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Shadow of sepia-tone WWI soldier against a background of a map of Europe

November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Leaders on both sides invoked God and religion as they sent more than 5.5 million soldiers to die on battlefields across continents. 

Kaiser Wilhelm’s troops were outfitted with belt buckles inscribed with the words: “Gott mit uns” (God is with us).

The sheikh-ul Islam of the Ottoman Empire urged Muslims everywhere to  “go to the Jihad for the sake of happiness and salvation … in accordance with God’s beautiful promise [that] those who sacrifice their lives to give life to the truth will have honor in this...

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Street view of Tree of Life Congregation building in Pittsburgh

What I am left with is the silence. 

Standing outside Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, a normally busy neighborhood of Pittsburgh, it was eerily quiet. Overcast and cold, the building blocked by a police barricade, the only movement came from law enforcement and television crews in the unnerving stillness.

It was Sunday morning. There should have been parents dropping off their children for Sunday school, people out walking, dogs on leashes, bikes on the road. Instead it was just… silent.

...

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Sign on the window of a polling place

The three Torah scrolls in our synagogue’s ark are very precious, which is why, every year, we bring in a professional sofer, a Torah scribe, to make minor repairs to each one. Doing this helps maintain the “kosher” status of each scroll.

According to tradition, there are approximately 600,000 letters in the Torah – and that number is not accidental. According to the Torah itself, there were 600,000 Jews who left Egypt. In the sixteenth century in Sefat in the land of Israel, the great Jewish mystic, or Kabbalist, Rabbi Chaim Vital took this teaching and did something very special...

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Crop of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of New York Sunday News magazine

The upcoming auction of Marilyn Monroe’s personal prayer book is making news. According to the catalogue description, the siddur contains many pencil notations in the margins, possibly by Monroe, when she was learning about Judaism.

Monroe converted to Judaism on July 1, 1956 by Rabbi Robert Goldburg, then spiritual leader of Congregation...

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Group of people gathered at a gravesite in a cemetery

In the wake of the horrific murders last Saturday in Pittsburgh of 11 Jews at prayer, congregations and communities across North America have gathered in sanctuaries and in parks and on street corners to mourn the victims – sharing the names of the dead as they share their own grief. Even for those who did not know the victims, the slaughter is a dagger in the heart, for each life taken so violently strikes at us all.

This is the essence of Jewish mourning: no one grieves alone.

The service of Yizkor – remembrance – originated in Europe over time as a communal response to...

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