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New York Jewish Week notes "formal mergers between Conservative and Reform synagogues, movements that retain notable distinctions in theological outlook and liturgy, remain rare. Some eight American synagogues are members of both movements."
All of this struck a nerve because I grew up in a merged shul -- Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs -- which served the needs all the Jews in a 60-mile radius.
When you are a minority in a small town, internal distinctions are less significant. Reform. Conservative. Orthodox. Unaffliated. Secular. Survivors. Veterans. Yiddish-speakers. Poets. Socialists. Conservatives. Those who doubt God and those who do not. We were all Jews. Where I grew up, we all went to one shul.
In 1956 the completed Center's physical facilities consisted of a modern sanctuary, library, offices, patio, meeting and classrooms. Temple Isaiah had won recognition and praise from architects and laymen as being among the finest facilities of its kind in the country. The unifying experiences of the war years and the leaderships' vision of unity instilled a philosophy of total service which strengthened and grew.
Its service to the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox communities evoked much interest from coast to coast. This unique Temple/Center was now the focal point of all organized Jewish communal life in the Palm Springs area.
The rabbi, Dr. Joseph Hurwitz, was a JTS graduate. There was a daily Orthodox minyan.
We alternated the Friday night services. Every other Friday, we would get out the Reform prayer books. The rabbi would conduct a Reform service. The next week, we got out the Conservative siddurim. The rabbi would conduct a Conservative service. They had what looked like Christmas cookies at the Oneg. (My grandmother's family came from Vienna. My grandfather came from Zvenigorodka, near Kiev, but she had the best recipes.)
One shul. One rabbi. Great cookies.
When someone died, the rabbi came to your house. A wedding? The rabbi performed the service. Out after curfew? The police took you to the rabbi’s house . . . but that's another story.
Two High Holy Days services were held this fall. Rather than proving divisive, former congregational president Rona Chafetz Train says it showed how welcoming the new congregation can be. “The beautiful thing is, people went back and forth between the services,” she relates. “People who had never been to a Conservative service could see one, and the same for the Reform. Everybody was going around with a smile on their face, hugging each other.”
Shul mergers -- coming soon to a congregation near you.
Anita Brenner is an attorney in Pasadena with a bad attitude and a good record
On Christmas Eve, after the minyan, where I said Kaddish for my grandmother, I went home to La Canada Flintridge and stopped at a sporting goods store. The checkout line was long.
While I waited, an angry woman stood behind me, talking on her cell phone. She complained (into the cell phone) that her father had given money to a woman named Susan. "I'm his daughter and he put HER on the deed to the house..."
She was clearly very angry. But I almost lost it when she related (into the cell phone) her confrontation with her father’s friend. Susan explained that the father had insisted on giving her money. The angry woman related her insult to Susan: "SO I TOLD SUSAN, YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A JEW!"
I turned and stared at the woman with the cell phone. She glared at me. She was clearly very angry. I glared back. I thought about interrupting her conversation, but I decided not to.
I had just written a nice soft Chanukah column for the local (not demographically Jewish) newspaper The candle throws its beams. I felt both vulnerable because it was my grandmother’s yahrzeit, and connected to Kal Yisrael, it being Chanukah, after all, as it always is on my grandmother’s yahrzeit.
But I wanted to confront her, to say, "&^%$@$#, my cousins who served in wartime, and my husband and son were in the Marine Corps, just to protect your right to free speech."
But I didn’t.
Interesting that what came into my head was that we are Americans too.
Granted, she was bigger than me, and younger and probably a psycho. If I had confronted her, would I have been lighting the wrong kind of candle? Or would it have been a never again kind of line in the sand that needed to be drawn, particularly since Chanukah in the Diaspora is not just about the Maccabees or my grandmother’s yahrzeit.
Chanukah in America also addresses important issues of identity (See video below).
What would you do?
Shlomo Klein suffers a strange case of mistaken identity in 'Ho Ho Ho Chanukah' -- from Jewlarious.comAnita Brenner is an attorney in Pasadena with a bad attitude and a good record
Another guest post from Friend of Bloggish Anita Susan Brenner:
Westsiders have a lot of choices: Federations, congresses, associations and shuls of every denomination. Out here in Old Town Pasadena, I can walk for hours without ever seeing a kippa. My kosher chicken doesn't come from the Kosher Club -- it comes from Trader Joe's. Instead of Jeff's Kosher Sausage, we eat veggie burgers and weird tofu.
Do you Westside people have any idea how spoiled you are?
Which is why, last Saturday night, we Havdalah-ed over to Temple Beth Am for a performance of "Jewish Soul Music" by the IKAR Band.
Maybe I'm jealous...like...we don't even have an IKAR in Pasadena and until the concert, I had never seen an oud. (See video below.) Worse still, at the concert, there were some awesome women from Ruach Nashim, the annual women's spirituality retreat at Camp Ramah (founded, not by Pasadenans, but by Westsiders!)
Life is so unfair.
About the concert. Our daughter's college friend, Lizzi Jill Honeyrose Heydemann, sings with the IKAR Band. During the week, Lizzi is a fourth-year student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, but she is also a talented musician and songwriter. To our delight, the evening's program included some of Hillel Tigay's original compositions.
The music was meditative and trippy in an semi-Sephardic, non-Ashkenazi sort of way. Even the klezmer and Carlebach pieces had a unique sound, the result, Tigay explained, of the Middle Eastern instruments used by the band.
There were two ouds, which, I learned, is an ancestor of the guitar. I think I saw a buzuq and a mijwiz as well. (Note: the Arabic word al-oud, "the oud," became "lute" in English.)
Most of these instruments were played by a brilliantly-talented 14-year-old Milken student by the name of Asher Levy. Remember his name. He'll go far.
Anita Brenner is an attorney in Pasadena with a bad attitude and a great record.
In the past couple of weeks since the tragedy in Mumbai, I have read many accounts of what happened at the Chabad House.
I, like many, was horrified by the murder of the young couple running the Chabad House. But it took a Republican Jewish Coalition newsletter to remind me that I once sat in that now infamous building.
A picture they used to illustrate one of the items on their newsletter “Silence=Acceptance” was actually a photo I took of the outside of the Chabad House in Mumbai. Thinking the photo looked vaguely familiar, I searched for it on the internet and found it with an article I wrote during a trip to India with my religion writing class from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
While in Mumbai, I wrote about the flood of Israelis who visit India after their army service and I sought out the Chabad House as the natural place to find and interview such Israelis.
The friend, a survivor who calls me "doll," was in the Kaddish year for his wife. I was long past the Kaddish month for our son, but I still took strength in the ebbs and flows of the weekday liturgy.
All of which rendered me vulnerable to the wonders of shakshuka. The Cafe Eilat had just opened, with wall murals, giant fish tanks and a big screen TV tuned to Israeli stations. They had parve. They had dairy. They had feta. They had fish.
That first visit, I didn't order the shakshuka. I had the hummus plate. Over in the corner, there was a man in a kippah digging into the contents of a sizzling iron skillet that looked like this photo.
I was intrigued. The next time we went to breakfast, I ordered the shakshuka. It was an incredible mix of tomatoes, peppers, Mysterious Other Stuff and two poached eggs, all to be sopped up with incredible fresh baked bread. The coffee was good, too.
I was hooked. Some people think I'm religious, but there were days when I got up early for the promise of the post-minyan shakshuka.
Which is why I was heartbroken last week to see Cafe Eilat boarded up.
What happened? I asked the guy at the falafel place across the street. He shrugged and said, "Only Hashem knows."
What happened? I asked at the market. No one knew.
"The bulk of the business is untouched by fire, but (per protocol) Cafe Eilat will require clearance from the Health Department before it can again open for business," explained LAFD Spokesman Brian Humphrey. He said an estimated dollar loss is still being tabulated. An overheated aquarium motor near the seating area started the fire. Humphrey said the aquarium is believed to be a decorative item for ambiance rather than storage for kosher fish.
Several opposition newspapers and lawmakers in Egypt called on the country’s top Islamic cleric to resign Saturday for shaking the Israeli president’s hand at a conference.
Egyptian media has been running a photo of Grand Sheik Mohammed Seyed Tantawi shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres almost daily since the two met at a United Nations-sponsored interfaith dialogue in New York last month. The photo has been accompanied by critical editorials and comments by lawmakers.
Al-Osboa newspaper said in an editorial Saturday that Peres’ hands were tainted with the blood of thousands of Palestinians who have lost their homes in Israel.
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