FaithWorld

In Kabul’s only synagogue, Afghan merchants open up shop

(An Afghan woman clad in burqa and her daughter walks past a restaurant built inside part of the only synagogue building in Kabul, June 1, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

A lattice of corrugated iron Star of Davids marks Afghanistan’s only working synagogue, a white-washed, two-storey building tucked into a sidestreet in the centre of Kabul. Kebabs, carpets and flowers are served and sold on the ground floor of the synagogue, which has been transformed into businesses over the last 18 months by the country’s sole remaining Jew, who lives upstairs in a small pink room.

Cafe manager Sayed Ahmad is unfazed by his small cafe’s history, where Kabul’s hundreds-strong Jewish community once gathered for prayers. Most fled to Israel and the United States amid the Soviet invasion of 1979. “Some of my customers know this is the synagogue and know about the Jew upstairs, but they don’t care and neither do I,” Ahmad told Reuters in his cafe, where bearded men on purple cushions puff on water pipes and eat traditional Afghan food.

The firebrand anti-Semitism found in some other Muslim countries, often fuelled by anti-Israeli sentiment, seems noticeably absent among ordinary Afghans. “I pray my way and he prays his way. I see him as a friend, someone to spend time with,” Ahmad said of his landlord, sitting beside large black and silver wall-hangings depicting Mecca.

Zebulon Simentov, who chose to stay behind when his wife and children emigrated to Israel, has been known to conduct services in the upstairs of the synagogue for visiting Jews even though he is not a rabbi.

Delhi’s last ten Jewish families guard an ancient heritage

(Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the Judah Hyam Synagogue synagogue, poses with a shofar horn inside the synagogue in New Delhi May 20, 2011/B Mathur)

In the capital of one of the world’s most religiously-diverse countries, a rabbi who has never been ordained bends ancient customs, ensuring New Delhi’s ten Jewish families a place to worship. Unlike most synagogues, there is no separation of men and women as Jewish-born worshippers, converts and followers of other faiths chant Psalms in perfect Hebrew, with doors thrown open to all. The service leader never asks attendees what religion they follow, and envisions his daughter becoming India’s first female rabbi.

“Being a small community, we cannot be so rigid, so orthodox,” says Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the synagogue whose unpaid job of thirty years has overlooked religious convention to keep this tiny group together. “Our openness, our liberal approach is what allows us to survive. For reading the Torah, you must require ten men, a minyan. But I made radical changes, because why should we discriminate between women and men? I count the women.”

Tunisian unrest may dampen annual Jewish celebration on Djerba island

(The Great Room of El Ghriba synagogue, April 12, 2002/Mohammad Hammi)

Jewish pilgrims may not be able to hold their usual celebrations at one of Africa’s oldest synagogues this year because of renewed security concerns in Tunisia where the site is based.

Thousands of pilgrims travel each May to the El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba to mark a holiday which follows Passover. They usually hold a vibrant festival filled with music and pageantry. But this year celebrations will be muted because of continued unrest in the country following the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

“It’s true that we have cancelled all the celebrations planned for this year but the pilgrimage will still take place next Friday at the synagogue,” organiser Perez Trabelsi told Reuters. “People that usually come are scared this year,” he said, saying he expected only a few hundred people.

Germany opens first Reform synagogue since WW2

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(Hameln, 21 November 2006/Marek Nocny)

Germany opened its first new Reform synagogue since the Holocaust on Sunday, marking a major step in the revival of Reform Judaism, which traces its roots to the country. The synagogue in the northern city of Hameln was built on the foundation of its predecessor, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the “Kristallnacht” pogrom in 1938. The congregation received financial backing for the synagogue primarily from local and state government.

“It’s incredible that, after the Shoah, in Germany a synagogue could be built with money that came from German political organizations,” the congregation’s president Rachel Dohme told Reuters.  The city’s reform congregation was founded in 1997 and has some 200 members, the majority of which are from the former Soviet Union.

Reform, or liberal, Judaism was pioneered in Germany by Israel Jacobson two centuries ago.

Amid row with Israel, Turkish officials attend Istanbul Holocaust Day

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Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu light a candle at Neve Shalom Synagogue to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day/Murad Sezer

In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

“For generations in Istanbul, we have lived together with love, tolerance, fraternity and without discrimination, and we are extremely determined to continue living this way,” Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said before lighting a candle with Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva at Neve Shalom Synagogue on January 27. Neve Shalom was one of two temples targeted in a 2003 bomb attack in Istanbul that was blamed on al Qaeda. Twenty-one Muslims and six Jews were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.

Germany ordains first female rabbi since Holocaust

rabbi 1Germany ordained its first female rabbi since the Holocaust on Thursday, marking a major step in the reintegration of Jews into modern German life.

In the glare of international media, Alina Treiger followed in the footsteps of Regina Jonas, who in 1935 was the first female to be appointed a rabbi in Germany. Jonas, from Berlin, was murdered by the Nazis in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland in 1944. (Photo: Rabbi Alina Treiger during her ordination in Berlin November 4, 2010/Odd Andersen/Pool)

The Ukrainian-born Treiger said she was thrilled to be ordained, at a ceremony at a synagogue in Berlin, with President Christian Wulff and hundreds of people in attendance, two centuries after the birth of Liberal Judaism in Germany.

GUESTVIEW: U.S. synagogues, churches collect similar donation amounts differently

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. This article first appeared in the New York Jewish weekly Forward.
dollarsSynagogue Dues Don’t Raise More Money Than Church Gifts By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Which costs more: belonging to a synagogue, or belonging to a church?

A survey conducted by the Forward has found that Jewish and Christian religious institutions appear to raise about the same amount per member, despite the fact that church giving is voluntary and synagogues charge membership dues.

The more than 20 churches and synagogues surveyed by the Forward represent a sampling from a variety of denominations in six cities across America. While there are significant regional and denominational differences, an examination of the aggregate data indicates that the amount raised per individual member is very similar between synagogues and churches. But the level of participation is quite different: While synagogues require roughly the same amount of dues from each of their members, church giving does not appear to be so evenly distributed.

Visiting synagogues is not getting easier for Pope Benedict

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Pope Benedict at Rome's main synagogue, 17 Jan 2010/Osservatore Romano

Visiting synagogues is not getting any easier for Pope Benedict.

Today’s meeting with Rome’s Jewish community was the third time he has entered a synagogue, which is a kind of a papal record considering that his predecessor Pope John Paul — probably the first pope to do so since Saint Peter two millennia ago — made only one such visit himself.

His first synagogue visit, in Cologne only months after his 2005 election, was heavy with the symbolism of a German pope visiting Jews in Germany.  At one point, the rabbi referred to an elderly woman in the congregation who had a concentration camp number tattooed on her arm. He did this, though, to say that she could not have never imagined back there in Auschwitz that her son — a leader of the Cologne Jewish community present at the ceremony — would one day welcome the pope to a synagogue in Germany. It was tense, but it seemed to be a good start. pope schneier

Pope Benedict receives gift from Rabbi Arthur Schneier in New York, 18 April 2008/Max Rossi

Rome’s chief rabbi says only God can judge Pius XII on Holocaust

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Pope Pius XII in an undated file photo from the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano

Only God can judge whether war-time Pope Pius XII did enough to save Jews and whether he should have spoken out more forcefully against the Holocaust, according to Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, who will host Pope Benedict for his first visit to the Italian capital’s synagogue on Sunday.

Speaking to Reuters at his synagogue along the Tiber River, Di Segni criticised a comment by Cardinal Walter Kasper that Pius “followed the will of God as he understood it” and had saved thousands of Jews in Rome and elsewhere. Some Jews have accused Pius, who reigned from 1939 to 1958, of not doing enough to help Jews facing persecution.

Mosque-synagogue twinning drive crosses the Atlantic

Schneier & Imams

Rabbi Marc Schneier with French imams, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.

To get an idea of how these meetings go, here are reports on twinning events in … New YorkNew OrleansBuffaloTorontoMinneapolisParis

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding who initiated this outreach to Muslims, met with his European partners at a dinner in Paris on Tuesday evening. The twinning drive took off most successfully in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. The Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France (AJMF), whose leader Rabbi Michel Serfaty had already created a Muslim-Jewish  network with a “Friendship Bus” that tours France promoting dialogue, brought together 30 synagogues and 30 mosques. There isn’t any comparable network elsewhere in Europe, but several congregations organised similar twinnings this year  in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland.