WUFT- UF Chabad Jewish Center Hosts State’s Largest Passover Seders

Note: This article was initially published on the WUFT site on 4/10/17. 

Link: https://www.wuft.org/news/2017/04/10/uf-chabad-jewish-center-hosts-states-largest-passover-seders/

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Florida will host the largest Passover Seders in Florida this week.

Both of the Seders are open to the public and free of charge with an online RSVP and are occurring Monday and Tuesday nights.

The Passover Seder is a ceremony held on the first two nights of the eight day holiday. The traditional Jewish holiday celebrates through prayer, symbolic acts and traditions with the two halves of the night divided by a meal.

Aron Notik, one of the center’s two rabbis, said although it is hard to tell exactly how many people will attend beforehand, it is safe to say these Seders are the largest in Florida.

Berl Goldman, Notik’s co-rabbi, said no one has been able to prove that they aren’t the largest in the United States.

He said the majority of the first night turnout will be comprised of University of Florida students, while the second Seder will bring in a more varied population from the community.

Both Rabbis said they are set to receive roughly 700 guests the first night, followed by around 400 on the second.

“That’s past 1,000 just for the Seders alone,” Goldman said.

Notik said he attributes this turnout to the inconvenient timing of the holiday this year. Both Seders are on weeknights two weeks before UF’s final exams, making it difficult for students to return home to spend the holiday with their families.

“Everyone here is away from home,” Notik said. “If our students lived within an hour away from home, we’d have no one.”

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The Seder plate is a dish filled with symbolic items to help facilitate the Passover Seder. More than 1,000 guests will use plates identical to the one pictured over the course of Monday and Tuesday. 

That is why Alexis Burton said she will be spending her Seders with the Chabad.

“It’s too close to finals to go home,” the UF senior said.

Although she said she has been regularly attending services at the Jewish center since August 2016, this will be her first Seder with the synagogue.

As the Chabad provides kosher-for-Passover lunches and dinners for the remaining six days of the holiday, the synagogue is preparing roughly 2,500 meals.

“It takes an army to do what we’re doing,” Goldman said.

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Volunteers help set tables for the Chabad’s Seders. More than 50 volunteers have offered their services throughout the past week.

Volunteers from both the university and the Gainesville community have been a comfort and inspiration to Goldman and Notik.

Mazal Fernandez, a regular Chabad attendee, is one of these helpers.

“It’s very humbling to be part of something really big,” she said.

Fernandez said she saw the unprecedented amount of reservations, and decided to help by unpacking food and decorating.

“You need people to come here and bring it to life.”

In order to support the time and resources needed to host Seders of this scale, Goldman and Notik organized a phonathon and online donation pool, both of which will be active through the end of the holiday.

As of Monday, they are roughly two-thirds of the way toward their goal of raising $76,000.

“It relieves some of the financial pressure,” Goldman said.

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Rabbi Goldman facilitates the burning of chametz, or non-kosher-for-Passover food, outside of his synagogue. In order to hold a legitimate Passover Seder, none of this food can be on the premises.

Both rabbis said they have seen the challenges that Seders of this scale pose.

“It’s hard for a large crowd to follow a 15 step process,” Notik said.

In order to partially combat such difficulties, they are hiring captains for each table. These volunteers will help their respective tables keep up with the main Seder, which will be conducted by the rabbis.

“It will help us do the Seder more efficiently,” Goldman said.

Both Notik and Goldman said, regardless of affiliation level or reservation, no one will be turned down at their Seders.

“You’re Jewish, it’s Passover, come and experience the Seder,” Notik said.

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Film Review- Denial

Note: This review was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 10/11/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/film-review-denial/

denial

Denial is an astonishingly accurate adaptation of the famous 2001 court case Irving vs. Penguin Books Ltd. In this case, renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt stood trial against David Irving, an infamous Holocaust denier. After Lipstadt called Irving a Holocaust denier, falsifier and bigot in her book Denying the Holocaust, Irving accused Lipstadt of libel. This case came to fruition due to the British legal system, which requires those accused of libel to prove their innocence—the opposite of the legal system in the United States. The movie portrays the struggles, and eventual triumphs, of Lipstadt and her legal team in their battle against pure hate.

As a Jew with multiple grandparents who are Holocaust survivors, I have an inherent emotional connection to this case—and in turn, this film, which I saw at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s premiere screening. Following the film there was a discussion with Deborah Lipstadt and the producers Russ Krassnoff and Gary Foster. The sheer amount of historical detail incorporated by the filmmakers was astounding. The producers pointed out a perfect example of this meticulousness during the question-and-answer session; the head of Lipstadt’s legal team, Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), never made eye contact while addressing Irving (Timothy Spall). A factual detail so easy to abandon would never make it into the screenplay of a generic blockbuster hit.

“Deborah said, ‘I’m about to sign this paper giving you these rights. You need to promise me one thing: the truth,’” Russ Krasnoff, one of the producers, explains. “It was our mantra.” In other words, a painstaking dedication to portraying the truth was one of the Denial team’s core values. The producers explained that this pursuit even extended to having Lipstadt on the set, in order to make sure everything was accurate from her point of view.

Lipstadt’s story is about the dedication to truth—and the filmmakers took her lesson to heart. “Every single word that David Irving says in the film… it was all taken from transcripts or interviews,” says Krasnoff. “Every word was documented.” This was astonishing to me. Some of Spall’s lines were so shockingly ignorant and hate-filled that I assumed they had to be exaggerations—like Irving’s “No holes, no Holocaust” diatribe. However, I came to realize that the over-the-top nature of these deliveries only proves Spall’s skill in accurately portraying such a sinister person.

The film’s realism was only bolstered by outstanding performances from Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall, who flawlessly portrayed opposing forces in what might be their best roles to date. The support and fondness I felt for Lipstadt also extended to Weisz, who was able to transform expertly into the historian over the course of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime. Timothy Spall has always been excellent at playing fictional villains; his transition from fictional evil to real-world evil was seamless.

Where the illusion of realism that drives this film was somewhat shattered was with actors Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott, whose performances sometimes felt unnatural. There were also occasional shots that either lingered too long, or placed emphasis on subjects that should not have been emphasized, which was a bit jarring for me.

But what I enjoyed most about Denial, aside from its potent accuracy, was its timelessness. “It’s not just about Holocaust denial,” says Lipstadt. “It’s vaccines. It’s the environment. It’s Sandy Hook in Connecticut, where kids were murdered.”

A large portion of the Q&A centered around the idea that whenever there is a tragic event in history, there will always be people who find a way to deny it. Whether they are anti-Semitic, racist, or simply in need of a selfish way to cope with said tragedy, they exist. With so many horrific events occurring on a near-daily basis throughout the world, there will always be those who seek to undermine the truth. They cling to tiny details, minuscule inconsistencies, and blow these details up to horrendously large proportions in an attempt to prove their opinions. However, Lipstadt, her legal team and the filmmakers prove that, whether it be the Holocaust or any tragedy, the truth will always prevail.

Denial’s purpose surpasses entertainment. This movie should be used as a tool, a weapon in the fight against hate. Producer Gary Foster explains this best: “If we can spark and inspire conversation—and get people to say, ‘Hey, there’s a difference between opinion and fact’—then we have done good.”

Top Ten Jewish Podcasts: Reader Edition

Note: This article was initially published on the Moment Magazine official site on 9/13/16. 

Link: http://www.momentmag.com/top-ten-jewish-podcasts-reader-edition/

This past July, we gave you a list of some of our favorite Jewish podcasts. We were soon inundated with recommendations for other podcasts readers felt we overlooked. We’ve done some listening ourselves, and came up with ten more Jewish podcasts for you to enjoy. If our last list didn’t turn you into a podcast lover, this one just may do the trick.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-19-49-pmUnorthodox

Debuted by Tablet last summer,“Unorthodox” is a self-proclaimed “smart, fresh, fun take on Jewish news and culture.” This weekly podcast is hosted by Tablet editor-at-large Mark Oppenheimer and features writers Liel Leibovitz and Stephanie Butnick. Guests have included include best-selling author A.J. Jacobs, essayist Sloane Crosley and Jewish Voice for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson. If you want to hear about “everything from the presidential elections to Amy Schumer, Israel to Drake,” “Unorthodox” is for you.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-23-52-pmBarr’s Banter

Rabbi Robert B. Barr has been putting a rabbi’s perspective on current events since 2007. As the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Adam in Cincinnati, Barr is a champion of the Humanistic Judaism movement. Discussing everything from the Syrian refugee crisis to the high holidays, Barr has tackled hundreds of topics in his nine-year-old show. With each episode in the two-minute range, “Barr’s Banter” is an easy addition to your weekly routine.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-25-13-pmThe Book of Life

“The Book of Life” is a podcast all about Jewish media. Whether it’s books, music or films, if it’s Jewish, it’s covered. The show is hosted by biblical fiction author and librarian of Congregation B’nai Israel in Boca Raton, Florida, Heidi Rabinowitz. She has interviewed many renowned Jewish creatives, including author Angela Cerrito and filmmaker Roberta Grossman.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-18-35-pmJudaism Unbound

“Judaism Unbound” is a “project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by ‘disaffected but hopeful’ American Jews to re-imagine and re-design Jewish life in America for the 21st century.” In other words, the main goal of the podcast is to construct a Jewish lifestyle that fits into modern-day American society. The show is hosted by Daniel Libenson and Lex Rofes, the heads of the Institute for the Next Jewish Future, an organization with the same goal as its podcast. Join Libenson and Rofes as they interview guests such as author Richard Elliott Friedman and American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna, all in the name of evolving Judaism.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-16-53-pmTreyf

Are you a Jew living in North America? Do you have an interest in (left-wing) politics? If one or both of these apply, “Treyf” might be the podcast for you. As a self-described “debatably Jewish podcast,” “Treyf” addresses some of the thornier political discussions taking place in North American Jewish communities, from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to social and racial justice. The episodes’ relatively short length (anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes) does not limit their guest repertoire. Writer Mark Tseng Putterman and journalist Josh Nathan are some of the many voices “Treyf” has recruited to facilitate discussion of the Jewish political sphere.

13227095_1755939367958664_5595034377956959036_nReally Interesting Jews

Hosted by Rabbi Evan Schultz of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, Connecticut, RIJ seeks to introduce American Jewry to the people who are working to change their communities. Whether it be thinkers, project facilitators, or conversors, RIJ wants you to know all about them. Some of the revolutionists that have been featured on the podcast include spiritual community founder Lizzi Heydemann and Ruth Messinger, former president of the American Jewish World Service. Schultz states his goal for the podcast clearly: “…my hope is that their stories will spark conversations in your homes, communities and synagogues.”

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-13-43-pmNew Books Network—Jewish Studies

The Jewish Studies subsection of the New Books Network of podcasts tackles a new Judaism-related book each week. Rather than simply discussing each book, NBN takes the time to interview their authors. Some of these writers include Jonathan Garb, author of Yearnings of the Soul, and Robert O’Kell, author of Disraeli.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-11-51-pmKaddish

Death is a difficult subject matter for anyone, regardless of religion. Student Rabbi Ariana Katz hopes to ease the struggle with her podcast, “Kaddish,” which focuses on mourning rituals and customs. With a variety of guests and first-person stories, Katz strives to provide listeners with a deep and contextualized look at death. “There is a dearth of death education, and there is a romanticising, exoticizing, and sexualizing of death,” the show’s description reads. “Kaddish aims to stay in the muck, the complicated, unsexy, terrifying places, because those too are a part of grief.”

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-1-30-00-pm

Stuff Jews Should Know

The title says it all. Join Mottle and Batya Wolfe as they discuss different Jewish essentials and topics—holidays, landmarks, traditions, laws—in under a half an hour, from Purim to the Temple Mount. You’ll be an expert in no time.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-4-10-21-pmOMGWTFBIBLE

Last but definitely not least, OMGWTFBIBLE describes itself as a “brand-new English translation of the Hebrew bible.” What OMGWTFBIBLE really is is a rebranding and retelling of the Torah as “the world’s oldest comedy serial” as opposed to a traditional (and serious) religious text. As host David Tuchman writes, “Doesn’t it just plain suck that the Old Testament isn’t cool anymore? The book’s got everything: genocide, incest, and even talking donkeys!”