Urban Entrepreneurial Academy

Detroit entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena, recently created an urban entrepreneurial academy called Bizdom U. Set to launch next month, Bizdom U will be a full-time, two-year program designed to produce entrepreneurs who will start up and lead successful Detroit-based businesses.

The goal is to provide graduates of urban high schools who do not plan to pursue a four-year degree with an alternative education in entrepreneurship. Those who graduate from Bizdom U can expect between $25,000 and $500,000 to be invested over time, based on milestones and performance, into their companies. This is a wonderful contribution to Michigan’s economy and will greatly benefit many young people in Detroit who could create tomorrow’s companies. More information on the project is available at the TechTownWSU site.

Dan Gilbert is a pretty remarkable business man. He founded the Michigan-headquartered Rock Financial in 1985 as a 22-year-old, first-year law student, growing it into one of the largest independent mortgage banks in the country taking it public in 1998. In 1999, Intuit purchased Rock Financial and the national web operation was renamed Quicken Loans Inc. With Dan staying on as CEO, Quicken Loans quickly became the leading provider of home loans on the Internet and about two years later Gilbert bought Quicken Loans Inc. back from Intuit.

Dan is also a partner in the private investment group Camelot Ventures, which recently invested in my cousin’s company, ePrize. Camelot also owns and operates FlashSeat, a company which has created technology and processes that replaces physical tickets for large sports and entertainment events with an electronic approach. Dan was Rawlings Sporting Goods’ largest shareholder and was instrumental in effecting the sale of Rawlings to K2 in March 2003.

I first met Dan because of his involvement in JARC, a non-profit organization that provides housing and services to the developmentally disabled, where he served as President when my mother was the Secretary of the board. JARC is one of my favorite charities and continuously receives awards for being one of the nation’s best non-profits. The photo above was taken at a Cleveland benefit for Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in which Dan Gilbert and his business partner David Katzman were honored.

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

Buy Books from Indigo Bookstore in Toronto

It would appear that the North American Jewish community should support the Indigo Bookstore Company, a pro-Israel company in Toronto with an online bookstore. Here is the news brief from the JTA.org.

Toronto bookstore picketed for Israel donation

Protesters picketed a Toronto bookstore because its owners made a donation to an Israeli cause.

A group of about 25 picketers waved Palestinian flags this week on Bay Street as they urged a boycott of the Indigo bookstore chain because its owners, Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz, contributed to an organization that assists Israeli soldiers.

The Canadian Jewish News reported Dec. 21 that Reisman and Schwartz pledged to fund 100 scholarships annually for the next three years through the Heseg Foundation for Lone Soldiers, a charitable organization that assists Israel Defense Force graduates without parents or extended family in Israel.

The protesters said they were from the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.

Timed to coincide with the pre-Christmas rush, their protest “appeared ineffective judging by the throngs lined up at the cash” register, according to one report.

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

Israeli Ties

Israel necktiesI just read in the Detroit Jewish News that two congregants of Adat Shalom Synagogue (the suburban Detroit shul where I grew up) have launched Am Yisrael Tie Company. They are selling neckties in three styles that all include an Israeli flag together with an American flag. Mickey Levin and Steven Zinderman came up with the idea at a rally for Israel last summer during Israel’s war with Lebanon. The ties are available by online ordering at TiesforIsrael.com. Most of the proceeds go to the Jewish National Fund.

Unfortunately, just under the article about these ties for Israel was a news brief stating that four tzedakah boxes were stolen from a Detroit area Judaica store. One box was for the Frankel Jewish Academy of Detroit (Detroit’s trans-denominational Jewish high school) and another was for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. How interesting that these articles sit on the same page one on top of the other. One article about some guys trying to do good and give to tzedakah, and another article about someone doing bad and stealing what was intended for tzedakah. Of course, the article about the ties for Israel was on top according to the Talmudic dictum ma’alin b’kodesh v’ein moridin – “You ascend in holiness and do not descend.”

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

Christmas DOESN’T have to be for everyone!

“Sex and the City” executive producer Cindy Chupak’s article in yesterday’s NY Times was problematic on more levels than there are days of Hanukkah (I would have used “days of Christmas,” but I have no idea how many days of Christmas there really are. It would appear there is only one, but then there is that song that includes the lyrics “On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me” that has always confused me.)

Chupak is a newly married Jewish woman who, together with her Jewish husband, decides to jump right into the Christmas spirit and purchases a Christmas tree for their new home. Of course, Chupak blames the Pottery Barn holiday catalog for the fact that they picked out a Home Depot Christmas tree a year-and-a-half after they presumably stood under a chuppah proclaiming to make a Jewish home together.

As a rabbi, I have come to empathize with interfaith families who have to face the daunting challenge of the “December Dilemma” each winter, and I am of the opinion that each interfaith family has to make difficult decisions for themselves as to how they will handle celebrating (or not celebrating) Christmas. Even families in which both partners are Jewish but one converted to Judaism struggle this time of year because of the one non-Jewish side of the family (grandparents, siblings, etc.). At my shul I have instituted an “Interfaith Family Forum” to help interfaith families navigate these thorny issues. However, this article is troubling because it is about two Jewish partners in a marriage caving in to the annual Christmas envy that some Jewish people feel.

Chupak writes, “So here we are: two newlywed Jews celebrating our No No Noel (or Ho Ho Hanukkah) not because we secretly want to convert to Christianity, but because the rampant commercialization of Christmas works!”

The rampant commercialization of Christmas should work… for Christians! Not for Jews. My advice to the Chupak family: About a week or two before September 26 next year, you both should go to Home Depot and shop for some materials to build a sukkah (you can even decorate it with flashing lights if you wish). Then mill through the Pottery Barn catalog and pick out some cute chotchkes to decorate your sukkah.

You and your choo-choo-train-around-the-Christmas-Tree-loving-husband will be able to spend eight wonderful evenings together having holiday meals in your sukkah. You might even make your Christmas-celebrating neighbors jealous of your adorable hut holiday! Oh, and when you have kids, you can teach them about how much fun the Jewish holidays like Sukkot, Purim, Tu Bishvat, and Hanukkah (see MyJewishLearning.com for creative ways to celebrate these) can be without having to adopt any of the rituals of Christian holidays… even the secular rituals in an à la carte way!

Jewlicious also blogged about Cindy Chupak rationalizing her Christmas observance.

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

The Israeli Rosa Parks?

I’ve been following the story about Miriam Shear, the Orthodox woman who was spit on and beaten by several Haredi men on a public bus heading for the Kotel in Jerusalem last week. There are those who claim that she is the “Israeli Rosa Parks” for refusing to give up her seat to the Haredi men who wanted her to sit in the back of the bus even though this was not a Mehadrin* bus (there are some public Egged buses in Jerusalem that have separate seating for the ultra-Orthodox to maintain their views of modesty).

[*In a telltale sign about what the Web has become, I was going to offer a link to the Wikipedia entry for the Hebrew word Mehadrin. So I put Mehadrin into my Firefox Wikipedia search engine and while there was no Wikipedia entry for Mehadrin, the first result to come up was “Miriam Shear” with a 12.1% relevance!]

The comments about this article at Haaretz.com are very interesting because there are some who claim that the woman had a hidden agenda and essentially was looking for this to happen to her to make a point (that would be the “the woman was looking to get beaten up” argument that thankfully doesn’t fly anymore in America). Some in the ultra-Orthodox camp even criticize the victim for violating the laws of lashon hara (gossip) by going public with this story that gives a black eye to the Haredi community. As of this posting there are about 475 comments about this story on the Haaretz.com site.

The story was also picked up by Jewschool.com.

From Ha’aretz

Woman beaten on Jerusalem bus for refusing to move to rear seat
By Daphna Berman

A woman who reported a vicious attack by an ad-hoc “modesty patrol” on a Jerusalem bus last month is now lining up support for her case and may be included in a petition to the High Court of Justice over the legality of sex-segregated buses.

Miriam Shear says she was traveling to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City early on November 24 when a group of ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) men attacked her for refusing to move to the back of the Egged No. 2 bus. She is now in touch with several legal advocacy and women’s organizations, and at the same time, waiting for the police to apprehend her attackers.

In her first interview since the incident, Shear says that on the bus three weeks ago, she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded that she sit in the back of the bus with the other women. The bus driver, in response to a media inquiry, denied that violence was used against her, but Shear’s account has been substantiated by an unrelated eyewitness on the bus who confirmed that she sustained an unprovoked “severe beating.”

Shear, an American-Israeli woman who currently lives in Canada, says that on a recent five-week vacation to Israel, she rode the bus daily to the Old City to pray at sunrise. Though not defined by Egged as a sex-segregated “mehadrin” bus, women usually sit in the back, while men sit in the front, as a matter of custom. [more]

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

United Synagogue Sells its Headquarters Building

I just received an announcement from the Conservative Movement’s lay organization, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), that they have sold their international headquarters building — Rapaport House.

USCJ has entered into a contract for the sale of 155 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and are working to establish a closing date for the purchase of two floors of office condominium space at 820 Second Avenue in Manhattan. The new headquarters will continue to bear the Rapaport family name.

I’ve found the Rapaport House to be stuck in the 1970s in terms of its internal physical appearance. Some, including me, have criticized United Synagogue of operating as if it were an organization stuck in the 1970s (okay — to be fair, the 1980s). Hopefully, this edifice and location change will result in improved operations for the congregational arm of the Conservative Movement for generations to come for the benefit of Conservative Jews and USCJ-affiliated synagogues.


The rest of the announcement is below:

The decision to sell the property at 155 Fifth Avenue represents the culmination of years of internal discussion, a comprehensive survey of needs and security concerns, and consultation with space planners, architects and realtors. It is our belief that the new facility will provide United Synagogue with operating and management efficiencies. It had become clear that the building offers a less-than-desirable working environment to our employees, who are dispersed over seven floors. We considered renovating the building, but the cost of doing so made a move a more desirable outcome.


The board resolution requires that the balance remaining after payment of the purchase price and relocation expenses be placed into a restricted account, used only for extraordinary expenses beyond the purview of the normal operating budget in the upkeep of this or other new property. The interest from that restricted account will be available only for improvements of the premises and other budgetary items for the premises that were not part of the usual and ordinary expenses at 155 Fifth Avenue.


The resolution also provides for a limited portion of the balance in the net proceeds to be placed into a separate restricted account under the same terms and conditions as the other account, with the interest of that fund to be used for United Synagogue’s programming and/or building expenses. Until we complete the transition, it will be difficult for us to determine how the funds that are available for programming will affect our operating budget. We anticipate that it will be about two fiscal years before we can be certain of that impact.


We look forward to announcing the opening of the new Rapaport House at 820 Second Avenue within the next two years.

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

Carter Center should Invest in Duct Tape for Jimmy Carter

On December 10, I blogged about how Prof. Ken Stein (right) resigned as a fellow at Emory’s Carter Center because of the anti-Israel rhetoric (including referring to Israel as an Apartheid state) in Jimmy Carter’s new book. Well, it appears that in an effort to sell more copies of his new book, on December 15 the former president issued a letter to the American Jewish community. In the letter, President Carter refers to a meeting he had with rabbis in Phoenix who announced before Carter’s arrival that they would demonstrate against the book as any pro-Israel rabbi should do. The letter is well intentioned but extremely contradictory to what Carter actually writes in his book. In this letter he tries to redefine his usage of the term Apartheid. Nice try!

Carter ends his letter by describing the warm feelings he had at the end of the meeting when the group of Phoenix rabbis held hands in a circle while one of the rabbis prayed before Carter then autographed copies of his book. The Anti-Defamation League does a good job responding to Carter’s letter in their own “Open Letter to Jimmy Carter” where they write:

Your efforts in the letter to minimize the impact of your charge that American Jews control US Middle East policy are simply unconvincing. In both your book and in your many television and print interviews you have been feeding into conspiracy theories about excessive Jewish power and control. Considering the history of anti-Semitism, even in our great country, this is very dangerous stuff.

Perhaps the best response to Jimmy Carter has been the firsthand account from one of the rabbis who attended that meeting. My colleague, Rabbi Arthur Lavinsky, gave me permission to quote directly from his e-mail account of the meeting. His words are in italics:

Carter’s visceral disdain for Israel was visible to most of us. He EXPLICITLY and repeatedly used terms like “Israeli colonialism” and actually drew a moral equivalency between the attacks against innocent Israeli civilians and the Palestinian casualties due to Israeli military strikes (and complained that more Palestinians died than Israelis – I was unaware that an equal number of people need to die in order to justify the actions of a nation acting in self defense).

Carter was, to say the least, clueless. He is blind to Israel’s virtues and equally blind to the inherent evil of Radical Islam. When I asked him, “How do you negotiate with people who declare “We have won because we love death as much as they love life?”, he didn’t have much of an answer.

In my opinion, Jimmy Carter will serve society much better if he sticks to the good work he’s done for Habitat for Humanity and puts a strip of duct tape over his mouth when he has the urge to talk about the situation in the Middle East.

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

Rabbi Jason or Elf Jason?

Office Max has a new promotion on the Web, called Elf Yourself, that allows you to upload a head shot of you or a friend to create a dancing elf. Here is my creation. It’s not the best cutout of my face, but I didn’t want to spend [er, waste] too much time doing this.

Thanks to Arthur Bocian of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ for letting me know about this fun waste of time!

I actually like the Elf Yourself I did with the face of Arnie Eisen, the new chancellor of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Fortunately, Prof. Eisen has a great sense of humor. I found it to be even funnier if you play the song “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from Disney’s “The Lion King” while you watch Chancellor Eisen dance.

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

Menorahs from Around the World

I saw the image of menorahs around the world (below) in an American Greetings online greeting card I received today from Paul Magy, immediate past president of Adat Shalom Synagogue and the new chair of the Rabbinical School Board of Overseers at The Jewish Theological Seminary.

I thought it was a cool idea so I decided to make my own for the state in which I was born (Michigan) and the state in which I currently reside (Ohio). The Michigan menorah is the map of Michigan filled with lake water and riding on wheels with the upper peninsula holding the shamash. The Ohio menorah is scarlet, with buckeyes as the flames and an OSU football as the shamash.


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

Kosher Plus

Kosher than a jar of another brand of salsa even if it bears a heksher (authorized symbol of kashrut certification) as well. With PauRabbi Jason Millerl Newman donating all his Newman’s Own net profits to tzedakah (charity), we have the ethical obligation to support his company’s products. [He’s donated over $200 million to charity thusfar, not to mention his salsa is very good] Now the Conservative Movement is coming along and considering the creation of an additional label that would identify a product as meeting ethical standards as well as the standards of the Jewish dietary laws.

Here’s the article from the Forward about this “Heksher Tzedek

From JTA.org

Conservatives might mark food for ethics

The Conservative movement is considering labeling kosher food according to the ethical standards by which it is produced.

A commission appointed by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly is debating the creation of a social responsibility certification.

The commission was created in response to recent reports of unsafe working conditions and labor violations at AgriProcessors of Postville, Iowa, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat-packing plants.

The new label would be concerned primarily with protecting workers’ rights, in accordance with Jewish law.

It would be an additional label placed onto food already carrying traditional kosher certification.

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