Happy Independence Day Ukraine

Today is Ukraine Independence Day (and my mother’s birthday) and yesterday was Kharkov Victory Day, so it’s a wonderful time to be here in Kharkov. Our group is currently at the Kharkov Hillel office and the students and staff are great.

Here is the press release about our mission:

AMERICAN JEWISH JOINT DISTRIBUTION COMMITTEE SENDING UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN STUDENTS TO UKRAINE IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION

A group of fifteen undergraduate students from Hillel at the University of Michigan (www.umhillel.org) will travel to Ukraine through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (www.jdc.org) on August 22, 2005 to restore a Jewish cemetery, refurbish community facilities and discuss Jewish identity with local peers.

“Ukraine is a major historic center of Jewish life,” said Linda Levi, JDC Assistant Executive Vice President. “As the Jews in these countries rebuild what was lost in the Holocaust and destroyed by years of communist rule, we want our young leaders to appreciate the fact that we have a role to play in helping revive the rich intellectual, spiritual and communal life in these Jewish communities.”

From August 22-31, 15 students (see attached list) from the University of Michigan along with Rabbi Jason Miller (Assistant Director of Hillel) and Alexis Frankel (Program Director of U-M Hillel) will travel to Kharkov, Konotop and Kiev in Ukraine, where they will join their peers from Kharkov Hillel to paint apartments of Jewish families in need and refurbish Jewish community facilities. They will also meet with community leaders and local youth to discuss the challenges facing Ukrainian Jewry and the JDC’s role in addressing those issues.

This project is a partnership between JDC, University of Michigan Hillel, and Kharkov Hillel, and is financially supported by grants from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Mandell L. and Madeleine H. Berman Foundation, as well as a few angel donors to the project.

Rabbi Jason Miller, assistant director of U-M Hillel noted the importance of not only the volunteering component of this mission, but also the social experience of spending time with Jewish peers in the Former Soviet Union. “The cultural exchange that will take place between the Michigan students and the college students in Ukraine speaks volumes about the impact of globalization on the Jewish community. They are thousands and thousands of miles apart geographically, but this mission will bring Jewish students much closer together and hopefully they will realize the many commonalities they share. This experience is all about partnerships, and watching our U-M students partner with the Ukrainian students to perform acts of chesed (righteousness) will have a lasting effect on all of us.” Miller hopes this will experience will create a new trend for other Hillel campus organizations.

“We are excited to be a part of this opportunity for young Jews to volunteer alongside their peers in Ukraine as they revitalize the community and ultimately become advocates for global Jewish solidarity,” said Lynn Schusterman, President of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “These students are joining together to demonstrate their commitment to a strong Jewish future.

“Some people say service to others is the rent we pay for space on this planet. I think service to others is the down payment we make to assure a safe, secure home on earth for our children and grandchildren.”

This mission is part of a program JDC has developed in coordination with International Hillel (hillel.org) to offer short-term volunteer experiences to groups of university students during their school breaks. The purpose is to engage the students and empower them to take on leadership roles in advocating for global Jewish solidarity.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) serves as the overseas arm of the organized North American Jewish community providing relief for Jews in need, promoting Jewish renewal, rebuilding Jewish communities, and helping Israel address its most urgent social challenges.

University of Michigan Hillel is one of the largest student organizations on campus, housing over thirty student-run programs that enrich the lives of Jewish students at the University of Michigan.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

New Website launched

Check out Adat Shalom Synogogue’s new website (Some areas are still under construction).

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rainy Amsterdam

I just landed in Amsterdam (on my way to Ukraine with 15 University of Michigan students) and it’s very rainy. The architecture is beautiful and the people seem very nice.

I’ll be leaving for Kiev in a few hours to spend the day there and then it is off to Kharkov to meet the 15 university students there who will be paired with our students. I don’t plan on blogging while in Ukraine, but will post some reflections and photos when I return.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Double Simcha Day

Mazel tov to Jenny Cohn and Brian Schwartz. I officiated at their beautiful wedding last night and then it was off to Elissa’s cousin Hillary Sussman’s Bat Mitzvah party. The party was so much fun and seeing Josh dance with the “big kids” was a treat for the whole family.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

JTS Wants Student Input, After All

From The Jewish Week

Students at the Jewish Theological Seminary — many of whom favor a more progressive chancellor than retiring Ismar Schorsch — were shut out from a seat on the committee searching for his successor.

Now, students at the Conservative movement’s seminary were likely surprised this week to find a letter from the search committee soliciting their views.

“The members of the search committee are mindful that the position we seek to fill has been occupied by truly outstanding personalities, including Solomon Schechter, Cyrus Adler, Louis Finkelstein, Gerson Cohen and Ismar Schorsch,” the co-chairmen of the search committee wrote to the students. “We seek a person of comparable distinction who can lead JTS to meet the important opportunities and challenges facing JTS and the Jewish community over the years ahead.”

The co-chairs, Robert S. Rifkind and Gershon Kekst, then wrote: “We earnestly solicit your advice as to the direction the search should take to meet the needs of JTS and the Jewish community it serves. We invite any suggestions you may have as to particular candidates who should be considered by the committee.”

A spokeswoman for the seminary, Elise Dowell, said the students were not the only ones to get the letter. She said it went to hundreds of people from all streams of Judaism, including all members of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Jewish academic professionals, and undisclosed Jewish foundation executives and community leaders.

Dowell said that since the letter was sent last week there have been “quite a few recommendations.” Asked how the committee would react if there was overwhelming support for one candidate, particularly one who favors the ordination of gay rabbis, she replied: “All suggestions and recommendations are evaluated and taken seriously by the committee.”

It is up to the seminary’s board of directors to make the final selection, and Dowell declined to say how many names the selection committee was asked to send the board.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

3 Jews on the field at once!

In what may have been a baseball first, the Boston Red Sox had no fewer than three Jewish players on the field at once in their August 8 victory over the Texas Rangers.

At the top of the game’s ninth inning, Gabe Kapler was in left field, Adam Stern in right and Kevin Youkilis at third base.

“It’s conceivable that this is the first time this has ever happened,” said Martin Abramowitz, president of Jewish Major Leaguers, a Boston-based nonprofit that tracks Jewish contributions to baseball history.

The group, which in 2003 published a set of baseball cards devoted to the 142 Jews who’ve played in the Major Leagues since the 1870s, is planning to produce a card commemorating the August 8 game.

Though there have been at least seven or eight “twofers,” Abramowitz said, baseball threesomes have proved far more elusive. Though a number of teams have had three or more Jews on their rosters (the 1946 New York Giants had five), the Red Sox may have been the first to field three at once.

According to Abramowitz, it was the Los Angeles Dodgers of the late 1950s and early ’60s that played host to baseball’s longest-lived Jewish trio, Sandy Koufax and brothers Larry and Norm Sherry, but since Koufax and Larry Sherry were both pitchers, it would have been impossible for them both to have played at the same time.

But despite its rareness, Abramowitz is not terribly surprised by the development.

“It’s the law of averages,” he said. “It had to happen at some point.”

Asked if the defending champion Red Sox, which have a Jewish general manager (Theo Epstein), can be regarded as a “Jewish team,” Abramowitz hesitated.

“The Sox are a great team,” he said. “They’re driven by questions of talent and winning, and that’s as it should be.”

But Abramowitz, a onetime Yankees fan who now roots for the Red Sox, wasn’t really in the mood to entertain lofty question like “Why the Red Sox?” and “Why now?” He had work to do.

“Further research is required,” he said. “I haven’t had the chance to go through all the box scores yet.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Circle of Life (on HBO)

This past Sunday I attended a funeral and a Bat Mitzvah celebration. Sounds like nothing new or different for a rabbi. But I was able to “be at” these two life-cycle events without ever leaving the comfort of my home… or the comfort of my couch for that matter.

The Funeral

I didn’t start watching The Sopranos from the beginning. I was late to get on the bandwagon. However, when I saw the preview for a new TV show on HBO called Six Feet Under I had a feeling I should start watching from the first episode. I was not disappointed. It’s a great show with great acting and a subject matter (death and bereavement) not often taken on by other shows.

Nate Fisher’s funeral Sunday night on the third to last episode brought me to tears. And for someone who has never watched a single soap opera or gotten attached to a TV series, that is saying something. It was beautiful to watch the characters prepare for the funeral, take care of his body, and come to terms with the shock of his demise. For a rabbi, this series has given me deep insight into how funeral homes handle intake, offer comfort to the mourners, and go through difficult times in their own lives.

For one hour a week I’ve enjoyed becoming part of this family and allowing myself to feel as though I lost a friend. Now that’s TV… or maybe it’s not since it’s HBO.

The Bat Mitzvah

Right after watching Six Feet Under and wiping away the tears streaming down my face, new tears emerged. This time they were tears of laughter at the Bat Mitzvah of Ari The Bat Mitzvah Girl (Entourage)Gold’s daughter (see photo) on HBO’s hit show Entourage. The Bat Mitzvah had it all with the daughter practicing her bat mitzvah Torah reading and her father noticing that her voice was actually getting worse, the 6-foot challah carried in by the waitstaff that the grandpa was to say the motzi over (Vince wound up cutting it instead), Ari’s beautiful speech to his daughter, the candle-lighting ceremony that never happened (the candles were on a menorah instead of a cake), and Vince, Eric, Drama and Turtle missing the Bat Mitzvah service (Friday night) and only attending the party because they thought that Temple was only for Jews. Another great episode for Entourage.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Arik Sharon’s head bandage not so popular on eBay

From the Associated Press

The bloodstained bandage that wrapped Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s head after he was injured in fighting during the 1973 Middle East War has been offered for sale on e-Bay with the bidding starting at US$10,000.

Sharon, a top general on the Egyptian front during the war was wounded when his armored vehicle was damaged by Egyptian forces at the Suez Canal.

Pictures of Sharon meeting with officials and planning strategy with his head bandaged were among the most widely circulated images of the war.

The seller, who refused to be publicly identified, said he was the son of an army medic who treated Sharon’s wound. The medic kept the bloodstained bandage when he put a fresh one on Sharon’s head, the seller said in a message on the internet auction site.

The seller said his father had kept the bandage as a souvenir in a closet.

By Monday afternoon, after more than two days on the site, no one had bid on the bandage.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rusted Root in Vegas – What a Show!

Rusted Root live at The House of Blues in Las Vegas (Mandalay Bay)It’s been over a week since Elissa and I returned from our vacation in Las Vegas, but I still haven’t posted any photos or blogged about the experience. I’ll try and do that tomorrow. In the meantime, while we saw four great “Vegas shows,” one of the highlights of the vacation was seeing Rusted Root play a concert at The House of Blues at our hotel (Mandalay Bay).

We only found out that Rusted Root was going to be at The House of Blues a couple nights before and we already had received free tickets to see magician Lance Burton at Monte Carlo the same night (free tickets from attending a time-share presentation… but more on that later). So after seeing the illusions of Mr. Burton it was back to our hotel for Rusted Root. They played an amazing show with a lot of classic songs and some new material as well.

I especially enjoyed talking with Jason Miller (great name!) after the show. He was sitting in for regular percussionist Jim Donovan and signed an autograph “To Rabbi Jason Miller from Jason Miller the Drummer”. He told me he wishes he had a title (like a doctorate in drumming), but he actually received a master’s degree in percussion performance. It was a truly amazing show and I learned that The House of Blues is a very fun place to attend a concert.

Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root with Rabbi Jason Miller Liz Berlin of Rusted Root with Rabbi Jason Miller

Jenn Wertz of Rusted Root with Rabbi Jason Miller Patrick Norman of Rusted Root with Rabbi Jason Miller

Jason Miller of Rusted Root with Rabbi Jason MillerMichael Glabicki of Rusted Root

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller