A few years ago (or something) I wrote a piece about how I couldn’t deal with keeping Passover and someone commented that “giving up is not the answer.” I think about this comment a lot, especially now that Passover starts tomorrow night and Facebook is filling up with the obligatory freak outs about cleaning and cooking and seders and I’m staying here with J and the cat until Wednesday, with no intention of doing anything Passover related.
Three years ago, I would have obsessed about Passover, and taken some joy in spreading aluminum foil all over things and crouching down like a psycho to burn hametz on the street. Last year I went to some seders, and then proceeded to eat sandwiches, which no one really had to know about, except that I told them. I don’t know if what I’m doing is so much giving up, but if it is giving up, I don’t think I care? What does it even mean to give up? Not observing Passover is not the same as deciding I don’t want to be Jewish, because seriously, as far as I’m concerned, there is no getting out of that, at least not for me.
Maybe it’s the drama that’s left over inside of me from having gone from one hundred (or maybe seventy five) to zero- how quickly everything stopped making sense for me, how I stopped having this desire to observe, how impatient I got in trying to make it make sense, how I decided to put my energy elsewhere.
Obviously, my need to document this hints at something. That thing is not guilt, I don’t actually feel accountable to anyone around it, but there is some strangeness around the absence of people saying to me, “You have to do this.” There’s nothing at stake for me, and I don’t actually know what that means.
On Tuesday, March 12th, Jewish Voices Together organized “Wake Up for Religious Tolerance,” a Rosh Hodesh minyan solidarity action in support Women of the Wall. Hundreds crowed into Town and Village Synagogue, the rain space. (You can read Sigal Samuel’s coverage of the event at Open Zion Daily here.)
One of the folks in attendance at the action was Ruth Kleinman, who blogged about her experiences with Women of the Wall while in Israel in November and December of 2010. Jewschool asked her to reflect on the March 12th event.
Jewschool:Why did you decide to attend the action?
RK: I decided to go because when I heard about the rally/prayer service, I was reminded of the times I had attended Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh services in Jerusalem, living there for 6 months about 2 years ago. When I found out that there was this group, battling this injustice, I wanted to be a part of it. I am not an observant Jew; I am not even a spiritual one. But living in Jerusalem was a hard place to live in sometimes as a woman, because of the discrimination toward us from the ultra-Orthodox population. By supporting the Women of the Wall, I felt I was a part of a movement toward justice. Supporting the Women of the Wall in NYC at this rally/prayer service only made sense for me. As a staff member at a synagogue which advertised the event to its membership, it was only natural for me to attend.
Jewschool: What did the experience mean to you?
RK: The experience meant a solidarity, of sorts, to me. It was actually the largest gathering of a Women of the Wall group I had attended, and the first where men and women prayed together. As was mentioned by some of the speakers, Torah readers, and rally leaders, this was a coming together of many different Jews, from different Jewish denominations and styles of prayer and connection to Judaism and Israel, and that is what struck me the most – the diversity coming together despite the fact that we live in such an otherwise fractured Jewish world.
Jewschool:What was your experience with WOW before? Did the action make you want to do more?
RK: Prior to Tuesday’s rally/prayer service, my experience with Women of the Wall was solely in Jerusalem as an attendee of Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. I was very proud to be a part of the event in NYC but I think the strongest way to participate in the Women of the Wall movement is to show up for Rosh Chodesh and be a physical part of the group in Jerusalem. On my next trip back to Jerusalem, I hope to attend another service with the Women of the Wall. Until then, I will continue to advocate through the various Jewish channels in NYC that allow us to have and raise a voice to support this cause.
This is an interview with Emily Unger, a Harvard senior majoring in biology, and the former chair of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, the student group organizing a protest against Hillel’s ban on partnerships with groups back boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Jewschool: Give us some background about your experience with this issue at Harvard.
Emily Unger: I’ve been involved in the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) since the beginning of my first year at college, and this entire time, we’ve prided ourselves on working together with both Harvard Students for Israel and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and co-sponsoring events with both groups. Last semester, we planned to co-sponsor an event with PSC called “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation”, which brought two speakers, an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, to talk about their experiences doing non-violent activism against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (protesting home demolitions in the West Bank, etc.) and how this related to their Jewish identity. We wanted to hold the event in the Hillel building, since it was a Jewish event and we thought it would appeal to Jewish students.
Sandy Fox is a graduate student in History and Israel Studies at NYU, studying the history of Israeli education and youth culture. Her work includes research on the history and politics of Israeli and Palestinian Sesame Street programs. Sandy is a Brooklyn resident and a camp counselor for life.
This is our Gchat conversation about staffing Birthright.
Me: So, Sandy Fox, you and I have both staffed Birthright trips. What do you have to say about propaganda?
Sandy: Plenty of that, but much less than I expected?
Me: There’s the “make aliyah” thing. Is that what you were thinking of?
Sandy: A lot more “Jewish peoplehood” propaganda rather than Israeli hasbara (advocacy) political propaganda. I didn’t feel that our guide was pushing a political agenda regarding Zionism or the occupation or any of that. If anything, he was an earthy crunchy type, in the best way possible.
Me: That’s been my experience as well.Is that bad, do you think? Jewish peoplehood as propaganda?
Sandy: I don’t actually think that the whole Jewish peoplehood agenda – which also includes inviting people to explore their Jewish identity – is a bad thing. In fact, I found that most of my participants came on the trip looking for a connection to Judaism that they felt they lacked. We had a particularly emotional experience during Friday night tefillot overlooking the Kotel. I was the staff member in charge, and I basically got a bunch of participants to agree to help me lead. But it wasn’t going to be traditional tefillot in any way, because most of them had no knowledge of liturgy. What I asked of them was to bring something – a poem, a story, whatever they wanted – to share with the group, maybe a reflection on a Shabbat experience they’ve had, or something about the week, or if it was their first Shabbat ever, to talk about that. I think about 6 participants got up and talked, and it was incredibly powerful. They all told such personal stories of searching for connections to Judaism, trials and loss and it seemed like practically everyone cried.
I can’t call that propaganda. All I did was sit them in a circle and say, hey, talk to the group about whatever you want. It could have ended up being very superficial, but people wanted to share, and talk, and cry. Maybe something is in the food?
Me: It’s definitely in the food.
Sandy: The schnitzel is laced with cocaine?
Me: I think we’ve uncovered the secret.
Sandy: The other aspect of Taglit is that it’s not like we can make a blanket statement about it. There are all these buses and trip providers that operate differently. Even the dynamic of each staff is so varied. So I can say, hey Chanel, on my trip, everything was so cool and open, and people asked the tough questions and cried. But on other trips I’m quite sure there is serious propaganda, in the hasbara sense of the word.
Me: Do you think your group was expecting hasbara?
The inspiration for the Stuff Jews Don’t Do Tumblr, according to the person who created it : “Growing up in a Jewish TV-centered home, I often encountered many things or situations in the primetime line-up that were unfamiliar. When I asked my mother why we didn’t eat Thanksgiving in the afternoon or why my brother never had a rat’s tail, her retort was always “Jews don’t do that!”"
Some things “Jews don’t do”: Shop at JC Penney, Drive Pick Up Trucks, Buy Lottery Tickets, Eat Hamburger Helper. This is stuff that runs contrary to what some Jews recognize as being Jewish, or what might be referred to as “”goyishe.” There’s a thread that connects them-mainly that they’re commonly associated with people of a certain class. When I was a kid, we shopped at Kmart (not even a JC Penney!). This might not be true anymore, but then, shopping at Kmart was unforgivable. People would tease you about it until you died, because it meant you were poor, and worse, you were too stupid (obviously as the result of being poor) to front like you didn’t shop at Kmart. The thing was, my family was poor. And we were Jews.
Like I said, a lot of the things listed in this Tumblr have nothing to do with Judaism, they have to do with class, but in addition, there’s also the greatly overlooked fact that, believe it or not, Jews don’t all live on the East and West coasts of the United States. Jews in the South might drive pick up trucks, because in the South, people might do that. Cultural norms exist, and people take them on.
Jews might also make and eat Jello molds, (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence) because maybe they don’t know about kashrut or they don’t care about it, and they think they’re delicious. And just so I keep making it all about me, kashrut was something I didn’t know about until college, because Jewish education is expensive, and I wasn’t around a lot of observant Jews. That’s what happens when you live outside of a Jewish bubble.
Look, I’m pretty sure (I hope) that the point of this Tumblr is to poke fun at the idea that Jews don’t do certain things, but actually it should be called “Stuff Jews Who Aren’t Me or Other Jews I Know Probably Do.” (Also, I’m pretty sure a kugel qualifies as a casserole.)
Recently, Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine created, published and distributed a Zine called “Birthright? A Primer” for folks contemplating going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. The primer includes testimonies from previous trip participants, as well as resources for exploring Israel/Palestine after the trip. Tufts SJP organizers Matthew Parsons, Anna Furman and Dani Moscovitch spoke with Jewschool about the primer, how and why it happened, and what impact they hope it will have.
Jewschool: What was the impetus for creating the primer? What’s the goal?
Anna Furman: The goal of our zine is to equip students who have chosen to go on Birthright with a body of knowledge that they will not find otherwise. I think the most important section of our zine may be the section that encourages students to extend their trips and to go with various groups to the West Bank. If I had a zine like this when I had gone on Birthright 3 years ago, I am pretty certain that my whole understanding of the region and my relation to it would have been very different. More »
This is a guest post by Aryeh Bernstein. Aryeh comes from Chicago, lives in Jerusalem, and works for NY’s Mechon Hadar; in 2011, under the moniker The Branding Iron, he independently released his debut hip-hop album, “A Roomful of Ottomans” with DJ OFn TISh (aka Ori Salzberg).
Oh, word, you like hip-hop, punk, and funk?
Oh, word, you’re looking for fresh Jewish and Arab voices about Israeli/Palestinian life?
Oh, word, you believe that music can be a tool of resistance?
Oh, word, you like hip-hop collectives? Live bands? Crossing gender barriers? Ethnic barriers? Language barriers?
Oh, word, your sweet spot is when the music that makes you dance is also the music that makes you believe?
Word, then you need to check out System Ali.
System Ali breaks it down like this:
Jaffa-based Hip-hop/Punk/Funk band with 10 members: women & men, Jews & Arabs. They rap and sing in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, & English. They are bursting with humor, anger, irreverence, social commentary, political satire, smart lyrics, edginess, and the music is bangin’. And probably the first hip-hop band ever with an accordion in the line-up. Their remarkable diversity is not just in their ethnic identities, but also in the personalities of the crew. Each member is a unique character, filling his or her own space on the canvass with different energy, like a movie cast. Imagine the Wu-Tang Clan if they also played instruments, skewered exploitative Israeli-Palestinian power structures, and were co-ed.
I love this band aesthetically and I believe in them, to whatever extent I can believe that art matters in building cultures of solidarity, empathy, truth, and celebration, and tearing down systems of discrimination, cynicism, deception, and alienation. System Ali is it and it’s now.
A year ago, Ha’aretz music critic Ben Shalev penned this review, expressing his stunned enthusiasm at having discovered System Ali, praising their energy, character, and message. He closed by expressing disappointment that they did not yet have an album and asserting that “they need to come out with one”.
Well, they’re almost at the finished line on that long-awaited debut album, which I have been eagerly awaiting for quite some time. Music for the people needs help from the people to make it to the people. System Ali’s music does not serve the interests pursued by pop record corporations. The band puts its time into building community centers to mentor young, budding Arab and Jewish musicians, not into kissing up to rich record labels. So they have opened this campaign to crowdsource the last NIS 30,000 (~$7,500) to finish their album.
Jewschoolers — please support System Ali as they take the Middle East back to school musically and culturally. The investment will return to you and then some. Check out their music and their pledge here and buy in.
This is a guest post by Sandy Johnston. Sandy is a recent graduate of List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary and of Columbia University, where he majored in Bible and Archaeology, respectively. He currently lives in Chicago. His interests include, in addition to the study of ancient Israel, railroads and transit systems, urbanism, Israeli and American politics, and critical thought about the future of the American Jewish community. And cats.
(Map of verified incidents, Monday, November 19, 2012. Via the Guardian.)
Now that the latest bout of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip is behind us, the time has come for analysis, postmortems, prognostication, and punditry. I take issue with a particularly simplistic, troublesome, and unhelpful strand of what passes for “progressive” thought on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that surfaced in threads I saw on Facebook during the latest round of fighting. My desire is not to legitimize Israel’s operations against Gaza nor to delegitimize criticism of the same; in the vein of criticizing most heavily those with whom one most identifies, I write to hopefully help sharpen the arguments and solutions that my fellow progressives put forward about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yes, if I had the energy, I would write a response to some of the equally unsophisticated, idiotic, hurtful, and insensitive propaganda that came from the “Pro-Israel” side.
This is a guest post by Sam Shuman. Sam is a Sociocultural Anthropology student at Columbia University and a Jewish Women and Gender Studies student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He hails originally from a small community near the Amish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sam enjoys living in a Bundist-style collective, running a Jewish LGBT club, investigating the history of the industrial shlishkes machine, engaging in direct actions and loitering around Ukrainian Hasidic gravesites.
In 2012, Sam spent Rosh Hashanah in Uman, where he investigated “things beneath the surface.” You can listen to his unconventional lecture/performance piece here. Sam presented his observations and extrapolations at Chulent, the informal weekly gathering in New York City for Orthodox Jews looking to question, celebrate and build community. Sam shared his reflections on Chulent with Jewschool.
Chulent: A Surreal Post-Surrealist Manifesto
With regard to a false interpretation of our enterprise, stupidly circulated among the public, I declare as follows to the entire braying literary, dramatic, philosophical, exegetical and even theological body of contemporary criticism:
1. An in-gathering of Diasporic bodies wandering through the urban frontier of New York City—in contradistinction to independent Jewish spaces which inevitably become co-opted by Jewish corporate sponsorship, re- assimilated back into the machine.
2. A shape-shifting organism—far too amorphous an organism to ever become institutionalized.
3. A space that cannot be located on maps, an underworld that cannot be charted onto longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates.
4. An organism in constant motion. A collective that occupies spaces only to abandon them (leaving silent breadcrumbs of disruption to mark its path if it ever decides to return).
5. A salon for Hasidim, Neo-Hasidim, ex-Hasidim, intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, and anti-intellectuals.
6. A Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) to which Hakim Bey would flee if he ever decided to disavow his Sufi anarchism and convert to Judaism.
7. A salon that S. An-sky would record in his ethnographic expeditions, the type of space that Warsaw yiddishists of the pre-war era.
8. An embodiment of what Sander Gilman refers to as the Jewish Frontier—a post-structural landscape that challenges the center-periphery model of Jewish historiography.
9. What the biblical Ir Miklat (City of Refuge) looks like in galus.
10. A home for the possessed and dispossessed.
11. A never-ending niggun drunk on cheap vodka.
12. A spectacle aware of its spectacularity—à la Guy Debord.
13. A primitive tribe supported by a cigarette gift-giving economy.
14. A meeting ground for Burning Man Burners and Rainbow Gathering Gatherers.
15. An opening for Hasidim fleeing from Hasidic communities.
16. A spot for ecstatic clapping, stomping, and singing—to retrieve the lost sparks hidden in Uman, Berdychiv, Medzybush, and Breslau and capture the anti-nomian traces of the Baal Shem Tov’s spirit.
17. An experimental playground—akin to sanctuaries constructed by Radical Faerie.
The curriculum looks at the history of Jews in the labor movement via a series of 8 lessons, on topics such as agriculture, housewives and consumer organizing, radicalism and the Red Scare, and Jewish labor campaigns. I spoke with Judith Rosenbaum, feminist historian and the Director of Public Projects at the Jewish Women’s Archive, about the curriculum in more detail.
Q: Give us a glimpse into this particular curriculum and what it contains.
Judith Rosenbaum (JR): Two years ago, we released the curriculum on the Civil Rights movement. In it, we wanted to go beyond the often congratulatory manner of Jewish conversations about social justice and look more closely at the challenges regarding race and Jewish identity in the movement. The Labor curriculum is also primary source based, and adaptable for a variety of educational situations. It crosses different time periods and narratives and includes 14 biographies of labor leaders, as well as women’s stories in the labor movement, which are often excluded.
Q: What do you hope that folks will take from the curriculum? What conversations do you hope people will have as a result of it?
JR: In the United States, the conversation around labor has fallen apart. I hope this curriculum will help folks see parallels and create alliances, and start a different level of dialogue about dignity, identity, human rights, ethical treatment of workers; beyond the questions of whether or not unions are good or bad. We see things as a question of laborers v. professionals, or allies v. members, when actually, we’re all involved in the labor relationship, but most of us feel alienated from it, because we have a particular idea of what a worker is. Let’s reframe the issue around fair employment and create a fuller picture: What does it mean to be a worker? What are worker’s rights? What are my responsibilities to the labor relationships in which I am involved? Where does dignity fit in to our notions of what work is about?
Q: What do you think the contribution of Jewish communities and women has been to the labor movement? What do you think it can be?
JR: Jewish involvement in the labor movement in the first half of the 20th century helped shaped American Jewish identity. In the workplace, we became observers of American language and culture, we gained strength from experiences with others, from experiencing injustice together. We learned language for talking about social change from different positions within systems; we can and have brought strength, resiliency and challenge to the labor movement. At the same time, social justice and activism became a secular Jewish practice.
In the contemporary Jewish community, there’s no consensus around labor issues. We may be nostalgic about the history of Jewish labor activism, but we talk about the Jewish community today as if there are no working class Jews, as if we are not implicated in current unfair labor practices. One reason we created this project was to open a conversation that would draw connections between our activist past and our current realities and responsibilities as American Jews.
Q: What piece of the curriculum is your favorite?
JR: There’s a document in the Jewish Radicalism and the Red Scare section, it’s an advertisement for the “Free Thinkers and Radicals Picnic” on Yom Kippur in Central Park in 1907, put together by Emma Goldman and her friends. I like it because it’s complicated: you can’t make assumptions about what’s Jewish and not Jewish, or about what kinds of actions are political. A Yom Kippur picnic is clearly a rejection of traditional Jewish practice, but it’s also a kind of secular Jewish practice.