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Sleepless in Safed: A Shavuot Custom Continues at Its Source

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The historic Abuhav Synagogue is one of 60 in Safed where the “Tikkun Leil Shavuot” will be recited on the first night of the festival.

More than 60 synagogues will be open until dawn for the Tikkun Leil Shavuot service

The first night of the festival of Shavuot is not one for sleeping in Jewish communities around the world. It is the night when Tikkun Leil Shavuot (rectification of the night of Shavuot)—a specific text comprising written, oral and mystical aspects of the Torah—is recited, followed in many places by study and classes until dawn.

In the holy city of Safed, Israel, where the text of the Tikkun originated, the electric aura of the holiday is almost palpable.

“There are approximately 60 synagogues here in Safed, from every nusach [prayer tradition]—Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Lithuanian, etc.,” notes Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi ShaulLeiter, director of the Ascent Institute of Safed, which he co-founded more than 30 years ago with Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles and

Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky. “After the evening feast at around 10 p.m., you can see all the men leaving their homes on their way to begin the Tikkun, which will continue throughout the night, along with other Torah study until around 5 a.m., when they make their way to purify themselves in a mikvah [ritual bath] before heading back to the synagogue for the morning prayer service.”

Several of the most famous synagogues in the world are located in Safed. There is the Ari Synagogue, named after Rabbi Isaac Luria, the preeminent Kabbalist; the Beit YosefSynagogue, named for Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch (“Code of Jewish Law”); the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, located in a field where Rabbi Luria would bring his students out to greet the Shabbat Queen; the TzaddikHaLavan, the oldest of the Sephardic synagogues in Safed; and the Abuhav, named after

Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav, a renowned 15th-century Spanish rabbi. Tradition claims that he designed the synagogue while still in Spain, incorporating Kabbalistic symbols into the structure.

“The Abuhav Synagogue is even more unique in that it has a 500-year-old Torah scroll that is still kosher,” notes Chaya Brocha Leiter. “This is parchment and ink. The parchment is gray, and the ends have fringes. And what is so miraculous here—aside from it still being in existence at all—is that each and every letter is still whole and kosher.

“There are only three times a year that this Torah scroll is taken out for reading: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. If one is lucky enough to actually merit to kiss this Torah, one actually can feel a surge of electricity enter oneself,” she continues, “and it so moves the person that they are overcome. People often find themselves weeping.”

Services and classes will also take place throughout the night at these sites, and at Chabad of the Old City, where Rabbi Gavriel Marzel will lead study sessions for dozens of residents, students and visitors from around Israel and abroad.

More than 100 guests are expected to join the Leiters at Ascent for night-long study. Chaya Brocha Leiter, program director of Ascent—who leads classes and tours throughout the year on the “who’s, where’s, what’s and why’s” of Safed and its history—explains why the Tikkun is associated with the city.

A version of the Tikkun was also formulated by the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and conveyed by his disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, in Shaar HaKavvanot. Later, the renowned scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, known as the Shelah HaKadosh, changed the order somewhat to include readings from all the books of the Tanach and the Talmud, as well as made other minor changes. This basic order established by the Shelah stands as the text of Tikkun Leil Shavuot used today in almost all Jewish communities.

“This was the Golden Age of Jewish mysticism,” explains Chaya Brocha Leiter. “There were 300 of our greatest sages in Safed. When Rabbi Yaakov Beirav, the leading sage of Safed, passed away, Rabbi Yosef Caro was regarded as his successor. Together with Rabbi Moshe of Trani [the Mabit], they headed the Rabbinical Court of Safed. At this point, the Rabbinical Court of Safed had become the central rabbinical court in all of Israel, and of the Diaspora as well. And so the Tikkun was adopted by virtually the entire Jewish world.”

Learning is not confined to men. According to Leiter, a group of women always comes to learn—not the whole night, but for a while. “It matters not if you are a Torah scholar, per se. Even saying and learning about the Ten Commandments is fundamental, she says. “In our group, we not only recite the verses, but I also distribute pages with explanations of these verses that the women take turns reading aloud. Thus, they all actively participate in their own preparation for the main event of receiving the Torah the following day.”

Rabbi Shaul Leiter concluded by saying that all Chassidim say the Tikkun. He then offered an explanation from one of the Sichos of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—from the summer of 1940:

“The spiritual service of Shavuot is the saying of the letters of the Torah—the bona fide way to say the letters of the Torah on Shavuot is the Tikkun on the first night. The rectification that is accomplished with the saying of these letters of the Torah is the most important preparation for the receiving the Torah.”

“Rabbi Yosef Caro was just 4 years old when his family left Spain in 1492, due to the Expulsion, and went on to Portugal. Just two years later, Portugal expelled its Jews as well. His family then wandered from city to city, from country to country, until they found safety in Constantinople [Kushta], Turkey. He married young, but due to poverty and disease, lost his wife and both of his children. He then remarried and started to learn with Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, a Kabbalist and poet, whose ‘Lecha Dodi’ is recited each Friday night to usher in the Sabbath.”

     (Chabad.org)

Alleged Victims of Harvey Weinstein Receiving Reduced Damages

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Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims will have to face the fact that, despite bringing their cases to court and being willing to testify, any damages they would receive are being significantly reduced by legal fees, including Harvey Weinstein’s, none of which he has to pay himself. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In October of last year, Harvey Weinstein, former film producer and co-founder of Miramax, a major entertainment company, became embroiled in scandal when he was accused of sexually harassing, molesting or raping numerous women over a period of 30 years. The political repercussions of the case are still being felt in the current increased awareness of sexual harassment and abuse that women face in the workplace and in society in general.

Now, his supposed victims will have to face the fact that, despite bringing their cases to court and being willing to testify, any damages they would receive are being significantly reduced by legal fees, including Harvey Weinstein’s, none of which he has to pay himself. Mr. Weinstein’s attorneys are looking to make as much as $14 million. The entire supposed settlement for those who’ve brought Mr. Weinstein past behavior to light is $44 million, with a majority of those victims apparently receiving an average of only $60,000, according to a report by the New York Post.

Among the alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein’s advances are actress Paz de La Huerta, who appeared on the HBO show “Boardwalk Empire” and Alexandra Canosa, a producer with Netflix. They, and as many as 150 other women, are reportedly going to have to divide what will remain of the legal settlement once fees for legal services for both the defendant and plaintiff have been paid off. As one supposed victim stated about the low settlement money that will be paid out, “It’s insulting. It’s particularly insulting that he doesn’t even have to pay his own lawyer’s fees. He gets to walk away without any consequences.”

Harvey Weinstein will not have to pay either his legal fees nor any of the money for legal settlement, with the fees coming out of the damages settlement, and that being covered by insurance agencies who provide coverage for both the Weinstein Co. and Miramax, the entertainment company he once ran.

With $14 million of the legal settlement money being allocated to pay off defendant’s legal costs and another $8 million to plaintiff’s legal fees, the remainder of the money will have to be distributed to 150 different women who are involved in the class action lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein.

According to an anonymous source close to the negotiations being held, “The defendants are using what could be victim funds to pay their legal fees despite many of them being billionaires.”

It’s also been revealed that women who filed single lawsuits themselves against Harvey Weinstein, as opposed to the class action lawsuit previously mentioned, will receive up to $500,000 each. There are up to 18 of these supposed victims located in the U.S. United Kingdom, and Canada.

The balance of the legal damages will total $9 million after all is said and done, which will have to be split up among the remaining 150 women involved in the class action lawsuit.

Real Estate Broker Robert Futterman Speaks Out After “Drug” Firing

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Robert K. Futterman, aged 60, was the Chairman and CEO of RKF, a major commercial real estate agency in New York City, until he was fired “for cause” late May this year due to his acting “erratically.” Photo Credit: YouTube

Robert K. Futterman, aged 60, was the Chairman and CEO of RKF, a major commercial real estate agency in New York City, until he was fired “for cause” late May this year due to his acting “erratically.” His supposedly volatile conduct included rudely intervening into a presentation being made by Barry Gosin, current CEO of Newark (part of Howard Lutnick’s BGC) which purchased RKF in September of last 2018. According to an anonymous source within the company, ““They were worried he would do something that would reflect badly on the company.”

Mr. Futterman was also arrested on a drug charge in April of this year in Texas. An incident which also preceded his termination. Robert Futterman repudiates any notion that he has a drug addiction, instead saying that he was merely depressed due to his breaking up with Hollie Watman, a clothing designer who he had been his girlfriend for ten years. Indeed, Mr. Futterman states that his “drug arrest” was for medical marijuana, not any other illicit substances. As he told the New York Post in an interview, “I was falsely accused of using [illegal] drugs and alcohol, which I don’t use.”

Newmark has previously attempted to have Mr. Futterman placed into an esteemed drug rehabilitation center in the Hamptons, along with other similar treatment centers, but he was routinely rejected for lack of drugs or alcohol in his bloodstream, according to a different anonymous source within the real estate company. As the source stated, “They couldn’t find a rehab to take him.”

Robert Futterman continued protesting his termination by saying, ““This is an injustice not just to me but to our entire industry and I don’t think the industry should sit back. I certainly do not plan on sitting back. My dad was a fighter, he fought in World War II. [I’ve been] unjustly persecuted for just being the person that I am.” Because of a clause in a contract he signed when RKF was purchased by Newmark, he is now prevented from being involved in the real estate industry for a period of 11 years, as well as disallowed from using his own initials, RKF, the name of the original company he was head of.

The drug arrest in Texas, which so disconcerted the heads of the real estate company, occurred when Robert Futterman was found in possession of “soft drugs,” among which was marijuana that had been made into “edibles,” a form of the drug which can be chewed and swallowed. He was originally approached by airport officials in Dallas/Fort Worth due to his leaving his bag unattended. According to the official arrest report, Mr. Futterman, “threw his bag to the floor,” while speaking to officials. A package of Cheeba Chews fell out, one of the ingredients of which is THC. CBD Oil and other edible marijuana products were found in a further search of his bag. CBD oil is a controlled substance in the state of Texas.

Nation of Israel Mourns the Passing of Nechama Rivlin, a’h, Wife of President Reuven Rivlin

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Beit HaNasi has announced with deep sorrow the passing of Nechama Rivlin ז"ל, the wife of President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, on Tuesday 4 June / 1 Sivan at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. She was 73 when she died, shortly before her 74th birthday. Photo Credit: GPO

Beit HaNasi has announced with deep sorrow the passing of Nechama Rivlin ז”ל, the wife of President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, on Tuesday 4 June / 1 Sivan at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. She was 73 when she died, shortly before her 74th birthday.

Nechama underwent a lung transplant three months ago on Monday 11 March 2019 / 4 Adar II 5779, an operation she needed due to the pulmonary fibrosis from which she suffered in recent years.

The president and family members expressed their heartfelt thanks to the entire staff of Beilinson Hospital for the dedicated, sensitive and professional treatment she received over the last few months, night and day, with an open heart.

“Unfortunately, all the doctors’ efforts to stabilize her during the complex rehabilitation process that followed her transplant failed,” hospital officials said.

“The medical teams of the chest, lung, cardiology and intensive care units did not leave Mrs. Rivlin’s bed the whole time… This is a sad day for all of us at the medical center. The hospital staff is mourning,” the staff said.

In addition, the Rivlin family expressed profound thanks to “the citizens of Israel and the heads of the communities who have continued to ask after Nechama’s health, to send letters and wonderful children’s drawings to the hospital and to Beit HaNasi, and to pray for her every day, every hour. Their love and concern gave the president and all members of the family strength and support that cannot be described in words.”

The family also expressed tremendous appreciation to the Halabli family, who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.

Leading the tributes to the life of Nechama Rivlin, a’h was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said, “Along with the citizens of Israel, my wife Sara and I would like to express our deep sorrow over the death of the president’s wife, Nechama, We have all been praying for her recovery these past weeks, as she was bravely fighting for her life. We send our condolences to the president, his family and to the entire country. May her memory be blessed.”

Nehama Rivlin ז”ל–biography

Nechama was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region.

Her parents, Drora (Keila) and Mendy Shulman, immigrated from the Ukraine and were among the founders of the moshav. Nechama studied from kindergarten until the end of the elementary school in the area.

Her father died when she was five and her mother was left to work the farm. “I remember her working hard and fighting like a lioness for the right to work the land, despite the objective difficulties entailed in choosing such a demanding way of life. She never sank into debt – no small feat in a cooperative farming settlement,” Rivlin wrote in Haaretz in 2016.

Nechama completed her high school studies at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School, and due to back surgery, she received a postponement of her army service.

In 1964 she began studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying natural sciences. She graduated with a BSc in botany and zoology and holds a teaching certificate in these departments.

In 1967 she began working at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the Department of Zoology, and then moved to the Department of Ecology and the Department of Genetics. In addition, Nechama studied the history of art in the fields of modern, classical and ancient art.

In 1971 she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. Nechama had three children–Rivi (Rivka), Anat and Ran. She was grandmother to Matan, Ziv, Shai, Karni, Maya, Daniela and Yahav, and sister to Varda.

In 2007 Nechama retired and then discovered that she had an incurable lung disease that required her to use a portable oxygen device. When Nechama moved to Beit HaNasi, she chose to focus on art, activities for children with special needs, the environment and nature, through compassion and love of people.

In a post she wrote about the book Paddington Bear Nechama wrote: “How often do we pass an injured animal or bird and look away, just so we do not have to take on the burden of caring for it?” Later, she even voiced a character in the film based on the book.

Nechama set up a community garden in the garden of the President’s Residence, where children from all over the country came to plant and plant plants, spices and flowers on a regular basis.

Nechama was a regular visitor to Israel’s cultural institutions, particularly those in Jerusalem, out of true love for art in all its forms. Nechama was particularly fond of the Cinematheque and Smadar cinemas in Jerusalem, where she used to watch films regularly.

Nechama’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” They became especially beloved to followers of the page and to lovers of culture and art in Israel.

In 2018, Nechama established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry. On the committee’s announcement of the winner Amichai Hasson, Nechama said: “I congratulate the lovers of language and words, the writers and poets who make magic with them and wish that our world will always have people in it who make poetry from it.”

She was popular with the Israeli public. “People loved me a great deal. I don’t know why,” she said in a radio interview last year, inadvertently revealing part of her charm.

May her memory be a blessing.

יהי זכרה ברוך

 

What It’s Like to Be the Rabbi on the Beaches of Normandy 75 Years After D-Day

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Lewin with students at the Jewish section of the military cemetery

Exactly 75 years ago, Normandy was the site of one of the largest military invasions ever staged. Forever known as D-Day, June 6, 1944 marked the turning point of World War II, in which 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of fiercely defended beaches in northern France.

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump will headline a flurry of ceremonies, presentations and memorials that will commemorate the 75th anniversary.

Among those present will be Rabbi Mordechai and Zlata Lewin, co-directors of Chabad ofCaen since 2014.

In an interview with Chabad.org, Rabbi Lewin shares what it’s like to serve as the only rabbi along the beaches soaked with blood and hallowed with bravery.

Q: To start with, can you tell us a little about the local Jewish community?

A: Normandy is a large area served by five Chabad couples, each in a different community. My wife and I are in Caen, which is on the coast, the site of the D-Day invasion.

Historically, the Jewish community was Ashkenazi, from Alsace, the birthplace of French Jewry in the Middle Ages. Most of them have since passed away or moved on, and the current community, approximately 100 strong, are Sephardic immigrants from Algeria and their descendants.

There is a synagogue here with services every Shabbat. Our Chabad House serves as a center for classes, communal events, women’s programs, kosher catering and activities for kids. We operate a small day school for children from throughout Normandy and a Gan Israel day camp, where we expect 50 children this summer.

Q: Who else do you serve?

A: Caen is home to 30,000 students distributed between four public universities and 20 recognized private schools. Of course, there are Jewish students among them, and we operate a Chabad on Campus for them.

And then there are the tourists. Caen has dozens of museums, memorials and educational programs dedicated to D-Day that attract Jewish visitors from all over the world.

Shortly after we arrived, we set up a kosher catering facility so that Jewish groups are able to come here and enjoy a full Jewish experience. With time, we educated ourselves more and more about the history of the place, and we now offer our own tours.

We began with synagogue groups and senior clubs, and have since expanded to include school groups as well.

Q: What’s it like to show people around the site of so much death and destruction?

A: It’s actually quite touching. No matter how many times I see and say the same thing, it hits me again. These were young men—boys, really—who traveled 8,000 miles away from home and willingly put themselves in grave danger for the greater good. Jew or non-Jew, they all put their lives on the line.

Knowing full well that they might be taken prisoner of war, many Jewish soldiers chose to keep their Jewish identification and carry their siddurim (prayer books) and tefillin with them.

We have a collection of artifacts that we share with visitors, including a siddur that an American soldier carried with him during the invasion.

Q: What more can you tell about the siddur? How did you get it?

A: I received it from the Rabbi Shmuel Lewin, the Chabad rabbi in Deauville, another city in Normandy. There was an abandoned building there that had once been a military hospital for Allied troops. They were renovating the building, and the workers found the siddur. Recognizing it as a Jewish artifact, they gave it to the rabbi, who passed it on to me.

You can see that the soldier had marked off the pages for Tefilat Haderech(Traveler’s Prayer) and Havdalah, which marks the end of Shabbat.

Q: With the big 75th anniversary around the corner, what are you planning?

A: For one thing, there will be a group of American chaplains present who asked us to help them with kosher food and other accommodations, which we are glad to supply. In addition, we hope to be present at the ceremonies, representing our fellow members of the local Jewish community and Chabad.

                                                (Chabad.org)

 

NJ Suing Sackler Family Over Lethal Toll of Drugs Made by Purdue Pharma

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The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Superior Court in Essex County, NJ, says the Sackler family “built a multi-billion-dollar drug empire based on addiction. Despite knowing the harms that would result, the Sacklers drove Purdue to pursue deceitful sales campaigns for OxyContin and other highly addictive opioid painkillers.” Photo Credit: The Daily Caller

More tzooris for the Sacklers.

The state of New Jersey is taking eight family members to court because of the drugs manufactured by the family business, Purdue Pharma.

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Superior Court in Essex County, NJ, says the Sackler family “built a multi-billion-dollar drug empire based on addiction. Despite knowing the harms that would result, the Sacklers drove Purdue to pursue deceitful sales campaigns for OxyContin and other highly addictive opioid painkillers.”

Sackler representative Nikki Ritchie told the press that the family called the lawsuit ‘baseless.” The four-county lawsuit names former Purdue CEO and President Richard Sackler, along with Jonathan D. Sackler; Dr. Kathe Sackler; Ilene Sackler Lefcourt; Mortimer D.A. Sackler; Beverly Sackler; Theresa Sackler; and David A. Sackler.

“Purdue sells the prescription painkiller OxyContin and is owned by members of the Sackler family, who have made at least $4 billion in the last decade from the drug company, according to court documents made public in Massachusetts earlier this year,” explained the Associated Press.

For those keeping count, New Jersey is one of a dozen states involved in lawsuits aimed at family members “over the toll of opioids, prompting Purdue Pharma to announce in March it was considering legal options including bankruptcy that could upend the ongoing lawsuits against the company. Several states have announced similar allegations against the Sackler family in the past month,” AP added. “About 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued Purdue or other drug makers and distributors over opioids. Most of those suits have been consolidated under one federal judge who is pushing for a settlement.”

Just weeks ago, as reported by The Jewish Voice, The Metropolitan Museum of Art said it would not rename its Sackler Wing — but instead would say no to any future donations made by the family, once again due to its connection to OxyContin.

The politically calculated decisions were a direct result of the popular fury concerning the family’s part in the ongoing opioid crisis. “The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” Daniel H. Weiss, the president of the Met, told the New York Times in an interview. “That is what we’re doing here.”

Not wanting to be left out, the state of Vermont is also suing the eight members of the Sackler family. The lawsuit makes the claim that family members violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, were unjustly enriched, and created a public nuisance.

Medical Marijuana Businesses Set for Massive Expansion in NJ

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New Jersey residents suffering from painful ailments that marijuana may alleviate may soon benefit from their home state allowing greater access to marijuana for medical purposes after long having one of the most restrictive policies towards it in the country. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

New Jersey residents suffering from painful ailments that marijuana may alleviate may soon benefit from their home state allowing greater access to marijuana for medical purposes after long having one of the most restrictive policies towards it in the country. The New Jersey Department of Health has just recently unveiled its intention to open and license up to 108 new businesses specializing in medical marijuana. This would be in addition to the 12 medical marijuana providers already present in the state, only half of which are licensed and operational.

For patients looking to take advantage of this however, they may have to deal with a long waiting period, as it may take months for any of the most recent medical marijuana industries to become fully operational. Nevertheless, it has been noted that current New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, has made it his intent to make medical marijuana more available for those in need. This is especially important considering the current medical marijuana program in New Jersey has both seen a scarcity of supply, and extensive numbers of patients waiting to take advantage.

Further difficulties to this effort had been noted with the New Jersey state government efforts to add marijuana businesses creating more and more “red tape” slowing the entire process down. This has led Governor Murphy to use his power and authority to move things along. According to Shereef Elnahal, the New Jersey state Health Commissioner, “We are at a point where patients just cannot wait any longer for easily accessible, affordable therapy. This request for applications allows for specialization of businesses to increase medical product in our state.” The Department of Health in New Jersey will begin allowing applications for licenses to dispense medical marijuana in that state as early as the first of July of this year, continuing to accept them throughout August 15th. They declined to say when they will make it public who has received a license.

The New Jersey Department of Health is expected to authorize up to possibly 38 new businesses to engage in the dispensation of medical marijuana in the northern part of New Jersey, along with as many as 38 in central New Jersey, and another 32 in lower New Jersey. With as many as 108 licenses being given out, the Health Department desires 24 of those licenses to be possessed by marijuana growers while 30 licenses will go to processors of marijuana plants. New retailers of medical marijuana with fresh licenses will number up to 54.

New Jersey Governor Murphy has been noted for his wish to see patients who would benefit from using medical marijuana be allowed greater access. He has talked about the, “rapidly growing patient need” for pain alleviating medical marijuana in his state. As he explained at a news conference at Hackensack, “Our goal is to ensure a medical marijuana program that is as robust as it is compassionate.”

Barrymore Film Center Set for 2020 Debut in Fort Lee, NJ

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Fort Lee, NJ was the original Hollywood, so they say, which makes last week’s beam-signing event for the Barrymore Film Center a logical occurrence. The new 21,500-square-foot, 260-seat, “retro-futuristic” cinema/museum/movie archive building is scheduled to debut in October 2020. Photo Credit: Barrymore Film Center

Fort Lee, NJ was the original Hollywood, so they say, which makes last week’s beam-signing event for the Barrymore Film Center a logical occurrence.

The new 21,500-square-foot, 260-seat, “retro-futuristic” cinema/museum/movie archive building is scheduled to debut in October 2020. It was designed by renowned architect Hugh Hardy.

The official ground-breaking saw engraved ceremonial shovels in the hands of Mayor Mark Sokolich, accompanied by members of the Fort Lee Film Commission and Borough Council members.

The Barrymore Film Center (BFC), established by the Borough of Fort Lee, NJ, is dedicated to the borough’s significant history as the birthplace of American film. “Fort Lee is the first American film town where studios,” the Center says on its web site, “including Universal (1912), FOX (1915), and Solax (1912) — the first studio built and operated by a woman, Alice Guy Blaché — were established.” The stars of the day included Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, Dorothy and Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore.

Along with exhibitions on Fort Lee and world cinema history, the group continues, programming at the BFC will include major film retrospectives, and annual silent film event, film festivals, foreign film screenings, and showcases for emerging filmmakers. the center is being built by the Borough of Fort Lee and will be operated by the Fort Lee Film Commission.

Memorable motion pictures filmed in Fort Lee have ranged from “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” in 1912, to Universal’s first horror film, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” in 1913. “Filmmaking continued even after the industry moved to Los Angeles, and Fort Lee was the setting for the 1947 noir classic “Kiss of Death,” noted the New York Post.

The history goes all the way back to 1900, when Broadway actor and Coytesville resident Maurice Barrymore threw a benefit to raise money to build a firehouse for Company #2 on Washington Avenue in Coytesville, and Center relates. “His son, John, age 18, makes his acting debut at this benefit. Barrymore also ran another fundraiser for the purchase of uniforms for Company #2.”

In 1907, Thomas Edison’s Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest shot on location on the Fort Lee Palisades. “Film features D.W. Griffith’s first starring role as an actor, having appeared in bit parts in several films now identified.” Just a year later, early “slapstick” comedy, Biograph’s The Curtain Pole (directed by D.W. Griffith and featuring Mack Sennett), shot on streets of Fort Lee (Main Street). “IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company, which later joined with other independents to form Universal) shot first film on location in Coytesville, Hiawatha.”

Parshat Bamidbar–”Elite by Commitment”

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We learn that the Levites are to substitute for the firstborn Israelites and will serve in their stead in the special roles of maintaining the Holy Tabernacle. Finally, the Torah describes the division of the tribe of Levi into three and names the leaders of each of those three divisions. It is only at this later point in the parasha that we are informed about the central position of the Levites in the nation’s march through the wilderness. Photo Credit: nigun.info

Scholars have had a lot to say about the role of aristocracy in the course of human history. Those of us who grew up in the United States of America were taught about the advantages of democracy and thus developed a prejudice against the very word “aristocracy.” We were convinced that aristocracy meant government by a select group of people who earned their right to govern by virtue of their birth.

Along with the virtues of democracy, we were taught to value meritocracy. Individuals should be granted positions of authority on the basis of their merit. If they prove themselves to be expert in business, they should be given control of the economy. Those who successfully prove their administrative experience should run the government.

As our formal education proceeded, we learned about the danger of another philosophy; namely, elitism. Somewhere in our attic storage room, there remains a copy of a paper I wrote as a sophomore in college. It was based upon a book by the eminent sociologist C. Wright Mills, entitled The Power Elite. In it, the author cautions against the development of a small group, or “inner core,” controlling all the institutions in power in a given society. A more recent book by David Rothkopf makes a similar point and speaks of a “super-class” that dominates contemporary American society. Personally, I suspect that we can detect in the present presidential elections a revolt, by a substantial portion of the populace, against “the power elite” or the “super-class.”

In my rabbinic teaching experience, I have found that students tend to question, or at least wonder about, the existence of aristocracy or elitism in the society prescribed by our Torah. This tendency is especially common among students who have been raised to value “the American way.” I have discovered that it is this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bemidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), which evokes these questions more than any other.

This week’s parasha begins with an enumeration of the leaders of each tribe. The leader of the tribe of Reuben is named Elizur son of Shedeur, and so are named the leaders of every tribe. That is, every tribe but Levi. The Torah then proceeds with the details of the results of the census that Moses conducted. The total population of each tribe is listed, beginning with Reuben and ending with Naphtali. Again, the tribe of Levi is not recorded. The Torah itself remarks, “The Levites, however, were not recorded among them by their ancestral tribe.” Indeed, the Almighty specifically commands Moses: “Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi, or take a census of them, with the Israelites,” (Numbers 1:47-48).

The Torah continues to describe the configuration of the tribes as they marched through the wilderness: Three tribes in the north, three tribes in the south, and three tribes, each in the east and west. The glaring omission from this formation is the tribe of Levi.

It is only when we reach the third chapter of this week’s Torah portion that we learn of the special treatment that the tribe of Levi is to receive. It is then that we learn that the Levites are to substitute for the firstborn Israelites and will serve in their stead in the special roles of maintaining the Holy Tabernacle. Finally, the Torah describes the division of the tribe of Levi into three and names the leaders of each of those three divisions. It is only at this later point in the parasha that we are informed about the central position of the Levites in the nation’s march through the wilderness.

It is no wonder that students often ask about elitism. Their question is usually phrased along these lines: “Aren’t the Levites being designated by the Almighty Himself as a “power elite” or “super-class?” Are we not to be concerned that the rest of the Israelites will experience the resentment typical to victims of discrimination? Wasn’t the Levites’ special position in this parasha accorded them only because they were born Levites, having done nothing to merit their special distinction?”

The Sages of the Talmud and Midrash respond emphatically to these questions. Here is an especially poetic example, to be found in the Midrash Bemidbar Rabba, chapter 3: “It was the tribe of Levi who were heroes and blossomed forth with their deeds at the time that the Israelites crafted the Golden Calf. It is written, ‘Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come here!”‘ And all the Levites rallied to him. Therefore, the Holy One, Blessed Be He raised them above the Israelites. Like the cedar which is taller and higher in the forest of Lebanon than all other trees, so too are they elevated above all of Israel. Thus, it is written in the book of Psalms (92:14), ‘Planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courtyards of our God.'”

The point of this Midrash, and of many similar rabbinic passages, is this: The elite position of the Levites was not merely a function of their privileged birth. Rather, they earned their position because of their firm commitment to God. They merited their special role because of their courage and dedication.

In the classes that I have led, however, these rabbinic passages do not suffice. Questions persist: “What about nowadays? Can any person not born a Levi gain access to that tribe’s privilege by virtue of his commitment and courage? Or, is membership in this special group closed to non-Levites forever?”

The response to such questions was given centuries ago by none other than Maimonides: “It is not just the tribe of Levi alone, but each and every person from all of the world’s inhabitants, if his spirit but moves him and his intellect matures, can distinguish himself from the masses and stand before God to serve Him and to worship Him. He can come to know God, and if he walks upright in the manner in which God fashioned him and is willing to discard all the many considerations which other humans naturally seek, such a person is sanctified as the holiest of holies. He too can become God’s special portion and heritage forever and ever.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, concluding paragraph of the Laws of the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee)

Simply put, Maimonides is teaching us that every human being can become a Levite.

Not many of us are familiar with Maimonides’ astonishing remarks.

But there is a statement, spoken daily by every regular synagogue attendee, which symbolically transforms each of us into a Levite. For near the conclusion of the morning service every day of the year, weekday or Sabbath or Festival, we recite a psalm. The psalm differs from day to day, but there is a brief prelude that we all utter: “Today is the first day of the week (or second, or third day, as the case may be) on which the Levites used to say this psalm in the Temple.”

Why do we recite this formula? The customary answer is that we want to retain some memory of the Holy Temple in our religious consciousness. But I like to think that we recite it to connect in some fashion to the Levites in the Temple of long ago. And we recite it whether we are Levites by birth or not. We assert that in some sense we can all become Levites.

Maimonides insists that in Judaism elites are made, not born. Authentic elites are not about power. They are about courage and commitment. And conviction.

(Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union)

Parshas Bamidbar – Discover Your Flag

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Torah is our very life, an elixir that renders us unique among the nations and has enabled us to survive the centuries. This Shavuos, embrace the Torah with love, commitment, and engrave it upon your mind and heart.

In this week’s parsha, we begin the 4th of the Five Books of Moses. This Book is also known as Sefer HaPekudim–the Book of Numbers, for G-d commanded that a census be taken of the Jewish people. You might ask what the purpose of that census might be, especially since census had already been taken in the Book of Exodus, and surely, G-d knows our numbers.

The Hebrew word for Census–counting, is so oh, which literally means lift up the heads for through counting, G-d demonstrates His love for us–how precious we are to Him that we are all a part of His master plan endowed with a special purpose that only we can fulfill. That awareness, that G-d loves us, that we count and that we have a tachlis–a purpose in life, should fortify us in our commitment, in our Torah study, in our observance and in our life struggles.

In the beginning of the parsha, the Torah mentions that starting from the second year after the Jewish people left Egypt, whenever they traveled, they had to go in a specific formation with the twelve tribes divided into four group of three with each tribe stationed in its location either north, south, east or west…each carrying its own flag which identified their group.

One might ask–Why did the tribes not travel in this formation when they left Egypt?

A flag is symbolic of one’s nationality, and if each tribe had its own flag, it could have destroyed the unity of the nation. Indeed, history is replete with examples of this….people going to battle in the name of their flags. Therefore, our tribal flags were given to us only after we constructed the Tabernacle which stood in the center of the camp, unifying and coalescing us into one in our worship of HaShem. This teaches us that every one of the 12 tribes had a unique mission in service of G-d. There were rabbis, Torah scholars and financial supporters of Torah, etc., but they were all united around the Tabernacle, and that neutralized all differences and made them one.

Even as each tribe was endowed with a unique mission–its own flag, similarly, each and every individual is special, created by HaShem for a specific purpose that only he or she can fulfill…. and the flags are symbolic of that. G-d created all people with eyes, noses, ears, etc., yet no two people look exactly alike. Similarly, no two souls are exactly alike. Every individual is custom made by G-d and has a purpose that only he or she can fulfill. Therefore, he must carry his own flag, know his own identity, and thus fulfill his task. But even if he carries his flag he must at all times remember that at the core of his being, is the Tabernacle, the Torah, and that knowledge unites him with his people.

Have you ever considered what your mission might be? What your flag might be? Why G-d gave you life? Your answers can be found in the Torah ヨ study it, probe it, pray for Divine Guidance….know the meaning of your Jewish name, the passage that corresponds to it, and discover your own flag fulfill your tachlis your purpose in life. Join us at Hineni and discover the energy in Torah study.

SHAVUOS

What is Shavuot? Shavuot is called “The Festival of Weeks.”

We count the Omer from Pesach until Shavuot just as a bride counts the days to her wedding. Our wedding was sealed in eternity at Sinai as we, the Jewish People proclaimed those immortal words, Na`aseh V`nishma–We shall do it and we shall study it. Thousands of years have passed since that awesome moment at Sinai, but the Torah is as new and as holy to us as it was to our ancestors in days of yore. Torah is our very life, an elixir that renders us unique among the nations and has enabled us to survive the centuries. This Shavuos, embrace the Torah with love, commitment, and engrave it upon your mind and heart.

   (Hineni.org)

Experiencing Shavuot as We Spiral Through Time

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Torah study like what is pictured in this scene at the Kol Torah yeshiva in Jerusalem is typical of the first night of Shavuot. Photo Credit: jns.org

We experience life through the medium of time. Each new moment brings with it new opportunities as we move along the spectrum of time. Amidst the constantly moving wave of time, the chagim are specific, unique points in time that carry with them special energy. Each holiday is a chance to tap into the theme inherent to that point in time. Before we can delve into the specific theme of Shavuot and what this unique point in time holds for each and every one of us, we must first understand time on a larger scale.

 

The Nature of Time

The assumed and widely accepted understanding of time is that it moves in a straight line. Hashem created our world of space and time, and since its inception time has been moving inexorably forward. Along this line of time is the past, present, and the future. If we were to move backward on this line of time, we could peer through history and find Avraham Avinu at the Akeida, Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah, and the Rambam writing the Mishneh Torah. Our current experience is taking place in the middle of the line, and if we could move forward along the line we would see events that have not yet happened. However, there is a major challenge to this theory.

There is a piyut in the Pesach Haggadah (U’vchen Va’amartemm) which states that Avraham Avinu served matzah to the three angels who visited him because it was Pesach at that time. Rashi quotes this opinion on the Pesukim in Bereishit (Bereishit 19:3) and says that Lot did the same for the malachim who came to Sedom. How can this be? The mitzvah of matzah originates from the event of Yetziat Mitzrayim–an event that would not occur for another few centuries!

 

Circles in Time

To understand why Avraham and Lot served their guests matzah before Pesach even occurred we must develop a deeper understanding of time. Time does not move along one continuous, straight line; it actually circles around in a repeating yearly cycle. As the Ramchal explains, Hashem created thematic cycles of time, where each point in the year holds unique spiritual energies. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and all the chagim are each associated with their own unique spiritual themes in time.

This deep understanding transforms our perception of time. We don’t celebrate freedom each year on the 15th of Nissan because that’s when the Jews were freed from Egypt, rather the Jews were redeemed from Egypt on the 15th of Nissan because that is zman cheiruseinu, the time of freedom. That power of freedom is what allowed the Jews to escape the slavery of Mitzrayim. This is why Avraham and Lot ate matzah long before the actual geulah. Matzah represents freedom, and Avraham and Lot tapped into the spiritual waves of freedom that were inherent at that point in time. They were not commemorating a historical event, they were tapping into the deep energies of time inherent at the point in the circle. So too, we do not simply commemorate a historical event as we experience each holiday, but rather, we tap into the deep energies inherent at that point in time. Thus, it is clear that time not a continuous line, but a circle.

 

Spirals in Time

However, even the circle analogy is limiting. If time were indeed a circle, each point of the year would simply be a recreation and repetition of that point from the previous year, from the previous time around the circle. That would be pointless. We do not seek to re-experience the past each year. Our goal is to expand upon what we have created year by year, so that this year, when we return to that same point on the circle from last year, we are in a fundamentally different place. Each Rosh Hashana should be higher than the previous one, each Pesach, a new Pesach, each Shavuot, a new Shavuot. Through our growth and ascension we are able to convert the two-dimensional circle into a three dimensional spiral, traversing along the same circle at ever greater heights. We maintain the circularity while achieving ascension.

 

Re-Experiencing Shavuot Every Year

Now that we understand the concept of time, and the importance of tapping into the unique theme of each point of time in the systematic process of ascension, we must delve into the specific theme that Shavuot presents. What is the power and potential inherent in this time of the year, and how can we harness it to grow along our ascending, spiraling path?

On Shavuot, there is a custom to stand during the Torah reading. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that we stand during Torah reading on this day because we are recreating the experience of Matan Torah, when the entire Jewish People stood around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. On Shavuot, we do not simply remember what once occurred, we relive the experience as we tap back into the power of kabbalat ha’Torah, receiving and accepting the Torah. We do not simply repeat this process each year, rather we reaccept the Torah on an entirely new level, as fundamentally higher beings, growing through each revelation of Torah from years past. Kabbalat haTorah this year is at the same point along the circle as last year, but one rung higher on the spiral. In a true sense, we are receiving the Torah anew, in a new dimension of time and spiritual energy.

 

What is Torah?

If Shavuot is the time of kabbalat Ha’Torah, to truly understand what we are trying to experience on Shavuot we must first understand what Torah is. Scholars may refer to it as a history book, others may think of it as a book of laws, or a source of Jewish wisdom, while still others see it as an object of myth and delusional reverence. However, the Torah is something deeper than all of these things, and to truly understand the importance of kabbalat ha’Torah we must understand the Torah’s depth and power.

Torah is not simply a guide to living a life of truth within the world that we live in, it is actually the blueprint and DNA of this physical world. In other words, our physical world is a projection and emanation of the deep spiritual reality described in the Torah. This is the meaning behind the famous midrash that says, “Istaklah b’Oraisah u’barah almah,” Hashem looked into the Torah and used it to create the world. Torah serves as the blueprint of the world–the physical world is an emanation and expression of Torah, the spiritual root of existence. To illustrate this concept, imagine a projector. The image that you see on the screen emanates from the film in the projector, so that everything you see on the screen is simply an expression of what’s contained within the film. So too, every single thing that we see and experience in the physical world stems from the spiritual root–the transcendent dimension of Torah.

Similarly, the trees you see outside originally stemmed from a single seed. Each and every one of us as well originated from a zygote, half a male and half a female genetic code. From that single cell ultimately manifested a fully developed and expressed human being. You are the expression of your original seed, just like the world is the expression of its original seed and root- the Torah.

Thus, the world in which we live is, in fact, an avenue to the spiritual–we can access the spiritual, transcendent world through this one because the two are intimately, intrinsically connected.

To illustrate this concept, think of the way in which other human beings experience and understand you. All they can see of you is your physical body. They cannot see your thoughts, your consciousness, your emotions, your soul. All they can see is your words, actions, facial expression, and body language–meaning, the way you express yourself within the world. They cannot see your inner world, but they can access it through the outer expressions that you project. The same is true regarding human beings trying to experience Hashem and the spiritual. We cannot see the spiritual, we cannot see what is ethereal and transcendent, only that which is physical. However, we can use the physical to access the spiritual root, we can study the Torah’s expression in this world to understand its spiritual root.

 

The Gift of Torah

Hashem gave us the Torah in order to guide us on our spiritual journey in this world. Shavuot is therefore not a call to be transcendent, angelic beings, lofty and perfect, beyond the struggle innate within the human condition. This is not permission to deny our humanity and restrict our sense of self. This is a calling to be human, to be the ultimate human, to bring transcendence and spirituality into this world. We don’t aim to escape this world, we aim to transform it. Kedushah in not transcendence or escapism, it’s marrying transcendence with the immanent. This is what Torah comes to teach us, how to uplift our physical experience and connect it to the spiritual. When done right, Torah enables us to uplift every aspect of our worldly experience to something higher, holier, and more meaningful.

 

This Shavuot

Our job is to make this Shavuot the next step in our evolutionary spiral through time. We must not only reaccept what we have already accepted, we must take it to the next level, the next rung up. We don’t simply remember, we build; we don’t repeat, we ascend. Let us think about how we can make our acceptance of Torah this Shavuot the very greatest yet.

RAA Applauds Gov Cuomo for Taking Action Against Anti-Semitism

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Left to Right: Borough President James Oddo; Congressman Max Rose; COJO-SI CEO and Executive Vice-President Scott Maurer; District Attorney Michael McMahon; COJO-SI President Mendy Mirocznik; Councilman Joe Borelli; and Assemblyman Mike Reilly.

The Rabbinical Alliance of America – Igud HaRabbonim, with a membership of over 950 Orthodox Rabbis across the United States – extends its appreciation to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on condemning the anti-Semitic writing on the Jewish Children’s Museum located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. The statement, “Hitler is Coming,” was drawn on the museum’s large mural for good resolutions.

Governor Cuomo stated, “I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic message scrawled in front of the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn….We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, discrimination or hate of any kind in New York, and no person should ever feel threatened because of their religious beliefs.”

Cuomo added, “I have visited this great museum, built in honor of Ari Halberstam who was tragically killed in an anti-Semitic terror attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, after it received threats in the past. It’s all more distressing for this institution built to bring together children of all faiths and backgrounds to foster tolerance to be targeted.”

Cuomo emphasized that, “In the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in our nation, it is more important than ever that we stand united to condemn these despicable acts of violence and root out hate in all its forms…To ensure those responsible for this heinous act are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, I am directing the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to immediately provide the NYPD with any resources needed to assist in the investigation of this incident. Now and always, there is no place for hate in our state.”

Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “On behalf of our member rabbis, we applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo’s condemnation of the anti-Semitic scrawling on the Jewish Children’s Museum large mural for good resolutions. It takes leadership, courage and a determination to do what is right to defeat the epidemic and scourge of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry plaguing our nation. Governor Cuomo leads by example and has these three attributes. We applaud the Governor for taking a strong stand on combating anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry, and pray that the Almighty grant Governor Cuomo the ability to make this world a better place through the complete eradication of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.”

In a related development, less than a week after hate speech was written on a yeshiva wall in Meiers Corners, nearly 100 Staten Islanders, including religious and community leaders, gathered at a unity rally recently to denounce hate and encourage peace and kindness.

The unity rally was organized by Staten Island District Attorney Michael E. McMahon and his Hate Crimes Task Force which is Co-Chaired by Scott Maurer, the CEO and Executive Vice-President of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organizations. The press-conference was held at the Chabad of Staten Island.

The graffiti was discovered on the side of the building on the eve of Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday celebrating unity and freedom from persecution.

The words, “Synagogue of Satan,” were written on the Chabad of Staten Island, while across the street, the letters “SOS” were written on the Yeshiva Zichron Paltiel of Staten Island, referencing the aforementioned phrase.

Residents and members of the Jewish community were joined by local elected officials, NYPD Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, borough commander of Staten Island, and the Staten Island Hate Crimes Task Force.

Rabbi Moshe Katzman told the crowd that when he first learned of the graffiti on the Thursday morning of Lag B’Omer, he wanted to keep the vandalism quiet, and not make it a big deal. After people started to reach out to him, and photos of the hate speech began to appear on social media, he made the decision to use this hateful crime as a way to spread kindness.

“Every act of evil, we need to redouble our acts of kindness,” Rabbi Moshe Katzman said. “And this is the only way we can continue in life. “Rep. Max Rose, District Attorney Michael McMahon, Borough President James Oddo, Assemblymembers Michael Cusick, Nicole Malliotakis, and Michael Reilly, and Councilmembers Joseph Borelli and Steve Matteo, spoke at the unity rally as well as COJO CEO and Executive Vice-President Scott Maurer to encourage kindness and push back against hate.

Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, president of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organization thanked District Attorney Michael McMahon for putting together this important press-conference. “In these trying times the key is communication and confidence building.” Mirocznik added, “We at COJO value the direct line of communication that we have with District Attorney McMahon, Chief Kenneth Corey and members of the broader Staten Island community. We at COJO appreciate that both District Attorney McMahon and Chief Corey are taking a strong vigilant stand against hate and anti-Semitism and these measures are giving the residents of Staten Island the fortitude and courage not to surrender to fear and hate. ”

He added: “May He who makes peace in Heaven make peace on earth. We pray that the world should no longer know of the evil of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.”

Shavuot for Kids: Giving a New Generation the Gift of Torah

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Young children seen at a celebration for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot at Kibbutz Yifat in the Galilee, in northern Israel, on June 4, 2014. Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90

“Even if children don’t get all the complexities, just by feeling the specialness of staying up late, and imagining what it must have been like to stand at that mountain and hear the Ten Commandments all together—that and a piece of cheesecake, and altogether they’ll get a sweet taste of what it means, a new family tradition they won’t forget,” says Meredith Lewis, director of content, education and family experience for PJ Library.

It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in the Torah, as amazing as the splitting of the sea.

Imagine the Master of the Universe coming down to Earth in an astounding fireworks display of thunder, lightning and smoke (see Exodus 19 for the exciting details), singling out a ragtag bunch of escaped slaves to receive nothing less than the master plan of the universe: the Torah.

Not to mention the job description as G-d’s agents tasked with serving the boss and making the world a better place.

But whereas most Jews know how the sea split and the Israelites crossed over on dry land from years of reading the Passover Haggadah, far fewer realize that the holiday of Shavuot, 50 days later, marks the equally miraculous giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

But to make sure that the next generation doesn’t miss out, Shavuot activities, child-friendly celebrations and books bring to life this 3,300-year-old miracle for you to share with your kids and grandkids.

For Sarah Rabin Spira of Washington, D.C., when Shavuot rolls around (this year, it’s Saturday night, June 8, lasting two days, through Monday, June 10, and one day in Israel), she pulls pillows and blankets into the center of the living room and spreads out a feast of books for a late-night readathon with her 6- and 8- year-olds, often inviting over friends for a pot-luck dinner and plenty of ice-cream as well.

“Several years ago, we hit on the formula of gathering up all their favorite books, especially the Jewish ones—everything they could possibly read in one night—and letting them stay up late,” says Spira, who runs the PJ Library (a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, a North American Jewish nonprofit organization based in West Springfield, Mass.), and family education and engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “As parents, we can get behind any holiday where you are encouraged to stay up late, eat dairy and read books. It makes for a special time.”

‘Laws are a great Jewish innovation’

Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks”—sometimes called Chag HaKatzir (“Harvest Festival”), Yom Habikurim (“Day of the First Fruits”) or Zeman Matan Torah (“The Time of the Giving of the Torah”)—was originally an agricultural holiday marking the first of the harvest. But it’s long been recognized as the day the Israelites stood at the foot of Sinai and heard the Voice of G-d declaring the Ten Commandments (at least the first two, until we got good and scared and begged Moses to take over for the remining eight).

Today, Jews around the globe celebrate the momentous experience of revelation in the desert by staying up late (or for the stalwart, all night) learning Torah, and indulging in such dairy delights as cheesecake and blintzes.

In Israel, the traditions include harvest-welcoming festivals and feasting on native fruits, as well as parades, dances, skits and girls with wreaths of wildflowers in their hair. And each year, tradition has it that a farmer will officially present a basket of fruit and vegetable samples to the president.

“It’s absolutely my favorite holiday,” says Meredith Lewis, director of content, education and family experience for PJ Library. For one, Shavuot offers parents the chance to explore some deep Jewish concepts with their kids, she says. “What does the idea of bikkurim, first fruits, mean to us in our lives? How does the wisdom and loyalty of Ruth [the book of Ruth is traditionally read on the holiday] speak to us today?”

The holiday also represents transitions, she adds, “from school to summer, from being a little kid to a big kid who can stay up and learn with the grownups and have ideas about what the Ten Commandments mean to them.”

When it comes to Shavuot and Torah in general, “I’m a big fan of interactive Torah,” says Rabbi David Fohrman, founder of Aleph Beta, a program of animated videos around Torah and Jewish holidays that he describes as “Netflix for Torah.”

For Shavuot, the rabbi is hoping that the videos “inspire conversation around the table, which often take a turn you’d never expected.” One of them, “The Hidden Structure of the Ten Commandments,” for instance, challenges the viewer to explore how the first five commandments differ from the last five and what they come to teach us today. (For instance, not coveting might mean to us not being jealous of someone with a nicer house or more prestigious job.)

And Shavuot also gives us an easy entrance “into a discussion of why it’s wonderful to have laws, what our world would be like if there were no laws and how they bring us closer to G-d, and what we’re supposed to do as Jews in this world to serve G-d and not some human master. Turns out these laws are a great Jewish innovation.”

            (JNS.org)

Maimonides Cardiologists Are Top Performers Nine Years in a Row

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(left to right) Director of Interventional Cardiology Dr. Robert Frankel and Chair of Cardiology Dr. Jacob Shani review images of cardiovascular scans.

If you are a Brooklyn resident and you or a loved one needs cardiac care in an emergency, you’re in luck. According to the latest New York State Department of Health report, Maimonides is #1 for outstanding patient outcomes in angioplasty and stents in emergency cases.

Maimonides has the only Hybrid ORs in Brooklyn — the most advanced surgical arenas available for the most complex interventions and procedures.

“This marks the ninth year in a row that our interventional cardiologists have set the bar at the highest level,” announced Maimonides President and CEO Kenneth Gibbs. “The families of Brooklyn have what are literally the best cardiac experts in the state right here at Maimonides.”

“Our patients at the Maimonides Heart & Vascular Institute inspire us every day to achieve the very best outcomes,” said Dr. Jacob Shani, Chair of Cardiology. “We’re proud to provide the most advanced protocols—many of them developed here at Maimonides—to the most populated borough of New York City.”

“The state report confirms what most Brooklyn residents already know: in a cardiac emergency, no hospital does angioplasty better than Maimonides,” said Dr. Robert Frankel, Director of Interventional Cardiology. “We attribute our extraordinary outcomes to our team approach—we work together every day, challenging ourselves and each other, to provide the very best care,”

The New York State report shows mortality rates for Angioplasty in three categories: Emergency Cases, Non-Emergency Cases and All Cases. Maimonides is once again the only hospital in the state to achieve significantly low rates in all three categories for the three-year period reported, and achieved the lowest mortality rate in the state for Emergency Cases.

The Maimonides Heart & Vascular Institute encompasses experts in cardiology, vascular and endovascular surgery, anesthesiology, interventional cardiology, radiology, electrophysiology, critical care and cardiothoracic surgery. Physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, specialized technicians and therapists, and other healthcare professionals collaborate with referring physicians on the care of each and every patient.

 

How the NYS Reports Are Created

The formal name of the report is Percutaneous Coronary Interventions (PCIs) in New York State. PCIs are better known to the public as angioplasties or other cardiac procedures performed in a minimally-invasive way: a slim catheter is placed within a large blood vessel in the groin or wrist and threaded to the heart. Once there, Interventional Cardiologists look for blockages or other problems and make repairs, as needed. This might include removing plaque build-up on the walls of arteries, delivering medication to those areas, and/or inserting stents into the arteries to keep blood flowing freely. Cardiac Interventions are done via a single puncture of the skin—without incisions.

The process of reporting, sorting and risk-adjusting this information takes time, so the newest report reflects cases performed in 2016. And, in order to give consumers a better idea of the true level of expertise of any one hospital, the state presents the data for both a single year and a three-year period (2014 – 2016). The three-year report helps eliminate “blips” in the data when a statistical cluster of cases—good or bad—causes unusual rates for any one year.

New York State indicates significantly better-than-expected outcomes with a double-asterisk. The prestigious ** designations received by Maimonides appeared in the three-year report.

 

About the Maimonides Heart & Vascular Institute

The Maimonides Heart & Vascular Institute has the collective expertise to offer patients the latest strategies for diagnosing and treating the full spectrum of cardiovascular disorders. Among the many elite programs and procedures are:

TAVR Procedure – Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement allows cardiac experts to repair or replace a faulty heart valve without major surgery

LVAD Therapy – The “bridge to transplant” is also now a permanent option for Heart Failure patients who don’t qualify for transplant surgery

Aortic Aneurysm Repair – Leading a national clinical trial for a new device to treat complex aortic aneurysms, and using virtual reality simulation to significantly lower surgical risks

A-Fib Convergent Therapy – Atrial Fibrillation, a dangerous heart rhythm disorder that increases the risk of strokes, is eliminated by radio-ablation inside and outside the heart—under one anesthesia to minimize patient risk

Long known for excellence in cardiovascular care, the Heart & Vascular Institute at Maimonides is among the most distinguished in the nation for outstanding patient outcomes. To learn more, call 718-283-8902 or visit www.maimonidesmed.org/heart.

Maimonides Medical Center is nationally recognized for clinical excellence across all major specialties. Our accomplished physicians are known for innovation and strengthening our teaching and research programs. With 711 beds, the Medical Center is dedicated to bringing patients the most advanced care available—anywhere. Maimonides is an affiliate of Northwell Health. To learn more, please visit www.maimonidesmed.org/.

 

Beit HaNasi announces with deep sorrow the death of Nechama Rivlin

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Tuesday 4 June 2019 / 1 Sivan 5779

Beit HaNasi announces with deep sorrow the passing of Nechama Rivlin ז”ל, the wife of President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, this morning, Tuesday 4 June / 1 Sivan at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. She was 73 when she died, shortly before her 74th birthday.

Nechama underwent a lung transplant three months ago on Monday 11 March 2019 / 4 Adar II 5779, an operation she needed due to the pulmonary fibrosis from which she suffered in recent years.

The president and family members would like to thank the entire staff of Beilinson Hospital for the dedicated, sensitive and professional treatment she received over the last few months, night and day, with an open heart.

In addition, the Rivlin family wishes to thank citizens of Israeli and the heads of the communities who have continued to ask after Nechama’s health, to send letters and wonderful children’s drawings to the hospital and to Beit HaNasi, and to pray for her every day, every hour. Their love and concern gave the president and all members of the family strength and support that cannot be described in words.

The family’s thanks go also to the Halabli family, who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.

We ask the general public and the media to allow the family to gather in mourning during these hours and to refrain from approaching the family directly.

Link to approved images for use:

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=1DcD_EyEla7A3vwt0kv5WexpCs-ZH1ePg

Biography of Nechama Rivlin follows.

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Nechama Rivlin ז”ל – biography

Nechama was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region.

Her parents, Drora (Keila) and Mendy Shulman, immigrated from the Ukraine and were among the founders of the moshav. Nechama studied from kindergarten until the end of the elementary school in the area. She completed her high school studies at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School, and due to back surgery, she received a postponement of her army service.

In 1964 she began studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying natural sciences. She graduated with a BSc in botany and zoology and holds a teaching certificate in these departments.

In 1967 she began working at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the Department of Zoology, and then moved to the Department of Ecology and the Department of Genetics. In addition, Nechama studied the history of art in the fields of modern, classical and ancient art.

In 1971 she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. Nechama had three children – Rivi (Rivka), Anat and Ran. She was grandmother to Matan, Ziv, Shai, Karni, Maya, Daniela and Yahav, and sister to Varda.

In 2007 Nechama retired and then discovered that she had an incurable lung disease that required her to use a portable oxygen device. When Nechama moved to Beit HaNasi, she chose to focus on art, activities for children with special needs, the environment and nature, through compassion and love of people.

In a post she wrote about the book Paddington Bear Nechama wrote: “How often do we pass an injured animal or bird and look away, just so we do not have to take on the burden of caring for it?” Later, she even voiced a character in the film based on the book.

Nechama set up a community garden in the garden of the President’s Residence, where children from all over the country came to plant and plant plants, spices and flowers on a regular basis.

Nechama was a regular visitor to Israel’s cultural institutions, particularly those in Jerusalem, out of true love for art in all its forms. Nechama was particularly fond of the Cinematheque and Smadar cinemas in Jerusalem, where she used to watch films regularly.

Nechama’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” They became especially beloved to followers of the page and to lovers of culture and art in Israel.

In 2018, Nechama established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry. On the committee’s announcement of the winner Amichai Hasson, Nechama said: “I congratulate the lovers of language and words, the writers and poets who make magic with them and wish that our world will always have people in it who make poetry from it.”

May her memory be a blessing

יהי זכרה ברוך

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Further details: Jonathan Cummings, Foreign Media Advisor, 054-4707709, [email protected]

Israeli-NY Businessman Under Probe For Allegedly Hiding Fortune of Venezuela’s Maduro

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shutterstock

An Israeli-Argentinian businessman is reportedly being investigated in the U.S. for allegedly working to conceal a secret fortune owned by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

By: Dan Kaminsky

Diego Adolfo Marynberg, age 44, allegedly also goes by the name of Zev Marynberg. With roots in both based New York and Buenos Aires, he is reportedly being looked at by two departments – Treasury and Justice — in connection with funds that some claim are stolen, which may have been transferred by Maduro. The money allegedly totals $1.2 billion and belongs to the Venezuelan national treasury.

Colombian newspaper El Tiempo is reporting that Marynberg’s dealings are being reviewed by investigators. The newspaper has written that Marynberg began to operate inside Venezuela 13 years ago, in 2006. They are claim that funds moved through his company Adar Capital Partners. The firm maintains offices not only in Buenos Aires, but in Tel Aviv and New York, as well.

“The Adar Capital Partners website says the company is based in the Cayman Islands and is “led by founder and CIO Zev Marynberg,” reported Vos Iz Neias. “Its managing director, Bryan Shapira, told the Argentine news website Infobae that the accusations and the article naming Marynberg are false while confirming that the firm had some legal operations with Venezuela until 2015. The Infobae report includes links to Shapira’s letter to the editor in El Tiempo explaining that the company has been a victim of extortion.”

As El Tiempo noted, “Few know his face, but his name began to circulate this week, after the government of Donald Trump announced that it is preparing new sanctions against businessmen who would be behind the movement of more than $1.2 billion dollars that Maduro has managed to plunder the Venezuelan treasury.”

The Spanish-language newspaper referred to Marynberg as “an old acquaintance of the regime, who landed in Venezuela in 2006 with the promise of investing in public companies or expropriated by Hugo Chavez, in crisis, which was well seen by the Bolivarian dictatorship, according to informants said today under the protection of the United States.”

The El Tiempo piece continued, “With the dividends he claims to have obtained from that and other businesses, he has acquired expensive properties in the United States, including an apartment of 1,500 square meters, located in the south of Central Park, in New York. After sealing the transaction, in 2015 he sold it for more than $30 million to move to another eccentric property in the north of this city, where a reputed Jewish community is based.”