New Pope speaks about Jews

An interesting story from Pope Francis’ marking of the deportation of Jews from Rome. John Paul spoke of Judaism being the old covenant, “never revoked”. Benedict seemed to backtrack on that a little bit, but it seems like Francis is going along the same lines as John Paul.

For many centuries…the Jewish community and the Church of Rome have lived in our city , with a history – as we well know – which was often transversed by misunderstandings and even true grievances,” Pope Francis said. “However, it is a story , that with the help of God , has for many decades experienced the development of friendly and fraternal relations.

“I’ve said it other times and I would like to repeat it now: It’s a contradiction that a Christian is anti-Semitic: His roots are Jewish,” said the Pope. “A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic ! Let Anti-Semitism be banished from the heart and life of every man and every woman!”

DC Synagogue pulls double duty as “shutdown central”

I’ve tried in the past to explain the differences between a church and a synagogue to people. This article really highlights one of the main differences. Whereas a church is a place of worship, a synagogue is a community hub. In recent years, some churches have been following that example, but it has long been the role of the synagogue.

In a church, you have services on Sunday and on Wednesday night. You might have some church group meet one other night during that time. It is very focused on worship itself. A synagogue, however, may host 3 prayers a day….which may not even be led by clergy. It might also host yoga classes, have a gym, have a school, and a variety of other things that make it sort of a community center and not just a house of worship. They may have a gift shop that includes Jewish items, including wine for Shabbat. A local one has a kosher butcher make deliveries in the parking lot every so often… They might have a movie night…. dances.. talks….plays… concerts…. whatever…and everything doesn’t have to center around Judaism.

In this particular instance, this synagogue is acting as a hang-out for those who are furloughed because of the government shutdown. It probably has a decent rec center inside it and keeps people from being bored out of their minds. Seeing things like this just make you proud.

Two Studies Worth Noting

The first is on the Catholics and the Pope’s recent remarks that the Catholic church is too focused on issues like homosexuality and abortion. A recent poll shows that the majority of US Catholics support gay marriage and ordination of women priests. This is in line with most studies and polls and really highlights the disconnect between Rome and most Western societies where the Catholic church is found. Perhaps the new Pope will do something to rectify this, because he does acknowledge it. As a Jew, my only interaction with Catholic clergy is when they come to our synagogue to speak, but I’ve noticed the focus is always on God, our shared heritage, etc. and never a mention of hot button social issues. This is not the kind of interaction that Rome has traditionally pushed for, but hopefully it will be in the future, with groups like Nuns on the Bus highlighting common issues and concerns and not divisive and contentious areas where they even leave their US churches behind.

The second issue is a poll of Jews by Pew Research. It estimates the number of Jews in the US has grown to 6.7 million. It also says a lot about Jews who consider themselves to be of “no religion” etc. We had an interesting conversation on this in Torah study. We talked about how the Orthodox try to push the label of “religious” to mean Orthodox and how damaging that is to Judaism as a whole. We talked about how many Reform Jews are very religious, but how a number of them would answer “not religious” to a study like this because of that damaging labeling. One solution to this is for Judaism to not allow the minority to dictate what is religious, what is “Torah Judaism”, etc. and to define it according to the terms themselves. As I’ve often said, all the movements follow the Torah as they interpret it. If you refer to “Torah Judaism” you are, in essence, referring to all of Judaism, not just to Orthodoxy.

But, I also noticed something according to Pew Research’s own analysis of their data: Reform Jews are more likely than any other group to remain in their own movement throughout their life. They’re more likely by slightly to consider themselves non-Jewish later on in life…only 1% difference between them and the Conservative movement.. and more likely to consider themselves Jews of no religion than the others…but we could be running into the labeling issue there.

There are also some other interesting things brought up in the study. The majority of Jews believe remembering the holocaust, leading an ethical and moral life, as well as working for justice and equality are essential to being a Jew. A quarter of the Jews in the US reside in the South. Jews think other minorities face more discrimination than they do. A majority think blacks, Muslims and gays face more discrimination.

All in all, I think it’s an interesting study and one that will be debated and hashed out for years to come.

Big News about Kids’ Media Player

Kids’ Media Player, which I designed and wrote, is now included in OpenSUSE Linux as of today. OpenSUSE Linux has over 1 MILLION users, so it is quite an achievement. As a friend of mine said, “That is the type of thing that happens to other people – never someone you know or to yourself.” That’s how I feel about it as well….

I’ve made a contribution to the world. Sure, it’s just a media player for children. It’s a way to help kids… but it’s not what I set out to do. I set out to fill a need in my own family and now I have the opportunity to fill the need in thousands of families across the world. But, it goes to show you: normal people can help to make the world a better place… one small act of kindness at a time.

Vice President Joe Biden celebrated the Jewish holiday of Sukkot

Vice President Joe Biden hosted Jewish leaders at a sukkah set up at his residence.

The sukkah, provided by American Friends of Lubavitch and decorated by children with special needs, drew dozens of guests to the residence at Washington’s Naval Observatory on Tuesday evening, including leaders of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox streams, major pro-Israel and Jewish defense groups, top Jewish Democrats, donors to the Obama-Biden campaigns and the parents of the Jewish spouses of his children.

I have to say, it’s very cool that not only did the Vice President of the United States celebrate Sukkot with Jews from the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements, but that he used a sukkah (a little hut) decorated by special needs children. Reform Judaism is the largest movement (akin to Christian denominations) and has around 40% of affiliated Jews. Conservative is next with 30+% and Orthodox is last with 10-15%