Kansas City Jewish Chronicle - Sybil Kaplan
Where do you go when you've been a congregational rabbi for 27 years, written five best-selling books and are looking for something else? If you are Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, you found, direct and serve as rabbi for a new organization, Kol Echad: Making Judaism Matter, a trans-denominational, adult learning community in Atlanta.
This adult-education institute, located in an office complex, is "an amalgamation, like a kollel for non-Orthodox Jews," Rabbi Salkin said in a phone interview. He will be in Overland Park this weekend, serving as scholar in residence at The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehudah Nov. 16-18.
His organization is experimenting with different kinds of outreach, aiming to be “a liberal alternative to Chabad.” The programs seek to “teach Judaism in an intellectual, lively and playful way,” said the rabbi. For example, one of the courses is “What Madonna Doesn't Know About Kabbalah.”
Rabbi Salkin grew up in Long Island, N.Y., and is a 1981 graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is best known for his books on spirituality, all published by Jewish Lights Publishers. Among his works are: “Bar/Bat Mitzvah Memory Book: An Album for Treasuring the Spiritual Celebration;” “Being God's Partner: How to Find the Hidden Link Between Spirituality and Your Work;” “For Kids: Putting God on Your Guest List;” and “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah.”
The latter work, first published in 1992, is one of the top-selling books on American Judaism today. Thus, it is no coincidence that his scholar-in-residency falls during Jewish Book Month, which began Nov. 4.
Rabbi Salkin's most recent book was undertaken as a prelude to Israel's 60th birthday celebration in May 2008. “A Dream of Zion: American Jews Reflect on Why Israel Matters To Them” presents a multitude of Jewish voices, whose comments are categorized into five headings: identity and heritage, refuge, faith and covenant, tikkun olam and American historical perspective. Because there is no approved way of thinking about Israel, Rabbi Salkin said he looked for a multitude of mainstream opinions. Yet the variety of contributors is amazing — Lillian Hellman, Harpo Marx, Debbie Friedman, Albert Einstein, Solomon Schechter, Danny Maseng, Emma Lazarus, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and 105 more.
“I edited this book because I was profoundly aware of the emotional distancing taking place between American Jews and Israel,” Rabbi Salkin said. “The inconvenient truth is that Jews travel less, give less and care less (about Israel).” (p) Rabbi Salkin would like to see this book read by anyone who is curious about Israel, especially non-Jews, many of whom have a “blind spot” when it comes to Israel.
A recent study undertaken by Steven M. Cohen and Avi Kelman reported that less than 50 percent of the Jews surveyed believe if the state of Israel were destroyed it would be a profound loss for them. “I wanted to create a book so everyone would understand why (so many) Jews care about Israel.”
Rabbi Salkin says he would like to “hit control/alt/delete, reboot the Jewish spiritual computer, reformat the hard drive and reinspire American Jews.”
Rabbi Salkin will speak at 6 p.m. services, Friday, Nov. 16, at Temple B'nai Jehudah on “Israel: Yours, Mine and Whose?”
Saturday morning, he will teach at the 10:30 a.m. service and then attend a Shabbaton for Bar/Bat Mitzvah youth and their families. Saturday evening, at 7:30, he will speak at a program sponsored by the Brotherhood on “Why are Jewish Men Like That? A Search for Jewish Masculinity.”
Sunday, he will speak at the Cuppa Joe, drop-in adult study session from 10:05 to 10:55 a.m.
The Jewish Week - Steve Lipman
Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, a Long Island native, has spent nearly three decade as a pulpit rabbi in four states, most recently at the historic The Temple in Atlanta. Now he serves as executive director of Kol Echad, a "transdenominational" adult learning center in Atlanta. His latest book, “Righteous Gentiles in the Hebrew Bible” (Jewish Lights), follows the bestselling “Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah” and “For Kids – Putting God on Your Guest List: How to Claim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Bar or Bat Mitzvah.”
Q: You made your reputation as a voice for hands-on, applied Judaism, for returning authenticity and spirituality to ritual observance. Why this interest in biblical scholarship?
A: I’ve always been interested in biblical characters, especially as the Midrash re-imagines them. I’ve always loved how Elie Wiesel tells biblical tales. So in many ways the new book is a return to my first Jewish love. In fact, writing this book had a profound effect on me; I fell in love with each biblical character.
Q: You’ve spent several years in the Bible Belt South, where they take Scripture seriously. Did that affect your choice of a book topic?
A: We do live in a biblically saturated culture. When I speak about the State of Israel, I always mention Cyrus, the ancient king of Persia who let the Jews return to Israel and became the first “gentile Zionist.” He was Harry Truman’s inspiration. He’s in the book.
Q: Some people resent the term “Righteous Gentile,” considering it patronizing to non-Jews. How do you define the term?
A: I can understand that resentment. But for the Jews, the world has always been a “tough neighborhood.” So, the term “Righteous Gentile” served as a badge of honor. The ancient rabbis defined “Righteous Gentiles” as non-Jews who observed certain basic moral laws. In contemporary terms, “Righteous Gentiles” were those who saved Jewish lives during the Shoah, like Oskar Schindler. But it also means any non-Jew who has saved Jewish lives or has contributed to Jewish life.
Q: Who were the Righteous Gentiles who influenced you when you were growing up on Long Island?
A: Frankly, I wish that there had been more of them. I encountered anti-Semitism when I was growing up. I’m happy to say that some of the anti-Semitic bullies of my youth have, in fact, grown up to be quite sympathetic to both Jews and Judaism.
Q: Post-Holocaust, many Jews continue to view the gentile world with fear, if not outright distrust. Is your book an answer to that?
A: Absolutely. The book tries to refute the quaint notion that all of Jewish history is “they hated us, they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” The Jewish story is so much deeper, and sweeter, than that.
Children's Literature - Judy Katsh
This is a kids' companion guide to the widely acclaimed guide for parents by the same author, Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child's Bar or Bat Mitzvah. And surely this work does guide students through the details both secular (gifts, parties, dealing with parents) and ritualistic (prayers, speeches, decorum) of preparing and conducting the Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ceremony. But, it is much more than that. It also is a workbook for a young adolescent who is trying to figure out his/her evolving role in Jewish history and Jewish life. And for the older reader, this work can serve as an informative and highly readable reminder about what being Jewish is really all about.