Hinei mah tov

Keller Manheim Schneider

Rabbi Rony Keller of Congregation Beth Israel and Rabbi Jeremy Schneider of Temple Kol Ami  – president and vice president respectively of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix – share a photo moment backstage with Camryn Manheim, the featured speaker at the 2014 Mega Event.
Photo courtesy of Rabbi Jeremy Schneider

Getting together at the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix’s Mega Event is sort of a hinei mah tov (behold how good) moment each year, and Tuesday evening’s gathering at the Arizona Biltmore was no exception. The Jewish News publisher and employees gathered together with about a thousand other Jewish community members, equally committed to the good of the Valley’s Jewish community.

How good it was to be together with Abe Meth, nearly 102, who sang “Hatikvah,” ably accompanied by Todd Herzog (who sang “The Star-Spangled Banner”) on guitar.

How good it was to celebrate the community quilt, with 80 organizations (including ours) represented. We could tell that participants came from all four points of the Valley’s compass by the yells that each group gave as their organization got an on-stage shout-out from Rudy Troisi, Shari Kanefsky  or Bob Silver.

How good it was for Berry Sweet to remind us of how the Association is carrying on the legacy of the Jewish Federation  of Greater Phoenix. Her memories ranged from the old JCC on Maryland Avenue to Israel to a moment of clarity with her mom at Kivel Campus of Care.

It was a time when we could renew acquaintances, schmoozing with this or that former colleague or frequent contributor (“Yes, Rabbi. So good to see you again”) to our news columns. The catering was excellent, my wife and I  loved the couscous, grilled vegetables and hummus. And, oh, the dessert — chocolate pudding and a mini-cheesecake — was way too tasty for our good.

Kudos to the event co-chairs — Andi and Sherman Minkoff and Donna and Rudy Troisi — and the Association for reaching out to young leaders and featuring them prominently in their video presentation, and for reaching out to the East Valley and giving prominent video spots to Steve Tepper from the East Valley JCC and Sally Oscherwitz, a member of the Association board and a former Temple Emanuel board president.

Camryn Manheim turned out to be quite a hoot, her speech roaming from her own “outside the box” rebellion to her heartfelt story of the way she has been bonding with her son ever since they started to regularly light the Shabbat candles, even if the lighting doesn’t always happen on Shabbat. Underlying it all was her pitch for supporting the good works that are done under the  Association’s umbrella.

Hinei mah tov!

Here’s what’s happening this weekend

Jewish News is launching two additional editions of our JN Now newsletter: One on Monday that focuses on news that occurred over the weekend and looks forward to the new week and one on Friday – which starts on Feb. 21 –  featuring weekend events.

Here’s a look at some things happening this weekend:

“State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” a free traveling exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is now on display at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.

Chabad of Arizona celebrates its 37th birthday this weekend. Congratulations to honorees Allyn and Bonnie Kluger, Dr. Stuart and Susan Turnansky and Mindy Wolfe.
The organization recently opened its 19th Chabad center in Arizona.

Tickets are available for the Phoenix Coyotes Jewish Heritage Night on March 2. Earlier this month, Jewish News spoke to Coyotes center Jeff Halpern, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish home.

There’s still time to catch a film at the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival; the festival concludes this weekend.

Sign up here to receive the newsletters.

Shabbat Shalom!

Today’s the day to register for a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip

Registration is now open for Taglit-Birthright trips. The free 10-day trip to Israel is for Jewish young adults ages 18-26 and Birthright recently expanded eligibility to those who went on a prior educational Israel trip in high school.

So, for those interested in a free trip to Israel, here are some local trips:

Phoenix Community Trip/ Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix: July 30-Aug. 11. Email Erin Searle with questions, erins@vosjcc.org.

Chabad at ASU  (Additional registration tips here) Mid-May

Hillel at Arizona State University Trip leaves in May

Additionally, Jewish National Fund has a Birthright trip, with Shorashim where the Israel experience is shared with Israeli peers and staff.

Don’t pass up this free trip to Israel and the opportunity to visit such an amazing place!

A visit to the Mormon temple in Gilbert

ImageThis weekend marked the end of the public tours of the Mormon temple in Gilbert. Before they are officially dedicated, Church of Latter-Day Saints’ temples are only open to the public for a brief period, and after the dedication, the temples are only open to LDS members in good standing.

So, being a curious bunch, members of the Jewish News editorial staff were among the tens of thousands of visitors to the temple during the open house period, Jan. 18 to Feb. 15.

Our interest in seeing it was shared by many; the parking lot was full, and we were directed to a dirt overflow parking lot down the street. After waiting in line to get in one building, we watched an introductory tour video then walked in a line to the temple itself, where we donned booties over our shoes before entering.

The temple, which is more than 85,000 square feet, was elaborately decorated – parts of it looked like a fancy hotel. The stained glass windows and the celestial room’s centerpiece chandelier were especially beautiful.

As I walked up and down the stairs and in and out of the various rooms, I couldn’t help but think about one of the comparisons made in the introductory video: that the temple’s origin was based on the biblical temple in Jerusalem. But were there actually any similarities between the two?

For me, the Beit HaMikdash has seemed mainly theoretical. I know Jews mourn for its destruction on Tisha b’Av and pray for it to be rebuilt “speedily in our days” in traditional prayer services; but each time I’ve stood at the Kotel, I’ve had a difficult time trying to picture a large-scale model of the Beit HaMikdash behind it and the idea of offering animal sacrifices is completely foreign. It wasn’t until I recently read “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman that it occurred to me how much the destruction of the Temple changed Jewish life.

A publication from Christian ministries distributed by a man standing on the corner between the parking lot and the Gilbert Mormon temple – clearly labeled “Not an LDS Church publication” – listed some of the differences:

In biblical times, only one temple in Jerusalem was recognized; today there are currently more than 135 LDS temples across the world. The primary activity at the Jerusalem temple was the sacrifice of animals in accordance to the law. In the LDS church, the primary activity is “ordinances” for the living and the dead — such as weddings, sealing ceremonies for families and baptisms for the dead (click here for more differences).

One of the most controversial aspects of the Mormon temple, at least in the Jewish community, is the idea of baptizing the dead. On one hand, the Mormons’ genealogical research database can be helpful to those looking to discover more about their family. On the other hand, the idea that it could also be used to baptize said family members is disturbing. (In September 2010, LDS leaders agreed to halt baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims. But then in 2012, it was revealed that Anne Frank and the parents of Simon Wiesenthal were posthumously baptized by church members that year.)  Though church officials said individuals conducting these proxy baptisms are violating the church’s policy, the practice of proxy baptism still feels offensive.

To Mormons, the temple represents a sacred space and on March 2, the Gilbert Arizona Temple will be dedicated. There are three other temples in Arizona: in Mesa, Snowflake and the Gila Valley. A fifth temple, in Phoenix, is currently under construction, and a sixth, in Tucson, has been announced, according to a brochure distributed during the tour.

Although there are naturally many differences between the biblical and LDS temples – and of course Judaism and Mormonism – Rabbi Perry Tirschwell, executive director of the National Council of Young Israel, wrote last year in the Jewish Press about the similarities between Orthodox Jews and Mormons after a meeting between the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center and the church and its political leadership in Salt Lake City.

Following that lead, we want to thank the Mormon church for inviting us into their sacred space so we could learn more about our neighbors.