America Community Conservative Judaism Jewish Orthodox Judaism Reconstructionist Judaism Reform Judaism

Denominational Judaism is SO Last Century

I am often asked the question: “What kind of rabbi are you?” My tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I usually answer: “A good one!”

Of course, the questioner is trying to ascertain in which denomination of Judaism I affiliate and will then make a whole host of assumptions about me. Denominational labels, whether for rabbis or lay people, are thought to reveal such things as congregational affiliation, personal theology, daily practice, views on Israel, the role of women in Judaism, etc. However, we are now in a post-denominational age of modern Judaism and denominational labels have been rendered useless.

We are in a time when Jewish people identify their religion in their Facebook profile as “Recon-newel-ortho-conserva-form.” No, these people aren’t confused about their Jewish identity, rather they have realized that there is “meaning” to be made from the various pathways to Torah.

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, when asked about the different streams of Judaism, remarked that this is the reason that Baskin Robbins offers thirty-one flavors of ice cream. And to this I would add that it’s possible to order a mixture of flavors too. Yitz Greenberg also famously said, “I personally don’t care which denomination in Judaism you belong to as long as you’re ashamed of it.”

To those who ask what type of rabbi I am, perhaps a better response would be an invitation to sit and shmooze over coffee so that I may share my narrative. I was raised in the Conservative Movement attending Shabbat services, going to the synagogue pre-school, and studying at a Solomon Schechter Day School from kindergarten through the end of the seventh grade. In high school, I was active in the Conservative Movement’s youth group, and traveled across the country and to Israel with other Conservative Jewish teens.

When I decided to become a rabbi during my second year of college, there was never a doubt that it would be at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, known as the flagship educational institution of the Conservative Movement. It was in rabbinical school, however, that I really came into contact with other “flavors” of Judaism.

I was chosen for an interfaith dialogue program called Seminarians Interacting. We went on a week-long retreat and stayed at a Catholic seminary outside of Baltimore. I learned a bit about other faith traditions, but it was sharing a room with a Reform rabbinical student and talking to Reconstructionist rabbinical students that was the most eye-opening experience for me. We talked about our individual calling to become a rabbi, matters of belief and practice, and the future of the Jewish community.

Not long after this experience, I returned to the Detroit area to spend a summer training as a hospital chaplain. There were Christian seminary students representing different denominations, but I spent the most time with a Reform rabbinical student who also attended that Conservative Jewish day school. We studied Torah together, prayed together, and debated Jewish law. It was wonderful. We each had our own “torah” to teach and we were both deeply engaged in learning from our rabbis, but we also gained so much from each other.

It was also in rabbinical school that I become involved with Clal, a pluralistic organization that employs teaching fellows from every Jewish stream. In the Clal offices I found Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox scholars who were so deeply engrossed in discussing the issues of the day. It didn’t matter where they prayed or how they thought the Torah was revealed to the Jewish people; all that mattered was that they could challenge each other to think outside of the box and help people make meaning out of their lives.

Rabbinical School was a time when I prayed at an Orthodox shul in which men and women sat separately. But I also led a very Reform service on Friday nights for a nice group of thirty elderly people at the local nursing home. All the while spending my days studying Torah and Talmud in a Conservative seminary with professors who had all studied under Mordechai Kaplan, the founding father of Reconstructionist Judaism.

After graduating from rabbinical school and becoming a card-carrying Conservative rabbi, I took a job at a Hillel foundation on a college campus. There, my job was to advise the leaders of the various student minyans, from Reform and Conservative to Humanistic and Traditional. I spent time in each of these different prayer groups and noticed that many students sampled the various offerings regardless of their upbringing or their family’s affiliation. During this time, I also consulted a Conservative synagogue that didn’t have a rabbi and taught adult education classes at a Reform temple.

Today, I serve as the rabbi of a non-denominational camping agency in which I help run Shabbat services at our summer camp. The services tend more toward the Reform liturgy. I also serve as the part-time rabbi of a Reconstructionist congregation, and as the director of a consolidated, weekly high school program for the Conservative synagogues. I am part of two national rabbinic fellowship programs in which I learn and dialogue with rabbis from just about every Jewish flavor imaginable. When we come together at retreats, we forget at which institution we were each made into rabbis and just allow our Torah to permeate the room so that we may learn from each other.

Whether with my colleagues at the STAR Foundation’s PEER program or at Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, I’ve learned that if we perpetuate the arguments of whose Torah is true Judaism, we’ll only do damage to the Jewish people. When we recognize that the labels don’t help and that we’re living in a post-denominational world we will be able to bring more of our collective Jewish wisdom to the world.

I may find that my theology resonates the most with what has historically been considered a Conservative approach, but I still like to pray in an Orthodox minyan at times. The strong emphasis on social action in the Reform Movement motivates me to see the world beyond my nose and my responsibility to humanity. But the deep-rooted sense of a heimish community in the Orthodox world is something that I find gratifying and reaffirming. And the focus on egalitarianism and human dignity that has been critical to the Reconstructionist Movement since its inception is important to me.

Conservative Jews are keeping Orthodox yeshivahs open with their generous philanthropy. Reform Jews are showing their strong support for Israel by becoming AIPAC leaders, traveling to Israel on solidarity missions, and planning community events to honor Israel — all actions to which their Reform forebears would object. Orthodox synagogues are finding innovative ways to increase the role of women in the prayer service and in the community. And independent minyanim are forming around the country with no denominational affiliation and made up of young people who were raised in different traditions.

So, the next time someone asks me what kind of rabbi I am, I think I’ll just ask them: “Well, how much time do you have?”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Apple Jewish Judaism and Technology Technology Torah

Torah Scroll? Yes, There’s an App for That!

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

There will no doubt be many times when a new app is released for Apple’s iPad and people exclaim something to the effect of “Well, it was only a matter of time until someone created that!”

This was certainly the case yesterday, when RustyBrick, a New York Web service firm specializing in customized online technology, released its first iPad app. Approved by Apple, it is named the iPad Torah, and is essentially a scan of the Torah scroll on the iPad screen.

The iPad Torah scroll boasts a 248 columns (amudim) view, that allows the user to scroll or navigate through the various Torah portions (parshot). One can easily jump to any Torah portion (parsha) via the navigation and create bookmarks with the interactive pointer (yad).

The actual Torah is believed to have been revealed to the Jewish people on the festival of Shavuot, but RustyBrick has made its iPad Torah available before Shavuot, and with a 50% discount to boot. And it’s downloadable from Apple’s app store, so you won’t have to travel to Mt. Sinai to receive it!

Here is a video demonstration of RustyBrick’s iPad Torah:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Education Judaism and Technology Rabbi Technology

Will Smartphones & Handhelds Lead to an Educational Revolution?

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

In a recent blog post, my colleague and teacher Rabbi Hayim Herring writes about the recent Fast Company article that questions whether the introduction of smartphones and handheld computers into classrooms worldwide will be the start of an educational revolution. Anya Kamenetz, author of the book DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education wonders “How technology could unleash childhood creativity — and transform the role of the teacher.”

Is the use of handhelds in the classroom leading to an educational revolution or is it just another fad? Educators are eager to integrate the latest technology into their classrooms, but they must ensure that they have already figured out the right application to utilize the technology. American youth will be impressed to see the latest handheld and wireless gadgets in use at their schools, but if they’re not wowed with the way they are being used their attention will wane.

Herring writes in the Tools for Shuls blog:

The article, entitled A is for App: How Smartphones, Handheld Computers Sparked an Educational Revolution, claims that studies show that technology can actually make kids smarter. It then goes on to describe several new learning devices which are already having impact on how children learn in different cultures and among different socio-economic communities. The author claims the bottom line is these technologies work anytime, anywhere.

Think about the revolution in entertainment. Entertainment has gone from a “command and control” model, with elites directing the content, format, venue and timing, to an “iTunes model,” in which users not only control their entertainment, but can also create it! In a similar vein, this article suggests that young learners will soon have the opportunity to be in the driver’s seat of their own education. The role of the teacher will change from instructor to coach, and teachers will finally have the ability to help students customize their learning so that they can proceed at their own pace. Students will be able to follow their own imaginations instead of a hierarchically imposed set of rules that someone else has defined as “learning.”

Young children today are picking up mom’s or dad’s iPhone, Droid or Blackberry and familiarizing themselves with these pocket-sized wireless devices. “A computer on every desk” is beginning to mean that more first-graders will have a notebook computer on the desk in their bedroom. So, when these kids walk into a classroom the expectation will be that technology is part of the educational plan. It was once impressive to see a computer workstation in each classroom, but in 2010 each student needs to be plugged in from their seat.

And this will translate to religious education as well. The rabbi may well ask the students to take out their smartphone and Google the week’s Torah portion. As the article makes clear, the implementation of smartphone and handheld technology in the classroom is already a common idea among tech-driven educational entrepreneurs. And it will imagine a new role for teachers.

“The main transformational change that needs to happen is for the teacher to transform from the purveyor of information to the coach,” says Seth Weinberger of Innovations for Learning, creator of TeacherMate. As Richard Rowe of Open Learning Exchange puts it, “Up until very recently, most communications were hub-and-spoke, one to many. The Internet is a many-to-many environment, which is in the early stages of having a major impact on education. It involves a fairly major change in the concept of what education is, which is one of the reasons we use the term ‘learning’ as distinct from ‘education.’ It’s student-centered and student-empowered.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
BBYO Jewish Jewish Youth Judaism and Technology Prayer Siddur Teens Web

Siddur It Yourself: BBYO’s Build a Prayer Site

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

When it comes to Jewish prayer, there are two schools of thought: keva and kavannah. Keva means “rote” and refers to the fixed prayers that are set forth in the siddur (Jewish prayer book), while kavvanah is the free and spontaneous inner devotion of the individual.

Many Jewish youth groups and Jewish camps have tried to bridge the gap between the opposing principles of keva and kavannahby creating fresh and innovative prayer books for each service. For generations, Jewish teens, educators, and camp rabbis have spent hours photo copying prayers out of the standardized siddur and pasting them onto sheets of paper along with spiritual poems, catchy songs, motivational quotes, and clip art to make custom service booklets. The interweaving of traditional liturgical texts with hippie quotes and Debbie Friedman songs to create a specialized prayer book offers the keva of the siddur, but encourages the self-expression and spiritual spontaneity that is at the heart of kavannah.

Now the market leader in pluralistic Jewish youth programming, BBYO, Inc., has launched a web-based application to design custom-made prayer books. Build a Prayer, which took almost two years to develop and is being funded through a Jewish Funders Network grant, offers every text imaginable, from Hebrew, English translation, transliterated, traditional, and pluralistic. Service creators can choose from pictures, poetry or commentary, and then share or print the service for use with their community. partnered with BBYO and provided the educational content about Shabbat and prayer for the online Resource Center that is built into the site.

Build a Prayer isn’t only for the teenage members of BBYO. Matthew Grossman, the organization’s Executive Director said, “We hope Build a Prayer will be a valuable tool for the entire community; it is available to any organization, educator or teen who wants to produce creative worship experiences.”

After a guided tour of the Build a Prayer site by Michigan BBYO Director Eric Adelman, I played around with the many features and found it to be user friendly, interactive and intuitive. As someone who has created many custom prayer books and song sheets, and who likes a crisp, clean look, I really appreciated how professional looking the finished product turned out.

To learn more about the concept of BBYO’s Build a Prayer and to find out if the organization was worried that Jewish teens would miss the scissors and glue part of DIY siddur making, I posed some questions to Shayna Kreisler, the Director of Civic Engagement and Leadership at BBYO.

Who came up with the idea for the Build a Prayer site?
The original idea came out of the observation that at BBYO, we see teens and staff members creating relevant and powerful Shabbat services, but also feeling challenged since most of them have only experienced services within their own synagogue. This challenge is made more difficult since most teens aren’t comfortable in a traditional siddur – they don’t know where services start and end, what to include or what is “safe” to leave out. To meet that need, these worship services are typically guided by a teen-designed collection of songs, poetry and prayers that is compiled through an effort of photocopying, cutting and pasting together old song sheets and prayer book passages. As an organization, we saw the need to provide Jewish teens with an accessible place to explore prayer and its meanings – doing it online also happens to save some glue.

Was there a “grassroots” push from teens to create this resource?
I think that we were really responding to a need that we had been hearing from the field – BBYO, because we are not affiliated with a movement, does not have one single prayer book that we all use. Each region and community ends up making their own or creating new services for each chapter overnight, regional convention, etc. The teens that I work with on the International level were having issues finding the resources online, so while they did not know to ask for it directly, it was certainly a need that was being presented in the difficulties they were having in finding the appropriate resources.

Who runs the site?
BBYO runs the website, but we work in partnership with other organizations (currently, The Foundation for Jewish Camp and and are looking to build more partnerships around the website. We really feel that this is a value added resource for the entire Jewish community for a plethora of uses – independent minyanim, youth movements, day and overnight camps, b’nai mitzvah students, parents of b’nai Mitzvah who may not be as familiar with the Shabbat service as they would like, educators working with teens or other age groups, and more!

What has the feedback been from teens?
The teens LOVE it. We have received some really positive feedback about the resource and how it has changed the way that people look at the Shabbat Service. Eventually we hope to add in holidays, the weekday service, a haggadah, etc. Most of the feedback we receive is from people saying that the site is great and it would be amazing if it could do x, y or z. We take the feedback very seriously, and we are trying to respond to the needs of the community. I encourage anyone who has any feedback to email us directly through the website.

Was there any concern that teens would feel nostalgic for the old-style cut and paste prayer books?
The BEST part of the website, in my opinion, is the content finder. Once you start to build a Shabbat service, and choose your languages, the type of service you want to create and your prayers, you can start to add in your own poems, lyrics, translations, thoughts, videos, audio, images – almost anything really! And all of that info gets stored in the content finder for others to utilize. The more people add in their own content, the more rich the website becomes as a tool. We really look at that piece of the website as a way for people to share their thoughts and ideas and their creative work with the entire community. In a way, takes the scissors and paste concept and brings it into the 21st century. I really do not think that we lose anything at all – I think it really opens up the Shabbat experience in a whole new way.

It is difficult to find a siddur that really fits an individual’s or a community’s needs completely, but with Build a Prayer it becomes much easier to make a custom fit prayer book that will encourage both keva and kavannah. On behalf of Jewish educators, youth group workers, and camp rabbis everywhere: Thank you BBYO!

Here is the video tutorial for the interactive Build a Prayer site:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Google Israel Judaism and Technology Web World Events

Google Doodle for Israel

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs’s logo has quickly become one of the most recognizable corporate logos. It also has been changed more than any other logo, sometimes even daily.

According to the Wikipedia entry, “The current official Google pop logo was designed by Ruth Kedar, and is a wordmark based on the Catull typeface. The company also includes various modifications and/or humorous features, such as cartoon modifications, of their logo for use on holidays, birthdays of famous people, and major events, such as the Olympics.” When Google adapts its logo for special occasions it is called a “Google Doodle.” I was curious to know whether Google would honor Israel yesterday on its 62nd anniversary of statehood with a special Israel-themed Google Doodle.

Well, it did and didn’t. There was no Israeli Google Doodle on the U.S. Google search engine site, but the Israel version of Google featured a Google Doodle with an Israeli flag (pictured).

The first Google Doodle was in honor of the Burning Man Festival in 1998. The doodle was designed by Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who were attending the Burning Man, as an “out of the office” notification.

Israelis are already familiar with Google Doodle because of the Doodle 4 Google competition in 2008. Google Israel invited first to 12th grade students to reinvent Google’s homepage logo around the theme “My Israel” for Israel’s 60th anniversary. Google Israel received thousands of wonderful doodles and chose 40 drawings which would go on to the next stage. The winning doodle, selected from over thousands of entries, was created by Ilona Flaxsman, an 11th grader from Givatayim.

Ilona’s doodle graced the Google Israel homepage on June 30th, 2008. Ilona described her Google Doodle on the website: “My picture has simple symbols that everyone is familiar with. A white dove, known for bringing peace, and the flag with the colors that make it distinctive. The fact that we have a country that is 60 years old is testimony to many things (strength, hope, unity…). And what remains to achieve is peace. We all hope that some day a white dove will fly bearing witness to this.”

Another Google Doodle for Israel appeared on Israel’s version of the search engine in 2008 for Israel’s 60th birthday and had an Israeli flag with the number 60 replacing “oo” in “Google” behind the flag. It’s reprinted on the Googlified blog in which the blogger adds the Wikipedia definition of Yom Haatzmaut (Israel Independence Day) followed by the phrase “Now talk about being controversial.”

Hopefully in the future Google will pay tribute to Israel on her Independence Day with a Google Doodle on the U.S. version of the website too.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Jewish Judaism and Technology

Israel is Still a Miracle

Israel celebrated her 62nd year of statehood today and should still be considered a miracle. After reading Dan Senor’s book Start Up Nation, I was left amazed by how successful this tiny nation in the Middle East surrounded by hostile neighbors has become in the past six decades.

In an update to the story about Israel’s decision to ban the Apple iPad from the country , I wrote on The New York Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog:

On this Independence Day, commemorating Israel’s 62 years of statehood, the iPad ban should not change Israel’s standing as a communications and technology powerhouse in the world…. The decision to not allow iPads into the country until an international version of the device is released that is compliant with Europe’s wireless standards is actually a wise move by Israel, yet one that wasn’t handled well from a public relations standpoint. In the near future, don’t be surprised to find that some of the best applications developed for the iPad are coming from that tiny miracle of a nation in the Middle East. Apple might be a little late in its birthday gift to Israel, but good things come to those who wait!

I stumbled across this video called “Yom Haatzmaut 2010: The Many Faces of Israel.” It demonstrates the diversity of Israel and is a wonderful tribute to the Jewish State on her 62nd birthday. Enjoy!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Charity Jewish Judaism and Technology

Tzedakah 2.0

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

My grandmother sometimes complains about charitable organizations. She’s a very generous woman who donates to many charities, but she often gets frustrated by the amount of solicitations she receives. With each complimentary pen, notepad, wall calendar, or other complimentary gift sent in the mail (so she’ll remember to donate again), she remarks that these organizations would be better off saving their money and using it to fulfill their mission. She also expresses angst when a solicitation envelope arrives only days after she already sent in a contribution.

No matter how many times I explain the way the technology works and that the solicitation envelopes and form letter requests come automatically, she still complains about the constant barrage of “asks.”

I’m sure she’s not the only donor who feels overwhelmed by the endless mail (and email) solicitations.

A new product, created by Nadanu Technolgies, takes charitable giving into “Tzedakah 2.0” and just might put an end to the old-school methods employed by non-profits to remind their donor base to send money.

Imagine if you could automatically add eighteen cents each evening to your kitchen charity box without having to think about it on a daily basis? Or, when you’re sitting in a restaurant and overhear the kids at the next table talking excitingly about their Jewish summer camp, you decide to donate $50 toward a child’s dream summer. Or, you hand your cellphone to your child and ask them to drop some change in a virtual piggy bank to benefit the charity of their choice.  This is all possible now.

Nadanu provides services, technology and solutions for integrated desktop, Web and mobile e-Charity donations. Based on the ancient Sumero-Akkadian word for “giving,” Nadanu specifically chose this word to represent its company and philosophy. As Abraham, a common father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam spoke this language, so Nadanu seeks to unite all people regardless of faith, creed and belief into a powerful force for making the world a better place for all.

Nadanu offers three different applications (eCharityBox for Jewish and secular charities, eOfferingPlate for Christian charities, and MyCharityBox) that allow donors to contribute on their own terms in a fully-secure fashion via a range of payment solutions, including and Paypal. When their virtual box is “full”, the credit card on file is charged and an automated tax receipt is sent.

I spoke with Getzy Fellig of Nadanu Technologies on the phone before Passover, at a time when many in the Jewish community were being asked to give to “ma’ot chitin” funds for those less fortunate during the holiday. He explained that Nadanu in general, and eCharityBox in particular, “introduces a method for micro-giving. Today, a lot of younger people are touched by tough economic times and the job market’s not what it used to be and they can’t open their wallets like they did in the past.”

The eCharityBox is user friendly and allows donors to give when the moment arises. This could certainly be a killer app for non-profits in the sense that it allows the people who care about the organization to carry around a virtual pushke (charity box) in their pocket. If they pass by a homeless person on the street, they may choose not to drop a dollar bill in their cup but may pull out their phone and add an $18 gift to their local food bank. There’s something impulsive about that type of charitable giving.

This app, soon available on the iPhone, will be a game changer in the world of Jewish giving. “Organizations can’t afford not to have a presence on people’s cell phones. You never know when the moment will arise,” said Fellig. Now, if only these organizations would stop sending the free pens and calendars.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Bar Mitzvah Israel Jewish Politics World Events

Zayde Richard Goldstone, Not Judge Richard Goldstone

There’s a concept in Judaism named “ma’aseh avot siman l’banim,” which roughly translates as “the deeds of the ancestors are a sign for the children.” Of course, this phrase can be used positively, but it’s most often used in a negative context.

I thought of this phrase recently when I read that Bernard Madoff’s daughter-in-law legally had her last name and her children’s last name changed from “Madoff.” Madoff’s grandchildren will forever be plagued by the actions of their grandfather – “ma’aseh avot siman l’banim.”

Now, it has been reported that Judge Richard Goldstone has been barred from attending a family simcha – his grandson’s bar mitzvah ceremony. The South African Goldstone was the head of a United Nations-appointed commission that investigated the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-09. The commission’s final report accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

The JTA reports that “Following negotiations between the South African Zionist Federation and the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol in Sandton, an affluent suburb of Johannesburg where the event is due to take place, an agreement was reached with the family that will keep Goldstone from attending the synagogue service early next month.”

I thought the Goldstone Commission’s report was a one-sided attack on Israel. In fact, I recall feeling so relieved when I spent an hour listening to former Ambassador Dore Gold refute the Goldstone Report point-by-point. However, on the issue of whether Judge Goldstone should be allowed to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah, I find myself siding with the South African jurist.

The synagogue should recognize that in this case, they are not dealing with the author of a United Nations report that harshly criticized Israel’s actions. Rather, they are dealing with a zayde who wants to celebrate his grandson’s life-cycle milestone.

I’m sure the concept of “ma’aseh avot siman l’banim” will come to play in other aspects of the lives of Richard Goldstone’s family, but in this case this was not the correct decision.

Update: April 26, 2010


Richard Goldstone will attend his grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah in South Africa, following an agreement with local Jewish groups. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies brokered a deal between Goldstone and community organizations angry with Goldstone for his authorship of a U.N. report on Gaza war seen as grossly unfair to Israel. Under the agreement, Jewish groups agreed not to protest during the bar mitzvah celebrations and Goldstone agreed to meet with the leadership of South African Jewish communal organizations, according to an e-mail released late Friday by both Goldstone and the Board of Deputies. The meeting, to be hosted by the South African Zionist Federation, is set to discuss the Jewish community’s reaction to the Goldstone report, which accused Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

“My whole family feels joyful that we’ll be able to celebrate the bar mitzvah together,” Goldstone told JTA following the agreement.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said it “respectfully requests, in light of the agreement reached, that all parties immediately desist all public activities on this matter so that the young man’s bar mitzvah celebration can be returned to the privacy and dignity that it deserves.”

Goldstone originally had planned to skip his grandson’s bar mitzvah next month after the Zionist Federation threatened to protest Goldstone outside the synagogue.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Judaism and Technology Travel

No iPads in Israel

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

If you just bought the new iPad from Apple and your thinking about what a luxury it will be on your eleven-plus hour flight to Israel… think again!

You might be able to pass the time on your overseas flight by catching up on movies and TV shows or reading a novel on your new iPad, but once you arrive in Israel your iPad will be confiscated by Israeli customs.

Bar Ben Ari and Zohar Blumenkrantz report in Haaretz that “the Communications Ministry has blocked the import of iPads to Israel, and the customs authority has been directed to confiscate them. The decision follows the refusal of the ministry’s engineering staff to compromise on testing the device’s suitability and compliance with Israeli wireless networks. It seems however that the engineers made their decision without notifying Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon in advance – and caused an uproar within the ministry. For now, the ministry has not given the device categorical approval required for wireless devices; and ministry officials say its wireless technology is not compatible with Israeli standards.”

Israel’s Communications Ministry has requested the relevant information from Apple’s Israeli distributor, iDigital, so that iPads can be cleared for import into Israel.

The head of customs at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod claims that they have confiscated ten Apple iPads so far. Until further notice, I’d recommend leaving your iPad at home when traveling to Israel.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Camp Holocaust Jewish Teens

Yom HaShoah: From "The Camps" to "Camp"

On an early morning this past June, I stood in a synagogue parking lot taking temperatures of the Jewish children before they boarded the buses to take them off to summer camp. Along with every other staff member in the parking lot, I was wearing a brown shirt — the official staff shirt of the summer. It isn’t common practice to take each camper’s temperature before they board the bus, but in 2009’s summer of Swine Flu it was a necessary precaution. If a camper had a fever, they were not allowed on the bus until they saw a doctor who could provide them with a clean bill of health.

When I arrived at camp later that morning, I was approached by one of the camp doctors. He told me that as a child of Holocaust survivors, he was appalled at the color of the staff shirts. He explained how he thought his mother (a survivor) would perceive of having people in “brown shirts” telling the Jewish children to board the buses to go to the camp only after checking to see who was healthy enough to go to the camp and who would be turned away.

For this child of Holocaust survivors, the Holocaust imagery was front and center. I immediately framed it in a different light for him. How amazing is it that some six decades after the Holocaust when Jewish children are sent to camp, it is to experience the time of their lives engaged in fun programs and Jewish activities, I asked him. Contrast that to what their great-grandparents’ generation experienced in Eastern Europe.

Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, has just passed. In the last two days I found myself immersed in the commemoration of the Holocaust. Sunday began with a speech by a Holocaust survivor, Aron Zoldan, and then later in the afternoon at the Jewish Community Center I opened the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” project by reciting the special Mourner’s Kaddish that incorporates the names of the camps into the kaddish prayer. That night, my wife and I viewed the new Anne Frank film on PBS. Last night, I facilitated a brief Holocaust commemoration and candle-lighting for Jewish teens, in which two rabbis — one the son of survivors and the other the grandson of survivors — recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.

On Sunday, as I read the names of dozens of young Jewish people from Czechoslovakia and France who perished in the Holocaust, my attention shifted to this generation’s Jewish youth. Think about the many opportunities Jewish youth have today. Watching the Anne Frank film, I again directed my thoughts to how free Jewish teenagers are today. Anne and her sister Margot lost the freedom of their teenage years while hiding in the annex.

Today, Jewish teens fly to Poland on the “March of the Living” program and march into the death camps. The difference, of course, is that after seeing the burial grounds of millions of people these teens then march out of the camps. The teens then travel to Israel to experience the modern Jewish homeland, a nation many argue was built on the ashes of the Nazi Holocaust.

In much the same way that camp doctor was troubled by the Holocaust connection of “brown shirts” determining which Jewish children were healthy enough to be sent to camp, an Israeli man was surprised to see the Hebrew term “machanot” used as a translation of summer camps. Last summer, an Israeli counselor at my Jewish summer camp posted a photo on Facebook of a sign hanging in our dining hall that included the Hebrew word “machanot,” meaning camps. A fellow Israeli commented on her photo that he was troubled by the term since it refers to the camps during the Holocaust.

For so many, the Holocaust imagery and terminology cannot be escaped. The human tragedy of the Holocaust is so much a part of Jewish identity, both person and communal, that nary a day goes by that Jewish people do not consider the six million murdered by the Nazis.

The fact that “the camps” means something so starkly different than “camp” is powerful. An 80-year-old Jewish man might ask a contemporary, “Which camp did you go to?” And that question means something so different than when a 30-year-old Jewish man asks his contemporary, “Which camp did you go to?”

Walking down the main road of my camp, it is difficult to miss the beautiful Irv Berg sculptures that honor those who were murdered by the Nazis. And on the summer fast day of Tisha B’Av, we remember the victims of the Holocaust in words and art and music. The hundreds of smiles seen each summer day on the faces of the Jewish children at camp is a wonderful tribute to the millions of our people who perished in the Holocaust. The Jewish people have indeed endured and thrived in the decades since World War II.

Thankfully, our generation’s “camp” is 180 degrees from what “camp” meant to a previous generation. May the memories of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust be an enduring blessing and a constant encouragement that humanity never again allows such a tragedy to occur.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |