Like a cross between the voice of God and a vintage radio broadcast full of pop and hiss, the disembodied sound of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi filled the sanctuary of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun.
It was a Shabbat celebration of the 75th birthday of Schachter-Shalomi, the rebbe of the Jewish Renewal movement, who is nearly universally known as Reb Zalman. For four decades he has been considered by many to be a marginal figure but has, in fact, also breathed a spark of spirit into the inner life of mainstream Judaism.
It had big-money marketing written all over it. Every detail in the Soho gallery space was futuristically sleek and designed to impress the New Yorkers who, the company hoped, would be sold on shelling out $2,499 to get their DNA tested for 18 disease predispositions — but only after they enjoyed fresh pomegranate juice or a “Navitini,” a cocktail created for the occasion.
Munching on healthy hors d’hoevres, several dozen people milled among the computer monitors showing Navigenics videos of happy customers.
Two weeks ago marked the 20th anniversary of the worst man-made environmental disaster the world has ever experienced. Beginning on April 26, 1986, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl, near the border between Belarus and Ukraine, experienced several explosions and a meltdown said to release 300 times as much radiation as was released in Hiroshima.
In what will be a watershed moment for the Conservative movement — akin to admitting women into the rabbinate a generation ago — the ordination of openly gay and lesbian rabbis and the sanctioning of same-sex unions are likely to be approved by the denomination’s legal scholars, according to movement leaders.
Arnold M. Eisen has 15 months before he starts his new job as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, but even on the day the appointment was announced, he was making significant changes at the Conservative movement’s flagship institution.
Pop into a greasy spoon or a McDonald’s on the Upper West Side, and you may spy a bearish, bearded man sitting in a booth by himself, sipping a Coke while he concentrates on his laptop and the papers fanned out on the table.
In 1990, a year out of the former Soviet Union, an unknown swimmer living in Los Angeles, Lenny Krayzelburg took part in the Maccabi Youth Games in Detroit.
Today, at 33, Krayzelburg is a retired Olympian, winner of four Olympic medals.
Today, he is still a Maccabiah athlete at heart.
On Sunday he was a featured speaker at the opening ceremonies, above, held in Madison Square Garden, of the 2009 JCC Maccabi Games.
Houston — Just released from the hospital and too weak to attend High Holy Days services at her synagogue four years ago, Pearl Altman listened on the telephone. The congregation of Mrs. Altman, a retired teacher and investment banker, had made that arrangement for homebound members like her.
But the audio-only broadcast could not duplicate the in-shul experience, she says. Too much dead time, extended minutes of silence or of prayerbook pages rustling.
There must be a better way, said Mrs. Altman and her husband Sig.
This year they are providing the way.
Houston — In a schoolroom of Congregation Emanu-El, a Reform rabbi is leading a seminar on patrilineal descent. Down the hall, a discussion on Jewish mysticism is taking place under the direction of a Conservative rabbi. A few doors away, an Orthodox rabbi is talking about Ahavat Yisrael, love of one’s fellow Jew.
As a child growing up on Long Island, Richard Markowitz would hear stories from his Hungarian-born grandparents about an illustrious, distant relative who had died three decades earlier. “I heard that I had a famous cousin who was a fencer,” says Markowitz, now an internist in Hewlett. “They may have said he was an Olympian.” It wasn’t until Markowitz took up the sport in high school, becoming a skilled fencer by college, that he found out exactly who his cousin was.