The 10 Best Rosh Hashanah Websites

From the Baltimore Jewish News
Neil Rubin
Editor

* www.interfaithfamily.com

Go to the “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur” section on the home page for articles such as “Tips to Engage Your Family in the New Jewish Year,” “Interfaith Families and the High Holidays: Tips on Preventing Marital Tension” and “Understanding the High Holy Days: A Primer for Non-Jewish Partners.”

* www.jewfaq.org/holiday2.htm

A solid explanation of Rosh Hashanah from an online encyclopedia of Judaism. The editor, a law librarian, writes that the work “is written predominantly from the Orthodox viewpoint, because I believe that is the starting point for any inquiry into Judaism.”

* www.torahtots.com

A vibrant, traditional-based Web site sure to visually catch your kids’ attention. It includes coloring pages to print, games such as a Rosh Hashanah jigsaw puzzle and the ever-popular “replace the pickle.”

* www.myjewishlearning.com

An online resource that bills itself as “a transdenominational Web site of Jewish information and education geared toward learners of all religious and educational backgrounds.” Search for “Rosh Hashanah” to find articles including “A History of Rosh Hashanah,” “Home Customs” and a “Rosh Hashanah quiz.”

* www.akhlah.com

This site is designed for younger children. Click on the “Rosh Hashanah” section under “Learn About the Jewish Holidays” for numerous activities such as connect the dots, word search, basic explanations and crafts, including clay print greeting cards and apple rubbing card craft.

* www.ujc.org

Search for “Rosh Hashanah” on the Jewish federation umbrella movement’s Web site for articles such as “Repentance and Renewal: A Rosh Hashanah Reflection,” “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Talmudic Trivia and Midrashic Miscellany,” “Books for Young Children” and “From Estrangement to Reconciliation: A High Holiday Journey.”

* urj.org/holidays/roshhashanah

Entries on the always deep Union of Reform Judaism site include study guides for Selichot and the High Holidays, High Holy Day frequently asked questions and holiday-related editions of “The Jewish Parents Page,” including activities for children.

* www.chabad.org

Chabad-Lubavitch is the savvy Jewish veteran of using the Web for outreach. Click on the “Rosh Hashanah” section on the home page for audio and video files. A search for “Rosh Hashanah” turns up numerous articles such as “A Cry Of Awe From The Soul,” “The Power of Prayer” and “Rosh Hashanah To-Do List.”

* www.uscj.org

On the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism site, use the “Search” feature for “Rosh Hashanah” to get numerous articles from various Conservative Judaism magazines and sister Web sites.

* www.ou.org

On the Orthodox Union site, search for “Rosh Hashanah” to get numerous articles from various Orthodox Union publications in print and online publications, as well as radio and video broadcasts.

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

Beit Kodesh on the Cover of the Detroit Jewish News

From the Detroit Jewish News

COVER STORY: A New Beginning
Congregation revitalizes Wayne County Synagogue

Shelli Liebman Dorfman
Staff Writer

Rabbi Jason Miller often heard the same skeptical question when he mentioned Congregation Beit Kodesh. “They’d come back with, ‘Really? There’s a shul in Livonia?'” said Rabbi Miller, who admits driving past and forgetting it was there, too.

Then he walked inside Beit Kodesh.

From September 2005 through July 2006, Rabbi Miller served as rabbinic adviser, helping the synagogue become more noticeable, not just from the street, but through its programming and its new-found vibrancy and youth.

Just as Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown Friday, signals a new beginning for Jews worldwide, this year also brings a fresh start for Beit Kodesh, the only Conservative synagogue in western Wayne County.

As recently as the early 1990s, Beit Kodesh was a flourishing 90- to 100- family congregation with an active sisterhood and men’s club, a thriving Sunday school and standing-room-only High Holiday services.

But, with fewer Jewish families living in Livonia and the departure of their rabbi in the late 1990s, the progressive, egalitarian Conservative congregation was down to 40 families with a small Sunday school and no clergy.

“There was never talk of dissolving,” said Martin Diskin of Farmington Hills, synagogue president. “We just looked at our declining membership and decided we’d better do something. We knew we needed young families and would need to offer them something if they were going to join.”

So, in late 2004, the congregation began the “Save Our Synagogue” (SOS) campaign.

The first thing they did was to renovate the sanctuary and adjoining social hall. “We knew if we were going let area families know we were here, we needed to update our building,” said Jeff Kirsch of Farmington Hills, religious committee vice president.

The building includes all the expected amenities, from offices and classrooms to a sisterhood gift shop and “a classy, full-fledged, categorized, up-to-date library,” said Martin’s wife, longtime sisterhood treasurer Dorothy Diskin.

Heavenly Match

Once changes were under way, Kirsch went to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism to have the synagogue’s lapsed membership reinstated. There he learned about Rabbi Miller, then associate director of University of Michigan Hillel Foundation in Ann Arbor.

“As much as I enjoyed my job at Hillel, I was ready to do some congregational work also,” Rabbi Miller said. “And they had so much potential.”

So, while retaining his full-time Hillel post, he consulted at Beit Kodesh until beginning a position as rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim in Columbus, Ohio, this summer.

“Rabbi Miller helped to turn around the synagogue, bring in more members and is very much still involved with us,” Kirsch said.

Through a donation he secured from the Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation, one of the initial things Rabbi Miller did was conduct a feasibility study to determine the synagogue’s potential to survive. He discovered two main things: Many unaffiliated Jews lived in the area – including young families who would be needing religious education for their children – and many didn’t know the synagogue was there.

He learned the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit was ready to sell the former United Hebrew Schools (UHS) branch because it didn’t realize a functioning congregation still existed.

“The shul, it was decided, is not ready to die,” Rabbi Miller said.

“Rabbi Miller,” Kirsch said, “was able to look outside the box and help us restructure our programs and our services to benefit members who have been here for years and also accommodate our new families. And he helped provide us with the tools to build on what he started.”

Way Back

Beit Kodesh has been around since 1958, when a group of families new to Livonia began to hold Shabbat services, first in members’ homes and then at Clarenceville Central Elementary School. About 200 people gathered for the first High Holiday services. In 1959, the Livonia Jewish Congregation was officially organized; and, in 1990, the name was changed to Beit Kodesh.

Over the years, the congregation has held services in several locations, including a farmhouse, a tent and a church. Since 1971, they have been renting and meeting at the former UHS Molly and Samuel Cohn Building on West Seven Mile Road, between Merriman and Farmington roads.

The building has been defaced with swastikas at times and the congregation’s Torah breastplates were once stolen. But members are proud of their family-oriented synagogue that is reminiscent of shuls in Detroit’s old neighborhoods, according to founding member Phyllis Lewkowicz, who has lived in Livonia since 1958.

Beit Kodesh was most recently led by Rabbi Craig Allen, who left in 1998.

Many who are involved now are longtime members, like the Diskins, who have been at Beit Kodesh for 20 years, and Kirsch, who remembers going to services there with his grandfather 35 years ago. He later joined with his wife and children.

“Beit Kodesh means ‘holy home’ and for some Jewish members of the community, this is their holy home,” Rabbi Miller said. “I’m optimistic that others in the community will step forward to ensure this shul doesn’t fade away.”

Congregants are confident that won’t happen, and they understand rejuvenation could be a slow process.

“It took many, many years for the membership to dwindle; and we know rebuilding will take some time,” Kirsch said. “But we’re starting to fill the sanctuary again.”

And they’re not looking to be massive.

“We’ve always been a small synagogue,” Kirsch said. “If we wanted to be large, we would have moved. But we chose to stay in Livonia to provide the families here and in the surrounding locations with services and education. We chose to remain here and be a family-type – heimishe – synagogue.”

Dorothy Diskin agrees. “We are such a friendly congregation, where everybody knows each other and you don’t get lost in the crowd. We share happy occasions and support one another in sickness and bad times – like a family.”

The warmth isn’t what brought Fern and Randy Soper’s family to Beit Kodesh, but it is part of what keeps them coming back.

They had never noticed the synagogue just a few miles from their home until last year when Fern Soper saw a sign in front of the building – part of the congregation’s new visibility campaign.

“It said, ‘Free Sunday School,'” Soper recalled.

It was a one-year promotion offered to new kindergarten students. “We didn’t belong to a shul and we were looking for a religious school for our son, Jeremy [now 6 ½],” Soper said.

The Sopers are thrilled with Jeremy’s education, and they became hooked on Friday night services through the school’s monthly children’s Shabbat program. Now they attend regularly, along with their daughter, Jillian, 2 ½.

“Even when I can’t go, my husband, who is not Jewish, goes with the kids,” she said. “And he feels very welcome there. We took his mom to the shul’s Mother’s Day program, too. Everyone there is always looking out for everyone else. It’s such a warm place to belong.”

Adding Momentum

Revitalization means progress on many levels. This past spring, the congregation was involved in its first co-sponsorship of a community event in quite some time, the Melanoma Research Foundation’s fundraiser in Novi.

A Torah class is held each week and the congregation volunteers at food banks and homeless shelters. Socially, they gather for bowling, road rallies, ice cream and dance socials; and they hold a weekly table tennis tournament.

The sisterhood, which remained active throughout the history of the congregation, is now up to 38 members who are involved in social, cultural, educational and charitable programs, run a fundraising gift shop and maintain the synagogue kitchen. The Shalom newsletter keeps members in the loop, and there’s talk of re-starting the men’s club.

While the hope is to hire a rabbi, for now lay staff and members fill the void. Members lead services, and Kirsch and Martin Diskin teach haftorah for those planning to become b’nai mitzvah. Members Aron Zoldan of Livonia, Marcel Halberstadt of West Bloomfield and Jerry Cohn of Novi alternate reading Torah during services.

And the children always have been, and continue to be, a big part of what’s vital at Beit Kodesh.

A search for a new director of education has begun. Kirsch is acting director, meeting on Sunday mornings with grades one through four. “The Sunday school is still small,” he said, “but our new families are bringing more students. And once a month the children participate in Shabbat services, with the plan for them to be able to learn to lead part of the service themselves.”

Kirsch also oversees the Teens on the Go program, involving post-b’nai mitzvah youth who visit Jewish communal sites and volunteer for tzedakah projects.

While most members – whose annual dues are $400 with a yearly $50 building fee – live in the Livonia area, some come from as far as Bloomfield Hills and Dearborn. Seven new member families have joined Beit Kodesh in the last year or so, bringing the total to 47 families.

Weekly Shabbat services are described by Kirsch as “a more modern service with a lot of English on Friday nights and a more traditional service on Saturday mornings.”

As in previous years, Cantor Harry Sturm will conduct High Holiday services at the synagogue. This year, Cantor Emeritus David Gutman will also officiate.

“Today, as my wife and I look back and recall the memories of our children coming to services with us, attending Sunday school and having their bar and bat mitzvah, we see that our heimishe shul, after all these years, still remains just that,” Kirsch said. “It’s a warm and inviting place for friends and family to worship, to learn, celebrate and socialize together.”

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

Separation of Church and State?

Here’s an interesting article about religious belief and politics from the Columbus Dispatch and Kudos to Senator Voinovich for taking a stand against slot machine gambling in the State of Ohio. He is correct in stating that it would lead towards horrible consequences for those who became addicted. I’m happy that he is drawing on his religious convictions to make the right decision here.

Faith shapes political views
Some lawmakers are openly religious, others are discreet
By Jim Siegel and Jonathan Riskind (who was married at Agudas Achim in 1987)

Striding near the Capitol during another day as one of what he calls God’s “chosen people” who serve in the U.S. Senate, George V. Voinovich was very clear about why he has devoted so much time to defeating a proposal that would allow slot-machine gambling in Ohio.

“I’m thinking about people, and I’m thinking about their immortal souls,” the Republican former governor said. “I’m worried about their temple and their spiritual life. They get involved in this, and before you know it they’ve divorced their wives. They’ve been bankrupt.”

Like Voinovich, state Rep. Bill Seitz considers himself strongly religious. But the Cincinnati Republican has been one of the legislature’s top supporters of expanded gambling in the BuckeyeState, stressing that Ohioans already are betting a lot in neighboring states. He knows his religious upbringing frowns on gambling and calls on him to do more to help the poor than the budget allows.

“There are times when what you have to do from a financial point of view is at odds with what your denomination tends to support,” said Seitz, a Presbyterian. “But there is a difference between the religious world and the secular world. In the religious world, we believe in miracles. In the secular world, we’re often having to choose from less than ideal choices.”

In a recent Dispatch survey of more than 100 state legislators, 98 percent said religion is at least “fairly important” in their lives, and more than three-fourths called it “very important.”

But just how religion shapes lawmakers’ views and, in turn, affects the policy decisions that affect millions of Ohioans can differ greatly. The issue has taken on added urgency in recent years as religion and politics have increasingly intertwined in Ohio.

Religious politicians strongly support abortion rights -and just as strongly oppose them. The same goes for embryonic stem-cell research, the death penalty and gay rights. They disagree on how best to help the poor, fund education and secure citizens.

“Does knowing that I’m a religious person tell you how I’m going to come out on an environmental issue?” or a tax issue? No, said Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, a Shaker Heights Democrat and one of three Jewish members of the legislature. “Your faith gives you a framework. So even though there is clearly a Christian imperative and a Jewish imperative to feed the hungry, there’s also an imperative to help create jobs. Where you make that balance is what our role is.”

Voinovich holds the Roman Catholic beliefs instilled in him by his mother but also was deeply influenced by the Serbian Orthodox faith of his father. But he said those don’t always enter into specific political and public-policy stands. But his faith influenced his decision to enter politics and provides the underpinning for many of his decisions.

“I believe one way to show love of God is by loving other people,” Voinovich said. “So I got into this business because I thought it was a way I could make a difference.”

A Baylor University religion survey released last week found that people who believe in an authoritarian God -one who is highly involved in daily affairs, sometimes angry and capable of punishing the unfaithful -are more likely to want a government based on Christian values, with funding for faith-based organizations and bans on abortion and gay marriage.

On the other end, those who believe in a distant God -one who put the universe in motion but is not active in world affairs -strongly support embryonic stem-cell research and are more likely to oppose the death penalty and increased military spending.

Ohio Senate Minority Leader C.J. Prentiss said she gets her inspiration from the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

With that in mind, the Cleveland Democrat said she was outraged when majority Republicans cut Medicaid benefits for 25,000 poor parents last year.

Some say the state budget is a reflection of the morals of those who craft it.

“In reality, it’s a document that sets forth a sense of responsibility for the legislature to do all that it can to support the needs of Ohioans,” said Senate President Bill M. Harris, a Republican who attends Grace Brethren Church in Ashland. “You know you can’t fix and resolve all of the challenges.”

Other than a Bible on a desk, you won’t find evidence of religion around Harris’ office. “I don’t need a cross here, because I know Christ is here.” But the soft-spoken, retired Marine firmly believes that his faith in Jesus and eternal salvation shapes him and his desire to be an elected servant.

“I think that faith then causes me to be the type of person that Christ would want me to be,” he said. Harris, who has led Wednesday morning Bible study sessions on Capitol Square since 1995, highlights budget decisions to restore funding for the Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps, to help children’s hospitals and restore some of the proposed Medicaid cuts.

Harris sees religion permeating many, if not all of his decisions. On tax reform: “If I was doing that just to benefit Bill Harris, my conscience would have a terrible time.” On gay rights: “I think the Bible is clear that homosexuality is not what Christ wants us to do.”

But Prentiss points to Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”

“So when it comes to the gay issue, how dare we have an opinion about how somebody else does their life?” she said.

Religious differences were highlighted during a November 2005 Ohio Senate debate over a bill that would ban state funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Sen. Jim Jordan, a Republican from Urbana, spoke passionately about why lawmakers can’t be cavalier about protecting embryos, saying, “These are real-life human beings.”

But Fingerhut rose and just as passionately countered, “(That is) not a fact. It’s an article of faith.

“It happens that my faith teaches something completely different. It has taught that an embryo is a potential life. But the protection we give to potential life gives way to saving actual lives.”

The two candidates for U.S. Senate in Ohio this year hold very different stands on issues from abortion to taxes. But both say their faith, and a religion-based concern for social justice, shapes their approach.

In a recent article in Crisis Magazine entitled “The Conscience of a Catholic Politician,” GOP Sen. Mike DeWine cited Isaiah 58:10: “Help those in trouble. … Then your light will shine out from the darkness.”

That helps explain what DeWine calls his “moral obligation” to oppose abortion rights, promote foster care and adoption laws, and seek more aid for poverty and AIDS-stricken Haiti, which he has visited numerous times.

“I’ve learned throughout my career in public service that faith matters, that you cannot separate it from your work in the public arena,” DeWine wrote.

His Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown of Avon, says Democrats shouldn’t shy away from talking about their faith. Brown noted during a July speech that he attended a Lutheran church every Sunday growing up in Mansfield and took away a message from both the New and Old Testaments about the importance of seeking social justice.

But Democrats often are reluctant to discuss how faith motivates their stands on issues, he said, citing an obligation to seek better pay for minimum-wage workers and fair-labor standards from America‘s trading partners.

Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-GenoaTownship, and his challenger, Democrat Bob Shamansky of Bexley, agree that their faith helps shape their outlook and value system. But neither spends much time discussing religion on the campaign trail.

Tiberi, a Catholic, says he prefers attending his own church on Sundays rather than campaigning in other churches.

“For me, (my religion and faith) is something important to me that I don’t talk about in my campaign. I don’t go around making speeches about it. It’s clear on my Web site I am active in my church.”

Shamansky, who is Jewish and belongs to three synagogues in central Ohio, voiced similar sentiments. He quoted the famous Rabbi Hillel in discussing how his religious upbringing conveyed a moral code “compatible with the American experience.” He said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do onto your neighbor.”

While Shamansky said that philosophy has “held up pretty well,” he added that he is not inclined as a politician to “advertise my religious practices or affiliations. … I am not going to prove I am holier than somebody else.”

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

Getting Old

I must be getting old. I just read that three of my former teachers are retiring from teaching at Hillel Day School. One of these teachers is Noami Reiter, who didn’t teach me at Hillel Day School but was my preschool teacher at Adat Shalom Synagogue Nursery School.

I also just read an article saying that my high school will be completely demolished and a new high school building will be erected in its place. The Detroit Free Press reports that both Bloomfield Hills Andover High School and the cross-town rival school Lahser will get completely new buildings.

Here’s the article from the Freep:

Plan calls for new Andover, Lahser high schools
Outcry kills proposal to combine the two

BY EMILIA ASKARI

Finally, consensus on the fate of Lahser and Andover high schools.

The plan is for two new ones, on the campuses of the old schools — not a combined school.

The Bloomfield Hills School District board decision comes two years after public outcry killed a plan to put Lahser and Andover on one campus.

“We’re due,” David Lutz, the senior class president at Andover, said last week. “There are a lot of good memories in these buildings, but good things come to an end. I’ll be glad to come back and see how the new building looks.”

The district is among the richest in the state, and the schools are consistently recognized for their students’ high test scores and other academic achievements.

In this era of shrinking school budgets, Bloomfield Hills’ school board is thinking of asking voters to support a May bond referendum that would raise approximately $121 million by increasing property taxes about 1.4 mills. That would mean an average tax increase of about $270 a year on a typical $460,000 house in Bloomfield Township, according to district spokeswoman Betsy Erikson.

The district draws about 6,000 students from Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township and parts of West Bloomfield, Troy and Orchard Lake. Its high schools have about 1,000 students each.

Public meetings have been scheduled to introduce the tentative building plans, which call for construction to begin in 2008 with the new schools opening in the fall of 2010 with parts of the buildings, like pools and theaters, opening later that school year.

If public feedback is mainly positive, then the school board plans to take a formal vote on the plan. The board reached agreement on the plans last week, though no formal vote was taken.

The buildings would be built atop the current schools’ parking lots and green spaces, minimizing disruptions for current students, school officials say. After the new schools are built, the current buildings — Andover in Bloomfield Hills and Lahser in Bloomfield Township — which are about 50 years old each, would be razed. During construction, some of the schools’ athletic teams would have to share playing fields. “We haven’t worked out the details,” Erikson said.

The current plan, to be presented at meetings next month, calls for nearly identical buildings of about 275,000 square feet to be built on each site.

The ceilings of the schools leak, prompting janitors to set out buckets to catch the drips when it rains. The dressing rooms for the theater program are relatively small, and there are not enough outlets in the classrooms to support much modern technology, school officials say.

“You would not drive your grandmother’s car,” said Ingrid Day, 48, a volunteer in Bloomfield Hills and president of the district’s Parent Teacher Organization Council. “That’s what we’re doing here. It would still work. It would get you from A to B. But could you do it more cost effectively and efficiently? Yes. And that’s what we’re talking about here.”

The board considered several scenarios, including renovating the existing buildings. But the proposal to build new ones was less expensive, said board President Steve Weiss, a West Bloomfield attorney.

“We did a lot of study over the last year about the best way to go about doing this,” Weiss said. “We want to be financially responsible and get the best bang for our buck, but we also want to do this right so it doesn’t have to be redone in 10 years.”

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

Pot Bust; Treif Bust

What’s worse? Finding over 700 pounds of pot at a Kosher Slaughterhouse or finding out that the Kosher Slaughterhouse isn’t so Kosher after all?

From the Forward:

Pot Bust, Meat Scam Hit Kosher Companies

By Nathaniel Popper

The evening of August 30 was a dark one for the kosher food industry.

First, a group of rabbis in New York discovered boxes upon boxes of nonkosher meat in the warehouse of a major kosher meat distributor. At roughly the same time, in Pennsylvania, federal agents seized 726 pounds of marijuana at a kosher slaughterhouse.

The drug bust occurred in Birdsboro at the G & G Poultry facility, which produces kosher chicken under the strictest rabbinic supervision. According to an affidavit from a federal customs agent, the authorities tracked the movement of marijuana in and out of the factory’s parking lot for more than a week before moving in. Of the four people who were arrested during the raid, three appeared to be G & G employees; however, none of them was Jewish. Two of the men arrested in the bust, which was first reported by the Reading Eagle, were undocumented Mexican immigrants, authorities said in a statement.

For kosher consumers, the more disconcerting news came from Monsey, N.Y., where rabbis found packages of nonkosher meat in the storeroom of a local kosher meat distributor. There was no immediate announcement about how long the nonkosher meat had been on the shelves, but Monsey, a heavily Orthodox town, has been plastered with handbills and letters warning residents to ritually cleanse, or kasher, any kitchen supplies that may have touched meat from the wholesaler, Shevach Quality Meats.

Giving voice to the gravity of the issue, Rabbi Meir Weissmandel, a local eminence, wrote a letter to locals Sunday, September 3, speaking of “this appalling transgression: the conspiracy of betrayers who misled the many and deceived in order to mislead Jewish souls and make them impure.” [more…]

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