Category: Latest News
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
By Barbara Bayer, Editor
In the seven years Howard Haas has served as head of school at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, he has been calling the area’s only Jewish day school the jewel of the Midwest. He, along with the school’s students, teachers and parents, will get a chance to show how the school, and the Kansas City area, sparkles and shines when HBHA hosts, for the first time, the annual Moot Beit Din, sponsored by RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network. More than 80 students and their advisers will travel here for the competition that takes place March 27-30 at the Kansas City Airport Marriott.
Haas said HBHA has wanted to bring the Moot Beit Din here for several years. He’s happy the event is giving the school a chance to showcase itself and the city.
“We have a treasured Jewish community here, and I think it’s one of the best kept secrets around. We’re moving out of that mentality now because we have some programs at the school and in the city which are really unique and are getting national attention,” he said.
“My hope is that some of the young people who come here might put a thought in their head and heart that Kansas City might be a great place to spend time.”
Moot Beit Din challenges Jewish high school students to examine the ethical and moral dimensions of halachah through creative engagement with contemporary situations. Combining the best of debate with legal analysis, Moot Beit Din exposes students to the vitality of the Jewish legal system and its relevance to their own lives. Teams of students are given a contemporary dilemma and asked to write a judgment using Jewish texts. The teams then come together for a weekend Shabbaton where they meet their peers for four days of Jewish learning, community-building, prayer and fun, all within a pluralistic Jewish environment.
Lisa Inberg, RAVSAK’s student programs coordinator, said this is always an exciting week for the RAVSAK network.
“For Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, there is value in bringing a wide network of students together for collaborative and fun learning,” Inberg said.
“The (out-of-town) students will be shown the highlights of Kansas City and be able to appreciate the uniqueness of Kansas City’s Jewish community. Furthermore, the program offers an opportunity for the various community shuls and organizations to come together to support the school and the Moot Beit Din program,” she continued.
The Moot Beit Din participants will travel to HBHA bright and early Friday morning, March 27, for a variety of activities, beginning with breakfast. While at HBHA, they will participate in the weekly all-school Taste of Shabbat, attend a learning session, “Women and Tefillin,” taught by HBHA’s Head of Jewish Studies Rabbi Avi Weinstein, and then have lunch.
“Breakfast and lunch here at HBHA is being made possible by a generous donation from Susie and Ron Goldsmith,” he added.
When they leave the school, Haas said, “They will visit the World War I Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum and then they will do some walking and shopping at the Plaza.” The students will return to the hotel prior to Shabbat for the remainder of the weekend.
Many members of the Kansas City Jewish community are helping to make this event run smoothly. At HBHA, Michal Cahlon, the middle and upper school Jewish studies chair, is the team’s adviser. Jewish studies teach Zohar Flacks is coordinating the event for the school along with a committee of parent volunteers. Caterer Kim Matsil will handle the preparation of the kosher food, which will be Vaad supervised, for the event. The food will be prepared off site and transported to the hotel.
“We couldn’t do this without all our wonderful volunteers,” Haas said.
“They are a tremendous help,” added Flacks. “They will be there during the entire event. We are very fortunate to have them.”
Cahlon, who has attended several competitions with HBHA students, noted that on Shabbat participants will participate in either a traditional or an egalitarian minyan. After lunch students will attend their choice of Torah-learning sessions.
“The students will also have time to hang out and get to know other young people from the school throughout the United States and Canada,” said Cahlon. “There are usually four to a room and they will room with students from other schools since the rooms are by gender.”
Following Havdalah, Cahlon said the students will disperse so they can do some last-minute preparations for their Sunday-morning oral presentations.
The Moot Din
This year’s Moot Beit Din focuses on animal welfare, ethical farming and its economic impact through a halachic lens. Teams from 20 different school will compete in one of three divisions in the competition. The HBHA team consists of Ariel Brudoley (9), Lainie Kaseff (10), Jacob Katz (10), Lindsey Paul (10), Hannah Pinson (10), Ezra Smith (11) and Leah Sosland (9). Only four students — Jacob, Hannah, Lindsey and Ezra — can actually represent HBHA during the competition’s oral presentation. Cahlon said the non-presenting team members have been an integral part of the preparation process all the way through, “and the hope is that they will continue with Moot Beit Din and possibly be our presenting team in a future year.”
HBHA is participating in the sourcebook only division, where students are allowed to use just this one source. Two other divisions are offered, one where students can use the sourcebook as well as do additional research. Those participating in the third division do all the research and are not provided with a sourcebook.
“This is a really exciting way for students to see how the halachah can be used to explain and guide modern questions and problems,” Cahlon explained.
Each division is judged by a panel of three judges. The nine community leaders serving as judges are: Michael Abrams; Brauna Doidge; Rabbi David Glickman; Rabbi Mark H. Levin; Ayala Zoltan Rockoff, Ph.D.; Rabbi Daniel Rockoff; Rabbi Elchanan Schulgasser; Rabbi Berel Sosover; and Rabbi Scott White. Their bios can all be found on the RAVSAK website, www.ravsak.org.
“We have a set of really quality judges lined up,” Cahlon said.
The first stage of the competition calls for the students to create a 10-page legal brief, which is submitted anonymously to the judges ahead of the actual Moot Beit Din event. The judges score the brief, worth 50 percent of the final score, and return it to the teams.
The oral presentation takes place at the Moot Beit Din event. Each team gets approximately 20 minutes to present their case, 10 minutes for the brief itself with the rest of the time devoted to questions from the judges.
“It’s possible for a team to do a spectacular presentation, but if their initial brief wasn’t strong, they may not win. Or a team could have an excellent brief, but their oral presentation was not strong, yet they might still place based on the strength of that brief because that gave them a boost over other teams,” Cahlon explained.
“There is always an element of mystery when you are sitting there on the final day waiting for the judges to announce their decisions because you saw 50 percent of what generated the decision. The judges are the only ones who actually see the whole picture,” she continued.
Jacob, who competed last year with three other freshmen — Lindsey, Hannah and Jed Shaffer — really enjoys taking part in Moot Beit Din.
“Last year we came in second and that’s the best the school has ever done in the Moot Beit Din. We were an all freshmen team and we are very proud of ourselves,” Jacob said.
Lindsey said it’s cool to get to meet kids from the other Jewish schools.
“We don’t have many other opportunities to do that. It’s also fun to solve a case our own way,” Lindsey said.
Hannah said the competition helps them learn to use sources and interpret them in a way similar to an American law case.
“It’s interesting to see how they are connected,” Hannah said. “The work experience is really valuable. We learn to manage our time and work as a team and meet deadlines.”
Adviser Cahlon is excited for the event.
“For me, Moot Beit Din is a culmination and a celebration: a culmination of my students’ hard work in wrestling with the Jewish sources and applying them to the contemporary issues of the case, and a celebration of the joy of Torah study, multiplied when shared with their peers from across North America.”
The event is open to the public and HBHA organizers hope many members of the Kansas City Jewish community attend the competition, to be held from 9 a.m. to noon, to show their support. The competition is also being streamed live on the RAVSAK website Sunday morning.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
The Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, alongside Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), is mobilizing to help the estimated 350,000 Jewish residents of Ukraine through the Ukraine Assistance Fund. The Jewish community has not escaped the escalating turmoil, leaving many in need.
JFNA partner agencies have activated emergency response systems on the ground in Ukraine to ensure Jewish residents remain safe and continue to receive basic needs. Federation partner American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has activated its emergency response network to ensure continued home deliveries of food, medicine, heating and cooking fuel, and sustaining life-saving care at home for the elderly. It has increased security at Jewish communal institutions and Hesed social welfare centers, and has activated special emergency plans for Crimea’s estimated 17,000 Jews.
“We’re doing everything that we can to provide the basic necessities to sustain life for the most vulnerable in the Jewish population — the elderly, children and impoverished,” said Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, Jewish Federation board chair and JDC board member.
“Of great concern are 72,640 pensioners who receive supplemental assistance from JDC,” said Uhlmann. “They live on about $100 a month government pension. What happens to them if the government defaults?”
Other partner agencies — Jewish Agency for Israel and World ORT are bolstering security at Ukraine’s many Jewish institutions, including synagogues, yeshivas, community centers and Jewish day schools. These security measures are especially important in light of the death of a Jewish day school student’s father during clashes in Kiev, and the recent firebombing of Giymat Rosa Synagogue in Zaporizhia, located 250 miles southeast of Kiev.
“We want to ensure the Jewish community in Kiev remains safe, gets their basic needs met, and equally important, that they know we are here to support them right now,” said Todd Stettner, Jewish Federation’s president and CEO.
To make a donation online, go to www.jewishkansascity.org/ukrainecrisis2014. You may also donate via phone by contacting Derek Gale, financial resources development director at 913-327-8123, or donate via mail by sending a check to Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, 5801 W. 115 Street, Suite 201, Overland Park, KS 66211, Attn: Ukraine Assistance Fund.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
Beth Kaplan Liss has been selected as the 2014-2015 co-chair designate/2015-16 co-chair of Jewish Federations of North America’s (JFNA) National Young Leadership (NYL). Liss will begin her two-year term in June, alongside co-chair Josh Green, of Sarasota-Manatee, Fla. Together, they will represent Jewish Federation young leadership across North America, which includes 154 Jewish Federations in the United States and Canada.
“We couldn’t be happier to see Beth taking on a role of this magnitude within Jewish Federation,” said Todd Stettner, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City. “It’s a very competitive selection process, and a well-deserved honor for Beth.”
“Beth is a role model both for Cabinet and Kansas City and no one has done more to earn this opportunity. The outpouring of support she continues to receive since this announcement demonstrates that many will be closely following her continued leadership rise, now moving onto the national stage,” said Robb Lippitt, current co-chair of JFNA’s National Young Leadership, a member of the JFNA Development Cabinet and a member of JFNA’s Marketing Committee.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity,” said Liss. “I am deeply passionate about the cause and — thanks to those who have come before me, and those who will come after me — I feel well prepared for l’dor va’dor, to continue building our future.”
The selection process is a rigorous one, and, according to National Young Leadership, it “signifies the continuity of excellence in leadership and the awesome responsibilities that go with it.”
NYL is a local, national and international network of socially conscious Jews in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. Young leadership programs offer a wide variety of opportunities for next gen to find meaningful ways to get involved in Jewish Federation, from helping local people in the Jewish community to ensuring the safety of Jews overseas, from advocating for social services to strengthening Jewish life in Israel.
During their first year, the chairs designate focus on the NYL Cabinet campaign and participate alongside the chairs to gain experience in the leadership team. In their second year, they help shape the vision of National Young Leadership and help execute its mission, working closely with the NYL department to achieve their goals.
As co-chair, Liss will play a very active role among young leadership, working with next gen leaders from across North America. She will also represent NYL on JFNA’s executive committee, board of trustees, and Philanthropic Resources Development Cabinet.
“It’s a great honor and privilege to be selected for this position, and I am confident Beth’s success in this role will be given back 100-fold to Kansas City. Our mission is to sustain and enhance Jewish life at home and around the world, and Beth continues to exemplify that mission,” said Patricia Werthan Uhlmann, board chair, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.
“Kansas City has continued to play a national leadership role in the Jewish Federation system, as well as internationally, and we are fortunate to have someone of Beth’s caliber representing us nationally. Beth is a wonderful example of the kind of leadership that Kansas City is producing,” continued Uhlmann.
Sarah Beren, executive board member, Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, and current NYL Cabinet member agrees with Uhlmann, “Beth’s appointment is great for Jewish Federation young leadership. As a leader of leaders, Beth will bring her connections, passion, knowledge — and now a bright spotlight — to Kansas City.”
And Liss plans to do just that.
“Kansas City has so much to bring to the national table. I am looking forward to sharing the perspective of a mid-sized Jewish community with the entire Jewish Federation network. We can all learn from each other.”
As to what lies in her future?
“Beth will go far in her work to sustain and enhance Jewish life. Her passion for Jewish community and the energy with which she has embraced the work of Jewish Federation make her unstoppable,” said Stettner.
“Beth brings unrivaled passion and experience for the mission of engaging young Jews in the Jewish community and federation system. Beth’s genuine warmth and sweetness combine with strategic and tactical acumen to make her a tremendous leader who consistently achieves positive results in whatever she takes on,” said Lippitt.
Category: Latest News
Written by Barbara Bayer, Editor
A dream will come true for Andy Gruenebaum at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 12. That’s when the 30-year-old professional soccer player will officially take the field for the first time as a member of Sporting Kansas City. The team will face Mexican club Cruz Azul.
Gruenebaum is excited to be playing here in Kansas City on a regular basis, not just as a visiting player.
“Being able to play in front of family and friends — people that I grew up with playing soccer as a kid — and just coming all this way full circle and playing in that stadium in front of that crowd is all just special. (We are looking forward) to be able to live like normal people in the city that we were going to eventually end up in. It is something that we’ve dreamed of,” said Gruenbaum last week during training camp. His wife, Lacey, is also from this area.
For the past eight seasons the Overland Park native has played for the Columbus Crew. The Crew traded Gruenebaum to Sporting KC following the 2012 season in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. He joins Benny Feilhaber as the second Jewish player on the team. The team officially opens the season Saturday night, March 8, at Seattle.
The home game March 12 is part of a competition called the CONCACAF Champions League, which is a tournament featuring the top teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The MLS Cup champion’s official opener is actually at 7:30 p.m. March 15 against FC Dallas.
Grunebaum, the son of Congregation Ohev Sholom members Kris and Mike Gruenebaum, is fighting for the team’s top goalkeeper spot along with Eric Kronberg and Jon Kempin, another home-grown player. The regular goalkeeper spot became open after the retirement of Sporting KC’s MVP Jimmy Nielsen.
At the time of the trade, Sporting KC Manager Peter Vermes spoke very highly of Gruenebaum.
“Andy is a very capable goalkeeper, someone who has been successful in Major League Soccer and has had a lot of games in the league,” said Vermes. “He is a great addition to our team and a complement to our goalkeepers. We needed someone with a lot of experience because we’re in multiple major competitions in 2014.”
A 2001 graduate of Blue Valley North High School, the 31-year-old, 6-foot-1-inch, 175-pound Gruenebaum will wear No. 30 for Sporting KC. He was drafted by the Columbus Crew right after graduating from the University of Kentucky. He said the Crew and Sporting KC are the only two pro teams he ever wanted to play with.
“I’ve been kind of spoiled to now be able to play for both,” he said.
In eight seasons with the Crew he made 82 appearances in MLS competition (including playoffs) with 277 saves, 18 shutouts and a 1.27 goals against average. He led MLS with 124 saves in 2012 and was a finalist for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year after being named the Crew’s MVP and Defender of the Year. Last season, he conceded the second fewest goals (28) among goalkeepers with a minimum of 15 games played.
Learning he probably didn’t have a future with the Crew at the end of last season led to a lot of sleepless nights for Gruenebaum during the offseason.
“I was worrying about where I was going to play the next year,” he said. “In the end landing here was a dream come true and really better than any vacation I could have taken.”
When Gruenebaum was younger, the local team was first known as the Wiz and then the Wizards. As the Wizards, the team won its first MLS championship in 2000, the same year Gruenebaum was named the NSCAA Kansas Player of the year as a senior at Blue Valley North and earned a spot on the Midwest Region team.
“We had season tickets for the first few years when they were the Wiz and then the Wizards and we went to all the games,” he said.
He knows the organization has rebranded in recent years, changing owners, its name and its home field among other things.
“They are headed in the right direction and are really the flagship for other MLS teams looking to rebrand and give new life to the city and the game. I think it’s special to come play for this organization,” he said.
Gruenebaum has been a goalkeeper for most of his career.
“There were times coming up when I played a little bit of everything but I liked that position the best. You get to dive around and wear cool jerseys. It’s a little bit different,” he said. “You’ve got to be a little off to play goalie.”
Now in his ninth season as a pro, he’s not sure how long he’ll continue playing.
“That’s a good question,” he laughed. “As long as my body will hold up. As a goalkeeper you can play for a long, long time so I’m hoping that’s going to be the case. I’m taking it year by year and just surviving. I’m hoping to play a few more years for sure.”
What advice would he give other young players wanting to play pro soccer?
“I would say do a lot of yoga,” he said, laughing once again. “If I would have done that my body would feel a lot better than it does right now.”
Seriously, he said he would tell these young players to simply have fun.
“It’s still a game. I know it’s competitive and the nature of soccer growing up is different and changing and evolving rapidly, some in a good way and some in a bad way. But I would say at the end of the day to remember it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun and this is something that you are supposed to truly enjoy. If you are getting pressured and getting burned out, then you’re going to lose that joy and passion. It takes a support system to get there, too. You just can’t take life too seriously.”
Yes, fans, Gruenebaum still enjoys the game.
“It can be a grind and it can be a lot of things. But the biggest thing is to just remember at the end of the day when times are going tough that it is a game. This is something that you’re supposed to love doing and it’s not supposed to be considered work.”
He’s genuinely happy to be back in the Kansas City area.
“I’m really hoping to get involved with the community and just get to know people. I’m very easy going and relaxed and I love to meet new people. So I’m excited to get involved with the fan base and really just meet some great people.”
Twitter fans can follow him @gbaum30. Ticket information is available by calling 888-4KC-GOAL or
Category: Latest News
Written by Kelli White, Contributing Writer
The arts have always been important to Vida Bikales, president of the board for The Barn Players Community Theater. Her parents ensured she grew up in a house full of music, theater and visual arts. In fact, they instilled a house rule that Vida and her siblings each had to start piano in the first grade and choose a second instrument by fourth grade. Vida’s brother, Eric Bikales, “was the one who hated to practice the most, and he’s the one who became a professional musician!”
Vida, who retired from a career in pharmaceutical sales, chose to keep the arts in her life through serving as president of the board for Camelot Academy, a fine arts camp for kids started by her parents, and by volunteering at The Barn Players for the last eight years. Her brother Eric has had a long, successful career as a composer and performer, and he will perform at The Barn Players Theater on March 12 in honor of Vida’s 60th birthday.
Vida and her boyfriend, Kerry Kirk, are each celebrating 60 years young this year and wanted to have a party that gave back to a cause so important — community theater.
“Community theater is such an amazing outlet not only for talented people who have other careers, but is also a proving ground for people who do want to make performing arts their profession,” Vida said.
Thanks to The Barn Players, many actors get the experience and exposure to pursue their dreams, and for some, that journey takes them all the way to New York City. The Barn has produced Broadway performers and film actors, including Oscar-nominated actor Chris Cooper.
“We take our mission very seriously, which is to nurture artists (musicians and actors) while they practice their craft. We are proud to be a platform for an actor’s professional career if that’s what they choose,” Vida said.
The Barn also offers theater classes for kids and hosts an original play festival each year that invites local playwrights to submit 10-minute plays and six are chosen to be produced.
“It is so gratifying to nurture both writers and performers. That’s really another thing that separates The Barn from other community theaters,” Vida said.
“Community theater is also a training ground for audiences,” Vida explains. “When people watch the performances, they get hooked and seek other outlets for the arts. It encourages audiences to have a lifelong commitment to the performing arts.”
“The Barn wants to be the home base for local actors. We want them to feel comfortable honing their craft and gaining experience. We cater to ages 8-88. It is truly a reflection of community,” Vida said.
Vida’s passion for the arts shows in her volunteer work and in her birthday party fundraiser on March 12. Her brother Eric has played at The Barn once before, but this time it’s for two good causes: The Barn Players Community Theater and his sister’s birthday. And the audience is in for a real treat.
Eric currently resides in Nashville where he plays in a couple of bands and teaches music theory and music arranging online for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Before that, Eric lived and worked in Los Angeles for 30 years where he composed music for television shows like “Boston Public,” “Ally McBeal,” “Scrubs” and “Party of Five,” among others.
“It was an honor working with so many world-class musicians. And hearing the music I wrote in the background of shows that end up on reruns then eventually in foreign countries is good for the longevity of my work,” Eric said.
He is back in Kansas with his former band Sanctuary for their induction into the Kansas Musicians Hall of Fame. And while he’s here, he is donating his talents for a show at The Barn where he will play two sets, all original works on the piano.
“I am a composer. I primarily write for other projects, other artists,” Eric said. “This is the first time I will perform my own music. It’s fun for me. The thing I enjoy most is sitting at the piano, which is where I started. I’ve come full circle.”
Eric has performed live with artists like Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder and Bette Midler and has produced Grammy-nominated songs for Phil Vassar and Gloria Loring. Eric will be selling his new CD, “Follow Your Heart” at the party and says he is getting radio play and good response from it. You can learn more at ericbikales.com.
The party starts at 7 p.m. and music will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the event are $10 and can be ordered on The Barn Players’ website or at the door.
“It will be a nice evening of cake, wine and music. You don’t even have to bring a present!” Vida said.
The event is open to the public and all proceeds will go to The Barn Players Theater. The theater is located at 6219 Martway Street in Mission. For more information call 913-432-9100 or visit thebarnplayers.org.
Category: Latest News
Written by Kenneth Bandler, Special to The Chronicle
BRUSSELS — A recent festive gathering in the capital of Belgium, saluting the vital importance of the relationship between Europe and the United States, highlighted the unique role of one Jewish organization, AJC, in deepening those ties. The occasion was the 10th anniversary celebration of the AJC Transatlantic Institute (TAI).
“We are here tonight to celebrate our shared values,” TAI Director Daniel Schwammenthal told the audience of more than 250. Dozens of European Parliament members, ambassadors to the EU and Belgium, Jewish leaders from across Europe, and civil society partners, as well as AJC leaders from across the United States, participated in the gala, which took place in the same hotel ballroom where AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization headquartered in New York, launched its Brussels operation in 2004.
“Brussels is the political nerve center of Europe,” said Harvey Kaplan, a long-time leader in the Kansas City Jewish community, who traveled to Brussels for the celebration and related meetings with European policymakers. “Understanding what takes place here, what the European Union does, is enormously important for us because it touches directly on the challenges that confront Jews, indeed democratic countries, worldwide.” Kaplan is a member of the board of directors and former chair of the JCRB/AJC.
Before the gala, the large AJC delegation spent two and a half days in intensive meetings with European parliamentarians, Jewish leaders and policy analysts, discussing the Iranian nuclear threat, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the impact of Muslim immigrants on Europe, and anti-Semitism.
Ambassador Pierre Vimont, executive secretary general of the European External Action Service (EEAS), briefed the AJC group on current EU foreign policy priorities. The EEAS supports EU Foreign Affairs Chief Catherine Ashton in conducting the common foreign and security policy of the 28-member state regional bloc. In that capacity Ashton has been the lead interlocutor on behalf of the P5+1 in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.
The AJC group also visited the European Parliament to discuss EU-Israel Relations. “It was gratifying to hear directly from a Dutch member of the European Parliament, Bastiaan Belder, who chairs the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Israel,” said Kaplan.
But rising anti-Semitism across Europe, revealed in a penetrating EU survey last year, was a disturbing theme percolating throughout the mission. “Our conversations with the leadership of the Brussels-based European Union of Jewish Students, who shared the challenges confronting Jewish students on campuses across Europe, were eye-opening and worrisome,” said Kaplan.
So is the potential outcome of the European Parliament elections, slated for May. A significant percentage of the parliament’s 766 members could be representatives of fascist, neo-Nazi parties. That would pose a challenge to the values of European democratic societies for the next five years.
Launching TAI in 2004 fulfilled a vision of AJC Executive Director David Harris, who has led the expansion of the organization’s global reach over the past 24 years. TAI was made possible by the visionary support of Rhoda Baruch and her late husband, Jordan. Establishing a permanent presence in Brussels was a prescient move, indicative of AJC’s global mission. EU membership has grown from 15 states to 28 over the past decade, an expansion that AJC has supported.
During its first 10 years, TAI has informed a broad range of European leaders in Brussels on a number of pressing issues of concern to the transatlantic community, including Iran’s nuclear program, the Israeli-Arab peace process, terrorism, human rights, energy security, integration of immigrants, and, not least, anti-Semitism in Europe.
“Hate crimes are a growing problem in Europe,” Cecilia Malmström, European commissioner for Home Affairs, said in her keynote address to the TAI gala. “It is time for the EU and its Member States to act firmly against it.”
The EU has reported a rise in hate crimes against gays, Muslims, and Jews. “Anti-Semitic hate crime was experienced by one in every four Jews in Europe,” according to a recent EU survey, Malmström said. “Young Jews are afraid to go to school, even in my own country of Sweden.”
All EU Member States are “obliged to ensure that hate crimes are investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted,” she added.
Other speakers at the gala included Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Didier Reynders; Francois-Xavier de Donnea, chair of the Belgian Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee; Israeli Ambassador to the EU David Walzer; and U.S. Acting Chief of Mission to the EU Robert Wood.
“Transatlantic cooperation today is vibrant, and the AJC Transatlantic Institute is making an important contribution to the strengthening of this relationship,” said Donnea.
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Barbara Bayer, Editor
It takes a lot of courage — some would even say chutzpah — to quit a job and go off to rabbinical school at age 49. Yet that’s exactly what Celeste Aronoff is doing.
Aronoff, whose last day as director of communications and administration for Jewish Family Services is March 14, has sold her house and is tying up her life here so that she can begin classes soon at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. AJRCA is a trans-denominational, pluralist institution dedicated to the training of rabbis, cantors and chaplains. Its mission is to develop religious leaders steeped in Torah wisdom and tradition, and capable of transforming Jewish communities into places where all Jews can grow toward wholeness and well-being. Rabbi Doug Alpert was ordained by the New York City branch of AJR in May 2012.
“The Academy for Jewish Religion is very much designed for people who are already established in their careers and their families, so the average age of the student population is between the ages of 35 and 65,” explained Aronoff in an interview last week. “That’s part of what makes that an appropriate seminary for me.”
In some universities across the country, students of Aronoff’s age are considered non-traditional. Aronoff isn’t fond of labels — for instance she considers herself a Jew, not a Reform, Conservative or Orthodox Jew — so calling her non-traditional could aptly describe this choice as well as the way she has lived her life up until now. She said much to her mother’s discomfort, she has never approached her life in a traditional way.
Since Aronoff doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one type of Jewish religion, her options for rabbinical school were clear. Besides liking the weather in Los Angeles, she chose the California branch of AJR because she wants to be “in a place where there are a lot of opportunities to explore the possibilities in what contemporary Jewish life can be.”
“I think I was looking for a place where there are others who want to create something new and that is useful for other people,” she said.
Aronoff believes Judaism is an incredible ancient wisdom tradition and she wants to explore that as fully as she can at AJR, without the parameters or limitations of denominational philosophy and theology.
“I don’t want denomination defining how I explore and understand and access everything Judaism has to offer. So an opportunity to go to a school where I’m taught by people who are Orthodox and are observant or really liberal in their understanding of Judaism … people coming from all different perspectives … is really, really important to me.”
As a student and a teacher of Raja yoga (meditation generally based on directing one’s life force to bring the mind and emotions so into balance that the attention may be easily focused on the object of meditation), Aronoff, a graduate of Boston University and Shawnee Mission East High school, said she is as interested in exploring the mystical as she is the liturgical.
“I really want to get a firm footing in a real cross section of ways into Judaism. And I don’t think I’m so unique in that. I think we learn a particular way or we are familiar with a particular way. I just think Judaism is so rich, there’s been a thousand differences in Jewish practice and observances throughout that time and all of them fall apart and are reconstructed in different ways. I just don’t want those differences to be the limitations I go to school with.”
The Road to Rabbinical School
While just recently deciding to explore the rabbinate, Aronoff began “a really intentional spiritual practice” during her sophomore year in college. She said it has guided the trajectory of everything in her life since.
“This seems like the next natural step,” she said.
Although she has been spiritual all her life, it wasn’t until recently that she really began understanding that she could be spiritual and Jewish. In fact before she moved back to the metro area after being away for 25 years, she ran — and lived at — a meditation center in downtown Chicago.
“It just became more and more clear to me that the place I felt most at home was in the Jewish community. So I started thinking about that seriously in 2005 and I moved back to Kansas in 2007. I started working in the Jewish community and exploring Judaism. I took the full Melton class, I was in the Helzberg Leadership program and I’ve been exploring this more and more deeply, doing tons of reading, talking to people, getting advice …,” she said.
One of the people she sought counsel from is Rabbi Jonathan Rudnick, a childhood friend who happens to also be the Jewish Community Chaplain.
“He is this incredibly glorious, spiritual, Jewishly engaged person,” she said about Rabbi Rudnick.
After discussing her spiritual inclination and how she wanted to be of service with Rabbi Rudnick, she said he told her he thought rabbinical school was the place for her.
Aronoff said she was unsure, because she knew becoming a congregational leader was not what she had in mind.
“What I want is the community and the connection and the education and that’s what he wanted, and got, from rabbinical school,” said Aronoff about her conversation with Rabbi Rudnick that took place about two years ago. “It really got me thinking.”
So she conducted research and spoke with others, including Rabbi Alpert, who was about her age when he went to rabbinical school, and Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner.
“Those three people in particular helped me formulate what moving forward, in terms of pursing a rabbinical education might look like, and I got really serious about this just a little less than a year ago,” Aronoff said.
Rabbinical School and Beyond
Aronoff is entering a five-year program and will be in classes only three days a week. So there’s a good possibility that she’ll work, at least a little, while in school, and hopes to look for a job once she gets settled in LA.
“I’d love to continue working in the Jewish community,” she said.
She wants to continue her work in spiritual education with her rabbinical degree, and she’s excited to travel down the path to what that will mean.
“Honestly I don’t know what the five- or the 10-year plan is. As far as I’m concerned this is a ‘calling’ and God has a hand in all of this and I think my job is to listen to that call and move forward according to it. And everything that needs to fall into place will. I would be a lot more concerned about that being a good plan, except that’s how all of my life has unfolded and it’s worked pretty well so far. I’ve just learned to trust that,” she said while sitting among boxes ready to be moved out of her JFS office.
“I am so excited to help people understand that they don’t have to leave Judaism to have a rich and relevant spiritual life and practice,” she continued.
“I think my own experience really speaks to that because that’s exactly what I did, which is exactly why I want to help people understand that it exists within this context. The answers I didn’t necessarily get myself are available. Maybe they aren’t always so obvious but they are available and they are available Jewishly,” she said.
She admits that separating herself from family and community to find connection with God and to find a way into spiritual experience was a very artificial way of doing things.
“I don’t think that’s a necessity. I think of Judaism essentially as a spiritual tradition. What made Abraham who he was? What made Moses who he was? It was that they had a unique relationship with God. That relationship with God then formed how they related to the rest of humanity. It changed them fundamentally and I think that’s one of the things Judaism gives us is that way into a relationship that is potentially transformative and powerful and at their best, tradition and community are the vessels that give us a structure that allows us a way in, not keep us from finding a way in.”
She said what really interests her about Judaism is the conversation about God.
“To me the foundation of Judaism from the very beginning is that there is God and there is humanity and there is an opportunity for a special relationship between God and us,” Aronoff said.
She believes Judaism talks about what the nature of that relationship is and can be, but that conversation isn’t always front and center in our religious lives. However, she believes it is the heart of spiritual experience.
“So many Jews think of spiritual experience as separate from their Jewish religious lives. … They try all different kinds of things because they are not finding that spiritual heart within the context of their religion. It exists within Judaism, it’s just not so easy to access these days. I don’t know if that’s a contemporary American Jewish thing, but that’s the place that really interests me and that’s how I want to continue working with people,” Aronoff said.
No matter what, Aronoff wants to continue serving people.
“If I can translate what I’ve learned in a way that’s useful for somebody else so that they don’t necessarily have to spend so much time searching, but just see some of the beauty and the richness in the world they are already living in, I would love to do that.”
Category: Latest News
Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
By Carol Katzman
Special to The Chronicle
It’s no coincidence that Purim Gala honors those who epitomize a devotion to the Jewish community and Israel, as shown by Mordechai in the Scroll of Esther — which says that he “...sought the good of his people and was concerned for the welfare of all …” After all, it was Mordechai and Esther who thwarted the threat to the very existence of the Jews in ancient Persia.
Today, those threats are in the form of Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its eerily similar pronouncements to wipe Israel off the map. Add that to the instability surrounding Israel — civil war in Syria, 500,000-plus Syrian refugees undermining Jordan, missiles from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the continuing clash between Egypt’s army and Muslim Brotherhood.
So who better to highlight the importance of support for the state of Israel than Bonnie and Matthew Siegel at the Sunday, March 9, Purim Gala. It’s that “Mordechai moment” that drives them.
Since arriving here in 1986, the Siegels have immersed themselves in Jewish life. Though Matthew has been an AIPAC supporter since the 1990s, their role became focused in 2008 when their daughter left for college. They reached out to friend and KC AIPAC founder Larry Nussbaum for information about AIPAC on college campuses.
“Not only do our kids need information to defend Israel against delegitimization,” Bonnie explained, “but adults need that as well. AIPAC is one of the only organizations focused on Americans understanding that an anti-Israel campaign is also anti-Jewish.”
Bonnie chaired the first several AIPAC Israel Forums, which have become annual events drawing close to 500 each year. The forum’s goal is to educate members of the community — Jews and non-Jews, Democrats, Republicans and Independents — about the value of Israel as America’s staunchest ally and to strengthen that relationship by lobbying members of Congress during AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference.
“The Siegels and AIPAC ask you to support Israel, realizing these are perilous times for the only democracy in the Middle East,” said longtime advocate Kathi Rosenberg, who serves on the AIPAC National Council with Bonnie. “Now, more than ever, Israel needs our understanding, our help and our support.”
Rosenberg added, “Regardless of where your politics lie or which organizations you support, we know that the more we educate people about Israel, its democratic institutions and its valuable contributions to the world, the more secure Israel will be.”
“When the Siegels joined the KC Chapter of AIPAC, I thought we were doing well, especially for a community this size, and that we had reached out to everyone who could help,” said Jeff Horen, another longtime activist. “But Bonnie and Matt saw more potential. They underscored advantages we had, such as an unusually large proximity to very friendly members of Congress. They dramatized how much more we could do to help Israel at this critical time.”
Rob and Miriam Glueck have been AIPAC activists for more than a decade. “About five years ago, the Siegels invited us to dinner and wanted to know why we commit to AIPAC,” Miriam explained. “While many organizations contribute significantly to the Jewish people, when it comes to Israel’s safety and security, we believe no organization is more vital and more effective than AIPAC. And the Siegel’s passionate and effective leadership has dramatically contributed to AIPAC’s growth here.”
Brad Fahlgren, AIPAC Midwest area director, added, “K.C. is one of AIPAC’s strongest cities, pound for pound.” Not only does this community consistently send 80-plus people to the annual AIPAC Policy Conference (starting Sunday in Washington, D.C.) but it also has set the bar in fundraising for the bi-partisan, pro-Israel organization in similar size cities.
Horen added, “A lot of this has happened because Bonnie and Matt think big. They are willing to reach out to anyone. They relentlessly push for more, and make me feel truly valued and appreciated. As a result, Kansas City’s Jewish community is helping to protect the modern state of Israel. I cannot think of a better way to change history!”
And to recognize the Siegels for their Mordechai moment.