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The early American synagogue occasionally reflected its frontier environment. Fist fights, defending the honor of women congregants, and even duels were not unheard of. Perhaps the best known of these riotous events involved a rabbi and the president of the synagogue in Albany, New York, in 1850. And not just any rabbi, but the future founder of the American Reform Movement, Isaac Mayer Wise! The president was Louis Spanier, wealthy, charismatic, and the brother-in-law of Samuel Mayer, the chief rabbi of Hanover in northern Germany.

The two men were “powder and fire” and after...

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Ah, autumn! The crisp air. The pumpkin-spice everything. The relief of no more sweat dripping down my entire body. The ever-stylish knee-high boot and leather jacket combination. The High Holidays. The dilemma of the High Holidays.

As a single twentysomething living in a big city, I’ve become that stereotypical Jewish millennial who has yet to join a synagogue.

I’ve lived in New York City for nearly four years and have visited a handful of synagogues, but I’ve yet to become a member of any of them. Maybe it’s because none felt like quite the right fit. Maybe it’s the cost...

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It was a straightforward question, spoken in a tone that was casual but knowing: “Did it change you?” he asked us. We were two Taglit-Birthright Israel participants who had recently returned from our introductory trip to Israel, and on that Shabbat evening, the questions from friends and family had, until that point, focused on things like weather and camels and politics. His question took us by surprise with the impact of its simplicity; it was the question I didn’t realize I’d been waiting for.

The answer, of course, was yes. We are changed, though neither of us has yet to...

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This year, the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the High Holidays, coincides almost exactly with September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. What do these two months – one in the English calendar, the other in the Hebrew calendar – have in common?

During Elul, we’re encouraged to reflect, opening ourselves up to the difficult task of owning our shortcomings and mistakes. In doing so, we strive to learn from them and enter into the holiest of days ready to be better, do better, and live better.

But that’s not enough.

As we take stock of our individual...

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Jewish life and culture have become more present in Germany over the past decade or so, but when I was born in Mainz, in the 1970s, there was no giant hanukkiyah in front of the Brandenburg Gate, as in recent years. In fact, many people would only whisper the word “Jew,” as if it was verboten.

As a child, all I knew about Jews came from school lessons, books, and movies about the Holocaust. The so-called “historic Jewish quarters” in the quaint German cities I grew up in were devoid of Jewish inhabitants. I spent parts of my childhood in Worms, the city where Rashi established a...

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