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Mazal Tov: Tigers Pick a Jewish Manager

Many know that I am a Detroit baseball fanatic and was crushed at our loss this season to the Red Sox in the American League Championships. But all the mourning and soul-searching has come to an abrupt end on the news that former Detroit Tiger Brad Ausmus — and most importantly former coach of Team Israel — will be the new Tiger’s manager.

This was a very bold move. “I was taken back with how impressive he was,” Dombrowski said. “Every time Brad’s name came up, it was effusive with praise.”

Of course how Ausmus will work out with the most accomplished team in the MLB remains to be seen. The fact that he is Jewish doesn’t really impact that much on the team. We all hope that he has an ability to motivate a team that has had its spirits crushed by two post-season meltdowns. He will have to be part motivational speaker, part sports psychologist, part manager, and part Detroiter. Not an easy gig.

His Jewishness may indeed play a factor on the season. Look to see matzah this Passover at Comerica Park. And what number has Ausmus chosen to wear? #7, in honor of Shabbos I am sure.

What a great early Chanukah present!

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Pico Shul: Our New Community

On Rosh Hashana Rachel and I founded Pico Shul together with a group of open-minded young adults with the common goal of creating a purposeful, welcoming Jewish community, committed to spiritual growth and living mindfully.
 We are located in the heart of LA’s Pico Robertson neighborhood, amid kosher restaurants, garages, and many other synagogues.

Our home is a converted warehouse run by Tomchei Shabbos which is used every Thursday to distribute food to hundreds of hungry Jewish families. It is also home to two lending organizations, one for wedding gowns and one with centerpieces for simchas. The karma of the place is palpable. It feels good to be amid the thousands of mitzvahs that are performed there every regularly.

World spread quickly about Pico Shul. While many factors contributed to this buzz, something about a new shul for young adults struck a chord. No longer relegated to Young Professional minyanim, young adults will populate and run Pico Shul. Hundreds attended our High Holiday, Days of Awesome services, far outnumbering the number of seats. It was cozy, inspiring, meaningful, musical, meaningful, and more.

When we launched Pico Shul it was, technically speaking, not my first shul. Once upon a time I ran the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw for a while between rabbis. The Chief rabbi fled Poland after pointing his finger at the Pope and the community began a worldwide search for a new Rabbi….who wanted to move to Poland and spoke Polish. Meanwhile, I carried the torch, ensuring minyanim, shchitah, mikvah, buriall and and other rabbinical duties were fulfilled with utmost care and respect. The average age at that time was 88. Sadly they are all gone, a group of men who practiced group grandparenting on me.

Pico Shul merges a passion for Judaism, Torah, social justice, music and community into one entity. We will be different in a lot of things that we do, and we will become, God willing, the spiritual and community home of many young adults. The community of people drawn to shul is already very diverse. Some have lost interest in the entire concept of synagogue. Some wander from shul to shul but have no place to call home. Some got the spirit, studied in yeshiva and have returned to LA and realized they are not Haredi. Some grew up “frum” and some grew up with minimal Jewish content in their lives. One cast off the Torah decades ago and is finding that he fits in here amid the young searching for community. Another loves the short divrei torah that we give between main sections of the service.

Nearly everything about the shul and its early beginnings are fulfillments of divine providence. That might sound outrageous, but its true. Finding a location. Finding funds to renovate the warehouse. Fixing the aging AC that everyone thought was dead. Donations of furniture and prayer books. The list goes on. We still need to get our own Torah, Aaron Ha Kodesh/Holy Ark, Bima/riser, Shulchan/Torah reading table, podiums.

More, much more, remains to be written about Pico Shul, and I will attempt to capture what I can on the pages of this blog.

We start our programming with Shabbat morning services. Starting at 9am with Torah learning about Noah and then at 9:45 with morning services / shacharit. All this is followed by a kiddush lunch made by my wife, the Rebbiztin Rachel 🙂 and a group of Shul volunteers. We hope that you can join us.

If you want to know support the community please email me at rabbi @ picoshul.org

No Justice, No Meat: Polish Parliament Reaffirms Antisemitism

polish meat storesWith great chutzpah and an undercurrent of antisemitism the Polish Parliament has rejected a bill proposed by the government to permit Kosher and Halal ritual slaughter. As has been the case in other European countries that have banned kosher slaughter, the process is deemed “inhumane”. All this has happened during the saddest days on the Jewish calendar and has led to Poland’s esteemed Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, the architect of post-Communist Jewish revival and a lifelong vegetarian, to threaten resignation. Having helped Rabbi Schudrich to reestablish kosher slaughter in Poland in the 1990’s through the importation of a ritual slaughterer form Hungry, and personally supervising kosher meat production, this ban is particularly personal.

As with most Jewish communities, the vast majority of Polish Jews do not keep kosher. Yet, the news that the ban on Kosher meat production in Poland will continue indefinitely is of profound symbolic importance. For a country that is trying to revive its image as being hopelessly anti-Semitic, where a small, nascent Jewish community is rebuilding itself, the renewal of the ban on kosher slaughter is just the latest sign that perhaps Poland has not really changed.

Ironically, Poland is a major supplier of kosher food around the world, including a growing export of kosher meat to Israel. The OU, the largest supervisory agency for kosher products worldwide, certifies production in over two dozen Polish factories. Products under supervision include, bakeries, vegetables, fish and milk and more.

The Polish parliament for its part is going against the obvious economic benefits pertaining to the production of Kosher food, and especially meat. A constitutional court has upheld the ban on kosher slaughter which echoes back to the days during pre-war Poland when a full-blown economic assault was waged against its Jewish citizens. The ruling by most accounts goes counter to the Polish constitution. With this one move Poland’s parliment undermines its relations with the world-wide Jewish community.

Polish Prime Minister Tusk’s enemies are capitalizing on a right-wing shift in the countries political climate. The unpopular Prime-Minister is being hounded by the opposition who have seized upon his weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is his pro-Jewish stance. In addition, the opposition have decried the export of Polish meat which should stay in Poland and not be exported to Israel and to Muslim countries. With unabashed chutzpah, Tusk’s opposition is using the issue of Kosher and Halal slaughter as part of their campaign to wrest control of a government.

Not all of Poland’s politicians are bending. Poland’s agricultural minister for example has decried the decision in sharply worded term calling the ban unconstitutional infringement on the rights of minorities in Poland. However, the Prime Minister stated that the government will not attempt to introduce new legislation making kosher and halal slaughter permitted.

The decision of the Polish Parliament coincides with the days of sorrow for the Jewish communities. This period of national mourning called the “Nine Days” leads up to the largest day of national mourning, Tisha B’Av. These days are known for sorrow and persecution. From the times of the destruction of the Second Temple until today, many tragedies befell the Jewish people during this time including the expulsion of Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492), World War I (1914), and the deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto (1942).

While the decision to ban kosher meat production and ritual slaughter are not on the scale of these tragedies, its timing could not be more profound. At a milestone in Polish Jewish and Christian rapprochement, the completion of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in the heart of Warsaw, Poland has found itself once again a flashpoint of intolerance. This is not to lessen the intolerance and racism found in other European countries that have enacted a similar bans on kosher and halal slaughter. Yet, because of Poland’s unique history as having the largest Jewish community in the world prior to WWII, and the country that suffered the largest percentage of annihilation of its Jewish community during the war, this turn of events is highly unfortunate.

In the early 1990’s, when we were able to resume the production of kosher meat in Poland, it was sign that Poland’s Jewish community had a future. In a country that prides itself on meat dishes, the availability of Kosher meat to the Jewish community was another step in the direction of communal rebirth. While a vegetarian at the time, I was keenly aware that a lack of readily available kosher meat was critical to a sense of self-sufficiency that is part of the Polish psyche. No longer was it necessary to import canned meat from Israel for use in the Jewish soup kitchens. No longer did families have to settle for un-kosher meat to create Friday Night Dinners, Passover seders, and holiday meals.

With the resurgence of Polish anti-semitism, the reemergence of Polish Jewish life has been dealt another serious setback. On these days of introspection and mourning, the Jewish world has been dealt another blow. We should not look at this as an isolated infringement on Jewish religious practice on a small Jewish community, but as a global Jewish community issue and a harbinger of the winds of change.

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Creating the Foundation for a Healthy Marriage

Spiritual-RelationshipRabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein’s Pre-Marriage Class
Creating the Foundation for a Healthy Marriage
A Class for Engaged Couples and Newlyweds
Sun. June 2, 16, 23 at 8pm Free

Mazel Tov! You are engaged to the love of your life, you are walking on cloud 9 and have to slap yourself twice a day just to be sure you are awake and not dreaming! Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein and JConnect present this 3 part class to help you build towards the successful marriage you want and deserve. This course includes three, ninety-minute classes with Rabbi Yonah, PLUS a one hour one-on-one counseling session w/ Rachel Bookstein for each couple.

So why are you asking yourself these questions?
Who gets to make decisions about the wedding?
How do we resolve differences?
What does honoring my spouse mean?
Why is being engaged so hard?
What is marriage for anyway?
Is there such a thing as work/life balance?
Will we still have fun after we are married?
Will I loose myself to my partner?
How do I talk about intimacy without hurting feelings?
What do I call my in-laws?
How do I integrate Jewish spirituality into my marriage?
When do we talk about kids?
and MANY more topics…

Don’t let the stress of planning your wedding make you forget that it is every day after the wedding that counts. If you are spending hours each day thinking about flower arrangements, or weighing the benefits of Ivory over True White for your china, or you might consider spending time on the questions that will fundamentally make a difference in your life in the long-term.

This class is free, Suggested Donation $180
Make checks out to “BETH EL”
Space is limited
Eventbrite - Creating the Foundation for a Healthy Marriage