August 7, 2017

Strictly Kosher

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 9:07 pm

Every now and then, Judaism finds you even if you were not looking for it, or even if you were trying to avoid it. One recent case for me was the YouTube video series, Strictly Kosher. Oy vey, what a cast of characters. We should be fed up with the cheap, narcissistic, and fake “reality” programs that we are bombarded with, but Strictly Kosher appears to be an authentic look at Jewish life in Manchester, England. Whose not down with a look at how our brothers and sister get along across the pond? Strictly Kosher follows the daily lives of a few families through daily Jewish life, simchas, holidays and how they cope with maintaining their Jewish identities in the modern world. The series is educational, humorous and thought provoking. Why am I blogging about it? Because this is what the Federation and the website are all about, sharing the ordinary, special and extraordinary moments that Judaism touches our lives.  So check it out and enjoy.

December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas, Indeed!

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 2:19 pm

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One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life” and every year I look forward to Christmas to renew my love for the story of George Bailey. George is the guy you can always count on to do the right thing and he always makes the personal sacrifice for the greater good. He has big dreams.  He wants to be rich, admired and travel the world, but unexpected events conspire to keep George from his personal goals. George begins to doubt and question his choices, but he is then given the gift to see the value of his efforts. The message that every life has value, and is special and unique, is a message that often gets lost in the frantic pace of everyday life. We need to remember and remind each other that we can make our lives and communities special and rich with our ability to bring love and holiness to our every action. And finally, in the dramatic ending to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George realizes what he knew all along, that money has little to do with determining who is the richest man in town.

While I have no religious faith in the Christmas story or the story of Jesus, I do enjoy the spirit of the holiday and it is always nice to see one of our boys getting some good press.

So as I was traveling on Christmas Eve, and reading the Wall Street Journal, I was pleased to read an article by Rabbi Michael Gottlieb in the Houses of Worship Commentary that is found in the Opinion Section each week. It seems that Rabbi Gottlieb is also a fan of Christmas.

In his own words, “Christmas fascinates me. I’m drawn to its history, its color, its atmosphere, its music. And, of course, I’m drawn to the fact that Jesus was a Jew. He was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died a Jew. If for nothing else, I can appreciate Christmas as the celebration of one Jew’s epic birthday. The 20th century philosopher and theologian Martin Buber would often begin lectures to ecumenical gatherings by stating that a key difference separating Jews and Christians is whether Jesus was the messiah. Christians believe he was, and they are awaiting his return. Jews believe that the messiah hasn’t yet come. His suggestion: Let’s all pray for the messiah—Christians and Jews alike. When he arrives, we’ll ask if he’s been here before…The question is if the messiah were to appear, or reappear, what would he say that hasn’t already been said? I assure you that there would be nothing new, no surprises. The messiah would likely declare that we shouldn’t treat fellow human beings like objects and that we shouldn’t steal from one another…Even if his message isn’t fresh, many idealize the messiah as a personal redeemer, a force capable of divine, superhuman power…Given that life is not merely physical, we all have a spiritual dimension that requires attention…Humans naturally search for a superhero—something to apprehend the bad guy, to stop the disease from spreading, to change human nature and the physical order of the universe and save the day. A messianic belief can help fill that yearning. It has for me…Yet the issue isn’t necessarily the messiah. To think so is to take one’s eye off the theological ball. The real issue is God. The messiah can become a veil, it can separate us from the primary source. I’d prefer to blame or praise God directly and not a messianic filter. Within Judaism, rabbinic law has become a potential veil between the individual and God…Like a brightly lighted Christmas tree, Christianity dispels a lot of darkness, theological as well as moral. In its glow, it challenges Christians and non-Christians alike to consider that which is transcendent, eternal and greater than us all. Merry Christmas indeed.”  Click on the link below for the entire article.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-this-rabbi-loves-christmas-1482450895

Upon the completion of my travels and my arrival to my holiday destination, I unpacked my bags and reclined upon the couch. I was instructed to find a movie on the television for the family, and like a miracle, there it was, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

December 28, 2015

Generous and Jewish

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 11:55 pm

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Of the many qualities that define Judaism and our community, generosity is one that often comes to my mind. As we finish our annual campaign, it is easy to focus on financial generosity, the mitzvah of a financial gift to support the many programs that enrich Jewish life in our community, as well as helping Jews in Israel and throughout the world.

Yes, the Federation would like a successful campaign to help fund the many programs that we provide, and the programs with which we are partners with other community organizations. Yes, the Federation feels that a financial gift is empowering not only for the recipient, but also for the donor. Yes, it would be wonderful if every member of our Jewish community provided a financial gift as a symbol of our commitment to Judaism and our fellow Jewish neighbors.

Many years ago our Federation launched Campaign 100%, an effort to inspire all of our Jewish community members to make an annual gift, regardless of the amount, as an act of solidarity and community building. We continue to judge our campaign not only by number of dollars raised, but also by the number of individual gifts. We many never achieve 100% participation, but that will not stop our efforts to give every Jew the opportunity to be counted, and enrich each other’s and the lives of those who are less fortunate.

The Federation would also like to acknowledge that there are many ways to participate and make a difference in addition to a financial gift. Our Federation and our Jewish community is blessed by individuals and families that donate their time, their possessions, and numerous other resources for the benefit of all. There is no doubt that we all have something, or many things to give.

As Sarah Silverman in the American Jewish World Service public service announcement posted on our website video section sums it up, “Jews are givers. They see people in need, they may be pushy about it, but their gonna help you. They may be annoying as they do it, but they will do it.”

So if you looking to feel good about yourself, feel good about being Jewish, and feel good about your hometown, make a gift to the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation before the end of this year. Also, think about how you can volunteer your time or provide resources to help improve a program, attend Federation sponsored events, serve on the Federation board or committees, or participate with college or senior outreach.

We really do believe, kol yisrael arevimzeh v zeh, every Jew is responsible of one another.

 

July 12, 2015

Inspiration

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 3:13 pm

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The Federation blog is meant to inspire our members to learn more, do more, and be more. We try to be more by providing another place for our members to share knowledge and build community. We do this by sharing our simchas, our favorite books and jokes, items of interest in the news, fun videos, and member happenings.

A community shares its celebrations and achievements as well as circling the wagons to be present for its losses.  Fortunately, we have been blessed with many recent celebrations that have been very inspiring. Recently, Don Devorris was honored for by Penn State University with the distinguished alumni award, their highest honor. Lynn Kaplan recently shared her story of family. Our member happenings page honors our recent graduates. Henry Weinberg led the Federation and our congregations in our annual service to honor our veteran’s service to our country at our Jewish cemeteries. Illissa Zimmerman was our keynote speaker and she truly inspired.

At our recent annual Federation meeting we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Aryev and Belenitsky families joining our community. We watched video of their arrival at Blair County Airport, and relived their journey to start a new life in a new country. Their determination to find a better life in a new country took great courage. The effort of our Jewish community to make our new Americans welcome and successful was also a major undertaking. Phyllis Port, Judi Sue Meisner and Bill Wallen shared the actions that brought these two families to Altoona and recognized the volunteers that made it happen.

There is truly no shortage of inspiration in our Jewish community. As always, we hope that our Federation members enjoy our website, continue to find inspiration, and feel motivated to do more and be more.

Click here to read Illissa Zimmerman’s Keynote Address

Click here to read the 1990 New Americans volunteer appeal

November 23, 2014

What does the Federation do?

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 4:31 pm

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Periodically, members of our Jewish community ask me, “What does the Federation do?” Initially, the question seemed unusual, but as I thought about the question, it began to make sense. Although I am highly involved with the Federation it is easy to forget that others may not be as focused on who, what, how and why events and programs happen in our community.

The easy answer is that Federation runs an annual philanthropic campaign to further the welfare of our local Jewish community and Federation provides funding for organizations that support Jews and Judaism regionally, nationally and worldwide, including significant support for the State of Israel. Funding for local programs include our Jewish Community Sunday School and Celebrate Diversity. Federation also runs its own programs such as the Altoona International Jewish Film Festival for our community, as well as partnering with local organizations, such as Penn State and SAMA for programs of Jewish content. Federation also organizes and supports mitzvoth projects, coordinates Holocaust education in our schools, and the represents the Jewish community in interfaith events.

Thus, Federation allows our community members to easily participate in philanthropy, and we try to provide and help others with programs of Jewish content for our community in the areas of culture, spirituality and education.

However, I do not think that this adequately answers the question of “what does the Federation do?” I think that people are really asking, what is Federation about, what does it believe, what does it stand for, how is Federation different, and how will it make a difference in my life?

I believe that Federation is a special place because our leadership, our board, and our members stand for community building for the benefit of all members of our community regardless of denomination, and congregational affiliation. We allocate, we program and we give of our time without self-interest for the greater good. We seek to unite and build a more vibrant and supportive Jewish community.

Federation is a place that welcomes all who are interest in doing mitzvoth. As the Talmud says, “I did not find the world desolate when I entered it; my fathers planted for me before I was born: so do I plant for those who come after me.”

Not only is our leadership focused on mitzvoth, we strongly believe in the Jewish concept of chesed, treating others with loving kindness. We may agree or disagree on various issues, but we respect each other’s opinions, and we trust that we are all motivated to help others without pettiness, conflict, accusations or prejudice. We gather with smiles and we leave with smiles, knowing our efforts are going to make a positive impact in our community.

In essence, the Federation is a positive place where people want to be involved in the life of their community. We seek to bring the joy of Judaism to our community with mitzvoth and through chesed, which is it’s own reward, because Kol Yisrael Averim Zeh v Zeh – Every Jew is Responsible for one another.

 

February 22, 2014

Film Festival Begins 15th Year

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 10:52 pm

 

 

 

Our Annual Altoona International Jewish Film Festival got off to a great start with last Thursday’s foreign film, The Other Son.  We learn that eighteen years ago an Israeli was accidentally switched at birth in a Tel Aviv hospital with a Palestinian infant. As Joseph prepares to enter the Israeli army, his parents are informed that their son’s blood work reveals that Joseph cannot be their biological child.  Rather, their child has been raised with another family as a Palestinian in the West Bank.  The Other Son explores the complex issues of birthright, identity, and the role of environmental factors that define individuals, families, and communities.  In addition to untangling this new complex relationship that has been thrust upon two families, the additional layer of Israeli and Palestinian conflict makes this film especially thought provoking, as well as entertaining.

Of course, the story of children switched at birth, as well as the issues that unite us and divide us, are well played out in books and movies.  In The Other Son, we see two young men and their families struggle with this horrible situation on a personal level.  We see this struggle of two families forcibly united by their sons played out on two sides of a wall that divides.  We see each family cross this wall guarded by soldiers.  We see two views of life separated by this physical barrier, but we also come to learn there is a greater barrier for each family member to make sense of this new reality.  The greater barrier is the wall that that exists in the hearts and the minds of each son and their family members.

It is only when this internal wall is brought down, that Joseph, Yassin and their families can try to make sense of their current situation and move forward for a happy and productive future.  Perhaps, this is a lesson for all to consider.

I hope you will join us for our three remaining films on February 27th, March 6th and March 13th.  I know you will be entertained and provided food, as well as thought.  My congratulations to our Film Festival Committee led by Len Zimmerman, and our Executive Director Bill Wallen, for our 15th year of films that bring us inspiration, humor and education.

September 22, 2013

To Struggle

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 3:19 pm

 

 

 

For many weeks I have been struggling to write a blog that inspires, motivates, and educates.  Numerous attempts resulted in blank pages, and my struggles continued.  Forever it seemed like I had nothing.  However, over the high holidays my rabbi enlightened me to the fact that struggling is a human and uniquely Jewish condition.  He said it is normal to struggle with our faith, and the world in which we live.  He did not mention the struggle to blog.  Usually I have no problem offering an opinion, which also seems to be a very Jewish trait.  I thought about writing from the theme of “when Judaism touches my life,” but I like to believe that there is a sense of Judaism in my life everyday, and in everything that I do.  I like to believe that I always conduct myself with integrity and within the laws of my faith, that I have been honest in business, that I have been a good husband, father and son, and that I cherish each day, and work to make this world a better place.  Over time I have realized that small, simple acts can have a spiritual sense and a degree of holiness that honors God and makes our lives meaningful.  Small simple acts can bring joy and honor to those who give as well as those who receive.  Over the High Holidays we have a lot to think about.  The challenge is to begin to act as we continue to think, because our actions are what will be counted and judged.  L’shana Tova Tikatevu.

May 5, 2013

Mazel Tov to Ilissa Zimmerman

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 4:02 pm

 

 

 

Nothing is quite like the last day of school, and nothing compares to celebrating that school is out for summer.  Not only will Sunday, May 12th be the last day for our students of the Altoona Community Sunday School, it will also be the last day for Ilissa Zimmerman to serve as our Sunday School Principal.  Ilissa has been our principal for the last six years and our community will miss her smiling face, endless enthusiasm, and wise leadership.  She has been a self-less, and tireless advocate for the education of our children, and always worked to pursue the greater good.  She has risen above self-interest, and led by example week after week.  Ilissa has been a mentor to our teachers and motivated those of us who are involved in leadership positions in the Jewish community to do more and be better.  On behalf of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, the administrator of the school, I want to thank Ilissa for everything she has done for our children and our community.  On Sunday, please take the opportunity to thank her as well.  Below are two examples of her leadership.

Ilissa Zimmerman’s Address to the Confirmation Class of 2010

Ilissa Zimmerman Federation Member Profile

February 23, 2013

Film Festival 2013

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 2:15 pm

 

 

 

Sunday is Oscar Night, but once again the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation has crashed the movie party with our fourteenth annual Film Festival last Thursday.  Dinner and a movie, The Debt, a 2011 spy thriller, were well received by a big crowd of over one hundred fifty.  With the addition of our catered dinners by Dave and Paula Binus of Catered Affairs for the last ten years, our International Jewish Film Festival has become quite the social, cultural and educational event.  We truly owe a debt of gratitude to the cold, lonely, and bored group of Jews who came to the Federation with this idea.

We also owe a big debt of gratitude to Len Zimmerman and his committee for making our Film Festival the Federation’s signature event.  It has become a community wide event and we now have as much participation from the general community as we do from the Jewish community, both at our dinners, as well as the movies.  Many of our community attendees also serve on our film selection committee.  Our Federation’s goal of community building has certainly exceeded our expectations in this regard and we are very pleased to share this event with our neighbors.

It is wonderful see our “regulars” each year at our four films and it is nice to see that they keep bring new friends to share the fun.  Of course, it wouldn’t be the seamlessly produced event without the efforts of our Executive Director, Bill Wallen.  If you missed The Debt, you owe it to yourself to come to the Altoona Heritage Discovery Center for dinner next Thursday, and then walk next door to the Penn State Devorris Downtown Center for our next excellent film.  We hope to see you next Thursday.

 

September 16, 2012

Dynamic Speakers Coming to Our Area

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 1:15 am

 

 

 

Your Greater Altoona Jewish Federation continues to be driven by the Talmudic quote, “One person’s candle is a light for many.”  Our candle is the social, philanthropic, and educational programming that we bring to our community.  In the past year we have brought Rabbi Rami Shapiro, civil rights leader Judy Meisel, and historian Joellyn Wallen Zollman to Altoona.  We have also taken our community to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.  We hope these opportunities have brightened our member’s spirits and souls.

We are blessed to make you aware of two more great opportunities in the next month.  Dr. Michael Wolzer will be speaking in two weeks at the 125th celebration of organized Jewish life in Johnstown, and Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg will be speaking at the Holocaust Education Conference at Seton Hill University in Greensburg in late October.  Both men are highly accomplished authors, lecturers, and national Jewish leaders.  Please go to our home page for more details regarding each speaker and each event.

I hope you are able to take advantage of these opportunities.  On behalf of the Federation, L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu.

August 6, 2012

United or Divided?

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 2:00 am

 

 

 

For me and most sports fans of my generation, nothing was quite like the hearing Jim McKay proudly say, “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport, the trill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition, this is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”  An Olympic summer rekindles this memory as Wide World of Sports often highlighted Olympic events.  It was hard not to admire or worship athletes who traveled the world and pushed their bodies to the limit for victory.  I can still visualize my sports heroes raising the spoils of victory, but my memory is even clearer regarding the agony of defeat, the poor ski jumper that crashes and tumbles off the ski jump ramp just prior to takeoff, week after week after week. Often sports highlight the fact that where there is great success, there is often great failure.  For those of us in central Pennsylvania, we have had a front row seat to the dangers of hero worship. We have seen how hero worship can cause basic human dignity to be pushed aside.  It seems that simple values such as kindness, respect, integrity, and honesty are often lost in the drama and quest for achievement.  Our rabbis say that this is why we repeat prayers within a service, and from service to service, to focus our thoughts and actions on doing simple holy acts and to remind us to be good citizens and care of one another.  This is how we are supposed to serve and make our world a better place.

It is easy to get lost in the national fervor or the Olympic games, or our upcoming national elections for that matter.  Win or lose, united or divided, we have choices to make, and it is important to be responsible with our choices.  We live in a busy world, and it is also easy to get “lost” on a daily basis as a parent, child, sibling or spouse.  It is hard to be kind and be respectful every minute of every day.  I suppose that is why we are human and not divine.

Bill recently shared a graduation speech that Chaim Potok made at Juniata College in 1992.

 www.greateraltoonajewishfederation.org/life/quotes.html

Mr. Potok talks about the future, our country, our choices and the power we have to make a difference.  It is certainly worth your time.

April 1, 2012

Ambassador Oren Speaks at PSU

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 2:49 pm

 

 

 

As the room filled, you could feel the excitement.  There were no beach balls, pep bands or loud music, but there was a mix of anticipation, energy, and anxiety.  What would he say, how would his message be received, and would the questions that followed be hostile?  The crowd was mostly students, but there were many adults.  There was also a large security detail, and visibly armed campus police.  I am sure many in the tightly packed, overflowing crowd at 111 Wartik Hall on the Penn State campus were interested in Ambassador Michael Oren’s presentation, “Israel as the Ultimate Ally to the United States,” but I was also there for the fireworks that were sure to follow the presentation. The State of Israel evokes strong emotions, and Oren’s previous presentations on college campuses have resulted in confrontation from hecklers and opponents of Israel and Israeli policy.  Students have been removed, arrested, and convicted for their outbursts in these presentations.  Our Jewish Videos page on this website has recordings of these episodes, and our News Online page has articles of these incidents.

After his presentation, Oren took questions, and the first two questions were along the lines of why does Israel kill innocent people, and the Jewish claim to Israel as a homeland is a lie.  I have no problem with the questions, but their tone and insinuation were clearly filled with hatred and contempt, as if the world would be a better place without Jews and without Israel.

Insensitivity, discrimination, hate, and criminal acts are usually something we learn about or experience on television, the internet, or in books, newspapers, or magazines.  These experiences seem remote, and we can always change the channel, or close the book.  Most of us will not to experience these acts in person. It is hard to describe the your emotions when the person directly in front of you, and the person behind you are spooing hatred and vitriol.  It is uncomfortable and it is scary.

You have just spent forty five minutes listing to a distinguished representative of a country you admire, a country that has overcome great odds to not only exist but flourish.  You have learned about all the great contributions it’s citizens have made to our civilization, and you are then brought down by hatred and evil thoughts.  It was sad, but it was a necessary experience.  Necessary because it motivates one to do good, stand up for the truth, and support justice.  It is important to be proactive in the celebration of religious and cultural diversity, and support the causes that bring understanding and respect between people and communities.  This is part of mission at the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, and I hope our Jewish community continues to support this aspect of our work.

 

January 30, 2012

L’ Chaim is Now Online

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 3:07 pm

 

 

 

The digital home of your Greater Altoona Jewish Federation is pleased to celebrate it’s three year anniversary. We have had over 10,000 visits and 4,200 new visitors since our launch, and not surprisingly, “member happenings” is our most visited page.

With each update we seek to provide new and exciting ways to enhance the Jewish experience in our community with member news, as well as fresh perspectives on local, national and international Jewish concerns. In addition, calendars, photos, book reviews, stories, videos, jokes, interviews, and event information continue to be posted daily.

I believe that the success of our excellent newsletter, L’Chaim, was an important inspiration for our website, and now we are happy to provide back issues of L’ Chaim on the website.  Just click on OUR COMMUNITY on the side navigation bar and then on L’ CHAIM for back issues from 1999.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of your Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, I hope you continue to find this website meaningful and I hope you will visit often and contribute to this community resource with any information you would like to share.

November 30, 2011

Being Thankful and the Act of Giving

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 7:00 pm

 

 

 

For many reasons, Thanksgiving is a very popular holiday. The feast, the football, the friends, and the family, are all very festive.

I want to thank Phil Devorris for helping put it all in perspective, and thank him for allowing me to share a portion of his thoughts: “I’d like to wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving and the beginning of a most joyous holiday season. Whether you spend it with friends, family or in quiet contemplation, please take time to count your blessings.  The world’s population passed 7,000,000,000 people this month. We all face different challenges in our lives, but compared to the lives of the vast majority of those 7,000,000,000, we are all indeed fortunate. Being thankful for what we have follows a tradition that goes back 500 years in our country. Few things are more helpful to the psyche than taking a moment to be thankful.”

The more I think about Thanksgiving, the more I begin to see a second component, the act of GIVING. By giving, one truly demonstrates being thankful. Giving also helps the psyche, and also helps those who are less fortunate. In Judaism, we strive to take the ordinary and make it holy. By making simple things special we add meaning to our daily tasks, and enrich our lives and our community. In this vein, let us try to show our thanks by giving our time, and our support to those in need, not only in this holiday season, but all year long.

October 21, 2011

Blair County Chamber Honors Altoona Shoe

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 6:52 pm

 

 

 

Once again a member or past member of our Jewish community was honored for their contributions to our hometown and region. The Altoona Shoe Company received the Heritage Award by the Blair County Chamber of Commerce. This award recognizes those businesses that are no longer in operation but made a lasting impact on Blair County’s history. Evelyn Kenvin, daughter of the founders, Binnie and Max Billig, and her sister-in-law, Gail Billig, were in attendance to receive the award. Altoona Shoe joins past Hall of Fame Inductees that include Kopp Drug, Puritan Sportswear, Penn Furniture, Kranich’s Jewelers, Blair Medical Associates, Schulman’s, SAF-T-BAK, Blair Sign Company, Delta Health Systems, and Altoona Pipe and Steel Company, that have either been founded, or led by members of our Jewish community. We certainly should be proud of our contributions to the quality of life in our hometown. Go to Member Happenings to read more about Altoona Shoe Company.

August 4, 2011

Matisyahu Rocks Pittsburgh

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 6:56 pm

 

 

 

It is not often that a Jewish musical megastar performs only a short drive from our homes in central Pa.  The music and the experience were too much to resist and on Saturday, July 16th tattoos, body piercings, alcohol, rock & roll, tallit, Torah, Havdalah and a hipster wanna be all came together at the AE Pavilion next to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  You had to see it to believe it, and hear it to believe it.  Reggae/rap/rock star Matisyahu was in the house and the house was a rocking.  Well after sunset, the Brooklyn orthodox Jew hit the stage with tallis, pais and kippa flying.  A collision of cultures united behind the music for the approximately three thousand in attendance.  I do not pretend to be a musical savant, but I know a popular cultural event when I see one.

I expected a larger Jewish presence either out of religious curiosity or to represent for our homeboy, but I only saw a few couples at the bar with similar inquisitive faces to mine. I also anticipated a show that highlighted the singer’s messages of holiness and observance but was instead fed a steady diet of drums, guitars and inaudible words.  Fortunately my disappointment with the music was balanced by the spectacle of the crowd.  You just don’t get this type of show at the Mishler.

While I love the artist’s music and often listen to his CD’s in the car or while exercising, I was happy to leave early at the request of my two companions, who were too exhausted from a day of shopping to enjoy the crowd.  Nevertheless, I was glad to have had the experience.  Click here to read more about the artist and click here to see some of his videos on our website.

May 13, 2011

New Rabbinic Leadership

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 8:35 pm

 

 

 

Change is constant and unpredictable, even in Altoona.  After years of struggling to woo rabbinic leadership, Agudath Achim and Temple Beth Israel have or will be welcoming new Rabbis.  A new rabbi is always an exciting time in the life of a congregation but expectations are always difficult.

I recently enjoyed a meal with Rabbi Josh as he and his family prepare for their new life at Agudath Achim and in Altoona.  As we conversed, my mind reflected on a sermon delivered by a guest rabbi a few years ago.  He delivered a very memorable sermon on the relationship of a rabbi and his congregation.  He explained this relationship as a very complicated one, as a rabbi is an employee as well as a friend and teacher. Expectations are high.  Does the rabbi work to preserve the heritage and practices of a congregation with years of history and tradition, or does he bring new insights and perspectives? YES!  Does he give sermons based on Torah, or sermons based on current events? YES!  Do we want him to lead us, work with us, or follow us? YES!  Does he need to listen to what we say we want, or should he give us what we really need?  YES!

Indeed, it is very complicated and it is a relationship that takes time and effort, like all relationships. In my home there hangs a poem called “a recipe for a happy marriage.”  The main ingredients, love, cooperation, forgiveness, and respect, all share one common feature, the act of giving.  The ability to give toward a greater whole in the absence of self-interest and for the greater good is the basis for any union to be complete and functional.

I also often think about a book that I read many years ago, “And They Shall Be My People,” by Paul Wilkes.  The author follows a conservative rabbi for a year in Worcester, Massachusetts.  He not only explores the relationship of a rabbi and a congregation with regard to expectations and commitment, but he provides real insights about the personal struggles of a spiritual leader.  I think everyone would benefit from this outstanding read with regard to expectations for a rabbi and a congregation as well as Jewish spirituality, and the difficulties of Jewish life in a secular America.

Congregations often have many meetings to discuss the characteristics that a spiritual leader should possess.  From my experience, the common denominator of these discussions was what we wanted, or what we felt we needed.  In my opinion our wants and needs should be secondary to what we plan to give.  A rabbi can only lead a congregation that is open and honest with regard to its own commitment toward observance and participation.  Click here to read about  “And They Shall Be My People,” by Paul Wilkes.

 

February 5, 2011

The Gertein Report

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 8:42 pm

 

 

 

Last year, over the winter holidays while visiting my parents in San Antonio, Texas, I was happy to discover and rediscover the exhibit, Reclaimed, the extraordinary legacy of Jacques Goudstikker, a preeminent art dealer in Amsterdam, whose vast collection of masterpieces fell victim, and was almost lost forever to the Nazis.  I commented how Judaism is often found in unexpected circumstances and in unexpected places.  This winter holiday produced a similar surprise.  While packing for my trip I grabbed a pile of magazines collecting on my desk for the plane ride to Texas.  Each quarter I receive a copy of Emory Magazine from my alma mater and I usually give it a quick read on it’s way to the recycling bin.  This year an article about a five minute Holocaust documentary caught my attention.  Three Emory students won best drama for this film at the 2010 Campus MovieFest awards.  The story is about a Nazi scientist, Kurt Gertein, who develops Zyklon B gas as a chemical to kill rodents.  Unknown to him it is later used in the gas chambers.  When Gerstein sees his chemicals used for murder at the Belzec concentration camp, he realizes his indirect participation and buries the remaining gas canisters.  Wracked with guilt and finding no other aid, Gerstein surrenders himself to the Allies and writes “Der Gerstein-Bericht” which details his viewing of concentration camp killings.  His notes are later used as direct evidence against Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.  Check out the video in our Jewish video online page.

September 1, 2010

NBA Players Going to Hebrew School

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 9:02 pm

 

 

 

We hope everyone has had a relaxing and joyous summer with friends and family.  Soon may of us will be preparing to return to school and prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days in September.  We hope you have enjoyed our Federation website as a source of community happenings and as a portal to events and commentary about Israel and the Jewish experience around the country and around the world.  It continues to be our goal to find articles, videos, movies, books, and stories of interest for us to share.  Please continue to send us information.  In the coming weeks we will be posting information of our fall calendar.  We have many new and old favorite activities and programs upcoming.  In the meantime, please check out the new fascination of NBA basketball players with Hebrew and Jewish thought at Jewish News Online.  Shaq, LeBron and Amare are going to Hebrew school.  If we could only get our kids to be so enthusiastic!

 

June 1, 2010

Sunday School Confirmation, A Combined Success

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 9:07 pm

 

 

 

Smiles, families, spirituality, pride, fellowship and community, and of course, food, were everywhere at Temple Beth last week.  The occasion was the Altoona Jewish Community Sunday School confirmation.  Our seven confirmands from TBI and AAC stood together in front of their families, friends, the entire Sunday School and the Jewish community to celebrate the confirmation of their Jewish faith and Jewish studies. Our second consecutive combined confirmation for TBI and AAC was spiritual and meaningful from our Rabbi and Hazzan as well as our confirmands.  I congratulate Rabbi Luna, Hazzan Horowitz and the Sunday School leadership for their foresight and hard work in planning this program. The program also featured, our Principal, Illisa Zimmerman, who gave an inspiring keynote address.  Click here to go to the Sunday School web page to find a link to her comments and Confirmation pictures in our photo gallery.

I hope we will continue to find ways to celebrate as a community and I hope we can continue to find the wisdom to see the spirituality and strength that collaboration and commonality can provide.

May 1, 2010

Holocaust and Genocide

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 9:10 pm

 

 

 

Most years our Jewish community comes together to remember and commemorate the great tragedy our people and the world suffered at the hands of Nazi murderers.  This year there was no Holocaust program in our community but I hope that we have all individually taken some time to remember these atrocities of man versus his fellow man.  Please check the Jewish News Online area for some links to articles from newspapers around the world relevant to Yom Hashoah.  Also check out our link on the home page to additional news of relevance to observance of this day.  Also, let us not forget that hatred, bigotry and genocide is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.  Hatred and genocide are not just Jewish problems, they are worldwide problems.  Whether it is bullying on the playground or genocide in Darfur, we cannot allow or tolerate hatred.  To allow is to enable.

March 7, 2010

Film Festival

Filed under: Michael — michael @ 9:12 pm

 

 

 

Tonight the motion picture industry gave it’s annual awards for greatness on the big screen, the Oscars.  For two out of the last three (snow!) Thursdays and for the next two Thursdays the greater Altoona area has been able to see greatness on the semi-big screen at the Penn State Altoona Devorris Downtown Center.  While missing red carpets and glam, we are still treated to the best meal deal in town catered by Paula and Dave Binus, and we are sure to have four thought provoking films.  O Jerusalem and Making Trouble were excellent.  Len Zimmerman and his committee deserve high praise for eleven years of outstanding films and making this annual event one of the social and educational highlights of our local Jewish calendar.  I especially enjoyed Making Trouble, which documented the struggle of Jewish woman to earn respect and greatness in different eras and in different aspects of show business.  It was a pleasure to have Jerry Zolten introduce the film and lead a discussion afterwards.  One point of discussion after the film was about which actors were of Jewish ancestry.  The next day I received two emails on similar points.  One claimed Abraham Lincoln had Jewish ancestry and the second was from my sister in law who recently reviewed a show called Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad.  For your benefit I have added a new RSS feed on our home page called Jew Or Not Jew, that provides a tongue in cheek commentary on Jewish ancestry of celebrities, and check out this link for Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, a new generation of Jewish women “making trouble.”

http://blogs.denverpost.com/reverb/2010/03/01/scene-nice-jewish-girls-gone-bad-good-for-the-jews-lannies-clocktower-cabaret/#more-12451

http://www.nicejewishgirlsgonebad.com/newsite/

January 25, 2010

Best Wishes to Ida and Yale Schulman

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:18 pm

 

 

 

Through my years of volunteer and organizational work I have come to believe in “the principle of thirds.”  Whether it be a congregation, a parents support group, a committee, or a board of directors, one third of the group does not participate, one third will get involved on a periodic basis, especially when asked, and one third is committed and enthusiastic to getting things done.  On a percent basis, in whole numbers, each third would be 33% and add up to 99%, slightly less than 100% because not everybody was involved.  Lately I have come to wonder if there is a fourth group, a 1% which could also be called a “special one percent.” We all know these people who are self-less, and tireless in pursuit of the greater good.  They are able to rise above self-interest, they lead by example and raise the level of all.  We admire their devotion and effort and we aspire be like them.  They are mentors and they leave a mark on our lives.  They motivate us to do more and be better when they are present.   They also inspire and motivate even when they are no longer around.  They can also be called pillars or cornerstones, as they carry the weight and shoulder the responsibilities of many.

When you lose a pillar, an organization or group is forced to deal with this new weight no longer carried by these “one percenters.”  Hopefully, others will rush in to carry the load.  Hopefully, your top third will generate new “one percenters,” people ready to serve at the next level.  Our community has be blessed have had many “one percenters” over the years.  Yale and Ida Schulman are “one percenters” and while we are very happy for them to be moving to be closer to family, we are also very sad to be losing them from our lives and our community.  On behalf of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, we wish them the best.

January 9, 2010

Reclaimed, the Legacy of Jacques Goudstikker

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:21 pm

 

 

 

Two themes seem to continue to repeat in my life.  Looking a second time always seems to provide new insight and Judaism can be found in unexpected places.  Upon a visit with my parents this holiday season in San Antonio, Texas, these themes were again revealed during a visit to a traveling exhibit of reclaimed art from the Holocaust.  The story of plundering art during World War II by the Nazis has been a recent subject of interest for me through books such as The Forgers Spell and movies at our Altoona Jewish Film Festival such as the Rape of Europa and Making A Killing.  I became aware that there was an exhibit while speaking with Rebecca Cohen at the SAMA Shirley Goldfarb reception.  Rebecca, the daughter of Yale and Ida Schulman, lives in Austin, Texas, recommended I check out an exhibit of reclaimed art from the Holocaust when I was to visit my parents in San Antonio. Fortunately, I was able to make time to visit the McNay Museum of Art.

“The exhibit, Reclaimed, reveals the extraordinary legacy of Jacques Goudstikker, a preeminent art dealer in Amsterdam, whose vast collection of masterpieces fell victim, and was almost lost forever, to the Nazi practice of looting cultural properties.  In 2006, after years of working with a team of art historians and legal experts, Goudstikker’s family successfully reclaimed 200 of his paintings from the Dutch government – one of the largest claims to Nazi-looted art ever resolved.  Featuring nearly 50 of the finest examples of the recovered art, along with original documents and photographs, the exhibition reveals Goudstikker’s influence as a collector, art dealer, tastemaker and impresario; and celebrates the historic restitution of the artworks to the rightful heir.  Ten of the paintings on view have never been exhibited in North America before. Also included are 20 original documents and photographs relating to Goudstikker’s life – most significantly, Goudstikker’s own notebook inventorying the bulk of his gallery’s holdings at the time he fled the Netherlands.”  Click here to read more about the Goudstikker family story.

http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/GoudstikkerRelease

While one would not expect such an exhibit to be in San Antonio, I was also surprised upon arrival at the museum to find that I had already seen the exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York City in May.  Regardless, a story this compelling was worth a second look.

November 6, 2009

Light, Holocaust Ballet

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:25 pm

 

 

 

Sunny sixty degree fall days, especially in November, are meant to be spent outside raking leaves, bicycle riding, walking my dog and watching football.  Even more difficult was to be so close to Heinz field yet so fall away while the Steelers were doing battle with the Bengals.  But at the end of the day, despite temptation, I was very happy with my choice to attend the ballet yesterday.  Certainly I was out of my element.  While I have no problem breaking down the action on the field, like the millions of other Steeler head coaches in Western Pa, summing up my experience at the ballet may be a little more amateur but here we go.

For me, there were two aspects of the ballet.  Firstly, one cannot help but be in awe of the incredible strength, flexibility, coordination and conditioning of the performers.  Additionally impressive is the mental focus and teamwork of the troupe.  It is clear that these performers are also actors through their expressions and movements.  They tell a story with their bodies and movements in a very profound way.  Unlike other ballets I have attended, this performance was very physical and athletic with elements of dance and drama.

Secondly and more importantly, “Light: The Holocaust & Humanity Project,” is more than a ballet.  Creator, Stephen Mills, who is not Jewish, has taken a catastrophic human tragedy and used this art form not only to remind us of the horror but to help us feel the emotions and help us attempt to experience this terrible genocide in a different way versus reading a book or watching a movie about the Holocaust.  The ballet follows the life on one survivor from birth, to family, and to confusion, fear, despair and hopelessness.  The portrayal of transport was especially profound as the dancers worked in “boxcar” space and projected the “intimate, stifling conditions in which many died before reaching their ominous destinations.”  Despite the devastation of such conditions and depictions of death and suffering, the ballet ends with the possibility of hope and also inspires us to take our responsibilities as world citizens very seriously.

As Mr. Mills explains in the playbill, “Art alone does not change the world, people do.  We all have to be diligent to individual and governmental protection of human rights whether or not we agree with other’s religious and political choices.  Acts of moral blindness did not go out in the 1940’s with the liberation of Auschwitz.

Before coming to see “Light: The Holocaust & Humanity Project,” try to reflect on an instance when you were a bystander, a victim, or a perpetrator of intolerance.  Use this work to reflect upon your own responsibilities when confronted with acts of bigotry and hate.  My hope is that this work sparks your interest, which in turn starts a conversation.  People engaging in dialogue begin the process of positive change.”

September 25, 2009

High Holidays and Reflection

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:28 pm

 

 

 

For Jews, the High Holidays are a time to reflect on the past year as well as an opportunity to look forward.  We look forward to a healthy and prosperous year for our families, our community and all humanity, and hope that this will be the year that peace will embrace all mankind.  Unfortunately, this view is not shared by all peoples and all nations.

While religion should be about putting people in touch with each other as well as putting people in touch with God, many use religion as a pretext for hatred and genocide.  No greater example of such hatred was recently on display at the United Nations.  Giving an audience to those who deny the Holocaust and champion the elimination of nations is difficult to fathom.  History has shown that repeated lies eventually blur the line between fact and fiction.  Please view the response of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the following link:

http://www.breitbart.tv/netanyahu-slams-u-n-for-giving-ahmadinejad-forum-have-you-no-shame/

Please check out our Jewish News Online section for additional perspectives on the emerging Iranian crisis as well as other topics of interest to Jews throughout the world.

September 1, 2009

The Summer in Review

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:32 pm

 

 

 

It seems that summer has yet to arrive but Labor Day and the school year are right around the corner.  I hope everyone has made plans to attend Altoona Jewish Community night at the Altoona Curve game on Wednesday, August 12th.  Also our community has been invited to attend a seminar of the Blair County Genealogy Society.  The Speaker is David Horowitz and the subject is tracing one’s Jewish roots.  Both events are featured below on our home page.

I hope our families with young children have signed up of the PJ Pajama program also detailed on the home page.  This program is a great way to spend time with your children through age appropriate Jewish storybooks and music.  The last program I would like to highlight is our annual picnic.  We will be returning to Diamond Carriage Farm for pumpkin carving, wagon rides, and fun around the bonfire on Sunday afternoon, October 18th.  More details will be forthcoming.

Congratulations to Bill Wallen and Hazzan Horowitz for the their participation in “A Matter of Faith,” which recently concluded.  I was able to attend the last session and found the program to be very insightful.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the upgrades to our website and I want to thank everyone who has submitted content and photos as we seek to continue to provide new content on a regular basis.  Enjoy the rest of the summer and I look forward to seeing everyone at our upcoming events.

May 22, 2009

Veteran’s Memorial Service

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:34 pm

 

 

 

I want to congratulate Henry Weinberg for putting together a fabulous Joint Veteran’s Memorial Service at our community’s cemeteries.  Our service was very inspiring and led by Adam Schneider and featured guest speaker Reverend Paul Johnson.  The honor roll of interred veterans was also acknowledged.  From the Civil War to the Vietnam War, Agudath Achim Congregation and Temple Beth Israel members have a long and proud tradition of military service, and there are 109 members of AAC and 59 members of TBI on our interred veterans honor roll.

In fact, Jewish participation in the US Military has been significant throughout the history of our country.  During World War I and II, the percentage of American Jews exceeded the percentage of the general population that served in our military forces.  I have included some links to Jewish participation in the military in the Jewish Holiday Links area.  Please check it out and have a joyous Memorial Day weekend.

April 22, 2009

Judy Meisel

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:36 pm

 

 

 

I hope that everyone was able to meet Judy Meisel during her week visit to our area.  This was Judy’s fourth visit to our community and I am amazed at her continued devotion and zeal for advancing the cause of civil rights and her energy and commitment with regard to Holocaust education.  During her week visit she made visits to:

Hollidaysburg Area HS, Altoona Area HS, Altoona Jewish Community School, Continuing Education at St. Rose of Lima, Bellwood HS, Tyrone HS, Interfaith Yom Hashoah Service at AAC, Juniata College, Penn State Altoona, Celebrate Diversity and St. Francis University.

Judy also met with WRTA radio, Altoona HS principal Patty Burlingame, and the Altoona Mirror.  Judy met with and spoke to over 2000 people during these visits.  I hope everyone was able to see her documentary “Tak for Alt.”  If you have not seen the DVD, please contact the Federation office.

I was honored to speak at the interfaith service and my comments are located on the Yom Hashoah area on the Jewish Holiday Link.  This area is new to the website and we be updated for each Jewish holiday.

I hope everyone has enjoyed the upgrades to our website and I want to thank everyone who has submitted content and photos as we seek to continue to provide new content on a regular basis.

February 1, 2009

Welcome to Our New Digital Home

Filed under: Michael — drexelroth @ 9:37 pm

 

 

 

Welcome to the digital home of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation.  To further our efforts to inform, educate and enrich our Jewish souls, your Federation is now available to you every minute of every day.

It is the goal of your Federation to continue to provide new and exciting ways to enhance the Jewish experience in our community.  To further this goal we have planned an interactive website that will bring current news and fresh perspectives on local, national and international Jewish concerns.  We plan to update our site on a regular basis and be more than an online reference guide.  We want to have new and pertinent content every time you log on to www.greateraltoonajewishfederation.com.

As you browse through our website you will find our community calendar, photos from Sunday school events, future programming, community favorites, news from Jewish communities around the world as well as links to websites of various interests

Not only will our website be full of social, cultural and educational content, I also hope this site becomes a tool for community building and bringing members of our community together.   Building on the success of our excellent biannual newsletter, L’chaim, our website will look to bring all the current happenings in our community and highlight our members activities in our community.  We will also use this site to profile member families as we have done in our newsletter.

Ultimately the success of our website will rest on your input and help with the development of our content, especially in the Jewish Life area.  We encourage everyone to submit book reviews, jokes, quotes as well as your favorite websites, podcasts, music, recipes and travel spots.  We can learn so much from each other and this is one vehicle to share various topics of interest.

I welcome your feedback and your input.  I hope you think of this website as your Jewish family album and community bulletin board.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of your Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, I hope you find this website meaningful and I hope you will visit often and contribute to this community resource on a regular basis.

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