A Film Unfinished

Today marks the official U.S. opening of the shocking, award-winning documentary, “A Film Unfinished.”

In the definitely “stranger than fiction” category, the film reveals…

A lost reel of Nazi propaganda labeled “Ghetto.”

Survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and German cameramen commenting on the filming they remember from 1942.

Discovery of a truth untold.

A compelling story that questions the use of footage usually presented as factual. Check out A Film Unfinished Trailer (HD) and you’ll instantly get a sense of what it accomplishes in its powerful 90 minutes.


And yes, the dude with the Star of David armband looks strangely like Don Draper.

The synopsis and list of theatres follows here:

At the end of WWII, 60 minutes of raw film, having sat undisturbed in an East German archive, was discovered. Shot by the Nazis in Warsaw in May 1942, and labeled simply “Ghetto,” this footage quickly became a resource for historians seeking an authentic record of the Warsaw Ghetto. However, the later discovery of a long-missing reel complicated earlier readings of the footage. A FILM UNFINISHED presents the raw footage in its entirety, carefully noting fictionalized sequences (including a staged dinner party) falsely showing “the good life” enjoyed by Jewish urbanites, and probes deep into the making of a now-infamous Nazi propaganda film.


A FILM UNFINISHED is a film of enormous import, documenting some of the worst horrors of our time and exposing the efforts of its perpetrators to propel their agenda and cast it in a favorable light.

IN THEATERS

08/18/10 – New York, NY – Film Forum
08/18/10 – New York, NY – Lincoln Plaza
08/20/10 – Encino, CA – Laemmle Town Center
08/20/10 – Los Angeles, CA – Laemmle Royal
09/24/10 – Baltimore, MD – Charles
09/24/10 – Boston, MA – Landmark Kendall Square
09/24/10 – San Diego, CA – Landmark Ken
09/24/10 – Washington, DC – Landmark E Street
09/24/10 – West Newton, MA – Newton 6
10/01/10 – Berkeley, CA – Landmark Shattuck
10/01/10 – Chicago, IL – AMC River East
10/01/10 – Chicago, IL – Landmark Renaissance Place 5
10/01/10 – Mill Valley, CA – Cinemark Sequoia
10/01/10 – Phoenix, AZ – Camelview
10/01/10 – Pleasant Hill, CA – Cinemark CineArts
10/01/10 – San Francisco, CA – Landmark Opera Plaza
10/01/10 – San Jose, CA – Cinemark Santana Row
10/01/10 – Santa Barbara, CA – Riviera
10/15/10 – Palm Desert, CA – Cinemas Palme d’Or
10/15/10 – Philadelphia, PA – Landmark Ritz at the Bourse
10/15/10 – Seattle, WA – AMC Uptown
10/22/10 – Columbus, OH – Wexner Center
11/05/10 – Dallas, TX – Angelika
11/05/10 – Denver, CO – Landmark Chez Artiste
11/05/10 – Houston, TX – Angelika
11/05/10 – Miami, FL – Intracoastal 8
11/05/10 – Sunrise, FL – Sunrise 11
11/19/10 – Pittsburgh, PA – AMC Waterfront 22

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Jerusalem Synchronicity

You never know quite what will happen when you’re in Israel. Last night was no exception. I was visiting with a dear friend, Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, and as we were walking through the streets of the historic neighborhood where he studies Torah, we happened upon images of the area’s early residents. I remembered that earlier this year, ck sent me photos of Alcalays he had found among the portraits of Nachlaots early residents–asking me if they are my family.

I mentioned to Yitzchak that I’d like to try and find those images on the wall. It was one of those nights when the weather starts to get colder. The air was thick and and misty. We turned one corner after the next, winding through the tiny streets. I had no idea where we were but when we saw a few more images posted on a wall, I asked Yitzchak if he wouldn’t mind if we stopped to take a closer look. I approached the wall and in the course of what felt like a millisecond, realized I was looking into the face of my family. I burst into tears at the recognition, saying “That’s my grandmother. That’s my grandmother.” Yitzchak stood there dumbfounded, asking me, “How do you know that’s her?” All I could say was, “Because that’s my photo.” This image is part of every book talk I give when I describe what it means to me to be part of a family with historic ties to Israel and how that has informed my own Jewish identity. You can see the image on p. 175 of my book, Cool Jew, where the Levys of Ohel Moshe makes a cameo appearance. My grandmother and her parents lived in one of the early neighborhoods outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem, in the charming and historic area now known as Nachlaot, home of one of Jerusalem’s first Hebrew printing presses and where Eliezer Ben-Yehuda printed his first Hebrew dictionary. Like many early residents, their portrait appears on the wall of the street known as Ohel Moshe, next to the historic synagogue of the same name, which honors its benefactor, Moses (Moshe) Montifiore, who funded it in 1882.

I have long known my grandmother had grown up in Jerusalem but I didn’t know exactly where. I did know though, because she had told me in her own words before her passing in 1989, that her mother and grandmother had arrived in Eretz Yisrael on a donkey from Bulgaria. The trip took them three years! My grandmother’s story was confirmed last year when I tested my DNA and learned my only matches are Sefardic Jews of Bulgarian descent living in Israel!

Ohel Moshe is located next to Nachalat Moshe; these two distinct areas housed early Sephardi and Ashkenazi residents of the neighborhood now known as Nachalot.

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Whither American Jewry?

By Caroline Glick
Reprinted from the Jerusalem Post

During a recent speaking tour in Canada, MK Nahman Shai (Kadima) shocked some of his hosts when he said that his primary goal in politics today is to bring down the Netanyahu government. Although indelicate, Shai’s comment was not surprising. Kadima is in the opposition. And like all opposition parties in all parliamentary democracies, the primary goal of its members is to bring down thegovernment so that they can take power.

Given that this is the case, it is unsurprising that until this week, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni tried to blame Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for US President Barack Obama’s hostility towards Israel. Far more newsworthy than her criticism of Netanyahu was her public rebuke of Obama this week for his attempt to strong-arm Israel into barring Jewish construction in Jerusalem’s Gilo neighborhood.

On Wednesday Livni said, “Gilo is part of the Israeli consensus… and it is important to understand this for all discussions of borders in any future agreement.”

Indeed. There is an Israeli consensus. The Israeli consensus regarding Jerusalem is based among other things on the understanding that no nation can give up its capital city and survive.

Livni wants to be prime minister one day. For that to happen, Israel must survive until she wins an election. And Israel will not long survive if it surrenders its right to its capital.

One might have thought that American Jews could be counted on to stand by Israel on this issue. But then, one would be wrong.

FOR THE past six years, Republican Senator Sam Brownback has repeatedly submitted a bill to the US Senate that, if passed into law, would revoke the presidential waiver that has allowed successive presidents to refuse to implement the 1995 law requiring the State Department to move the US Embassy toJerusalem . This year Brownback co-sponsored his bill with Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman. As luck would have it, the Brownback-Lieberman bill was submitted two weeks before Obama launched his latest campaign against Jewish building inJerusalem.

In the 1980s and 1990s, American Jews lobbied hard to get the embassy moved to Jerusalem. But now some American Jewish leaders recoil at the very notion. In response to the Brownback-Lieberman Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 2009, the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle published an editorial last Friday titled, “Bad move, Senator Brownback.”

The newspaper’s editors condemned their retiring senator and called his bill, “a cheap, grandstanding move by a conservative Republican on his way out the door, playing to Jews and Christian Zionists while trying to throw a monkey wrench into President Obama’s diplomatic spokes.”

According to Sen. Brownback’s office, the paper never had any criticism of the same bill when he submitted it during president George W. Bush’s tenure in office. But now, as Israel’sgovernment and opposition stand shoulder to shoulder protecting Israeli control over Jerusalem from assaults by Obama, Kansas City’s Jewish newspaper’s editorial board willingly bucked what it acknowledged are the wishes of “Jews and Christian Zionists,” in order to stand by their man in the Oval Office.

Some of Israel’s most high-profile supporters in the US are conservative talk radio and television hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. But rather than thank them for their support, the Anti-Defamation League, which is supposed to be dedicated first and foremost to defending Jews from anti-Semitism, published a special report this week where it insinuated that they cultivate a climate of hatred and paranoia which could endanger Jews among others.

The ADL report, “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” dubbed Beck the “fearmonger-in-chief,” for his opposition to Obama’s domestic and foreign policies. It similarly castigated the so-called “tea party” movement which has attracted millions of Americans opposed to high taxes, and the townhall meetings this past summer where millions of Americans peacefully argued against Obama’s healthcare policies.

The ADL’s decision to issue a special report attacking Obama’s political opponents and insinuating that Americans who oppose him cultivate an environment in which paranoid and dangerous fringe groups feel comfortable operating is strange given that the ADL never put out a similar report against parallel anti-Bush movements. As Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin noted this week, the ADL was more likely to see overt and vicious anti-Semitic statements and placards being waved around at anti-Iraq war rallies than at anti-Obama healthcare and tax policy demonstrations.

Ironically, the ADL has a specific institutional interest in combating leftist paranoia. A recent movie attacking the ADL called Defamation, by leftist, anti-Israel Israeli filmmaker Yoav Shamir, is currently hitting the film festival circuit in the US and Europe. A major hit among anti-Israel activists and regular anti-Semites on the Left and Right, Defamation accuses the ADL of exaggerating the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to justify what Shamir views as its nefarious aims. Apparently, tribal loyalty to the Left trumps the institutional interests of the ADL.

It certainly trumps the interests of New York University’s Hillel director Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. As James Taranto reported on Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, this week Sarna called for NYU’s Jewish community to join NYU Muslims at a rally that both commemorated the massacre at Ft. Hood and denounced NYU professor Tunku Varadarajan for writing a column in Forbes magazine. In his article, Varadarajan committed the crime of stating the obvious fact that Ft. Hood terrorist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was motivated by his Islamic beliefs when he shouted Allahu Akbar and shot some 40 people, killing 13.

Given that people and groups like al-Qaida and Hamas that share Hasan’s views assert that all Jews should be killed, it would seem that the good rabbi would not feel the need to attack professors who point out that Hasan’s views are dangerous. But then, it is no longer strange to see Hillels on American university campuses behaving in a manner that is not in line with what might be considered the interests of either the American Jewish community or the Jewish people as a whole.

Take UC Berkeley’s Hillel center, for example. Since Ken Kramarz, Hillel’s regional director for Northern California, started his job in June 2007, Berkeley’s Hillel has adopted a hostile view towards Judaism and Israel. As pro-Israel community activist Natan Nestel notes, in the past year alone, Hillel held a dance party on Yom Hashoah, and it held a Cinco de Mayo barbecue on Remembrance Day for Fallen IDF Soldiers. It has also failed to hold community Seders for the past two years. Instead, last year, its members hung signs in the Hillel building declaring, “Matza sucks.”

Beyond its derogatory treatment of Jewish and Israeli holidays, Berkeley’s Hillel has allowed an extremist group called Students for Justice for Palestine to participate in its organizational meetings.

SJP calls for Israel’s destruction through unlimited Arab immigration. It also advocates for UC Berkeley to divest from Israel. Edgar Bronfman, Hillel’s International Chairman, has characterized SJP umbrella organization as “anti-Israel… anti-Semitic [and] alarming…”

No doubt owing in part to Berkeley Hillel’s decision to permit SJP members to spread their propaganda at its organizational meetings, Hillel’s student leaders and members participated in SJP’s Israel Apartheid Week this past March.

The student meeting that SJP participated in at Berkeley’s Hillel was sponsored by a group called “Kesher Enoshi.”

This group describes itself as “a progressive Jewish community that engages directly with Israeli civil society. We do this by educating ourselves and others about the day-to-day struggles of people in Israel by making direct connections with human rights/social change organizations in Israel, linking their struggles with those on campus and in the wider community, and building a community of active participants in social change in Israel.”

This mission statement, which says nothing about Zionism, sounds an awful lot like the goal of the New Israel Fund. This month, three Arab “civil society” groups supported to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars by the NIF published a poster depicting an IDF soldier touching the breast of an Arab woman with the caption, “Her husband needs a permit to touch her, the occupation penetrates her life every day.”

The poster was issued to publicize a conference in Haifa called “My Land, Space, Body and Sexuality: Palestinians in the Shadow of the Wall,” whose purpose was to demonize Israel using post-modern jargon.

Unlike Hillel, NIF is widely recognized as a far-left fringe group. But as Arab Israeli NGOs use the dollars of American Jewish NIF donors to advance their “civil society” programs aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist, the Reform Movement – which is not a fringe group – decided unanimously two weeks ago to criticize and pressure Israel for what its leadership views as Israel’s unfair treatment of its Arab citizens.

As this column goes to press, if its board members don’t cancel their meeting, the San Francisco Jewish Federation will be grudgingly voting on a resolution that would prohibit it from sponsoring events that denigrate or demonize Israel or supporting organizations that partner with organizations that call for divestment, sanctions or boycotts against Israel.

The resolution follows the Jewish Federation of San Francisco’s decision to co-sponsor the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last summer. That festival featured Shamir’s Defamation, and the egregiously anti-Israel film Rachel, about the late pro-terror activist Rachel Corrie. The film festival was also sponsored by the anti-Zionist Jewish Voices for Peace group, the American Friends Service Committee, which hosted a dinner for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York last year, the Rachel Corrie Foundation and other radical anti-Israel groups.

If the vote takes place, it will be a great victory for a small group of local Jewish activists. These individual Jews have banded together because they are deeply disturbed by the federation’s willingness to use community funds to advance events whose basic message is that Israel should be destroyed.

KADIMA’S INTERESTS as a political party place it at loggerheads with the government on almost every issue. But its leaders this week were rational enough to recognize that they must support Israel’s sovereign rights in Jerusalem despite the fact that doing so placed it on the government’s side. Their display of sanity is a clear indication that Israeli society today is healthy and capable of meeting the challenges it faces.

It is clear that most American Jews believe that it is in their interests to support the Democratic Party and the Left. But like the anti-establishment Jewish activists in San Francisco, American Jews ought to realize that on issues like Israel’s survival and their own survival as Jews they ought to stand by their interests even when they seem to clash with their leftist and Democratic loyalties. And they ought to stand by their friends on these issues, even when their friends are conservative Republicans.

It can only be hoped that the San Francisco pro-Israel upstarts’ campaign against the federation was successful yesterday. Then, too, if the American Jewish community is to long survive, these San Francisco Jewish activists’ demand that their community support Israel’s right to exist must be joined by their fellow American Jews throughout the country.

Caroline Glick is deputy managing editor for the Jerusalem Post. She writes two weekly columns. She is also the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and travels several times a year to Washington where sheroutinely brief senior administration officials and members of Congress on issues of joint Israeli-American concern. In 2008, her book, Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad was published by Gefen Publishers. She can be reached at caroline (at) carolineglick (dot) com.

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(Super) Circumcise Me!

The first time Christopher Campbell converted to Judaism, he changed his name to Yisrael and got circumcised. He became a Reform Jew.

The second time he converted to Judaism, he became a Conservative Jew. He got circumcised again.

yisrael campbell

The former Chris Campbell

The next and final time he converted to Judaism, he became an Orthodox Jew. And yes, he got circumcised again.

At that point, says Yisrael, “Circumcision is not a religious covenant. It’s a fetish.”

And that is the story at the heart of “Circumcise Me,” a new autobiographical off-Broadway show about the question of who defines identity: you, your community or a tradition existing since the first circumcision of record, that of Avraham Avinu, the Patriarch Abraham, the father of all converts.

“Circumcize Me” debuts Sunday, November 1st at Manhattan’s Bleecker Street Theatre at 45 Bleecker Street through January 3rd. The show is an outgrowth of Yisrael’s stand-up comedy performance and DVD of the same name. In his days as Christopher, he trained as an actor at Circle in the Square. His new show is both a return to the stage and an integration of his ever-evolving identity.
yisrael-campbell
As the show’s site explains, Yisrael, the artist formerly known as Christopher, is just your average Irish, Italian, Catholic kid from Philly, comic actor, sober alcoholic, recovering drug addict, husband, father, Reform, Conservative, unorthodox Orthodox Jew. He stars in the one-man show, “Circumcise Me,” which he wrote. The show is a spiritual journey stretching across “four decades, two continents, and three circumcisions. It’s that rare collision of comedy and theater that will have women howling with laughter, men squirming in their seats, and everyone standing up to cheer. Poignant, provocative, and powerfully witty, ‘Circumcise Me’ is the true – and truly unforgettable – story of a man who was born to be funny. The Jewish part came later.”

Read more about Yisrael and other one-person shows in today’s issue of Backstage.

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Welcoming Jews of Color

The Welcoming Synagogues List on the Jewish Multiracial Network offers a list of synagogues multiracial families and individual Jews of color have felt comfortable attending and are now recommending to others.

The list does not yet include synagogues outside the United States and in Israel. The project is actively looking for suggestions in both categories, as well as in the United States.

If you are a Jew of color or part of a multiracial family and you have found a particular synagogue or minyanim welcoming, please email the following information to jewminicana1 (at) gmail (dot) com

1. Synagogue name
2. Link to synagogue website
3. Synagogue location: city/state or city/country

Spread the word!

If you are not a Jew of color or part of a multiracial family but you know someone who might be interested in helping provide information for this list, please forward this post to them. Ideally, all synagogues will be welcoming to every Jew of every color!

Hat tip to blogger La Jewminicana, aka Aliza Hausman, a Dominican-American Latina and Orthodox Jewish convert, for bringing this to our attention.

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Chag Sameach

Israeli Lior Kaminetsky is an internationally renowned violinist currently living in Los Angeles. He recently returned from a concert tour through Jewish communities in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. “I was honored,” Lior says, “to have a unique interaction with the black African community as well.”

During his trip, Zulu dancers invited Lior to play African music, also known as “Violina Violina.” The performance took place in Durban, South Africa. At this time of rejoicing in the holiday of Sukkot, Hoshana Raba, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah (holidays you may have never heard of!), here’s something easy on the ears: a sampling of Lior’s musical adventures. Chag sameach/happy holidays!

Lior plays violin at the far left hand side of the screen!

Watch Part II here or below.



Lior Kaminetsky earned a Masters’ degree in Violin performance & Musicology from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Hebrew University. Currently lives in Los Angeles, pursing a D.M.A degree (Doctor of Musical Arts) at the Thornton School of Music at USC. He has won various awards from the Universite De Sorbon, Gratz Academy and the Schwerin Academy institutions, and from the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable, Nowakowsky and America-Israel Cultural Foundations. Kaminetsky serves as the west coast music critic for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth. He has performed widely abroad and has appeared on radio and TV as well as in the documentary film, “Dying to Live,” by Ben Mittleman.

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¡Felíz Año Neuvo y Felíz Sukkot!

The upcoming Esencia de Judaismo/Essence of Judaism Sukkot Celebration embodies the essence of the biblical phrase, “Sukkat Shalom/Tabernacle of Peace.”

A project of the American Jewish Committee, this event brings together Christian Latino leaders with rabbis sharing with them the beauty and meaning of Judaism, the importance of a secure Jewish homeland in Israel and the holiday of Sukkot, which begins tonight, October 2, 2009.

At her website, Kabbalah Of Transformation,
Shifra Hendrie
teaches, “As we move our lives into the Sukkah, we are doing far more than fulfilling a commandment or commemorating the past. On some essential level we are living the future. We are embracing our Creator and our destiny. And G-d, as we sit within the fragile walls of the house with no roof, is embracing us.”

At events like this, this experience, which might otherwise be described as ephemeral, finally translates into something palpable…

Learn more about the AJC’s Third Annual Essence of Judaism Sukkot Celebration, slated for October 8, 2009, at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles at www.ajclosangeles.org. Or contact Randy Brown at (310) 282-8080 or brownr (at) ajc (dot) org.

sukkot_eng

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Days of Awe

On the first day of Rosh HaShanah, the community known as Beit Midrash Ohr HaChaim in the Bay Area was treated to the following words written by Rabbi Chanan Feld, which his wife, Jody, read to the congregation because her husband is fighting a serious illness. More on that below…

Thoughts on Rosh HaShana
By Rabbi Chanan Feld

Chanan Feld teachingWe’re asked to be expansive. Peer and project far
beyond for another 365 days.
Another cycle of limudim, moadim, parshiot, life cycle
events.
Posture of hope, confidence…our tshuva wil be
accepted….This is just the beginning!

The polar extreme of being consumed by the moment,
the focus on each breath, sometimes every mili-second.
Sometimes those moments on the other side of
our time and space.

Is it the dreamer’s imagination, flying unfettered
over the days to come
Or the mindful one mining the moment of now,
who experiences the true pulse?

Truth:
Rosh HaShannah is the head of a circle
No beginning, no end
From “briat HaOlam” to the “geulah shleimah,” one
continuous flow

Eternity in each present, a year in each day,
the entire universe in each second.

What will be our year to come?

Take a moment….Gaze on a loved one.
Appreciate your community,
Your surroundings, the kedushah of Shabbat
and Yom Tov.

Take a moment and feel my love for each and everyone
whose help, tehillim, tefillot, concern allowed me to
write this. One whose humbled spirit feels utterly
grateful to all

That’s what our year will be, the eternally
present love of HaShem.
That’s the moment of your now and year to come.

Shana Tova Umetukah.
May Our Righteous Redeemer usher in Redemption
for Klal B’nei Yisroel

B’ahavah! (with love)

Chanan

Thoughts on Rabbi Chanan Feld

HaRav Chanan Velvel Simcha ben Bryna is fighting an aggressive case of oral cancer. For decades, Rabbi Feld, his wife and their three children have been as astounding resource for Jews both living in and passing through the region. The Feld home, has been one of only relatively few “go-to homes” in the San Francisco area for uplifting, fun, warm and welcoming Shabbos meals for huge crowds of all kinds of Jews–unaffiliated, religious, formerly frum, becoming frum, Israeli, foreign, exploring…you name it (!!!) all across the spectrum.

Because so many guests, “repeat customers” and virtual strangers have passed through their doors, the Felds have had an immeasurable positive influence on Jews literally throughout the world. Both Chanan and Jody are co-founders of Beit Midrash Ohr HaChaim, a beloved center for tefillot, community, meals and learning that I have been blessed to be affiliated with since its origin 10 years ago. For all this time and more, the Felds have been my dear friends who are much more like family than friends. I can’t even count how many Shabbatot and holidays I’ve spent with them: innumerable Shabbos dinners, lunches, third meals, sedarim, Sukkot meals… my own spirituality has grown so much because of their example, inspiration, teachings and friendship.

But what’s truly amazing is that this story is not only mine. It is shared by hundreds, if not thousands of Jews who have spent time in their company. That’s because the Felds are gifted Torah teachers and examples of Jewish values; a meal at their home means feeling not only welcome, but guided, taught, uplifted and loved. Today, there are Yidden of all stripes — chasidic, modern, Litvish, Skver, Carlebachian, etc… — that they have informed and inspired who are now living throughout California, Israel and around the world. In short, they are paragons of chesed, Torah and Ahavat Yisrael – love for their fellow Jews. There really aren’t enough words to describe the difference they make in the Jewish world.

Rabbi Feld has performed bris-es throughout the Pacific, from Anchorage to Alaska, for more than 20 years. And many friends and others who have benefited from the Felds legendary open door policy, hospitality and friendship.

Because his health is in such serious condition, time is of the essence. Any help you could lend would be a great chesed. If you’d like to contribute to the Feld Fund in any way, with words of encouragement, prayers, financial contributions… please visit the community site: http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/617304/.

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Spiritual Tools

Becoming You
By David Sacks

On Rosh Hashana, we pledge not to remain a cheap imitation of our ‘old self.

There is a fascinating dialectic contained within Rosh Hashana. On one hand, it’s the beginning of the new year. And yet Rosh Hashana actually occurs in the seventh month, (Nissan, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, is the first month — see Exodus 12:2.) This means that Rosh Hashana actually falls out in the middle of the year!

There is a deep secret contained in this. People reach the middle of their lives and think that meaningful change is impossible. Therefore, the Almighty put Rosh Hashana in the middle of the year to teach us that it’s never too late to begin again.

In the most obvious sense, Rosh Hashana is all about making God our king, for whom we have awesome respect and commit to following His instructions.

But there’s an even more primary step. The Kotzker Rebbe once observed that some people come to him in search of assistance to reach God. But their efforts are for naught, for “[God’s] glory fills all the earth” (Isaiah 6:3). Rather, the Kotzker taught, for whom must people search? For themselves.

The Midrash (Kohelet Rabba 1:3) comments that “one who grows old is like an ape.” The KotzkerRebbe explains that the nature of an ape is to imitate. “Just as it is the way of an ape to imitate humans, so too, a person, when he has become old, imitates himself, and does what was his manner previously.” In other words, most of us, at some point in life, either consciously or not, become satisfied with who we are and what we’ve become. As such, we cease to strive toward attaining greater spiritual heights. We are content to live out our remaining days as a mere imitation of ourselves!

From this we see that the Torah perspective on “growing old” is not a function of age, but rather on whether we remain committed to spiritual growth.

Therefore, the question we all must ask is: Have I become an imitation of myself? And if so, when did it happen and what factors are to blame? Is it malaise, a crisis in belief, anger at God, or simply laziness? Unless we find the root of the problem, how can we hope to uproot it?

But there’s another, perhaps bigger, question: Who do I want to be? As Hillel says, “If not for me, then who?” (Avot 1:14) In other words, if I recognize the need to go beyond the “me,” because I am no longer content with who I am now, then “who” exactly would I like to become?

Rosh Hashana is the most ideal time to contemplate this. Because on Rosh Hashana the DNA for the year is being formed, and God looks to us as partners in its creation.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz gives the following example: Imagine you’re an architect sitting in front of a blueprint. Think about how much easier it is to change the position of the windows before you construct the building than it is after the house has been built!

Rosh Hashana is the time when we make the blueprint for our new selves. The power to envision what we want to become is exponentially greater now, than it is once the year has already been built.

Using this as a framework, let’s go deeper. Every situation, or “scene” we find ourselves in life — whether as seemingly trivial as standing on line in the supermarket, or deciding whether or not to lose our temper — is a uniquely designed opportunity for us to grow spiritually, to become more “God-like.” On some level, we are like actors and God is the Ultimate Playwright.

Now imagine the author is about write the next act, but before he does so he gives you the opportunity to discuss who you’d like to be, and what role you’d like to play in the new production. This is what the prayers of Rosh Hashanah are all about. The Almighty is about to create the new year, but before He does, in the ultimate sign of love and respect, He looks to us for input.

Take the time to dream the greatest dream of yourself, and then chart the course to realizing it. Ask yourself: Am I constantly striving to be a better parent/spouse? Am I making an effort to learn Hebrew and observe Shabbos? Do I empathize with the plight of Jews around the world, and the devastating terror in Israel? Do I have a fixed time for Torah study every day?

Now structure a timetable for achieving your goals. For some reason, we never think in terms of deadlines when it comes to spirituality. But why not? As Hillel concludes, “If not now, when?” “Now” that I have envisioned the new me, “when” will I bring it into being?

Great days are coming. Let’s use them to make a big breakthrough, for ourselves and our world.

David Sacks is an Emmy-winning Hollywood screen writer. Each week, he shares a Torah teaching at www.torahonitunes.com

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Jewish Diversity Rocks

What do a rapper, a dancer, a comedian and a handful of Sefardic, Ashkenazi and Hasidic performers have in common? They’re all sharing the stage this Sunday in a show that celebrates Jewish diversity.

After an amazing year of events across North America, we’re celebrating the first anniversary of the publication of my book with a blow-out concert in New York City this Sunday. The Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artist Showcase features an amazing cast of multicultural Jews. And it’s free! And, in an online giveaway we’re running in conjunction with this event, one lucky winner will receive a prize package valued at almost $300 packed with their innovative creations. It’s free, too!

Rosh Hashanah Giveaway

The Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artists Showcase is slated for 5 pm, Sept. 13th at the JCC of Manhattan. Our diverse group of multicultural Jewish artists will hit the stage with their greatest hits. Performers include:
Sarah Aroeste,
Ladino chanteuse
Yisrael Campbell, comedian/Jew by choice
Eprhyme, Ashkenazi rapper Eden Pearlstein (on the Shemspeed label)
Elie Massias, Gibraltar-born Sephardic guitarist/solo artist
Adam McKinney, classically trained African-American Jewish dancer who has performed with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and other acclaimed companies, filmmaker and arts educator
Rachel Ravitz & Matti Brown, married singer/songwriter folk duo; Rachel is a storyteller in the tradition of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Matti is a cantor and Jew by choice
Rav Shmuel, hasidic rabbi and rock n’ roller

In conjunction with the Cool Jews Every Member of the Tribe Artists Showcase, we’ve created the Cool Jew New You Giveaway in partnership with http://ModernTribe.com. This innovative website shares Cool Jew‘s approach to celebrating Jewish culture. Together, we have invited the Showcase Artists and several other Jewish mensches — friends and colleagues, artists, writers, performers and entrepreneurs — to donate prizes to the Cool Jew New You Giveaway in honor of the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, which falls on September 18th.

To enter to win the Cool Jew New You Giveaway, visit http://tinyurl.com/coolyou and submit your answer to this question: “In what ways are you “casting off” and starting new this year?'” You can also click through to purchase elements of the Giveaway. (No purchase is required to win. This contest is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada.)

The Cool Jew New You Giveaway winner will be chosen from all submissions and announced on Sept. 17th at the ModernTribe.com blog.

The Cool Jew New You Giveaway contains prizes valued at approximately $300. One lucky mensch will receive:

* Ladino chanteuse Sarah Aroeste’s Puertas CD ($15)
* Stand-up comedian Yisrael Campbell’s Circumcise Me DVD ($20)
* Eprhyme’s debut CD WAYWORDWONDERWILL ($15) and 7-inch vinyl single, Punklezmerap, on K Records as part of its International Pop Underground Series ($5)
* Jewcy.com’s “Table Topics: Spirit Box” discussion cards ($25)
* Author Lisa Alcalay Klug’s book Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe ($13)
* Living Tree Community Foods’ organic Snugglespoon honey, raw almond butter and raw tahini ($47 total)
* Rachel and Matti’s CD sampler Your Kindness ($5)
* Jennie Rivlin Roberts’ “No Limit Texas Dreidel” game from ModernTribe.com ($20)
* Jean Roth’s Rotem Gear What Would Maimonides Do? t-shirt ($24)
* Author Matthue Roth’s books, Never Mind the Goldbergs ($8) and Yom Kippur A Go-Go ($15)
* Musician/composer Elie Massias’ Brooklyn Days CD ($10)
* Singer/Songwriter Rav Shmuel’s “Protocols” and “B’yameinu” music CDs ($18 each) and two t-shirts ($15 each)

Meet the folks behind the giveaway:

Inspired by her Sephardic roots from Spain and Greece, Ladino chanteuse Sarah Aroeste fuses Judeo-Spanish folk songs from her unique background with rock, funk, jazz and blues. Her exotic blend of flamenco melodies, Middle Eastern rhythms and modern soul presents a fresh take on Sephardic sounds. saraharoeste.com

American-born Yisrael Campbell performs stand-up comedy throughout the English-speaking world and Israel, his adopted home. Yisrael is currently creating a production of his one-man show, “Circumcise Me,” to open off-Broadway in November, 2009. He trained for the stage at Circle in the Square. yisraelcampbell.com

Incorporating Kabbalah, psychology and politics, Eprhyme (aka Eden Pearlstein) spits rhymes intertwined with elements of jazz, funk, klezmer and Middle Eastern music. A kaleidoscopic counter-cultural exchange for mystics, punks and b-boys, his raps are a powerful, poetic plea for peace, justice, joy and unity. Ephryme.com, http://tinyurl.com/eprhymevid

Jewcy.com is an entertainment and media company devoted to helping Jews (and anyone else) find, use, share, and expand meaning and community. Jewcy operates an online site, theatrical productions, and a steady diet of exciting events for progressive free-thinkers. jewcy.com

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, a 2008 National Jewish Book Awards Finalist. A contributor to the New York Times, Forward and many other publications, Lisa also edits the multicultural blog, Tolerant Nation. cooljewbook.com tolerantnation.wordpress.com

Living Tree Community Foods is a pioneering natural foods company distributing kosher creations from its base in Berkeley, California throughout the world. Living Tree products are alive, organic and certified kosher. livingtreecommunity.com

Gibraltar native Elie Massias sings and plays acoustic and electric guitar, soprano saxophone and cajon and, using a boomerang sampler, creates loops in real-time, integrating the beautiful intricacies of Flamenco Guitar, Jazz, Middle Eastern and Sephardic music. Billboard Magazine named Elie among the top 10 acts of the U.S. North East at the Independent Music World Series 2007. eliemassias.com

Rachel Ravitz & Matthew Brown met while exploring the world’s various religions and married soon after their first musical collaboration. Fifteen years later, they continue to harmonize, compose and perform new Jewish melodies. Rachel is a singer and storyteller in the Chasidic tradition of Reb Shlomo Carlebach. Matthew, a Jew by choice, is a composer and cantor for several congregations in New York City. Rachel and Matti are currently recording their first CD of original Jewish music. rachelandmatti.com

Jennie Rivlin Roberts is the founder of ModernTribe.com (this website!), an online Judaica and Jewish gifts store for progressive minds, spirits, and style, and the co-inventor of No Limit Texas Dreidel (NLTD), which crosses dreidel with Texas Hold’em poker. NLTD has received national recognition in media outlets such as NPR and Newsweek. TexasDreidel.com

Designer R. Jean Roth embraces diversity daily at her graphic design studio and through her apparel designs at Rotem Gear. Having lived in the US, Israel and Japan, she brings her multi-hued background into her designs, along with a dose of American pop culture and quirky humor. Rotem Gear has been featured in fashion magazines, Jewish publications and the Cool Jew book! RotemGear.com

Matthue Roth is the author of three novels, Losers, Never Mind the Goldbergs, and Candy in Action, as well as a memoir, Yom Kippur a Go-Go. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter, and he keeps a secret diary at matthue.com

Rav Shmuel is a hasidic rabbi who hangs out in Greenwich Village and plays original compositions on his guitar. Billboard described his acclaimed debut CD as “immediately likeable… good humored anti-folk.” Views of his animated video, “Protocols,” have surpassed 125,000 on YouTube. ravshmuel.com

Take a moment for fun and enter to win the Cool Jew New You Giveaway!

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