Posts filed under ‘Jewish’

10 Things To Include on Your Synagogue Site – Now!

From the Talance blog, 

  1. Contact information – on the homepage. This includes mailng address, phone number, e-mail address and fax number.
  2. Directions. This includes a map (like a Google map), parking information and public transport options. Do you provide transport services? Include info on this here too.
  3. Service times. keep this up to date with candle-lighting times and special, high holy day services. In text, on the homepage.
  4. Rabbi’s blog. If there are two things rabbis do well, it’s think and write. They should be blogging machines. If you’re thinking, “But I can’t get the rabbi to blog!” have him or her send you an e-mail every week with their thoughts, and you do a cut-and-paste job. Bonus points if you put the most recent blog posts on the homepage.
  5. Extra blog for special projects. This is especially for long-term projects you want to inform your members of, like renovations, new programs or campaigns like Save Darfur. Yes, start a second blog for these things. That way you don’t cloud the focus of the rabbi’s blog.
  6. Pictures – OF PEOPLE. If you have to show a picture of a room, make somebody stand in it. Better if multiple people are standing in it. If you can’t take pictures during services, provide arty shots of architectural highlights.
  7. A calendar. Keep it up to date. Bonus points if you put the week’s events or a date-picker on the homepage.
  8. A way to give. Do not be shy. Do not make it hard for people to figure out how to give. They want to help you out. Let them.
  9. Calls to action. Tell your visitors what they should do when they arrive at your site. if you want donations, say, “Donate now!” If you want them to subscribe to the blog, say, “Subscribe to the blog!” If you want them to come to an event, say, “Sign up for our next event!” Get the picture?
  10. A special section for potential members. Your regular Joes know what you’re all about, but your new people need special guidance. Put all the stuff they need – like directions, membership forms, rabbi’s profile – in one handy spot so they can pick it up when they come. Label it clearly, “Visitors: Click Here.”

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July 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm 2 comments

And the truth is…

When Paul Newman died, they said how great he was, but failed to mention he considered himself Jewish (although born half-Jewish).

When Helen Suzman (she helped Nelson Mandela), died recently, they said how great she was, but they failed to mention she was Jewish.

On the other side of the equation, when Ivan Boesky, Andrew Fastow, and Bernie Madoff committed fraud, almost every article mentioned they were Jewish.

However, when Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Martha Stewart, Randy Cunningham, Gov. Edwards, Conrad Black, Senator Keating, Gov Ryan, and Gov. Blagojevich messed up; no one reported what religion or denomination they were, because they were not Jewish.

This is a reminder of a famous Einstein story…….

In 1921, Albert Einstein presented a paper on his then-infant “Theory of Relativity” at the Sorbonne, the prestigious French university.

“If I am proved correct,” he said, “the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss will call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist.

“If my theory is proved wrong, the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.


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June 12, 2009 at 7:07 pm Leave a comment

a joke about the middle east?!

A CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for a long, long time. So she went to check it out.

She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site. She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview.

“Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. What’s your name?”

“Morris Fishbien,” he replied.

“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?”

“For about 60 years.”

“60 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”

“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults, and to love their fellow man.”

“How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?”

“Like I’m talking to a f—ing brick wall.”

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March 12, 2009 at 12:12 am Leave a comment

Twitter is sooooo Jewish!


I’m a twitterer. No, that’s not some social malady. If you don’t know what Twitter is, Google it. You’ll find explanations that are much more articulate and accurate than anything I can provide. I do, though, have some reflections on why I twitter and why it’s logically Jewish to do so.

First and foremost, I twitter because I have a big ego and want other people to know what I think about things. Twitter is a fabulous venue for this. It’s somewhat anonymous in that while I ‘know’ some of the people who might read my tweets, I really don’t ‘know’ them. It’s much like the phenomena of people telling strangers their most intimate secrets. It’s safe… well appears to be. Secondly, I get to teach, and this is directly tied to number 1 (ego). I get to offer not only my opinion on certain subjects but Judaism’s perspective on them as well. I’ve even had a couple chances to do a little pastoral counseling and Torah study through Twitter.

Twitter makes me think. I often find myself doing some mundane task and the thought pops into my mind, “if I were to twitter about this what would I say?” When this first started happening I simply thought I was addicted to twitter and needed to find a way to break the dependency! But as I’ve sat with it, I realized Twitter brings me back to the moment. By making the unconscious, conscious I’ve forced myself back into the ‘now’ and made the mundane less so. Jewish cue number one – Judaism is about focusing on the here and now. Judaism has no consistent views on the afterlife primarily because it’s inconsequential – we have now and that’s enough.

Jewish cue number two – Twitter is about creating community. Buber was clear that when we acknowledge the humanity of others in our relationships we experience God. I don’t advocate using Twitter or any other social networking tool to replace panim el panim, face to face, interaction. To the contrary, I think these tools can help facilitate more face time. But the realities of modern life preclude regular, physical interaction with all our myriad communities. In those interim periods, tools like Twitter can fill the gaps. In addition, I’ve met hundreds of people from across the world who I would have never known if it weren’t for these tools. These interactions enrich my life.

Jewish cue number three – Twitter is about creating conversation. Judaism is all about the conversation; the digging deeply into an issue and exploring all aspects and sides of an issue. As one twitterer recently wrote, “our (Judaism’s) religious practice is our study, our work and our acts of kindness and compassion. So, (the) idea is engaging on Twitter – and sharing these facets of ourselves is a religious practice, what makes us Jewish.”

My thanks to @abfdc and @cavosie for their contributions. I’m @rebaaron

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March 5, 2009 at 2:20 am Leave a comment

Obama’s Jewish staff

Are Obama and Biden assembling a staff or gathering a minyan?

So far we have:

Rahm Emanuel – Chief of Staff – Jewish

David Axelrod – Senior Advisor to the President – Jewish

Ronald Klain – Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the United States – Jewish

Larry Summers – Economic Advisor to the President – Jewish

Paul Volcker – Economic Advisor to the President, Former Head of Fed Reserve – Jewish

Tim Geithner – Treasury Secretary – Jewish

Peter Orszag – Head of Budget – Jewish

January 19, 2009 at 6:58 pm 8 comments

SRO crowd at Indy Israel event

Tonight’s Indianapolis event in support of Israel was standing room only. In stark contrast to last weekend’s ‘peace’ rally in downtown Indy, this event at the JCC was calm, respectful and even handed while still clearly one-sided support.

This isn’t to say there wasn’t pro Israel propaganda – and the Israeli consul general joked that Israel is well able to create its own PR.

I’m proud of how the Jewish community rallied in support of Israel without zealotry.

January 15, 2009 at 1:33 am Leave a comment

Israel, Gaza and me

I’m addicted to Twitter. Those who use the service know (and I’m sure share) my malady. I first identified it as an addiction during the attacks on Mumbai. It manifested again recently as Israel attacked Hamas. Note, I said Israel attacked Hamas – not attacked Gaza.

Yesterday evening (Saturday the 28th), I found myself (OK, put myself) embroiled in debates (arguements) with what I politely call Israel haters. It amazes me how much anecdotal disinformation people spout as historical fact. I’m the first to admit, history is never clear cut or one sided. In the best Jewish tradition, even history needs interpretation. However, the consistent interpretation that Israel is a war-mongering aggressor is, for me, getting old!

One Israeli newspaper ran the headline, “Europe refrains from one-sided condemnation of Israel.” Yay! And how sad. Why is it that Israel, a sovereign nation, cannot defend itself from outside aggression? I simply don’t understand why Israel does not rate the same rights as other nations in the world. Israel is a blip on the radar in a sea of Arab nations, most of whom want its immediate obliteration. I defy any American or European to convince me they can remotely relate to this level of personal threat.

I would never condone everything Israel does in the guise of self protection. To the contrary, as a member of Rabbis for Human Rights I’ve been very public about my displeasure with many of Israel’s mistakes. This isn’t about that though – at least for me. It’s about applying the same rules for Israel that we use for every other county in the world.

 Here’s a great article on Jewcy by Shmuel Rosner, The Two-Sided Argument Over Gaza

December 28, 2008 at 3:52 pm 3 comments


Like many folks, I was glued to CNN and my computer during last week’s horror in Mumbai. Also like others, I was using technology tools that enabled me to get information faster than the television news. It was both fascinating and daunting to realize that I was a conduit for information. As I read posts on Twitter from people I follow, I was relaying this information to people in my network, who were forwarding it to theirs. I was watching live feeds on Spy and would see my posts show up from people I didn’t know. Amazing… and horrifying.

I’ve struggled daily to come up with something to say about what happened in Mumbai. To be sure, it was a horrific terror attack. But add to this the fact that this attack intentionally targeted Jews leaves me, well, speechless.

We know now that not only did the terrorists intentionally target the Jewish Community Center (Naiman House/Chabad House), but the Jewish victims were intentionally and savagely tortured. The rabbi’s wife was found covered by a tallit (ritual prayer shawl) indicating she died early and her husband or someone else covered her body. This is nearly incomprehensible.

I came across this post on Jewcy from Jeffrey Goldberg. He says what I’m feeling better than I seem to be able.

I’m not the greatest fan of Chabad in the world, in particular its Christological, maybe-the-Rebbe’s-43662440_mid-sizenot-dead streak, and its general fundamentalist, women-marginalizing outlook, but this is a group that does, in fact, try to spread a kind of happiness wherever it plants itself. And it plants itself everywhere. It puts other Jewish groups to shame, in fact, by its ebullient outreach. My friend Esther Abramowitz wrote to note that the “Chabad rabbi and his wife have welcomed and celebrated with thousands upon thousands of traveling Israelis with joy and no judgment.”  That’s the formula, and it’s a formula that works.

What happened in Mumbai was a horror. We’re now learning that the people in the Chabad house were subjected to special tortures, but even if they were murdered quickly, they were still murdered, and they were murdered for the crime of being Jewish. It’s astonishing to think that Pakistani-supported terrorists, obsessed with the alleged crimes of Hindu India, would go out of their way to murder a group of people who couldn’t find Kashmir on a map. But the Jews are a cosmological enemy. I think we’ve learned that by now.

December 2, 2008 at 5:48 pm 3 comments

My year of living kaddish

Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death – at least according to the Jewish calendar. My father died December 31, 2006 corresponding with the 10th of Tevet. Ari Goldman, former reporter for the New York Times and now assistant dean of at the Columbia School of Journalism, wrote a book called Living a Year of Kaddish: A Memoir. I read his book shortly after my father died and wrote the following to Goldman, January 14, 2007:

Professor Goldman,

My father died two weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. I’ve thought of reading your book for ages – and finally picked it up this afternoon while back at my parent’s house to help my mother. I ended up reading it in one sitting. Thank you for reminding me why I’m saying kaddish! Kol ha kavod.

His reply the next day:

Dear Rabbi Spiegel,

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father. I am glad to hear that my book was something of a comfort. This is such a difficult time and having a prayer like kaddish is a great companion. I hope sweet memories of your father together with the love of family and friends will help sustain you.



So began my year of living kaddish.

My year has been very different from Goldman’s, and yet not so different. The mechanics of our observance is different – he is Orthodox and felt required to say kaddish three times daily. My liberal tradition says once a day is enough. Goldman talks in the book about frantic searches to find a minyan three times a day. I was not so panicked, partly because I was able to stay home during most of the year and when I did travel, I was able to arrange to find a synagogue beforehand. I’m both surprised and a bit amazed to say I made a minyan once a day almost every day for the whole year.

At first it was a daunting task and I admit I did it as much out of a sense of obligation as any other reason. Truth be told, it is an obligation for an oldest son to say kaddish for a parent, at least in a halachic sense. But modern sensibilities permeate the Jewish world and most American Jews might say kaddish through shiva (7 days), maybe some even through sh’loshim (30 days). I felt the need to do the ‘whole magillah.’ And it was not easy.

There was many a day I just couldn’t imagine doing this for a year. The precept that got me through is the 12-Step notion of one day at a time. I didn’t have to worry about doing it tomorrow, only today. And so, my days took on the routine of leaving the office just after 5pm to make mincha at 5:45pm. And the year passed.

Today I will lead mincha and ma’ariv and say kaddish for the last time as a part of the formal mourning period. Did it help? Absolutely. While I wasn’t able to focus on my grief and memories every day, in retrospect, I did for most of the days. Having stopped the daily trip to synagogue after 11 months, I’ve already re-adapted my routine. Funny, I don’t have any extra time in my life – it’s just filled with other things. As I think about today’s last kaddish I’m almost melancholy and my emotions are mixed. I miss my dad, and this is the last piece of letting go. Zichronah livrachah, his memory is a blessing.

Marvin H. Spiegel, z”l
May 15, 1929 – December 31, 2007
5 Iyyar, 5689 – 10 Tevet, 5768

original eulogy at

December 19, 2007 at 9:01 pm Leave a comment

I hate Hanukkah

Truthfully, I hate what’s been done to Hanukkah. It’s been usurped by Christmas – meaning Americanized, materialized, demoralized! Hanukkah is really a universal event – the first recorded war over religious persecution where the persecuted won. That whole 8 day thing with the oil – total mishagas. The rabbis decided (some 300 years later) that they didn’t want us celebrating a military victory and they wanted more God in the story. The real miracle was that a rag tag bunch of Jews said ‘enough’ and ‘we’re not going to assimilate.’ They used gorilla warfare (maybe the first time in history?) and won. The Temple was still destroyed, but they maintained their right to be Jews. That’s good enough for me.

Sarah Silverman’s Give the Jew Girl Toys

November 29, 2007 at 9:55 pm 2 comments

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