The first case testing a decade-old policy permitting Conservative rabbis to serve gay and lesbian congregations has illuminated the movement's many struggles and inconsistencies in connection with homosexuality-related issues.
A day before her ordination this spring at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Ayelet Cohen informed the Rabbinical Assembly that she had been offered a job at New York's gay and lesbian synagogue. She had served at Congregation Beth Simchat Torah as a rabbinic intern (placed there by the seminary) for the past two years.
Bella Zuzel is Sabbath observant but plans to break tradition to march in Saturday's rally against the war in Iraq.
"For me this is pikuach nefesh, with many lives at stake," she said, referring to the Jewish provision allowing one to break Jewish law in order to save a life.
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.
When Efrem Epstein was in the 11th grade at Ramaz, a Jewish day school in Manhattan, he told his father that he had not read the entire Bible.
"How can I graduate without having read it all?" Rabbi Jerome Epstein recalled his son saying. "I said that I had read a lot of it, but that I, too, had not read it all.
"So he said that from that day on he would a chapter a day. I thought it was a fad, but 21/2 years later he finished it and then started reading it again. He has now been through it three times; I started doing it myself in early 1997."
It was an opinion from Israel's top judge that American Conservative Jews would have preferred to read in a judicial ruling. But it was enough to put a smile on their faces.
"The lack of civil marriage in Israel is a major violation of human rights," Supreme Court president Aharon Barak told more than 30 members of United Synagogue's Project Reconnect, an organization of former United Synagogue Youth members, during a group visit to Israel last week.
As the Labor Party reaffirmed its intention to stay out of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new government, the chairman of the secular Shinui Party spoke of joining: and for the first time softened his demand that government handouts end for fervently Orthodox men who don't work.
"You have to do it gradually," Shinui leader Tommy Lapid told The Jewish Week. "We don't want to cause unnecessary suffering to large families. But people who are able-bodied men should go and work.
An influx of grants in the last two years has uplifted the learning experience at Temple Beth Israel. Figure things now to get downright exhilarating. The 225-family Conservative congregation in Port Washington has received a $500,000 donation to enhance Jewish programing in what it is believed to be the largest gift of its kind.
"It will enable us to hire someone with top credentials in Jewish education to turn us upside down and reassemble everything in a new and exciting way," said Rabbi Toni Shy.