Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New Zealand, Akko, Jerusalem, and Kearney - at Beth Israel

We had a busy Shabbat this past week at Beth Israel.
  • We said goodbye to our beloved assistant Rabbi, Yitzhak Mizrahi. He has been with us for the last 5 years but recently accepted a job as the head Rabbi of the shul in Wellington New Zealand!   

  • Beth Israel joined Synagogues around the world to celebrate a Pink Shabbat in solidarity with breast cancer awareness month.  When I attended the tribefest conference this past year I met the director of a Jewish breast cancer awareness group called Sharsheret.  One in 40 Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews carries a BRCA gene mutation, nearly 10 times the rate of the general population, making Jewish families significantly more susceptible to hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer.  Many women in our Omaha Jewish community have had breast cancer and I thought that a pink shabbat would be a very appropriate program for us.  After shul we had a speaker from the Susan B. Koman for the Cure foundation.  We heard her story of breast cancer and how becoming educated about breast cancer can save your life.  

  • My friend Eliad Eliyahu was visiting from Akko.  Eliad is a world famous musician and educator.  His song, Zohar Harakia was number one on Arutz Sheva and his song Aneini appeared in the closing credits of the hit Israeli television show, Srugim.  Eliad now works for our partnership with Israel and he is a fabulous educator.  He came to the Freidel Jewish academy on Friday and taught the kids mishna through song.  He also did a musical Havdala concert at Beth Israel on Saturday night. It was great having him as our guest.  (Eliad was partially responsible for me meeting my wife.  A story for another time.)

  • This weekend was the Klutznick symposium at Creighton University and at the JCC.  Every year the Jewish Community of Omaha, the Klutznik chair for Jewish civilizations at Creighton, the Harris Center for Jewish Studies at UNL, and now the Schwab center for Jewish and Israel studies at UNO collaborate and hold a symposium that brings in 15 academics from around the world to speak on a topic of Jewish studies.  The conference is Sunday and Monday but every year Beth Israel has the privilege of hosting the Shabbat observant participants who come in for the Shabbat prior to the symposium.  This year we hosted Rabbi Dr. Naftali Rothenberg from the Van Leer Center in Jerusalem and Dr. Netanel Fischer from the Open University in Israel.  The topic of the symposium was "Who is a Jew."  The two scholars staying at my house are deeply involved in thought and policy regarding the status of Jewish converts in Israel.  Over Shabbat we had fascinating discussions about the topic, and Dr. Fischer gave a lecture on Shabbat afternoon.  We were also supposed to have Rabbi Dr. Moshe Goldfeder JD LLM join us as well.  Unfortunately his flight was delayed.  This impressive young scholar received his rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, his JD from NYU law school, his LLM from Emory and he is now finishing up is PhD at Emory.  I got to know him over the next two days and I hope to bring him out to Omaha again for a shabbat at Beth Israel.

  • On Sunday my wife and I had breakfast at our Kosher restaurant, the bagel Bin, and we met up with Rabbi Dovid Shaffier and his wife Layla.  Rabbi Shaffier works as a Shochet in Gibbon, Nebraska about 3 hours from Omaha.  They are living in Kearney, Nebraska, the third largest city in the state, and they have taken on the important responsibility of serving the Jews who live there.  Kearney has no Jewish community, but they have many Jews, most of whom are deeply assimilated and in many cases two or three generations removed from any substantive Jewish tradition.  Many, though, are looking to reconnect.  Rabbi Shaffier and his wife host regular shabbat activities at their home and organize monthly Jewish events.  They have been there for a year and we spoke about opportunities to collaborate and help each other in the future.  Check out his blog and see the amazing things that they are doing there. www.rabbishaffier.blogspot.com


  1. Kearney is the 5th largest city in Nebraska. There are and have been jews all over Nebraska for over 100 years. Reach out to them. It can get lonely.