“The old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy” – JamShalom and a Music Festival

Jam-band Judaism

THE SHABBAT Tent at this year’s Lockn’ Festival.. (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

JAM-BAND JUDAISM

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS, Virginia – When the biblical Abraham and Sarah opened up their tent and welcomed everyone to come in, they had no idea they would be setting a precedent that would be replayed last week at the four-day Lockn’ Festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

A “hippie” jam-band Americana gathering held annually since 2013 and attended by some 30,000 music lovers, Lockn’ has featured headliners such as Phish, Dead and Co, Tom Petty, Robert Plant and Carlos Santana. The festival strives to blend world-class music, promote local vendors and encourage community engagement

For an observant Jew, attending a music festival over Shabbat poses many potential logistical challenges: It is not permitted to light fires, make any purchases or carry in a public place. There is no kosher food on site, and many would question the permissibility of attending a concert at all on the Sabbath – even if tickets are purchased in advance and one need only show a wrist band to get in.

Enter Rabbi Yehoshua Eliovson and 25 members of his JamShalom and Shabbat Tent organizations.

Shu, an IT professional with Orthodox rabbinic ordination, has been friends with festival organizer Peter Shapiro for many years. JamShalom received special permission to arrive at Lockn’ on Wednesday to begin setting up its “Shabbat Tent.”

The tent makes it possible for observant Jews to keep Shabbat while also attending a music festival, and it serves as a source of outreach and support for concertgoers.

The American-born Shu, who has lived in Israel since 2004, drove down from New York with two of his children, ages 17 and 23, in vehicles loaded with camping gear, banners, tapestries, rugs and Shabbat food donated by Grow & Behold. They set up the communal tent to be used for prayers and meals, but it was destroyed in a torrential rain storm. After purchasing a new big tent, the crew was on their way to again building a Shabbat camp.

It rained again most of Friday. Three hours before the start of Shabbat, the rain stopped and the sky cleared. Two guys with deep connections to music and traditional Judaism, Yehuda and Motti Shur, heated food for Shabbat dinner over a camping stove and warmers. They grew up in a Shabbat-observant home with a music-loving father, Rabbi Moshe Shur, the longtime director of Queens College Hillel. The elder Shur once lived on a California commune led by Wavy Gravy, jammed with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, played in the Diaspora Yeshiva Band, and presented at Blues for Challah: A Grateful Dead Shabbaton.

TWO YOUNG shirtless men were on ladders around the campsite, anchoring wood poles and tying string to the tops as part of the eruv that would enable observant Jews to carry on Shabbat. Shu, meanwhile, entertained questions from curious Jewish and non-Jewish fellow campers. “We don’t roll on Shabbat,” Shu tells a 40-something couple, explaining, “We only carry within the private domain within our campsite.”

He then shared, “My rebbe is Trey [Anastasio, lead singer of Phish], and his rebbe is Derek Trucks, and both will be performing tonight. We are excited!”

Leib Meadvin, a Philadelphia area artist and math teacher with a long beard who just came from the for-pay shower house, is dressed in dark slacks, a white button-down shirt and Crocs. The hassid, clearly the oldest member of the group, has a long and distinguished history of following the Grateful Dead and attending concerts. He proudly shows off his tallit and tefillin bag with his Hebrew name and Grateful Dead logo.

Unlike most members of the group who feel comfortable walking to the concert venue on Shabbat (and who are able to enter without scanning their wrist band if they say they are with JamShalom), Leib and his son will not hear live music until after the Havdalah prayer on Saturday night when the Tedeschi Trucks Band will be joined by Trey Anastasio.

Shabbat starts with most still wearing shorts and tie-dyed shirts. Shu shares words of Torah, leads an extended Kabbalat Shabbat with Lecha Dodi sung to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple.” After Kiddush and Hamotzi (the blessings over wine and bread) and after dinner is served, the eclectic group sits in a circle on chairs and carpets.

Lisa, a young woman from Louisville, Kentucky, who lives in Brooklyn, tells about her cannabis edibles business, explaining how she carefully doses each of the three layers of her signature cakes.

“If you feel comfortable eating in my house, you will feel comfortable with the kashrut of my edibles!” Lisa came to Lockn’ and the JamShalom “to cultivate community.” She observes, “We are one big festival family. THIS is our family within a family.”

There are several Israelis in the group. Two hesder yeshiva students whose families made aliyah from the United States five years ago are here, prior to enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces.

Racheli, who grew up in a haredi (ultra-Orthodox) family in Lakewood, New Jersey, and who works in special education in Israel, is here for the shows, and for the “the Rabbi Shu experience.” She is also here for “the people, the tapestries, the kitchen full of food, and the heady jams!”

ONE OF Shu’s daughters just completed her service in the IDF. She and Shu will continue on to Colorado to see some Phish shows before traveling in India.

Dinner is quick. Most dash off to the venue to catch the Trey Anastasio Band with Derek Trucks. Even more music awaits at another venue, Garcia’s Forest, with a set starting at 12:30 a.m. More prayers, Shabbat food and music will follow Saturday, late morning.

Peter Shapiro, the festival founder with deep Jewish ties, loves what he sees. “Whenever I see Shu and the JamShalom crew at a show, it makes me feel better. They are able to bring out and evoke the best of the Judaic spirit and do it in an accessible way that people of all ages and backgrounds can embrace and feel a part of. It is uplifting and a model for showcasing the best that the Jewish religion and its culture and people represent.”

According to Prof. Shaul Magid, distinguished fellow in Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, there is a long history of observant Jews attending concerts and music festivals over Shabbat.

“This Shabbat counterculture thing started with the Rainbow Gathering,” in the early 1970s. “They had a Shabbat tent, an eruv and hevra [community]. It was a place for Jews, and non-Jews and a lot of Grateful Dead stuff, and people returned each year.” He also credits the Havurah movement of the 1970s with empowering Jews to take a “do it yourself” approach to Jewish ritual and observance.

While most Chabad and mainstream Orthodox Jews would likely not attend a music festival over Shabbat, Magid credits the influence of Chabad with the idea that “there is no place a Jew can’t go.” Magid feels that “Jews coming to music festivals through JamShalom represents a certain kind of confidence we American Jews have. We are good. We can go anywhere!”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor, author, activist, musician and scholar-in-residence at UJA-Federation New York, approaches the question of observant Jews attending music festivals through the lens of a rabbi.

“When a rabbi is asked a question like this, it’s typically easier to say no,” he says. “In truth, the beauty of halacha [Jewish law] is its elasticity. Finding ways for Jewish tradition to allow for a communal experience of music demonstrates the power of tradition to not reject the world but rather cherish it enough to see its worth.”

Rabbi Gabe Greenberg, director of the Jewish Renaissance Project at Penn Hillel, is supportive of Jews who balance Shabbat observance with music festival attendance.

“Observant Jews who attend these music festivals are embodying and enacting the ancient Jewish yearning to celebrate with community during pilgrimage festivals. I think this fusion of old and new is a wonderful manifestation of Rav Kook’s adage, ‘The old shall be made new, and the new shall be made holy.’”

WHILE SOME people who attend music festivals with JamShalom have been Shabbat-observant for many years, some younger participants are newly observant or seeking, and appreciate the guidance and support that JamShalom and the similar Shabbat Tent group offers.

Lara and Cheston Mizel at Lockn’ from Los Angeles run a Shabbat tent described as “an oasis of chill based on Shabbat hospitality, mindfulness and nourishment for the body and soul.”

Cheston Mizel has observed that Jewish twenty- and thirty-somethings who attend music festivals “are looking for something and want to connect. If we don’t do it, others will give answers. We didn’t grow up frum [religious] but found it later. We love festivals and we want to share and do outreach.”

The Shabbat tent was started in 1999 at a Phish show as a one-time project. Its success prompted organizers to expand to various settings across the country, appearing at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Mountain Jam, Gathering of the Vibes and Fare Thee Well. They have also hosted Passover Sedarim at Coachella (affectionately called “Matzachella”) and most recently hosted nearly 200 people at the July 4th High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California.

“We are listed on the festival website and we are located right near the front door!” reports Mizel proudly.

Shu is also there to meet the diverse, unique needs of young Jews. He put up his first JamShalom flag at the Super Bowl in 2011 and at a Nassau County Coliseum concert in 2012, where he recounts, “We grilled with our hevra. It was chill. Then, Pete [Shapiro] invited us to Lockn.”

Shu finds young Jews “in their best moments spiritually, when they are at music festivals. We put up a tent at a crossroads of where Jewish kids are. We at JamShalom create connections where they are.”

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Leviev, Gutnick, Chabad Donors; The Good and the Bad of Chabad’s Non-Discerning Donor Pool…

Ronald Perelman, Lev Leviev and Tevfik Arif Among Wealthy Donors to the Chabad Movement

(Newswire.net — March 1, 2019) — Chabad-Lubavitch, also known simply as Chabad, is one of the most well-known and fastest growing Hasidic movements and the closest approximation to evangelism in Judaism. Their primary mission is to promote and revive the Jewish faith, while supporting Jewish communities around the globe. Their most visible presence are Chabad houses that can be found in cities of all sizes around the world.

What is Chabad?

Chabad local organizations provide for Jewish communities through outreach activities serving the needs of the community and advancing the renewal of the Jewish faith. Chabad centers often provide religious services, child care, education and organized activities for all ages.

While Chabad is an Orthodox Hasidic movement its practice blends traditional values with modern day techniques. Chabad advocate a policy of openness, accepting Jews from all levels of religious commitment and practice. They promote cooperation and non-judgment, while maintaining a positive outlook on life and helping those in need. Chabad supports the integration of the Jewish faith in all aspects of life, family and community.

Philanthropy and service are part of the Chabad movement’s commitment to the Jewish Community. They pride themselves on providing a home away from home for Jews anywhere in the world. The doors of Chabad Houses are open and accepting to every single Jew regardless of affiliation, background or religious commitment.

Today there are over 4,000 official Chabad emissary families operating 3,500 institutions in 81 countries with additional affiliated activities occurring in many more. The Chabad network also includes a group of rabbis and Jewish educators prominently featured on college campuses worldwide.

The Wealthy Donors of Chabad

Chabad relies heavily on donors to effectively carry out their activities. The organization has become an attractive pursuit to donors big and small. Most of the donations made to Chabad Houses and institutions across the world are made in small sums by private individuals, but there are an increasing number of notorious high-profile donors who give large donations to the movement.

Many of the world’s most successful businessmen and industry leaders have identified ties to the Chabad organization. Chabad has attracted top Israeli business leaders including Nochi Dankner, Israel’s richest woman Shari Arison through the Ted Arison Foundation, and venture capitalist Shlomo Kalish. Lev Leviev known as the “King of Diamonds” has been a major patron to the Chabad movement in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Chabad is hugely popular In Russia and across Eastern Europe. One of the most sacred sites of the movement, the graves of spiritual leaders Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and Shmuel Schneersohn, is in Lyubavichi, Russia. Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar has been recognized by the Russian government as the Chief Rabbi of Russia.

Many former Soviet oligarchs, some who have been drawn back to Judaism through Chabad, have become supporters and donors including Mikhail Mirilashvili of Georgia, Ukrainian billionaire Gennadiy Bogolyubov, Alexander Granovsky from Ukraine and Alexander Mashkevich. Although he is not Jewish, Tevfik Arif, a Kazak-Turkish real estate investor and partner in Doyen Group, has become one of the largest single donors to the Chabad Center of Port Washington in Long Island, the community where he owns a residence. 

The religious movement has also found supporters among the most successful American business leaders. Ronald Perelman, American billionaire and philanthropist of Revlon fame, has become a close friend and follower of Rabbi Avrohom Shemtov, the director of the Philadelphia Lubavitcher Center. Perelman has made numerous donations to Chabad and has a building dedicated in his name at the University of Pennsylvania, the Ronald O. Perelman Center for Jewish Life-Lubavitch House. Other prominent American Chabad donors include: American investor and billionaire Michael Steinhardt, heir to Estee Lauder Companies Ronald Lauder and Shaya Boymelgreen.

Globally, Australian tycoon Joseph Gutnick, South African billionaire Nathan Kirsh, and Eduardo Elsztain, Argentina’s largest real-estate developer, are all well-known supporters of Chabad.

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Education and Orthodoxy are not Mutually Exclusive – YAFFED

Would Secular Education Destroy The Orthodox? YAFFED Panel On Education in Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas

 

Inside Oholei Torah, a Crown Heights Yeshiva. (Photo credit: Rabbi Yossi  Newfield)

CROWN HEIGHTS — Young Advocates For Fair Education (YAFFED), a Manhattan organization looking to revise educational standards in ultra-Orthodox schools, celebrated the last day of Hanukkah in Brooklyn on Monday evening with a party and a panel discussion on the secular curriculum in some ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas (Jewish religious schools for boys).

The secular studies issue has been in the news most recently because of the Felder Yeshiva deal last spring during the budget season, the inability of the Department of Education to inspect the schools to establish whether they are providing a “substantially equivalent” education to that available in public schools, and the lawsuits filed by YAFFED advocating for change. The Orthodox Jewish community is very insular, and a powerful voting block, as evidenced by both the City’s and the State’s lackluster efforts to seriously tackle education issues at politically connected Yeshivas.

One of YAFFED’s lawsuits was against an upstate school district in 2015 for not providing students with an adequate secular education. The complaint charged students in four schools within the East Ramapo school district—all male students who belonged to the Haredi Orthodox Jewish sect—did not receive “basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civil participants.”

The second was earlier this summer against the “Felder Amendment”. In July, YAFFED sued government officials, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, after rogue Democrat Simcha Felder, of Flatbush, brokered a deal with top state lawmakers which shielded certain Yeshiva schools from more oversight, effectively diminishing the effect of YAFFED’s initial lawsuit. The suit claims Cuomo violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and represents 52 former Yeshiva students and parents from 39 New York City schools.

The panelists Monday night were Rabbi Yossi Newfield, a Yeshiva graduate, Yitz Finkelstein who taught at a Yeshiva, Michael Rebell, a professor from Columbia University and YAFFED’s attorney Tom Bridges, and Chavi Weisberger a director at Footsteps, a non-profit that assists ultra-Orthodox Jews looking to leave the community to live a secular lifestyle were all present. The co-founder of Footsteps Malkie Schwartz moderated.

Panel on the education at Yeshiva institutes in New York City
Panel on the education at Yeshiva institutes in New York City

Co-founder and Executive Director of YAFFED, Natfali Moster, opened the discussion in front of the six-person panel.

“This is not about bashing a community or a way of life,” said Moster as he summed up the issues at hand. “It’s about shedding light and speaking up in defense of tens of thousands of children who have no voice and who are helpless in the face of the educational neglect they’re being subjected to.”

Although not a complainant in any lawsuit, Rabbi Newfield, 38, had a similar experience as a student at a Brooklyn Hassidic Yeshiva. Oholei Torah is part of Chabad-Lubavitch sect which is located across the street from the ultra-Orthodox group’s world headquarters in Crown Heights. He said from 13- to 17-years-old his classes lasted eight to 14 hours where the Talmud, Code of Jewish Law and Hassidic Philosophy were taught exclusively. There were no secular studies.

Rabbi Yossi Newfield at Repair the World in Crown Heights during a Hannukkah party and panel on secular education at certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.
Rabbi Yossi Newfield at Repair the World in Crown Heights during a Hannukkah party and panel on secular education at certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.

That was 1990 through 1996 when the student population was 1,300, he said. Today, 1,850 boys study at Oholei Torah, ranging from kindergarteners to the Seminary (extended rabbinical school, ages 17 – 20), and according to Newfield whose five nephews go to the school, nothing has changed.

“They don’t teach math, they don’t teach the [Latin] alphabet, they don’t teach science and I’m trying to stop them,” he said. “So, I do what I can.”

One of the schools that is part of the YAFFED’s most recent lawsuit is located in Northern Brooklyn within the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect. Panelist Yitz Finkelstein taught at the United Talmudical Academy of Williamsburg (which doesn’t have a website) for two years and said students in first through third grade receive secular studies for an hour and ten minutes each day. Those in the fourth and six grades get an extra 10 minutes to learn English, Math and Social Studies. The rest of the time is dedicated to religious studies.

“I had kids in fourth grade who could not spell and write their own names in English,” Finkelstein said, while he and others who taught secular studies at the school were grossly unqualified for the position as undergraduate students themselves.

A pro-Yeshiva organization, Parents for Educational and Religious Studies in School (PEARLS) declined to answer inquiries from Bklyner but Brendan Hannah, a PEARLS representative sent the following statement along with a prepared Q&A.

“The curriculum varies from yeshiva to yeshiva, but most K-8 schools teach Judaic studies and general studies such as English and math,” the statement reads. “Our teachers employ a Socratic method of instruction, similar to that employed at many law schools, in which students learn critical thinking, analytical, comprehension and literacy skills.”

Chavi Weisberger, a mother of three and director of Footprints at a YAFFED panel on secular education in ultra-Orthodox, all-boys, Yeshiva schools.
Chavi Weisberger, a mother of three and director of Footprints at a YAFFED panel on secular education in ultra-Orthodox, all-boys, Yeshiva.

For Chavi Weisberger, who left the Hassidic community after divorcing her husband, the choice to unenroll her son from his Yeshiva school is out of reach. Weisberger lost the right to have any say in her children’s education when she signed an agreement with her husband giving him full control of their children’s education at their marriage.

Weisberger had similar complaints about the Yeshiva’s secular curriculum but added the school days are so long, there’s little time to add to supplement their education with tutors.

“When does he get to be a child and just hang out with his family and read and relax,” she asked.

That could change. Section 3204 of New York State Education Law requires local school officials (that would be the New York City Department of Education) to “ensure that school-aged children who reside within the boundaries of their school district are receiving an education”.  The new plan to evaluate substantial equivalency is briefly explained here, and judging by this questionnaire, most Yeshivas would fall under the Commissioner’s (currently MaryEllen Elia) review:

 

 

Israel, Elections and the Weight of Ultra-Orthodoxy and Radical Judaism

PM: No decision made regarding elections
Netanyahu emphasizes no discussions were held with ultra-Orthodox parties on draft bill, which threatens to dismantle coalition; ‘I hear they are asking about the elections’ date… The answer is that no decision was made regarding the matter.’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: CNN)
According to the High Court of Justice’s ruling, by December 2nd, the Knesset must pass a new law regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox civilians to the IDF. The proposed draft bill threatens to dismantle the coalition and prompt early elections. Members of the United Torah Judaism party.

According to the High Court of Justice’s ruling, by December 2nd, the Knesset must pass a new law regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox civilians to the IDF.

 

The proposed draft bill threatens to dismantle the coalition and prompt early elections.

The Council of Torah Sages of Degel HaTorah, the Lithuanian faction of the United Torah Judaism party, is expected to convene on Monday or in the coming days in order to decide whether the party’s opposition to the bill still stands, or if a compromise regarding the enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox population is possible.

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Lakewood, the Who, What, Where, When and Why –

Copied from: NEW JERSEY REAL-TIME NEWS

Race, religion, corruption and politics: A guide to the crisis in Lakewood

 

LAKEWOOD — The drive into Lakewood from the Parkway could be confused with any other stretch of county road near the Pinelands. There are farm stands, strip malls, modest neighborhoods and an occasional open field.

Then, you cross the border into Lakewood and the landscape changes immediately. There are suddenly crowded townhouse developments, new multifamily houses going up and members of the Orthodox Jewish community on every sidewalk.

Lakewood represents the convergence of almost every issue in New Jersey – race, religious freedom, discrimination, corruption, local politics, school funding, overdevelopment and transportation woes.

What makes it unique is the unprecedented growth of the town combined with the complex issues surrounding the booming Orthodox Jewish community.

While tensions have been rising in Lakewood for years, the turmoil has escalated in recent weeks with a showdown over school funding and a high-profile welfare fraud investigation.

The town thrust into the spotlight this summer with the arrest of 26 members of the Orthodox community accused of lying about their income to collect more than $2 million in public assistance.

The arrests brought renewed attention to Lakewood and highlighted what residents of the Ocean County town already know – Lakewood is changing. This once-faded resort community has become the most complex town in New Jersey.

 

What makes Lakewood unique?

Lakewood is booming. Thanks to an influx of Orthodox Jews, it has been New Jersey’s fastest-growing town over the last 20 years. It has one of the highest birth rates in the world. Housing is going up at an unprecedented pace.

“It’s probably the most attractive place in the United States today for a young Orthodox Jewish family,” said Rabbi Aaron Kotler, one of the leaders of the Orthodox community. “That’s a phenomenon that certainly didn’t exist when I was growing up, 20 or 30 years ago. But it’s a reality today.” 

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