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  • Thinking Locally

    31 October 2013

    An initial analysis of the results from last week's local elections in Israel shows grounds for optimism, but also cause for concern.


  • This is Maram's Israel too

    01 August 2014

    On Sunday, I went down to Soroka hospital in Be’er Sheva and met with families of Bedouin Israelis whose children have been injured by rocket attacks. It was important for me to go, to support these families, to let them know that despite the tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel today, that there are many of us committed to building a shared future.


  • Torah and Half-a-Torah

    08 October 2013

    When I was Bat-Mitzvahed in a Conservative synagogue a long time ago, girls did not read from the Torah. Bat Mitzvahs took place on Friday night, not Saturday morning. Girls did not wear a tallit, and their speeches about the meaning of the Haftorah portion they read were truncated.

    As a Hebrew Day school student, I knew very well the difference between a Torah and Haftorah reading. In my 13-year-old mind, I was being asked to do half-a-service, half-a-Torah reading, although I knew that I was twisting the meaning of “Haftorah” to serve my own rebellious, proto-feminist instincts.

    Fast forward 31 years, and my daughter Molly is Bat-Mitzvahed at a Reform synagogue. On a Saturday morning, wearing a tallit, reading from the Torah, speaking about her Torah parsha. She did well and I was proud of her, and pleased at the difference between our two celebrations, a generation apart.

    To cap things off, the rabbi of the synagogue told Molly after her service that she should consider becoming a rabbi. She told me this incredulously, rather proud of herself. And I thought, hey wait a minute. I was just as articulate as Molly at that age, just as interested in arguing about the meaning of the Tanach in my classes, a good writer and a decent leader. How come nobody ever told ME I could go to rabbinical school?

    Because I couldn’t. Girls in my observant milieu didn’t become rabbis back then. And although both Molly and I would have been sadly miscast as rabbis, the fact that she could qualify, that she could consider, that it was within the realm of possibility that she could run a congregation as a spiritual leader….that went a long way towards reconciling me to my own place in the Jewish community.

    Naomi Paiss has served as Vice President of Public Affairs for NIF since 2005, and has 27 years of experience in public affairs and issues management. Naomi is a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Academy) in Merion, PA and of Sarah Lawrence College.


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  • Two Halves, One Whole

    24 October 2013

    By Shelly F. Cohen, October 2013

    The first time I stood on the bima was when I became bat mitzvah in a Conservative shul. At that time, 40-some years ago, it seemed likely that would be the last time I'd be on the bima as well - there were no women clergy (that I knew of) and few lay leaders outside the Sisterhood. And surely I would never be permitted to wear a tallit.

    When I came out as a lesbian a few years later, I could only feel that Judaism had no place for me. I wandered in my own personal desert for a long time before venturing back into a synagogue, this time Reform. In the Reform synagogues of my youth, no one wore a kippa or a tallit. (In our Conservative neck of the woods, we considered that a shonde.) Imagine my surprise to find that as the pendulum of Reform observance swung back toward tradition, it picked up women as well as men. Women were wearing tallitot, women were leyning (reading) Torah, women were leading services! I not only had a place, I had a home.

    Putting on a tallit for the first time was a powerful experience, a tangible expression of belonging. And yet, there was still something missing. Finally I realized what I needed was a tallit that spoke to both halves of my identity - Jewish and lesbian. I recently had a tallit made for me with the rainbow stripes of the Pride Flag, and pink and yellow triangles forming a magen david at each corner. Now when I stand on the bima several times a year to leyn Torah, I am also sending a message to LGBT Jews that they will always have a home in our congregation.

    Shelly F. Cohen is a member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, and part of the Welcoming Synagogue Committee, which works to foster the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people at TBA and in the larger community.


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  • Under Fire, Israel Must Still Stand Up For Human Rights

    20 July 2014

    Israel's human rights community and their supporters are committed democrats and also patriots – even when they must implicate or criticize the Israeli military's abuses of power.


  • Unpromised Land: Eritrean Refugees in Israel

    25 June 2013

    By P.J. Tobia


    Before coming to Israel, Rhuba never smoked cigarettes. Now, she smokes like a truck driver.

    Her cheeks cave as she huffs the butts down in long, powerful draws, sending nimbus clouds of tobacco floating into the damp air of a south Tel Aviv bar.

    Rhuba is 19, petite in bright blue jeans. She stares out from a matching blue hoodie drawn tight to her head, nearly obscuring the crimson pool of blood that fills her right eye. The left side of Rhuba's face isn't so concealed. A dark, amaranthine welt starts in an angry ball on her temple and sprawls out like skinny fingers across her cheekbones.


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  • Up and Down, No and Yes

    24 October 2013

    By Dr. Judith B. Tischler, October 2013

    I recently turned 80 (gvurot). I grew up in a traditional Orthodox home, rebelled, and became a member of Hashomer Hatzair (Youth Guard). My first real taste of women's equality was in that youth movement.

    At the time, the dream was life in a kibbutz with a lifestyle that would enable women to work side-by-side with men while their children were cared for by others. We all know now that the dream didn't materialize as we had hoped. I moved on to become a professional French Horn Player with the then Israel Radio Orchestra. I was refused a scholarship with the Israeli Philharmonic because I was a woman. I returned to the U.S. to complete music studies through a PhD. I became an assistant professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and along with that, the director of Music Publications for the Reform Movement (Transcontinental Music Publications). There was no gender discrimination in either of those places.

    After I retired, I returned to Israel with the illusion that I would find it somehow the place I had left. Instead, I came to a near theocracy with a government that has little interest in protecting women's rights. I salute the women who are fighting for them.

    Born in the United States in 1933. Attended the High School of Music and Art. Joined Hashomer Hatzair. I came to Israel in 1952 to Kibbutz GalOn. I married in 1957 and was widowed soon after, gave birth to twins, both who live in Israel. I remarried, gave birth to a son, studied and pursued an academic career in music. I retired to Israel and have lived here since 2000. I continued to teach in Jerusalem until 2009. Currently, studying Hebrew literature.


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  • Update on Treatment of African Asylum Seekers in Israel

    15 January 2014

    Israel was always meant to be both a Jewish homeland and a democracy. Its founders were driven by their experience as stateless Jews to guarantee equal rights.