The JW Q&A

A weekly interview with notable figures and names in the news.

Muslim Bridge Builder Takes Post At JTS

Yasin Meral, assistant professor of history of religions at Ankara University, is the seminary's first visiting Muslim scholar.

10/28/2014
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The Jewish Theological Seminary last week appointed its first Muslim visiting scholar. Yasin Meral, assistant professor of history of religions at Ankara University, will conduct post-doctoral research at JTS this year. Meral, whose Ph.D. dissertation was on “Islam and Muslims in the Writings of Maimonides,” has done post-doctoral work on end-times issues in the Jewish and Islamic traditions. The Jewish Week interviewed him by email. This is an edited transcript.

Yasin Meral, scholar from Turkey, brings rich history of ties with Jews to his work this year at JTS.

Hoping To Sell The Hebrew U. Brand

10/21/2014
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Beth Asnien McCoy was appointed national executive director of American Friends of The Hebrew University in May, becoming one of the only women to head a major Jewish organization in the United States. McCoy sat down with The Jewish Week to discuss the challenge of reaching a new generation of philanthropists, how fundraising differs in various organizations and her advice to other female professionals about how to get to the top.

AFHU’s Beth Asnien McCoy: One of only a few women to head a major Jewish organization.

Teaching Young People To Get To Know Israel

10/14/2014
Editor And Publisher
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Tuvia Book, the new core educator for Write On For Israel, The Jewish Week program that educates students about modern Israel in advance of their college years, has lost count of how many teen and young adult tours to Israel he has led. He may well be the longest-serving Birthright Israel tour guide, dating back to the pilot program in December 1999. And as part of his work in Jewish education, both formal and informal, he has climbed Masada more than 200 times. It’s never routine, though, because “I get to see it each time through the eyes of those who are there for the first time,” he says.

Tuvia Book: The key to countering anti-Israel propaganda on campus “is to be proactive, not reactive.”

BRCA And Beyond At Shaare Zedek

Dr. Jonathan Halevy has been the director-general of the medical center in Jerusalem for the past 26 years.

09/24/2014
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Dr. Jonathan Halevy, whose specialty is liver diseases, has been the director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for the past 26 years. He is also chairman of the Israel Health Basket Committee, which determines which drugs, medical procedures and technology will be approved and subsidized by the national health care system. Shaare Zedek made news this month when breast cancer researchers there found that women who carry the BRCA1/2 genes are prone to breast and ovarian cancer — even if they have no family history of the cancers. Halevy was interviewed during a recent visit here.

Dr. Jonathan Halevy, director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

An Obama’s Jewish Connection, And Multicultural Journey

09/16/2014
Culture Editor
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At first glance, the resemblance is unmistakable — the diction, gestures, cadences of the deep voice of author Mark Obama Ndesandjo seem uncannily similar to his brother, President Barack Obama. In fact, with his shaved head, Ndesandjo looks like a younger, hipper, more smiling version of the President. But as he shows in his just-published compelling memoir, “An Obama’s Journey: My Odyssey of Self-Revelation Across Three Cultures” (Lyons Press), he’s very much his own person, exploring issues of identity, race and family, along with his Jewishness. The two men share a father, Barack Obama, Sr., but they were born to different mothers; the president is the son of the second wife and Ndesandjo is the son of the third, a Jewish woman named Ruth Beatrice Baker. (Ndesandjo’s parents divorced when he was 7, and he later took on the name of his stepfather, only to reclaim the Obama name in recent years.)

Mark Obama Ndesandjo: Pays tribute to his Jewish roots in new memoir. Lyons Press

Ukranian Jews Seen Looking To The West

Mark Levin of the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry says about 20 percent of Ukraine's Jews live in conflict areas.

09/09/2014
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Mark Levin: Anti-Semitism is a constant in Ukraine, but the government is working to counter it.

God Talk

How can we move past 'post-traumatic God disorder?' Rabbis David Ingber and Alfredo Borodowski discuss.

09/02/2014
Special To The Jewish Week
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Editor’s Note: David Ingber is spiritual leader of Romemu, a popular congregation on the Upper West Side whose motto is “Judaism for the body, mind and spirit.” Rabbi Ingber grew up in a Modern Orthodox home and attended a number of yeshivas. His long and diverse spiritual search led to his ordination by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the founder of Renewal Judaism. 

Rabbi David Ingber: “It is innately human to seek.”

A Robot Walks Into A Rabbi’s Office…

Rabbi Mark Goldfeder is working on a book about such questions as whether robots could some day be welcomed as members of the Jewish community.

08/26/2014
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Robots can hold a conversation, but should they count in a minyan? A chatbot at Britain’s University of Reading was heralded earlier this summer as passing the Turing test, showing a conversational ability that managed to fool people into thinking it was human. Using the fictional identity of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy with the name Eugene Goostman, the robot convinced a third of a panel’s members that they were interacting with a fellow human being.

Rabbi Mark Goldfeder: Interested in “the line between humans and non-humans in Jewish law.”

Émigré Takes Helm Of Leading Russian Group

08/19/2014
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The Genesis Philanthropy Group, best known for the $1 million Genesis Grant awarded to a member of the Jewish community who has achieved international renown in his or her chosen field (ex-Mayor Bloomberg was the first recipient), recently announced the promotion of Ilia Salita, the organization’s North American executive director, to CEO. In his new position, Salita, a native of Russia, will lead the private foundation’s global initiative to “develop and enhance a sense of Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews.”

Ilia Salita: Russian-speaking émigré community still can benefit from leaders from their ranks.

Assessing The ISIS Threat To Israel

08/12/2014
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Jonathan Fine is a researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism in Israel and an expert on the Middle East and Israeli studies. He is a member of the International Counter-Terrorism Academic Community and the International Center for Study of Radicalization and Political Violence in Kings College, London. He is also the author of the book, “Religious Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: From Holy War to Terror.” The Jewish Week caught up with him for a conversation about ISIS and the radical Islamist group’s potential threat to Israel. This is an edited transcript.

Jonathan Fine: Most radical Islamic groups have roots in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
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