Ripped From The Headlines

An Open Discussion on the News with Rabbi Charlie!

Second Thursday of the Month @ 10:00AM

Next Meeting Date: October 13 ON SITE

This event is free for WMT members. Non-members are welcome, and donations to support our programs are appreciated.

Discussions From Previous Meetings:

September 8, 2022

“Ripped from the Headlines enters the 21st century! Tomorrow Sept. 8th at 10:00 a.m. we will listen to and discuss a fascinating podcast on the topic:

It’s “Western indulgence” that fuels the conflict, and don’t worry about a Kahanist in the Knesset,  A fascinating conversation with Dr. Einat Wilf.

The podcast is “Israel from the Inside” with Daniel Gordis. We will be meeting in-person in the social hall.

Hope to see you there!

August 11, 2022

Join Rabbi Zucker in some topical conversations, including:

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is part of a global war against free nations –

Iranian IRGC member charged for plot to kill John Bolton – The Jerusalem Post (

Prosecutors weigh indicting former far-right MK for incitement against Arabs | The Times of Israel

June 9, 2022

We as a congregation have done well through the pandemic. We managed to maintain most of our programming, we’ve been back to in-person Shabbat morning services for almost two years, and we’ve even increased our membership. We have also installed a permanent camera in our sanctuary.

Even as the Jewish community and the world (carefully, cautiously, inconsistently) return to in-person events, Zoom seems around to stay. There is little disagreement that the pandemic has changed Jewish life (as it has changed just about everything). What remains for us to figure out, is: how our community has changed? What is better, and what is worse? What are the positives and negatives of “Zoom Judaism?” 

A couple of articles from last year, and one recent article:

Reminder: we no longer require people to wear masks, though many have chosen to continue to do so (based on age, underlying conditions, compromised immune system, a persistent rise in cases). Everyone is still welcome!

May 12, 2022

There has been much in the news: the disturbing rise of Antisemitism, the wave of terror in Israel, as well as a new sitting of the Knesset where the ruling coalition lacks a majority. But one issue that has been somewhat under the radar is America’s possible return to the JCPOA, the nuclear agreement with Iran. The original agreement was deeply problematic; there is concern that a new agreement would be worse. Regardless of one’s political leanings, as Jews we must confront this issue head on. Will this new agreement (assuming that it can be negotiated) indeed be worse? Could America negotiate a better agreement? What are the factors driving American politics that might give us hope, and what are the factors that leave us more concerned? As always, anxious to hear your reactions and thoughts.

April 28, 2022

Our next meeting of “Ripped from the Headlines” will be this Thursday, April 28th, which is Yom HaShoah. Therefore, our discussion will be focused on the role of the Shoah in contemporary Judaism. How can we not focus on the Shoah as a critical event of Jewish history? But can we focus too much on just this one event? How much should the experience of the Shoah be central to our understanding of Judaism and Jewish history? How much should the experience of the Shoah influence our understanding of the modern state of Israel and its role in contemporary Judaism.

Dr. Edna Friedberg, a JTS fellow, reflects on just this issue:

Rabbi David Hartman explores this issue by looking at two metaphors for how we are to relate to Israel:

Dr. Yehudah Kurtzer, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America revisits Hartman’s powerful essay in this YouTube lecture:

March 10, 2022

The crisis in Ukraine is on everyone’s mind: we are concerned for the Ukrainian people, the possibility of spreading violence, the violent and aggressive behavior of Russia. The crisis is global in scope, affecting Europe, China, the United States, and practically every other nation. It is not, at its core, a Jewish issue. Yet with Ukraine’s Jewish president, and Israel’s involvement in trying to mediate the conflict, not to mention the tremendous efforts of the Jewish world on behalf of the large Jewish population of Ukraine, the crisis is often viewed as a Jewish issue. It certainly raises interesting questions that challenge conventional Jewish thinking. Here are some articles that touch on these issues (as well as a podcast).

February 10, 2022

There has been too much to talk about, and much of it circles around Antisemitism. To speak about contemporary Antisemitism, and to capture the nuances of contemporary antisemitic discourse involves race, religion, politics, education, and many other topics. In my recent bulletin article I raised the issue of labelling Israel as an “apartheid state.” My concern in that piece was actually hesbon ha-nefesh, a critical assessment from the perspective of Jewish ethics as to why people would (incorrectly) classify Israel’s policies as “apartheid.” We have yet to explore the danger of using such language.

We had scheduled an in-person Friday night service for Feb. 18, and I would have presented on the topic of the “New/Old Antisemitism;” now I will do this on a separate Zoom presentation later in February.

In the meantime, we will touch on a few of the issues by discussing the latest brouhaha over Whoopi Goldberg’s foolish comments on “The View.” Here are the readings:

January 13, 2022 (Click here to watch video.)

This week we will discuss the recent Kotel controversy that was roiling the Jewish world since Tisha b’Av this past summer and continuing into December. Here are the readings:

December 9, 2021 (Click here to watch video.)

As many of you know, talks resumed in Vienna between Iran and several world powers to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The talks are focused on bringing the United States – which had left the agreement in 2018 – back into the deal, and Iran into full compliance. In the meantime, a new more right-wing government has taken over in Iran, and Iran has returned to enriching uranium, inching ever closer to producing weapons-grade, and decreasing the time it would take them to produce a weapon. Israel has been using various tactics (computer attacks, assassinations of nuclear scientists among others) to cripple Iranian efforts to produce a bomb. Israel, that understands the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon as an existential threat, has also been clear about its attempts to develop its own military plan should Israel on its own have to act against Iran. Israel also continues its efforts to convince the US and many other nations of the terrible consequences of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the need to take decisive action against such a possibility.

Current negotiations have been suspended but are set to resume. What are the problems of the JCPOA? What are Israel’s concerns? Can Israel trust the US? What are the possibilities of Israel acting alone? We will discuss these and other issues, this Thursday, December 9, 10:00 a.m.  All are invited.

November 11, 2021

A provocative article appeared in this past Sunday’s NY Times magazine section on a topic we have discussed before: the younger generation and its connection to Israel. The article in particular concentrates on the attitudes of contemporary rabbinical students. My colleague, Rabbi Daniel Gordis, has already written a response on his substack blog. There is some important background: a letter, signed by 93 rabbinical students, that encouraged Americans to rethink their attitudes toward American military aid to Israel, referred to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “apartheid,” and likened the Palestinian position to that of blacks in America. Needless to say, the letter produced a great of response – particularly since it appeared last May during the conflict with Hamas.

Regardless of one’s feelings about the rabbinical students’ letter or the piece in the NY Times, there are deeply important issues being raised, as well as some perspectives that we should understand more fully. You will not that I have recommended some of these sources before.

  • The letter of the Rabbinical Students:

  • Response to the letter by Rabbi Brad Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of the American Jewish University (our West Coast rabbinical school):

  • Excellent piece by Matti Friedman presenting a perspective on the comparison of the Palestinians and Black America:

  • The NY Times article:

  • Rabbi Gordis’s response:

  • A powerful thought-provoking perspective on Israel’s situation with the Palestinians: (and listen to the podcast:

October 14, 2021

A new book on Rabbi Meir Kahane has just been published, (Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical by Shaul Magid), and the author has been interviewed about the book on a number of Jewish sites. Moreover, Meir Kahane’s name and his political legacy in Israel has been the source of much discussion following the last couple of Israeli elections.  Listed below are a number of articles, from Kahane’s obituary in the NYTimes, to some reflections of the past few years on his legacy, as well as a question & with the author of the new book. What is/should be the legacy of this radical individual? What do you think of Shaul Magid’s approach to his subject? Kahane’s influence a contemporary concern?

Rabbi Charlie

A different perspective than that we may not encounter too often:

An excerpt from Magid’s book may be found here:

July 8, 2021

There are always more topics that we could cover! I have finally decided on a few short articles on “Un-Jews” for this month’s class. Gil Troy, a respected scholar, and Natan Sharansky, composed what became a somewhat controversial article on those Jews who seem to “cancel Israel and  Jewish peoplehood.” Regardless of how one feels about the article (the one article against it I find to be rather weak), the question of how we deal with Jews who may hold very self-critical views of Judaism and Israel has become a more difficult issue in the Jewish community. Are there “self-hating Jews”? (The general Jewish community has found this phrase distasteful). Do some Jews go overboard in their criticism or does the established Jewish community just reject questions and challenges? Are there parameters for legitimate criticism of our people? Where does that criticism come from? These are some of the questions we will consider.

Hope you will join us for our discussion!

June 17, 2021

The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas may have signaled a turning point in American attitudes toward Israel. Some of these attitudes are certainly not new, but the voices that articulate these attitudes have become louder, more widespread, and unquestionably contribute to the increasing Antisemitism in our country.

There are many articles on this list, but to deal with this new reality we need to explore where these attitudes are coming from, why they are gaining ground now, and how we may respond.

May 13, 2021

We shall discuss what is very much on our minds and in our hearts – the current conflicts in Israel. Because it is a constantly evolving (and sadly escalating) situation, I am only suggesting a few articles that will hopefully add background and point to some of the complications in the current conflict.

With prayers for the Peace of Jerusalem and all Israel…

April 8, 2021

As we will be meeting on Yom ha-Shoah, and Yom ha-Atzma’uth, this week’s topic is “Defining anti-Semitism”, and, in particular, is anti-Zionism anti-Semitism? These topics have always been complicated and emotional, and probably can’t be reduced into clear, unambiguous answers. Nonetheless, the discussion has once again become front-and-center in the Jewish community because of “an example of contemporary anti-Semitism given in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Definition (IHRA), created in 2016: the document states that ‘denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination’ and “claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor” could be anti-Semitic when ‘taking into account the overall context.’ For many in the Jewish (and non-Jewish) community, this definition appears acceptable and non-controversial. But nothing is simple in the Jewish community.       

A group of scholars have proposed an alternative definition known as the “The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” – the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA) — asserts that “opposing Zionism as a form of nationalism” and “evidence-based criticism of Israel as a state” (including its founding principles), are not “on the face of it,” anti-Semitic. The authors note that “Hostility to Israel could be an expression of an anti-Semitic animus, or it could be a reaction to a human rights violation, or… the emotion that a Palestinian person feels on account of their experience at the hands of the State.”

Given the rise of antisemitism today, and our on-going commitment to the State of Israel (regardless of our perspectives on their current politics), it is important to confront the issues that are raised by these definitions, to understand the politics that affect our reading and understanding of these definitions, and to help us combat antisemitism and understand our commitment to Israel.

Rabbi Charlie

A good overview of the topic (if you read one article, this should be it, though the others are important!):

On the IHRA definition:

A series of articles from the Forward:

A dialogue on Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism from Dissent Magazine:

Other articles:

March 11, 2021

At this past Sunday’s Congregational Townhall we began the process of strategic planning, looking at what may or may not be possible as we try to grow and develop as a congregation. We discussed the need for rethinking our notions of “synagogue,”  how we structure the leadership and functioning of our congregation, how we think about programming and planning, how we make our values clear and present in all that we do. All of which will demand creative thinking, flexibility, learning from experts, and seeking partnerships and collaborations.

This is, essentially, the work of all modern congregations (Jewish & non-Jewish), facing our present situation and looking for both long-time visions and innovative thinking for dealing with our contemporary challenges – all of which have thrust before us more forcefully because of the pandemic. Thus, a number of articles on this topic:

  1. Rabbi Sid Schwartz has been on the cutting edge of understanding the reality of contemporary American Judaism and developing effective responses. This is a chapter from his book by the same title.
  2. Barry Shrage has been one of the foremost leaders in the American Jewish Community, particularly in Boston, where he for decades served as the CEO of its Federation. This is the article I mentioned on Sunday morning.
  3. Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg is C.O.O. of our Rabbinical Assembly, and this is a short piece on the necessity of rethinking our assumptions and approaches as we try to engage the next generation of Jews.
  4. If we want to grow, we have to be willing to admit our failures. This article, on one hand, presents a critique of Conservative Judaism (through a somewhat superficial sociological analysis). On the other hand, it presents very real and significant flaws that afflict our movement. Most importantly, through his personal story, the author (actually no enemy to Conservative Judaism) emphasizes the fundamental message that a family that fully lives its commitments to Judaism and the Jewish people is ultimately our greatest insurance of life and continuity.

February 11, 2021

As we here on the East Coast are dealing with Nor’easters and actual snow, out west there have been some serious educational issues concerning California Jews (and other religious & ethnic groups) for over a year.  By March 31, California is set to approve an ethnic studies curriculum that will serve as a model for public schools across the state, and it has been controversial. On one hand, giving a fuller and deeper understanding of religious and ethnic groups in the United States is certainly a positive goal. Given the increasingly diverse nature of our population, this can be a crucial element in understanding ourselves as a nation.

On the other hand, if we are going to enable our students to develop real insight and understanding of our country’s religious and ethnic populations, we would want to present these populations and their stories accurately. We have come to recognize the distortions of western, white, male, and Christian perspectives in telling the story of the United States, but we also realize that such perspectives need to be corrected, not merely replaced with other distortions. There are sober and thoughtful questions on whether California’s proposed curriculum is successful.

Rabbi Charlie

Some additional background (including very different perspectives) on Critical Race Theory:

January 14, 2021

This week we examined a topic that has popped up in the Jewish world a few times over the past year or so, a topic that we may have ourselves spoken about: Judeo-Christianity. For those of us who have grown up in America, we hear this term often, expressing the notion of common values shared by the two religious traditions. That there is much shared between Judaism and Christianity, there is no doubt: Christianity emerges from the matrix of first century Judaism and we have lived together ever since. Despite the popularity of the phrase, it is problematic on a number of levels. We will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of this term and whether it is indeed an appropriate expression.

and an article from 1969!