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March 8, 2013

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PAGE 18A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 8, 2013 By Chavie Lieber NEW YORK (J.TA)--On" a freezing Friday nigh[ in Brooklyn, a group of 18 Crown Heights residents scurry through the crowds of Jews leaving synagogue and make their way to a second-story apartment on Rogers Avenue for Shabbat dinner. Inside, hippie art andvintage' John Lennon photos share wall space with drawings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late leader of the Chabad hasidic sect, and a yellow "Moshiach" flag, the symbol of the movement's messianic wing. A large glass table holds the evening's spread: sauteed vegetables, kale salad, vegan cholent and a challah so perfect, attendees say, "only a gay man could have baked it." After a ceremonial blessing overwine and bread, the guests get to talking. A disc jockey, graphic artist and rabbi are having a heated discussion -about Chabad's influence on Indian meditation, while a photographer is explaining to a pregnant lady why Mitzvah Tanks, Chabad's outreach vehicles, are the most brilliant thing to happen to planet Earth since Miles Davis. This is notyour typical Shab- bat dinner in Crown Heights, the worldwide headquarters of Courtesy Chevra Ahavas Yisroel ChevraAhavas Yisroel, a new synagogue in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn shown here celebrating 2013 Purim, is breaking down stereotypes within the Chabad community. the Chabad movement. While nearly all the par- ticipants were raised in hasidic homes, most have strayed from strict religious practice. Yet rather than flee the neigh- borhood, they have chosen to remain in the heart of the Chabad community. "The way I grew up, you had to either be 100 percent Committed to religion oryou're out. There was no picking and choosing," said Shmuley Toron, the 25-year-old gay man from Cincinnati responsible for the perfect challah. "But there are parts of the religion that I love, which is why we're still here in Crown Heights. And I know I can be as religious as I want to be without having to leave completely." Toron and his friends are part of a community of Chabad misfits who, while not fully em- braced by the Crown Heights mainstream, are beginning to find a place for themselves in an outwardly conformist Community. His apartment has gained a reputation as the place 15eople go to party, relax or escape the neighborhood's rigid social norms--a situation that is virtually unthinkable in other hasidic communities, which are more likely to shun members that don't fully abide by communal standards. ~'The acceptance fringe members see in Crown Heights is really rare to that commu- gender partition. nity, and it wouldn't happen The synagogue has been anywhereelse,'saidHellaWin- around for two years and re- ston, a sociologist and author centlypurchasedits ownspace, of the 2006 book "Unchosen: despite occasional opposition The Hidden Lives of Hasidic and criticism from the com- Rebels." "Crown Heights is munity. a type of place that is much "Our shul breaks the black moretolerantthatmostinsular, and white in this community. hasidic communities.And their It comeswith color," Denebeim attitude is that theywill mostly said. "I can't say that we have meet you where you are." an agenda, I just want each One of 14 siblings raised in person to embark on their own a Chabad family, Toron kept personal journey at our shul. his sexuality a secret through And if they don't andjust come years of religious camps and for the music, that's fine, too." schooling, including a stint in a The community around CAY rabbinical seminary. He finally has become "something of a came out to his family four magnet for the wayward chil- years ago, and still maintains dren of Chabad families from some religious practices-- across the country. Aviva Bog- keeping a full beard, covering art, 23, has a partially shaved his head and learning Tanya-- headand comes fromaChabad though he doesn't associate family in Massachusetts. She with communal institutions, says more misfits have been He does attend a new syna- moving to the area. gogue, however: ChevraAhavas "This feels like the first time Yisroel, or CAY, led by Rabbi there's in-rea'ch within the Chezzie Denebeim, a 27-year- community, instead of send- old Californian, and his wife, ing efforts to help those in the Sima, who pride themselves on outside world," Bogart said, creating an environment open referring to the global outreach to everyone, corps of Chabad emissaries. "I Compared to a typical think Chabad is beginning to Chabad synagogue, CAY is realize how many people are revolutionary. Board members gettinglost and losing their reli- are mostlywomen, who are per- gion, andhowmuch ofachange mittedtolectureandsingalong they really need. We're not all during services, and there is completelylost, justbecausewe no dress code. Social events don't keep everything." are coed, without a mechitzah When Tomn first came out as gay, his mother cried inces- santly and begged him to go to reparative therapy, fearful of the ostracized life he would live. Today, Toron has a boyfriend and says he is happier than ever. "When I first realized I was gay, ! wanted to toss the whole thing," Toron said. "I felttike an abomination, I was so ashamed. And it's terrifying, but I'm still trying to figure out where I stand, with my religion and my sexuality. I'm constantly living with one foot in and one foot out, but a part of me knows I can't let go." Not surprisingly, not ev- eryone in Crown Heights is embracing the new arrivals. Lastweek, Bogart said a stranger approached her while she was walking to synagogue and demanded that she pull down her skirt. Bogart said there is an old-school mental- ity within the community, but she thinks it will change as CAY grows. "Sure, I'm afcaid to mix the pot and change things up, but there's no other option," Dene- beim said. "Everyone here is status quo and that is a very dangerous thing. "We needed something else because what we have is not working. You have to remember that the rebbe was revolution- ary, too, and he taught us to be leaders, not followers." Gala From page 1A Debbie Meitin, one of our esteemed honorees, has played an enormous role in her participation as a devoted member of the Jewish Pavilion in assisting it to evolve into the outstanding fellowship it is. Debbie lived her youth in Cleveland, and during that period, she was active in her synagogue, in the youth choir and in the United Synagogue Youth (USY). She graduated from Michi- gan State University in medi- cal technology, and worked in that field for six years prior to attending graduate school studying health administra- tion at Ohio State University. She eventually took a posi- tion in health care consult- ing with Ernst & Young in Chicago. During that time, Debbie went on a Jewish singles cruise thatwould change her life forever. She met Samuel Meitin from Orlando;, they starteddating, fell in love and were married later that year. Debbie moved to Orlando in 1987. While she continued her work in health admin- istration at Ernst & Young and Florida Hospital, she also began leading the Israeli dance group at the JCC, and has continued to do so the last 25 years. This busy woman became involved at Temple Israel andservedontheboard and executive board for 11" years, and also chaired the Ritual Committee for several years. When the position of cantor became available in 2000, she was asked to accept that in which she served for six years. This energetic bundle of en- ergy also served on the board of the Jewish Community Center for several years and has been a member of the ChevraKadisha for more than 10 years. Since the time the Jewish Pavilion was created in 2001, Debbie has been involved in leading Shabbat services, holiday programs and visitation to se- niors throughout the Orlando area. With the growth of the Jewish Pavilion, Debbie added several "regularly scheduled Shabbat programs at different facilities, numerous holiday programs and served as the Jewish Pavilion's chaplain during 2011. After going on a Jewish National Fund Women's Mis- sion to Israel in 2008, Debbie initiated a local JNF Women's group. With the help of a great steering committee, the group has run several successful programs. Debbie is extremely proud versity. In 1983, Cathy moved of her children, Jennifer and to Orlando to become the first Jeffery Prechter and their cancer programcoordinator children, Abigail and Wil- at Orlando Regional Medical liam, Rebecca Meitin and Center, andin 1986-1987,was Amy Gutter Gohlke and her the administrativedirector of sons, Anthony and Odin. medical records. Samuel died in 2007, and Ever ready to take on Debbie was fortunate to find new responsibilitieg; Cathy happiness again with Larry became involved in the Jew- Gutter. He and his late wife ish community as a teacher became friends with Debbie in the religious school at and Samuel via their Temple Temple Israel andwas aboard Israel affiliation after they member at Beit Hamidrash. moved to Orlando in 2002. She became president of the Debbie and Larry married in HebrewDay SchooiofCentral February, 2012. Florida (now JewishAcademy Our honorees are always of Orlando) and also was a persons of great accomplish- board member and president ment, ambitious to be suc- of B'nai Brith Women (now cessfulinailtheir~ndeavors, Jewish Women Internation- generous, gracious, with al). Her participation ~n the hearts of gold, and these Jewishcommunitycontinued words clearly describe Cathy to expand as she became a life Swerdlow. She .was born member of Hadassah, and and raised in Middletown, from1997to2000,Cathytook N.Y., and as She matured, on the responsibility of the she developed a passion for religious school administra- "Judaism and Eretz Yisrael toratCongregationofReform that led her to seek out op- Judaism. She initiated the portunities for learning and annualWomen's Seder at CRJ teaching. She graduated with in collaboration with Cantor a BA in psychology from the Jacki-Rawiszer in 2002 and State University of New York continued to co-lead it each atBinghamton, and returned year with the cantor. to college in 1980 to receive a Cathy and Marlene Far- BS in medical record admin- ber initiated Rosh Chodesh istration (now called health Group at Jewish Family Ser- information management) vices in 2000 and coordinated from Western Carolina Uni- the group until 2003. During the years from 2006 to 2011, Cathy presided as president of the Women of CRJ, was area director Southeast District Women of Reform Judaism, president of Sisterhood of Congregation Beth Am, and vice-president education of Congregation Beth Am. Currently, she is program chairman, vice-president of education and a Torah reader at Temple Israel Winter Springs. From 2009 to the present, Cathy has been a member of Israel and Overseas Com- munities Committee, JFGO, and overall, has taught He- brew school for more than 30 years, teaching all ag'es Pre-K to Adult. Along with all the above activities, she was president of PTSA at Lake Brantley High School from 2006 to 2008, and as- sistant treasurer for Lake Brantley Band Boosters from 2009-2011. Cathy's private life is one filled with much activity as well; she met ~ind married David Swerdlow in July, 1987 and together are the proud parents of Erik, who is married to Amanda and who is the father of Jonah and Ethan of Norcross,Ga. They have three daughters; Debra, who resides in Washington, D.C.; Becca is in Ramat Gan, Israel; and Jessica is on Kib- butz Ramat Yocanan, Israel. Their son Ben is a sophomore at the University of Florida. Cathy's involvementwith the Jewish Pavilion commenced in 2006 when Deborah, who had been conducting the weekly Shabbat service at Chambrel since 2000, graduated from high school and went off to college. At that point, someone was needed to step in to take on that respons!bility, and it was Cathy'who ~gan leading the service at Chambrel once a month, and has continued to do so. She also visits Oakrnonte Village in Lake Marywhere she further renders her expertise in conducting Shabbat services twice a month and for holi- days, as well as supporting a bi-monthly lunch and learn program. The Jewish Pavilion wel- comes you to join together as it honors these two women, along with all the volunteers and staffwh0 make the Jewish Pavilion the inspirational and productive organization it is. Call 407-678-9363 to re- ceive an invitation or email wendy levine@jewishpavil- or visit www.jewish- One can also put a tribute to these two special women in the Gala Ad book. -- o AIPAC From page 1A by Prime Minister Erdogan's vicious assault on Zionism as a "crime against humanity." Most of all, there is Iran. While there was little dis- cussion of the one conflict in which Israel is directly involved, that with the Pal- estinians, the AIPAC parley was dominated by anxiety that Iran is on the cusp of acquiring a nuclear weapon. Speaking at the main plenary, Vice-President Joe Biden ac- centuatedasignificaht, ifsub- detailed policy prescriptions nations, the terrain where tle, shift in the Administra- were hard to come by. Absent the cultural, political and tion's articulation of its Iran from the policy conference perhaps military struggles policy. America's goal, Biden were recommendations as to between western openness said, "is to prevent Iran from how Israel should proceed in and Islamists strictures will acquiring a nuclear weapon, negotiations with the Pales- be played out. period."Then, foraddedeffect, tinians (because there aren't Thatwas certainly the sub- Biden repeated: "Prevent, not any) or maintain its historic text of one of the more inter- contain, prevent." 1979 peacetreatywithEgypt esting, if sparsely attended, The picture that has (because there's not much it breakout sessions at AIPAC, emergedatAIPAC, then, is of can do should that country's on Canada's relationshipwith anIsraelfacingunknown,in- Muslim Brotherhood leaders Israel. All the Canadian poli- determinate threats that are decideto tearitup.) Instead, ticians who spoke stressed far greater than the known the focus was on Israel as that the reason Canada threats it has encountered in frontline member of the goes to bat for Israel so en- the past. As a consequence, community of democratic - ergetically in international forums is based on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's dictum that "we're going to support what's right, not what's politically expedient." Canadian parliamentarian Robert Dochert pointed out that 'the Toronto riding he represents contains 25,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews, but even so, his support for Israel won't waiver. What AIPAC this year proves is that there is con- siderable mileage in the values Israel shares not just with the U.S., but with other Western states like Canada. And while enlightened values in themselves don't winwars, it's equally true that without enlightened values, wars cannot be won. Ben Cohen is the Shill-i man Analyst for His writings on Jewish af- fairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary', the New York Post, Ha'aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.