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Help a mentalist out: Are Jewish organizations breaking Shabbos again?

I’m looking into a story about Jewish organizations veering away from accommodating traditional religious observance.

For several years it appeared that Jewish organizations – even those that were not religiously observant – were becoming more sensitive to religious observance – i.e. not holding certain types of events on Saturdays, providing kosher food. But JTA staff members have heard several reports recently of major Jewish organizations holding events on Shabbat and veering away from using kosher food.

Among them, the American Jewish Committee held its annual international leadership convention over a Shabbat this summer.

This is not out of the ordinary for the AJC, the organization’s national director of Jewish communal affairs told the Fundermentalist. The convention immediately follows the AJC’s annual meetings, which end on a Friday afternoon, and it continues through Shabbat, said Steven Bayme.

In recent years, the AJC has tried to include more Jewish content in the convention. It starts with Shabbat dinner and continues Saturday morning with Shabbat services – both Orthodox and egalitarian – and then the meetings continue Saturday afternoon.

Bayme, who is Orthodox, has worked for the AJC for 26 years, and he does not see a problem with the practice.

“Over a period of years, we have tried to increase or enhance the Judaic temperature of the room,” he said. “We have tried to increase Jewish content to where there is kiddush, services and more Jewish leaning. I would make no pretense that everything done at the AJC is meant to conform with religious practice, but the Orthodox Jews who attend would feel comfortable in terms of the AJC table. This is not to say anything about content, but in terms of the practice of AJC, we have gone out of our way to make sure that all Jews feel comfortable around the table… If you had gone to the same meeting 20 years ago, you would not have known it was Shabbat.”

About 30 to 40 percent of the AJC’s senior staff is Orthodox, Bayme said.

The Fundermentalist is now coming to you, top hat in hand, to ask for your help.

Have you heard of any Jewish organizations that have held events on Shabbat recently? Or any organizations that have served non-kosher food at their events? Big Brother wants to know. Or maybe it’s the Shabbos Police.

Even in the early reporting, I have found some who say the Jewish organizational community still is trending toward the traditional.

“I will not go to a Jewish organizational event that serves me a meal out of a box,” said Rabbi David Eliezrie, the head of the North County Chabad Center in Orange County, Calif. But Eliezrie said that he has not had to sit out an event in a while.

“The standards of kashrut are rising rapidly,” said Eliezrie, who is also a member of the board of the Jewish Federation of Orange County. “And I think the organizations are keeping more and more kosher.”

Eliezrie said that over the last decade he has seen his federation become much more attentive to the needs of the Orthodox. Ten years ago, the federation was contemplating building a nursing home and was not planning on making the facilities kosher, he said. After six months of internal haggling over the issue, a major donor finally said that he would pull out his money if the home was not kosher, forcing the federation to make the home kosher.

Five years ago, the federation received government funding to start an assisted living facility for the developmentally disabled. The original plan did not include making the facility kosher. Eliezrie said that he raised his hand at a board meeting and brought up the issue. After a brief discussion at the table, the board decided to make sure that all events for the facility were kosher and that residents were encouraged to follow the laws of kashrut.

“Instead of a multi-million dollar philanthropist, it took me raising my hand and five minutes of discussion,” he said, pointing to the example as a sign of progress.

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