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Transgender Jews in Orlando; Achtung Must Be Paid, Biff; and Other Newsbits

In Orlando, Florida, this week, many of the leaders of Reform Judaism are meeting. On Thursday, the group is expected to pass a far-reaching resolution on transgender rights. The resolution under consideration affirms the equality of transgender people and welcomes them into congregations, camps and other Reform Jewish institutions. The resolution calls for Reform Jewish congregations and camps to include gender-neutral bathrooms, encourages gender-neutral language at Reform Jewish institutions, suggests training on gender issues for religious school staff and encourages advocating on behalf of the transgender community. Michael Toumayan, manager of the Religion and Faith Program at the Humans Rights Campaign, a civil rights group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people says that this resolution goes farther than any other religious group in America to date. The Union of Reform Judaism in 1977 passed a resolution affirming the rights of gays and lesbians. Therefore, “Within our congregations, this is a natural evolution rather than some wholesale departure or new direction,” said Barbara Weinstein, director of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. “This is very much of a piece of what it means to be a Reform Jew.” The Union for Reform Judaism is offering a one-page pamphlet to help congregations adopt the goals of the resolution. It suggests dividing kids by birth month rather than gender in youth programming, avoiding using gender titles such as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on nametags or in emails and asking congregants by which pronouns they would prefer to be called. Catherine Bell, national program director for Keshet, a Jewish group that works for gay and transgender rights in Jewish life told NBC News that (she) hopes this paves the way for other denominations to also make similar steps. More than a third of American Jewry identify with the Reform movement, according to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center. (Graphic above courtesy of KeshetOnline.org)

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In Houston, Texas, voters were not as open minded as Reform movement leaders.

On Tuesday, the majority of voters rejected an ordinance that would have established protections from discrimination for gay and transgender residents and several other legally defined groups. With 95% of votes counted, 61% of voters opposed the measure. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, better known as HERO, would have made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on 15 different protected characteristics, including sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents attacked the measure as indecent by arguing that male sexual predators would be allowed into women’s bathrooms and locker rooms if the law passed. Television ads by opponents depicted a young girl being followed into a bathroom stall by a mysterious older man. Annise Parker, the Mayor of Houston, who is the first openly gay mayor of a major U.S. city, warned before the vote that repealing the ordinance would be detrimental to Houston’s reputation as “a warm welcoming place that tolerates differences and respects diversity.” SOJOURN: The Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity was a strong supporter of the HERO ordinance, as were many Jewish residents and instituions.

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In other newsbits:

Dale Carpenter writing in The Washington Post today tells about how an Israeli teacher was shouted down for 45 minutes at the University of Minnesota Law School. Carpenter is a Distinguished University Teaching Professor and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. The invited speaker was an NYU Law professor, Moshe Halbertal, who also holds a position in Jewish thought and philosophy at Hebrew University. Halbertal was at Mondale Hall in Minnesota to deliver the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law on the topic law and asymetric warfare. Carpenter wrote that regarding these disruptions that “It is fundamentally illiberal and destructive to the core values of an educational institution. And ironically, those who espouse unpopular and minority causes would be most vulnerable in a world where mobs feel authorized on principle to decide who may speak.” Sophomore Sami Rahamim said he commended Halbertal and the University of Minnesota Police Department for handling the situation well. “I, like many others, am embarrassed,” he said, “that such a disgraceful protest occurred against the freedom of speech and academic freedom at the University.” David Wippman, the Dean of the Law School, said they knew groups would be protesting at the event, but the Law School brings in speakers with a wide range of viewpoints to promote learning. He said, “If they had stayed and listened, they might have actually heard something they agreed with.” Last week, on the Minnesota campus, the SSI (Students Supporting Israel) and the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) held simultaneous adjacent protest program, and at the same time a group of Native American/Aztec cultural student group in traditional dress held a program next to them.

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Micah Lakin Avni wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Tuesday, titled, “The Facebook Intifada.” His father, Richard Lakin, a dedicated promoter of peace, succumbed to wounds received during an attack on a Jerusalem bus by a Palestinian terrorist. Lakin’s death was reported on the front page of The New York Times. Lakin Avni wrote that while watching his father in an ICU fight for his life, he realized that Facebook and Twitter may be shaping the Middle East peace process more than elected political leaders. A re-enactment of the attack on his father became a viral hit among Arab viewers; a posting on where to stab Jews was shared by thousands on Facebook. he asks social media companies to become more active in combating hate.

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The Los Angeles Times reported the death of Thomas Toiva Blatt, 88. The Santa Barbara, California resident was one of the few survivors of a rare revolt and mass escape from the Sobibor Nazi death camp. About 250,000 prisoners were murdered at the camp. Blatt spoke to audiences around the world about the atrocities he witnessed as a teenager at Sobibor. He wrote two books and consulted on the 1987 TV film “Escape From Sobibor.” Blatt, who was born in Izbica, Poland. He raised funds to preserve what remained of the death camp. In a 1988 Los Angeles Times interview, Blatt was angry over a plaque that memorialized the “Russian POWS, Jews, Poles and Gypsies” who died there. “They are falsifying history,” he said. “Jews, Jews and only Jews were killed there.” The Polish government later changed the plaque’s wording.

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Laura Collins-Hughes reviewed the New Yiddish Rep and the Castillo Theater’s production on Death of a Salesman in Yiddish. She recalls that Attention must be paid… Achtung!

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The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles reports on the happenings at a recent Jewish food conference, Harvest Gathering. It included a demonstration of animal slaughter, pot filled matzo balls, and cannabis infused lox. It was co-sponsored by Hazon and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

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Over in the UK, Labour Party MP Sir Gerald Kaufman has been criticized by his colleagues and Jewish leaders for saying that “JEWISH MONEY” is influencing the Conservative / Tory pro-Israel stance. Sir Gerald Kaufman, 85, is a major UK critic of Israel, and has called Israeli leaders war criminals. Calls have been made for Labour to discipline the veteran MP, who is himself Jewish. Speaking at a Palestine Return Centre event in Parliament, Sir Gerald, father of the House of Commons (meaning the eldest member), was reported as saying: “It’s Jewish money, Jewish donations to the Conservative party – as in the general election in May – support from the Jewish Chronicle, all of those things, bias the Conservatives.”

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In other news from the UK, the Daily Mail reported that last Thursday, a Muslim Sudanese jet passenger tried to kill another passenger when he learned he was Jewish and Israeli. It was on a flight from Chad to Ethiopia. During the attack on the 54 year old Israeli, the attacker screamed ‘Allah Akbar’ and ‘Slaughter the Jew.’ A Lebanese passenger and the cabin crew came to the Israeli’s aid, and the attacker was detained upon landing.

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Finally, Vogue reports that modest Orthodox Jewish attire is the inspiration for a sexy Fall 2015 trend. The slip dress clings to figures and is deemed sexy by the fashion bible. Among haredi women in Brooklyn, it is a layering piece, and is worn atop top long sleeves or leggings. But at the Rag & Bone Fall 2015 runway show the slip dress was placed atop long-sleeve shirts and slim-fitting cigarette pants. The Signature Slip is layered over tailored trousers or jeans. Mimu Maxi (see photo below) designers Mushky Notik and Mimi Hecht use the slip dress for a yin/yang layering effect. “It needs to be dressed up with pairings that have more weight. So a thin cardigan or silky blazer is a no, whereas an extra-chunky knit cardigan is a total yes,” says Hecht.
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