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“Martini Judaism” Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is out to “shake and stir” American Jews

By Cindy Mindell

STAMFORD – Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is one of America’s most prolific and most-quoted rabbis, whose colleagues have called him an “activist for Jewish ideas.” An award-winning writer and educator, his numerous books on such topics as Jewish spirituality, gender, work, Torah for teenagers, righteous gentiles, and Jewish history and thought have been published by Jewish Lights Publishing and the Jewish Publication Society.

Ordained as a Reform rabbi in 1981, Salkin spent three decades as a pulpit rabbi in New York and Georgia before serving a brief stint as New Jersey director of the Anti-Defamation League. In 2013, he became spiritual leader of Temple Beth Am in Bayonne, N.J.

One work sums up Salkin’s philosophy in engaging the 21st-century American Jewish community: his version of Bob Dylan’s 1964 anthem for societal change, “The Times, They Are a-Changin’,” titled, “The Jews, We Are a-Changin’.” Salkin’s blog, “Martini Judaism,” appears on the Los Angeles-based JewishJournal.com. He will visit Temple Beth El in Stamford from Feb. 6-8 as scholar-in-residence.

“In many ways, American Jews have become comfortable and complacent,” says Salkin, referring to the “shaken and stirred” sentiment behind “Martini Judaism.”

“While being comfortable is a good thing, complacency and apathy is not. My mission has been to remind American Jews about the revolutionary nature of Judaism itself, and how we can recapture the initial spark of that revolution.”

Salkin will address three major topics during his Stamford visit: reincorporating Judaism’s most controversial teachings in Jewish educational settings; the modern-day implications of Abraham’s shattering his father’s idols; and unapologetic Israel advocacy.

“The nature of the American Jewish relationship with Israel has changed greatly,” Salkin says of this last topic, which he will discuss after Friday night services on Feb. 6. “What kinds of conversations about Israel do we have? How do we interpret Israel to our young people, our non-Jewish friends, and even ourselves?”

There are three steps to effective Israel advocacy, according to Salkin. “First of all, people have to know the facts – the history of the Arab-Israel dispute, the origins of the Palestinian issue, and what Zionism means and has always meant,” he says. “Second, we need a communication strategy. It doesn’t work to simply fire back our perceptions and our truths; we need to engage others who might not agree with us on everything, but who might, nevertheless, be partners in dialogue. Finally, we need to defend Israel unequivocally.”

This last step may be difficult for some, given the complex geo-political realities on the ground. “While many of us will have our own political quibbles with how things happen in Israel, when it comes to the ‘outside world,’ Jews need a united front,” Salkin says. “There are real enemies out there, and they wish Israel no good.”

“Martini Judaism” with scholar-in-residence Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin: Friday-Sunday, Feb. 6-8, Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Road, Stamford, Info/registration: tbe.org / (203) 322-6901.

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