily, halachah (Jewish law) is keeping the pace.
"It's always important for healthcare personnel who are concerned about the Torah-perspective on life to know what the Torah and rabbinic law tell us and advise us on the way we should conduct ourselves both in our personal and professional life," said Dr. Daniel Wohlgelernter, event chair of "Medicine and Halacha," a conference on the topic taking place Nov. 1-4 at Young Israel of Beverly Hills. Sponsored by The Jerusalem Center for Research, the weekend shabbaton is for healthcare professionals and interested community members.
The yarchei kallah-style conference will not only offer lectures and panel discussions but chevruata (partnered study) -- separate for men and women -- of original sources. Physicians are eligible for up to 20 continuing medical education credits for attending the conference.
Observant physicians have always had to grapple with many halachic issues, such as when is it permitted to break Shabbat to work and whose life the Torah deems important, and many aspects of the sages' opinions can be applied to modern situations. The conference, said Rabbi Yaakov Weiner, the Center for Research's founder and a presenter, will "give a taste of the underlying thought processes that contribute to contemporary halachic decision-making."
"Given the continued flourishing of technological advances in medicine, it's important to understand it's necessary to use that technology with the halachic approach to life," Wohlgelernter said.
-- Amy Klein, Religion Editor
Local AJCommittee Delegation at U.N.
Five lay leaders of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) returned recently from a blitz of meetings with foreign leaders in New York.
In what has become an annual rite for the AJC's national leadership -- joined five years ago by members of the L.A. chapter -- they participated in a diplomatic marathon during the second week of the United Nations General Assembly, meeting with diplomats from 70 countries to drum up support for Israel.
Los Angeles leaders spoke privately with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, Hungary, Uruguay and Uzbekistan.