Food Kosher Michigan

Kosher Baskin Robbins

In time for Hanukkah, a few weeks ago my kosher certification initiative (Kosher Michigan) officially certified as kosher the new Baskin Robbins ice cream store in my hometown of West Bloomfield, Michigan. To show appreciation for becoming kosher, the store’s owner (Stella Stojanovic) created these new Hanukkah ice cream cup

Stella’s former Baskin Robbins location in West Bloomfield was about a mile from the home in which I grew up. Coincidentally, it was in the same strip mall as Marty’s Pizza, where the late Marty Herman started making his famous Marty’s Cookies thirty years ago. Those cookies are now certified kosher by Kosher Michigan too.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Michigan Politics

Israel and Public Opinion

About a month ago I sat in utter disbelief watching Michael Scheuer being interviewed by Bill Maher on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Scheuer is the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit and the author of a new book, “Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq.” Bill Maher raised the question of whether Bin Laden and Islamic fundamentalists are always going to be willing to kill Americans and whether U.S. support of Israel has anything to do with that. Here’s the exchange that followed along with the extended video clip:

Bill Maher: Would you grant me this, that as long as there’s an Israel in the world (and I’m a big supporter of Israel)… and as long as America backs it, the kind of Muslims that take their religion that seriously, that they would strap on a suicide belt, are always going to be out for us and always willing to kill us.
Michael Scheuer: I think we can reduce it very seriously, sir. I disagree with you on Israel, but —
In what way? You’re not a supporter?
MS: I hope Israel flourishes. I just don’t think it’s worth an American life or an American dollar.
BM: You don’t — you don’t think the existence of Israel in the world is worth an American life or an American dollar?
MS: Not only Israel, sir, but Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Bolivia. I’m much more—
BM: You’re really — you’re really not telling me that Israel is on a par with Saudi Arabia.
MS: I’m telling you — what I’m telling you, sir, is I’m most interested in the survival of the United States.
BM: But Israel is a democracy in a part of the world that has none.
MS: What — so what, sir? It doesn’t matter to Americans if anyone ever votes again.

While I’m sure there are many CIA officials today who are critical of American support of Israel, I was shocked that this CIA unit director would state that Israel “isn’t worth an American life or an American dollar.” I was pleased to see Bill Maher (whose show I enjoy very much) stand up for Israel even while his audience and guests were clearly on the other side. Jewish newspapers, for the most part, did not cover Bill Maher’s strong defense of the Jewish State. However, Rob Eshman, Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal apparently felt the same way I did after seeing the Bill Maher-Michael Scheuer exchange (and the Janine Garofalo comments that followed). In his editorial, he wrote:

Maher’s reaction was no more composed than my own. The audience tended to side with Schneuer and fellow guest Janeane Garofalo (who knew CIA staffers adhered to the Garofilian understanding of world affairs). What the transcript [of the exchange] doesn’t show is Maher’s stammering, his awkward comebacks, his vanished confidence as he tried, to his great credit, to process how a man once in charge of keeping us safe could be so clueless as to what endangers us.

There is so much criticism of Israel these days. Much of it takes place on college campuses, but it is spreading and the grossly exaggerated book criticizing the Israel lobby in America by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt is not helping matters.

Jim HillerRecently in Ann Arbor, a very liberal college town that is overwhelmingly anti-Israel, the People’s Food Co-Op in Ann Arbor tried to boycott the sale of all Israeli-based products. Fortunately, the Detroit Free Press reported that 77% of the co-op members voted to reject the boycott. It should be no surprise that this boycott was proposed in Ann Arbor, where a small group spends each Saturday morning protesting against Israel outside of Beth Israel, a Conservative Jewish synagogue, while families observe Shabbat inside. Members of that same group once held vigil outside of the Hiller’s Supermarket in Ann Arbor. They were objecting to the owner, Jim Hiller (pictured), selling products from Israel. Well, in what was something of a “reverse boycott,” these protesters only encouraged pro-Israel supporters to flock to Hiller’s supermarket in droves each Sunday morning to purchase the Israeli products. Jim Hiller, a strong supporter of Israel, is the newly elected president of the Jewish National Fund‘s Michigan Region.

Another potential boycott of Israel that turns out to be in Israel’s favor is the failed academic boycott of Israel by Britain’s University and College Union. A delegation of university officials from the United Kingdom visited universities in Israel this week. In a JTA report, David Newman, a professor in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University, said, “The boycott debate has, paradoxically, opened a window of opportunity for Israeli and British universities to develop new research links and collaborations.”

With so much criticism directed toward Israel, it is imperative that supporters of the Jewish State serve as ambassadors, letting others know how essential Israel is in the world as the only true democracy in the Middle East. It is so important now to visit Israel and to support organizations like AIPAC and the Jewish National Fund. Here is a wonderful video that highlights the many positive aspects of Israel:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Columbus Hillel Humor Jewish Michigan

2 Rabbis walk into a Comedy Club

There have been a lot of comedy events lately and that makes sense. The Hebrew month of Adar, with the festive holiday of Purim in the middle of the month, is approaching and according to the famous phrase, “when Adar comes we increase our joy.” And that seems to be exactly what everyone’s doing.

Rabbi Jason Miller and Jewtopia (Bryan Fogel & Sam Wolfson)This past Saturday night, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield (a suburb of Detroit, Michigan) brought the off-Broadway show “Jewtopia” to their shul. I believe it was a more sanitized version of the show that I saw in New York City this past December with a group from my shul since the full version would not be appropriate in a synagogue. I thought “Jewtopia” was great and I even bought the “Jewtopia” book after the show which the writers/actors, Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson (in photo at right), graciously autographed.

Locally in Columbus, Ohio, it all started Thursday night when I had dinner with Israeli comic David KilimnickRabbi David Kilimnick (left). I was asked to take David to dinner and then to his performance at Tifereth Israel, the other Conservative shul down the street in Columbus. David performed his routine for about 180 USYers who were in town for a Central Region USY (CRUSY) Kinnus hosted by Tifereth Israel and at Agudas Achim. Unfortunately for David, his show was in the main sanctuary, which proved to be a poor venue but he did get some laughs from his funny perspective on making aliyah. David also performed Friday night for Ohio State University Hillel and then on Saturday night for the Main Street Synagogue (Torat Emet).

Rabbi Jason Miller & Rabbi Bob AlperI thought it was pretty funny that a rabbi was doing stand-up comedy at the Main Street Synagogue across town on the same night that my shul, Agudas Achim, was hosting a rabbi doing stand-up comedy as well. Rabbi Bob Alper (in photo to right) contacted me a few months ago about doing a Saturday night concert for us and I thought it was a great idea. Jake Kander, our program director, took care of all the arrangements and asked if I would be willing to be the opening act. I’ve never really done stand-up comedy before, unless you count introducing some comedians with a few jokes as I have done with some local comics from Detroit and for the Sklar Brothers (in photo to left). I also got some good laughs in October when I gave the “invocation” before “Boys Night Out,” a night of comedy hosted by my shul’s brotherhood.

So I agreed to warm up the crowd before Bob Alper took the stage. There were a couple articles about Bob Alper in the local Jewish newspapers in Columbus leading up to the event, including a great front page article in This Week Community Newspapers (Bexley edition). Some photos from the Bob Alper show are available here. Below are two video clips of my opening act. The first is my stand-up routine and the second clip is my introduction of Bob Alper.

Rabbi Jason Miller & Sklar Brothers (Randy and Jason Sklar)Here is the front page article from This Week Community Newspapers:

In keeping with a long-running Jewish comic tradition, two rabbis will perform stand-up comedy Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Congregation Agudas Achim, 2767 E. Broad St.

The 7 p.m. show, which is open to the public, features professional stand-up comic and rabbi Bob Alper. Alper, who has been performing for 20 years, was a rabbi in Buffalo and Philadelphia for 14 years before becoming a professional comic.

Alper performs for synagogues, churches, colleges and other venues as he travels the country. His tag line: “The world’s only practicing clergyman doing stand up…intentionally.” He is also the first Jewish person to earn a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary.

His comedy, which is sanitized for a family audience, isn’t totally preoccupied with religion.

“My comedy is half religious. You don’t have to be Jewish to get the jokes,” Alper said.

Alper’s career took off after he placed third out of 100 entries in a Philadelphia comedy contest. He was beaten by a chiropractor and a lawyer, he said. He travels across the country, performing about 100 shows a year.

He frequently performs with Ahmed Ahmed, an Arab Muslim stand-up comedian. They sometimes team up for college shows that are sponsored by the school’s diversity department or the Hillel and Muslim Student Association.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Agudas Achim will warm up the audience with a few jokes of his own. Laughter and fun, Miller said, are key components to the Jewish faith.

“It is important in life to be able to laugh at ourselves. It is a core concept in Judaism to have fun and enjoy life,” he said.

When Miller became the Agudas Achim rabbi eight months ago, his first column in the congregation’s newsletter addressed how important it is to have fun in the synagogue.

“One thing that not enough rabbis drive home is how important it is to have fun while they are in the building,” he said. “Both young and old should feel like this is a place to have fun.”

Miller even teaches a class about Jewish humor. Comics like Woody Allen, Larry David, Mel Brooks and Lenny Bruce are the public faces of the comic tradition in the religion.

The sometimes self-deprecating style of Jewish comedy recognizes that there is humor in being Jewish. Miller recently took some congregants to New York to see “Jewtopia,” a Broadway show that lampoons Jewish stereotypes.

“We were in pain from laughing so hard,” Miller said. “It’s healthy.”

Anyone interested in scoring free beer and learning more about the relationship between Judaism and humor can attend Rabbi Miller’s monthly class, Torah on Tap, at the Bexley Monk on East Main Street. The next installment is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Detroit JTS Michigan Rabbi

Having to Share My Rebbe

When Rabbi Danny Nevins, my friend, colleague, and personal rabbi, told me a couple months ago that he was being considered for the position of Dean of the Rabbinical School of the Conservative Movement’s central academic institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, I was immediately torn.

On the one hand, I knew how many people at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan (including my parents) would be devastated to lose their beloved rabbi. On the other hand, I knew how many Jewish people around the world would benefit greatly from having their own rabbis influenced by Danny’s insight, warmth, sincerety, and brilliance.

Rabbi Danny Nevins became the rabbi of my shul just as I was heading off to college, but I quickly found in him everything I was looking for in a personal spiritual advisor — a rebbe. He comforted me when my grandfather passed away. He’s written numerous letters of recommendation on my behalf. He officiated at my wedding and the naming celebrations for two of my children. For the past thirteen years, as I decided to become a rabbi, studied in rabbinical school, and took my own congregation, Rabbi Nevins has been my closest advisor. He’s a rabbi’s rabbi and always seems to just “get it.” He is an academic and a spiritual guide. He is progressive and yet always guarding the Tradition.

It is bittersweet to know that I will now have to share his wise counsel with hundreds of other rabbis — both future and present leaders of the Jewish community. But for the sake of Judaism and the future strength of the Conservative Movement, this is a wonderful choice. Together with Chancellor Arnie Eisen, Dean Danny Nevins will help bring the Conservative Movement to its true potential.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Nevins… chazak v’amatz!

The Detroit Free Press article is here.

Here is the press release from JTS:

The Jewish Theological Seminary announced today that Rabbi Daniel Nevins has been named the next Dean of The Rabbinical School. The Jewish Theological Seminary is the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism worldwide.

Rabbi Nevins, who will assume his post on July 1, 2007, succeeds Rabbi William Lebeau, who joined JTS as Vice Chancellor for Rabbinic Development in 1988. Since then, he has served twice as Dean of The Rabbinical School, from 1993-1999, and most recently from June 2004 until the present.

Rabbi Nevins is currently the Senior Rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where he previously served as Assistant Rabbi. A 1994 graduate of The Rabbinical School, he received an MA in Hebrew Letters from JTS in 1991 and a BA, magna cum laude, from Harvard College in 1989, from where he also received an MA in history. A native of New Jersey, Rabbi Nevins studied at Yeshivat HaMivtar in Jerusalem, and was the recipient of the prestigious Wexner Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

“I am delighted to announce the appointment of Rabbi Daniel Nevins as the next Dean of The Rabbinical School,” said Arnold M. Eisen, Chancellor-elect of JTS. “Rabbi Nevins brings to his new tasks the wealth of experience, wisdom and compassion gained during his thirteen years as a congregational rabbi in a thriving community. He also impressed the Search Committee and me with his energy, his ideas, and his passionate commitment to Torah, the Jewish people, and Conservative Judaism. Danny’s deep appreciation for our movement’s standards, its principles, and its pluralistic nature will serve us well at this time of challenge and transition for the movement. His years of work on the Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee are a testament to his vision, his leadership, and his scholarship. I am excited at the prospect of working with Rabbi Nevins as I assume the leadership of JTS, certain that he will meet our challenges with confidence and seize hold with both hands of the many opportunities before us.”

“I am honored and excited by the opportunity to serve as Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School,” stated Rabbi Nevins. “For the past thirteen years I have had an extraordinary experience as Rabbi of Adat Shalom Synagogue. I have experimented in the ultimate laboratory of Jewish life, learning what works through the prism of countless pastoral, intellectual, and spiritual interactions with my congregation. I will miss my community, but I will take what I have learned from them to benefit the next generation of rabbis. As Dean of The Rabbinical School, I look forward to working with an extraordinary team of faculty, students, and administrators to create a sacred place of Torah study and observance.”

Rabbi Nevins serves on the Rabbinical Assembly’s International Executive Council and is a member of the RA’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) His halakhic writings include several responsa approved by the CJLS as well as co-authorship of “Homosexuality, Human Dignity and Halakhah,” a responsum arguing for the normalization of the status of gay and lesbian Jews that was approved by the CJLS last month. His many general Jewish essays include, among others, “A Place Among the Mourners of Zion,” an exploration of the history and meaning of a familiar expression of comfort, published in Conservative Judaism (Summer 2006), and “Gadol Kvod HaBriot: Placing Human Dignity in the Center of Conservative Judaism,” which appeared in Judaism (Summer 2005), a quarterly journal published by the American Jewish Congress.

Rabbi Nevins is past President of the Michigan region of the Rabbinical Assembly and serves on the Board of the Frankel Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit. Deeply committed to interfaith and interreligious work, he is past President of the Farmington Area Interfaith Association and the ecumenical Michigan Board of Rabbis, and a member of the Board of the Detroit chapter of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. In May 2005, Rabbi Nevins led a group of Protestant and Catholic leaders on a unique trip that included Pope Benedict XVI’s first public audience, Yom Hasho’ah (Holocaust Memorial Day) at Titus’s Arch in Rome, and a week in Israel visiting Jewish and Christian holy places.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Bizdom Business Cleveland Dan Gilbert Detroit ePrize Michigan NBA Tzedakah

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 | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Israel Michigan

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 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 | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Jewish Michigan Ohio

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 | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
College Hillel Israel Jewish Michigan MSU

Michigan State hires chair of Israel Studies

When I attended Michigan State University from 1994-98, I certainly would not have believed that the university would soon hire an Israel Studies chair and a Jewish Studies professor who specialized in Jewish studies. In addition to concentrating in International Relations at James Madison College, a liberal arts residential college at MSU, I also specialized in the Jewish Studies Program.

In the past couple weeks the Religious Studies department has announced that Prof. Benjamin Pollock will be the full time assistant professor teaching Modern Jewish Thought and a course on Judaism. (I taught these courses this past year as a visiting professor)

Additionally, Yael Aronoff, a senior associate at Columbia University’s Institute of War and Peace Studies, has been named the first Michael and Elaine Serling and Friends Israel Studies Chair at Michigan State University.

The Serling chair is a core position in MSU’s Jewish Studies Program, which is administered by the College of Arts and Letters. Aronoff will become a faculty member in James Madison College, the university’s prestigious residential college in the area of public affairs.

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