Big News Out Of Israel – And How Vassar Temple Deals with It

By Bob Ritter

Rabbi Berkowitz gave her Shabbat sermon last night, 2/12/16, on the news below out of Israel. The news about an enhanced egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Rabbi didn’t just report the news. She asked us to think about the meaning of the news. Was it a victory? For whom? And, if so, who lost?

I admire the way Rabbi Berkowitz engages us. Rabbi poses questions to us and invites us to share our thoughts and opinions. In this is way our community grows in understanding and respect. Rabbi is teaching by drawing us out – by engaging our each and every mind. Surely Rabbi’s own knowledge and views are valued, but Rabbi’s process reminds us that we all have a role too. And, Rabbi gives us opportunities to exercise our role by providing us with actionable ways we can make a difference. By empowering us our Rabbi is helping Vassar Temple to make a greater difference and to do our part, individually and as a community, to build a better world.

Each Friday evening YOU have an opportunity to be part of the wonderful way Vassar Temple is growing. We are growing by helping you, our family to grow. Vassar Temple’s tag line is “Where YOU Belong.” Come see and experience why that is very true.

Statement of the North American Reform Movement:

North American Reform Movement Applauds Passage of Plan to Enhance Egalitarian Prayer Space at Western Wall

Years of Organized Efforts Yield Significant Victory for Reform Jews, Women of the Wall: New Area to be Under Non-Orthodox Oversight

Sunday, January 31, 2016; NEW YORK, NY – In the most significant development in the nearly generation-long campaign by Women of the Wall and their allies for religious equality at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Israeli government today approved the creation of an enhanced egalitarian prayer space at the Wall, which, for the first time, will be under the authority of non-Orthodox leadership.

The government’s proposal – which is the result of a coordinated effort by the Reform and Conservative Movements, both in Israel and in North America, Women of the Wall, and the Jewish Federations of North America – calls for a significant revamping of the Western Wall area to create a more unified relationship between the three prayer areas (men’s, women’s, and egalitarian). The existing egalitarian space – near the area known as Robinson’s Arch – will be enhanced by the creation of an expanded platform with more access to the Western Wall, including from the ancient Herodian street. The site will be open through the main plaza by removing existing visual barriers and building a new, inviting entrance.

The approved proposal was the result of several years of intense negotiating, advocacy, and leadership, led by the North American Reform Movement and Women of the Wall and developed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, and the prime minister’s office.

In weeks and months to come, the North American Reform Movement will work with its partners in Israel to implement the proposal and to celebrate this new arrangement, which will allow all Jews to experience an egalitarian prayer space at the holy site.

“This is a groundbreaking agreement,” said Anat Hoffman, chairperson of Women of the Wall and the head of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center. Hoffman, an indefatigable crusader on behalf of this issue who experienced arrests and insults through the decades of struggle, said, “After years and years of insisting that we have an equal place for prayer, after enduring campaigns of abuse against us, and being encouraged by a wave of Jewish support from across the globe, we have accomplished this extraordinary first step. We will be able to stand as part of living history, read the Torah, and pray in the spirit of pluralism and equality that we believe is critical to a vibrant Judaism. Now, we look forward to the steps that will need to be taken to implement this plan.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), celebrated the agreement: “This effort is the result of the extraordinary commitment shown by those in Israel who wouldn’t agree to the second-class status imposed by the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment, and by all of us outside of Israel whose unconditional love for our Jewish State compels us to tirelessly advocate for a more equal, pluralistic, and Jewishly vibrant Israel.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism proclaimed, “This struggle and this potential victory is just the beginning of our efforts to ensure that the Jewish state of Israel is indeed a state where all forms of Judaism are practiced freely and without state prohibition – and where those of us who represent the largest force in Jewish life in the world today, the Reform Movement, will be a powerful force inside of Israel and a more visible alternative for worship for Israeli Jews.”

Signatory Organizations

American Conference of Cantors

ARZA – The Association of Reform Zionists of America

ARZA Canada


Association of Reform Jewish Educators

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

North American Federation of Temple Youth

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Union for Reform Judaism

Women of Reform Judaism

Women’s Rabbinic Network

World Union for Progressive Judaism


– See more at:

Eight Nights of Chanukah, Part VII

Melissa Wall celebrates the seventh night of Chanukah, and shares her love of Israeli music and the Jewish value of Ahavat Yisrael (Love for Israel)

Watch Melissa’s Video!

Activity ideas:  Give tzedakah to an Israeli organization or a local Jewish organization; watch an Israeli or Jewish-themed film together & discuss over popcorn; put on Israeli music or Klezmer and dance! Give to an organization that promotes religious freedom in Israel such as the Israel Religious Action Center.

Watch for these videos every morning in your inbox, or check the  Vassar Temple YouTube Channel.

We hope that you will join in the celebration by lighting, and celebrating these mitzvot, in your own homes!

How to Light Chanukah Candles

You can also celebrate religious freedom by joining Women of the Wall’s “It’s My Right To Light” Campaign, which is fighting for the inclusion of women in Israel’s national Chanukiyah lighting ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

More Chanukah resources:

Union for Reform Judaism Chanukah Resources Page

My Jewish Learning Chanukah Resource Page

May your Chanukah be filled with light and joy, and may we all bring light and joy to those who need it most!

Imagining a New Reality In Israel

Rabbi Uri Regev

At this year’s Shabbaton with Vassar Temple and Temple Beth-El we had an extraordinary leader, thinker, and speaker – Rabbi Uri Regev, Esg., President & CEO of Hiddush. Hiddush is a non-profit organization dedicated to religious freedom and equality, focused primarily on Israel. Here you can read about the vision of Rabbi Regev and Hiddush.

Rabbi Regev spoke to both congregations, on Friday evening at Vassar and on Saturday at Beth-El, and was warmly received. He provided liturgical, historical, political and cultural basis for the change that is needed in Israel so that Reform and Conservative Jews can enjoy the right to have a religious marriage ceremony honored. Israel is the only democracy in the world that limits the rights of free marriage. American Jews have proven that they can influence change, and Hiddush which has successfully championed the rights of Reform and Conservative Jews in the Courts in Israel, needs the support of American Jewry to influence the leadership in Israel. This Israeli news series demonstrates the urgency and centrality of freedom of marriage to Israelis.

What Hiddush is finding, through polls and research, is that there is broad Israeli desire for international support for their cause of marriage freedom. Click here for result of a poll release in 2014 by Hiddush.

You can learn much more and support the vision and purpose of Hiddush by going to One simple way of supporting Hiddush is to sign Hiddush’s Vision statement.

The Shabbaton’s with Vassar Temple and Temple Beth-El are a wonderful way in which our temples collaborate. While our rituals and buildings have their differences, we are united in friendship, love of Judaism, and our strong history in the greater Poughkeepsie area. It is a delightful experience and we must thank Rabbi Golomb and Rabbi Barnett, the temple leadership, and the congregants for another tremendous Shabbaton. Yahser Koach!

Israel News Sources – from The Jewish Federation of Dutchess County

I have posted this information by copying and pasting from an email. The links referenced below did NOT copy over. Please search for the resource and I can update and add the links at a latter date I will.

Good Morning:

Late yesterday, the Jewish Federations of North America sent out an email offering a long list of resources and links providing updated information about the current situation in Israel. Please see the full text of that message below. Additionally, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires sent out their own update and resources, and that text appears below as well.
We share this information with you in order to help our entire community remain as fully informed as possible and to identify ways to take action when possible.
From the Jewish Federations of North America:

Operation Protective Edge:
As hostilities continue in Israel, Israeli PM Netanyahu has ordered the IDF to intensify Operation Protective Edge, although he stopped short of ordering a ground invasion. With rockets continuing to be fired from Gaza toward Israel, the IDF has continued its air strikes against Hamas and other Gazan targets. A long, extended military operation remains a distinct possibility with officials on both sides unclear of when hostilities may end. And Israeli forces are doing everything possible to warn Palestinian residents of incoming airstrikes to avoid civilian casualties.

A previous update from Jewish Federations on the ongoing situation in Israel can be found here.
A resource page, which is being constantly updated by the Jewish Federations, can be found here.

• Times of Israel — Netanyahu orders army to intensify Gaza operation
• Jerusalem Post — IDF strikes 80 Gaza targets in under 30 minutes
• Haaretz — No end in sight for Operation Protective Edge
• New York Times — Israel Warns Gaza Targets by Phone and Leaflet
Recruitment continues across the country for AmeriCorps VISTA members to work with Holocaust survivors, including in Los Angeles. Jewish Federations have joined a coalition urging the United States government to deal humanely with the unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border into the U.S. And a new report on charitable giving shows that family influence is playing a larger role in philanthropic decisions.
Meanwhile, Federations are highlighted in Cleveland, Sarasota-Manatee and South Palm Beach County.


• Jewish Journal — Local groups receive volunteers to aid Holocaust survivors
• JTA — Jewish groups call on Obama to ‘welcome the stranger’
• eJewish Philanthropy — Family Influence Plays Growing Role in Giving Decisions, says Fidelity Charitable Giving Report


• Cleveland Jewish News — Talisman to honor hometown Holocaust survivors
• Sarasota Herald-Tribune — Woman leaves $1 million to Jewish federation
• Florida Sun-Sentinel — Adults join students for March of Living

Israel Advocacy:
A group of academics in Israel have established a new forum aimed at combating academic boycotts of the Jewish state. And an Israeli university is taking students on a 10 day trip to the U.S. in what program organizers are calling a “reverse Birthright.”

• Israel Hayom — Israel fights academic boycott
• JNS — Reverse Birthright: pioneering academic program takes Israelis on U.S. adventure
For more Israel advocacy news, see the Israel Action Network website.

Global Jewish News:
Jewish Agency for Israel chairman Natan Sharansky is worried that the recent spike in French aliyah could mean the end of Jewish life in Europe. Ira Forman, the anti-Semitism monitor for the U.S. State Department, is working to prevent European bans on ritual circumcision. And Jewish leaders across the world are condemning the appointment of a German Neo-Nazi political leader to a European Parliament committee on civil liberties.

• JTA — In Paris, Sharansky warns of ‘beginning of end’ for European Jewry
• JTA — U.S. intervenes in Europe’s circumcision wars
• Jerusalem Post — Jews blast inclusion of Neo-Nazi on EU Civil Liberties c’tee


Speaking at a peace conference in Israel, a senior White House official condemned rocket fire from Gaza and affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself from attacks. Despite the current turmoil in the region, a group of Jews from the U.S. made aliyah this week.
Domestically, businesses in southern Israel are struggling as employees and customers alike stay home until the situation becomes safer. The family of an American teenager allegedly beaten by Israeli police in the West Bank is pushing for his quick return home. And what was initially a joke application for smartphones has been repurposed by Israeli developers to provide real-time updates on incoming missile attacks.

Regional News:

• Haaretz — U.S. calls for restraint, confirms Israel’s right to defense
• YNet News — 64 US Jews make aliyah despite escalating security situation
Domestic News:

• Haaretz — Business in south hurting as workers, shoppers stay home
• Washington Post — Family of U.S. teen beaten in the West Bank urges for fast return
• Times of Israel — Red Alert app offers a Yo! update on missile attacks

For more Israel news, see the weekly JFNA Israel news page.
For more security news, see JFNA’s Secure Community Network (SCN) website.