Alternative Learning & Volunteering in Israel Site Launches

alvilogo1A message passed along to me through the usual super-secret Jewschool spy network channels…

I would like to invite you all to check out a new online Israel resource… The ALVI site serves as a resource hub of alternative learning and volunteering opportunities for students and graduates in Israel.

The site also offers information on alternative tourism, unique cultural opportunities, and a guide to learning about and teaching on diverse social and political issues in Israel. Also, stay tuned to ALVI’s “News Updates” for the latest information on job postings, relevant news, and opportunities for direct activism in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

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ALVI aims to promote nuanced educational opportunities in Israel and to enlist international support for leading civil society organizations that are working towards a more just, democratic, and peaceful Israel.

Please check out ALVI today at: www.alternativeisrael.org and feel free to pass the site information along to friends, family, and other networks that you think would be interested.

Mosey on over, poke around. This is what the internet is for!

The Jews of “Glee”

imagesA ruthless high school vocalist who will do anything to become a star, with a flighty over-dramatic moody side that gets her into constant boy trouble. A jerk of a varsity football player, whose well-hidden conscience only pesters him briefly between womanizing jags and throwing dweebs into dumpsters with his meathead buddies.

These, you call Jewish TV show characters?

250px-rachel_berrySo far as I can tell — and I’ve only been a fan of “Glee” for the past few months — the extent of the Jewish character content on the show is limited to elements like these: 1. Rachel Berry‘s got a rabbi she wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about sex to. 2. Noah “Puck” Puckerman‘s mom won’t let his live-in pregnant ex-girlfriend bring bacon into the house. 3. One of the cheerleaders tells Rachel she should move out of town — to Israel. 4. Puck tries to get into the pants of the newest popular girl in school, an African-American girl, by telling her “Jews and Blacks have a history of helping each other out.”

No bagels, no lox, no awkward Woody Allen neuroses (other than the high school kind), no outsider perspective (do Rachel’s two gay dads count?), no shysterism, no intellectualism, no kink, no classic Jewish stereotypical tropes.

Does this mean Jews really are so “white” in America now that being a Jew isn’t enough of an identity to set a TV character apart anymore? That random quick throw-away references to real Jewish culture (as opposed to stereotypes) are an easy way to spice up a figure who’s really just a generic Jock or Theater Star archetype, anyway?

200px-noah_puckermanIs there anything distinctively Jewish to the characters of Rachel or Puck that might say something about newer stereotypes of Jewish Americans? Maybe Puck is a tough-guy Sabra, or Rachel’s interracial, queer family is a reflection of Jewish social progressivism. At least they both have Mediterranean features — one point for non-Ashkenazi visibility?

And what to make of the characters named Artie Abrams (“the wheelchair guy”) and Tina Cohen-Chang (“the Asian punk-goth girl”)?

This is clearly not a serious sociological analysis. But like a good Jewish boy, I notice these things and start to wonder. You are invited to gleek out in the comments. Comments on multi-focal post-modern identity are encouraged to be written in verse.

Yom Yerushalayim is kind of angry

jerusalem1581Uh oh.. I think it’s ambivalence time again. The celebrations of modern Jewish victory and renaissance never seem to pass easily these days for the sensitive.

So we conquered the east side of Yerushalayim. So we reunified the city. So we redeemed and beautified ancient Jewish sites — the ones our ancestors wrote Psalms about, the ones buried under the trash of foreign occupiers, the ones we were only begrudgingly and situationally allowed any access to for 1900 years. So we walked the streets of our “Home Tree” — our axis mundi — fully in control of our time, our paths, and the relics of our forebears under our feet. But..

Isn’t war bad? Didn’t we start it? What about the occupation of the Territories that began that week? What about the theft of resources, the expansion of settlements, the disenfranchisement and repression that somehow still lingers more than 40 years later? What about Sheikh Jarrah?

Well, I agree. That which is awful cries out for repair. That which is closest to us takes precedence. I believe in working to change things. I believe in peace and I believe in fairness. That why I’ve been a contributor at this blog. But..

I also believe in celebrating your heritage and the ability to take charge of it. I once wrote a defense of Yom Ha-atsma’ut for Jewschool. It was lengthy and kinda moony. This is not that.

This is me angry. These are the kinds of stories that keep turning up this Yom Yerushalayim:

We have individuals who are supposed to be our communal conscience, and spokesmen who style themselves our communal protectors, making ridiculous obstructionist claims professing exclusive Jewish attachment to every dunam of the far-flung limits of the modern municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

We have right-wing ultranationalist extremists dancing around the city through Palestinian neighborhoods, shoving their racism and their triumphalism in the faces of those they despise.

And then there are smug asshats like Juan Cole, who must know the facts better than to claim that Jewish history is fairy tales and Jewish heritage is a sham, but who instead chooses to publish this piece of Jew-baiting malarkey denying the place of Jerusalem in the Jewish past. He inexplicably claims that foreign domination equals the absence of living native culture, that the inaccuracy of traditional writings is more important to historiography than the fact that they were written in the first place, that political rule is the only form of cultural attachment, that the Palestinians are the real Jews, and that evidence that Yerushalmi history isn’t solely Jewish means that the tremendous Jewish chunk of that history is irrelevant.

It’s all well and good that Cole is attempting to counter the rhetoric of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, but you don’t get anywhere close to peace, justice, and reconciliation when you attempt to erase your fellows’ heritage. What you are doing, in fact, is using a particularly nasty method to try to have your side win.

And so it heartens me to read an account like this, from Letty Cottin Pogrebin of Americans for Peace Now. It’s nice to be reminded that there are Jews and Israelis who haven’t fallen to the pressures of the Antizionist left, the paranoid, parochial center, or the fascist Kahanist right. Some quotes from Israeli activists:

A young man then spoke up. “There’s a perception that the right cares about Israel, and we only care about the Palestinians. But you don’t have to build settlements in East Jerusalem to be a Zionist.”

Yet another young woman weighed in, “I want Israel’s flag to represent peace.”

A slender man agreed. “Ours is a Zionist movement,” he said. “We should show everyone there’s no paradox, that the flag of Israel represents the values of peace, not war, and we represent the majority of the left.”

The rest of the story can be found here: www.momentmag.com/moment/issues/2010/06/Opinion-Pogrebin.html

All the little Hebrews on Jaybird Street, love to hear the Pharaoh go ‘tweet-tweet-tweet’

If you’re looking for a quick breather from Pesach prep, things are starting to get exciting over at Tweet the Exodus.

Israel Is Not Special

Friend of the blog and semi-frequent Jewschool commenter Yaakov shared the following piece with me, about the reactions in some quarters to the news coming out of Haiti about what an incredible job the Israeli rescue team and field hospital are doing.

In it, Bradley Burston contends very simply: if you can’t give credit to Israel for one good act, there’s something wrong with your approach. As he puts it (emphasis added, quote is taken mid-way through the essay):

“… Over the past week, the work of the Israeli medical team has become a kind of Rorschach for how people view Israel and Israelis. Most of the comment, it must be said, is supportive. Even on the part of those who cast the humanitarian misery in Gaza in contrast.

But for a shocking number of others, the bottom line is simple: Israel, and Israelis, can do no right…

The contention is that Israel sent aid to Haiti on purely cynical motives, harnessing public relations to divert attention from the Goldstone Report, to divert attention from Gaza, to divert attention from its never-ending, always expanding internal crises.

The implication is that Israel, and Israelis, are constitutionally incapable of doing good for its own sake. Or that whenever they appear to do good, people of conscience should recognize that the evil designs behind it render any good that may be done, complicit in wrongdoing.

True, it is willful blindness to contend that Israel can do no wrong. But it is nothing short of racism to maintain, in Haiti and in general, that Israelis can do no right.

Israel, like all countries where war is endemic, like much of the unfortunate world, and like Palestine, is a nation whose people have been ruined, distorted, permanently traumatized, emotionally stunted. Yet Israelis, like people in all countries where war is endemic, and like Palestinians, have demonstrated enormous reservoirs of humanity under inhuman stresses.

As Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania wrote of the Israeli aid effort this week: “200,000 Haitians died in an earthquake. They sent doctors and supplies to help. That is a good thing. Just because we are fighting with Israel doesn’t mean we should sneer at that assistance to people in need. YES, I wish Israel could show the same compassion for Palestinians. But Israel and Haiti are not at war and Israelis and Palestinians (mainly Hamas and the settlers) are.” …”

It’s been a needle stuck in my craw for a while, a background scratch of fingernails on chalkboards, just how many human beings live on this Earth for whom Jews, and for whom Israel, are not “normal” — who relate to us, all of us, not as fellow human beings with agency, opinions, and not-particularly-outlandish existences, but as:

  • characters from the Bible, archetypes who exist to fulfill prophecies;
  • lucky talismans, who can do your taxes right or channel God’s blessings onto you;
  • demons, who steal children and organs and can barely help their own warmongering;
  • angels, who can do no wrong, who are something even more than human;
  • political tools, a good route to cash, to elected office, and a good scapegoat when your plans go awry.

Some things are just obvious, but they seem like special wisdom when they burst through the ever-present fog of agendas and caricaturization. (Jews &) Israelis can do bad things. (Jews &) Israelis can do good things. Just like everybody else. (Incidentally, that’s also why I believe in working to make Israel and Jewish society more just places — if they were essentially evil or already perfect, there’d be nothing to improve.)

At Least Leave Me My History

I came across a disheartening post on mondoweiss.net this evening. Now, I don’t usually read Mondoweiss much — the thinly-veiled paranoia and Jew-hatred of their commenters being just a tad too much for my delicate stomach — but once in a while one of their postings finds its way into my lap.

So it was with this one: “Birthright map gives the West Bank to the settlers and Gaza to Egypt“. In it, Adam Horowitz expounds upon a smuggled map from some kid’s Birthright Israel trip introductory booklet, ‘revealing’ how the choices of color and terminology reveal sinister right-wing Zionist designs, specifically…

  • including the names “Judea” and “Samaria” along with “the West Bank”, and

  • coloring Gaza green, as opposed to the light blue of the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

So, tickle me to death with a rubber chicken if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you need to be a cartographer to figure out that a good reason to color Gaza differently than the WB/GH is because there is currently no permanent Israeli presence inside the Gaza Strip. There is no Israeli culture to see there, there are no Israelis who live there, and while the region has considerable Jewish and Israeli history attached to it, Birthright Israel buses would no more go there than they would go to see sites of historical value in Jordan. On the other hand, Birthright trips often stop at places like Latrun and the Old City section of Jerusalem, both just over the green line in the West Bank. They visit tons of places in the Golan Heights, and have even been known to use the Jordan Valley highway to get there.

As for the names of the West Bank, I don’t see any reason why including the Hebrew names for the area is such a shanda. Judea was Judea and Samaria was Samaria long before there were Israeli settlers there. They’ll be Judea and Samaria long after a Palestinian state is built there. I can call these lands by the names my ancestors called them and at the same time acknowledge that it’s right for another people, perhaps calling them different names, to rule there now.

The only thing accomplished by stigmatizing the use of Hebrew names is the suppression of Hebrew history — which while trendy these days (cf: “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand) — does not serve peace or justice any more than denying Palestinian history does (cf: the charming historical information signs I saw in Old Jaffa today, in every language but Arabic).

It’s clear from the comments over at Mondoweiss that some folks are outraged that a Jewish heritage trip for Jewish young people would acknowledge the existence of Jewish geography. And while I can empathize with the ignorant and the rabid inasmuch as we all want the Palestinian story to come to its flowering in freedom and security, I would never consider somebody an ally in this cause who tried to tear out the pages of the Jewish story from the same book.

Study Proves Existence of Religious Left

Apparently, by using “communal” indicators for religious involvement instead of “individual” indicators, you can find a whole lot of politically liberal, religious folks out there whose existence hasn’t been plumbed by previous studies on the topic of religious identity and politics.

See a press release from the University of Florida here, announcing the release of the study headed by UF professor Kenneth Wald. A juicy tidbit from the publication: 

American commentators, scholars and the public have assumed Republicans are more religious because studies have gauged devotion by such traditional measures as daily prayer, Scripture reading and regular church attendance, Wald said. Such individual acts of piety are important to evangelical Protestants, who tend to vote Republican, he said.

“We sensed there was a style of religious attachment that is less individualistic and more focused on the social and communal aspects of people’s lives,” Wald said. “This orientation is much more based on who one’s friends and family are and how involved one is with the life of the religious community.”

The researchers first proposed broadening the scope of questions about religious practices in the 2006 American National Election Studies Pilot Study survey of 675 people, and the ANES later incorporated them into its regular 2008 presidential election year survey of 2,100. Respondents who scored high on these newly included communal measures of religiosity were much more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for both Congress in 2006 and president in 2008, he said.

(Unsurprisingly, by the way, Prof. Wald is apparently teaching a course called “Religion and Public Policy” and another called “Survey Research” this semester.)

I guess we all knew it was true for Jews that religiously involved Jews were at least as likely to be liberal as conservative . The ostensible chiddush here is that many religiously committed Christians support progressive policies as well. Is this surprising?

BRI NEXT NY up to same old tricks

Who do they think they are, the Rubashkins or something? This story doesn’t end, because BRI NEXT NY’s funding is still intact. Unlike every other Birthright Next program in the world, the New York area’s BRI NEXT programming is under the exclusive control of The JEC, an ultra-Orthodox kiruv group. And while that would irk me and many of us simply because thats not honest or pluralistic, BRI NEXT NY seems to have an ongoing “wardrobe malfunction” that leaves an extreme right-wing political agenda periodically exposed.

First it was that pharmaceutical industry shill “educating” about the ‘dangers’ of health care reform. Now we have what, the Pastor Hagee Homophobic End-Times Dominionist Yid-Using Revival Choir?

Next month in New York, courtesy of The JEC and BRI NEXT NY:
Gordon Robertson, CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, at an event entitled: “Are Evangelical Christians More Fervent Zionists Than American Jews?”

Because folks who treat Jews like expendable characters in an irresponsible eschatalogical video game are really into the ideas of Jewish self-sovereignty and the flowering of an indepedent Jewish society.

No Zio!

israel_flag1As the post-J Street news coverage and tweets came and went, I was commiserating with a friend over how out-of-touch some of us feel amongst our more radical peers. Unlike many, we have two Jewish parents. We were given a traditional Jewish education through day schools and family involvement. And like many Jews fifteen or more years our elder, but unlike many our own age, we don’t shy away from calling ourselves “Zionists”.

We try to explain that “Zionism” is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people — that it aimed to restore the dignity and independence taken from our ancestors in ancient times through a return to our homeland and the building of a sovereign Jewish society. After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionists support the continued development, safety, and flowering of this restored autochthonous civilization to live up to its ideals and dreams and to be all it can be.

We believe that the best kind of Zionism is expressed through the democratic institutions, the rule of law, human rights and civil rights that flow naturally from the writings of our Prophetic forebears. We think that Zionism done right yields empowerment and dignity not just for Jews, but for non-Jewish minority groups in Israel. And we sincerely hold that the Zionist dream is yet incomplete as long as our neighbors the Palestinians are denied their own due dignity and sovereignty as well.

Unfortunately, it gets harder and harder to function under the Z-label. A wily conspiracy of Hamasniks and Kachniks, joining Palestinian terrorists with ultra-right Jewish… terrorists has been trampling the word “Zionism” lately, trying to make it mean the identical, yet despicable, things that they want it to mean.

It’s getting so you can barely call yourself a Zionist anymore in many progressive scenes without getting dirty looks!

But fret not, my old-school liberal Zionist friends! Inspired by the smashing successes of “NO HOMO” and “NO FEMO“, here are the only two words you need to remember in order to keep your rep tight in this strange, new world, lest anyone think you’re ‘one of those’:

“NO ZIO”

It can be used in political pontifications…
“I believe that the Palestinian people should not be denied their national rights. The Jews too, for that matter. (no zio)”

It can be used in questions during casual conversations with friends…
“Jamie is leaving for Ecuador on December 13th. Is that before or after we come back from our Birthright trip? (no zio)”

It can be used on shidduch dates…
“The matchmaker says you learned after high school at a seminary in Jerusalem? I was at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. (no zio)”

It can even be used during prayers…
“Vehavi’enu leshalom mei’arba kanfot ha’arets, vetolichenu komemiut le’artsenu. (no zio)”

Use it in good health, and spread it around like some creamy, tasty chumus. No zio.

Amreeka

Amreeka, a film by Cherien Dabis (official site) about a single mother who makes her way from the West Bank to rural Illinois with her teenaged son, is now playing in New York. By the end of the month, this Palestinian take on the old “Coming to America” formula will be in theaters across the country. I sorta can’t wait.

Lately I’ve noticed I’m becoming more and more in sync with all things Palestine. As long as it’s not explicitly about the long war or nationalist politics, I can’t resist a Palestinian cultural experience. I root for their athletes. I read their [English-language] blogs. Seeing Palestinian individuals succeed has started giving me a kind of nachat I tend to associate with taking pride in the accomplishments of Israelis – or Jews – or New Yorkers. You know, my people.

I guess it was bound to happen. Stay linked to someone long enough, even through violence and terrorism and occupation, and you start to rub off on each other. Daniel Pipes has a whole website devoted to showing how Palestinian nationalists use Zionist rhetoric and concepts. This bugs the hell out of him, but I wonder what else would anyone expect? We eat their food. They use our organizing principles. We employ them. They trade agricultural products with us. We love their homeland a little too much, they love ours just as terribly, and certainly we both know what it’s like to be disposessed of our homes and turned into geopolitical pawns. The tightly linked infrastructures, economies, and cultural resources of Israel and Palestine are sometimes pointed to by one-state advocates claiming that two countries between the Jordan and the Sea are one too many. I may disagree, but I think it’s clear that there’s something connective, something almost familial going on in Canaan. We and the Palestinians may be more “killing” cousins than “kissing” cousins most of the time, but to me it seems we’re cousins nonetheless.

So this is my hearty Mabrouk & Mazal Tov to Ms. Dabis and to the cast and crew of Amreeka (including Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and at least one guy with the name of an American Jew). You’ll be getting my $9.50 down at the Landmark soon enough.

For further reading: Tablet Mag asks, “Is a film about Palestinians inherently political?” Aliza Hausman points out that “People ask the same question about Israeli [films.]” The Onion’s A.V. Club gave it a C+. It was designated a New York Times “Critic’s Pick“.

Pour Some Sugar On Me

Does this look to you like a serious reckoning with valid concerns, or like a stand-up act?

I have only a few moments to write this. I have to get back to memorizing page 32b of Tractate Sanhedrin, as I was instructed to do daily by my partners at the Jewish Enrichment Center. Thankfully, those anti-feminist Orthodox people don’t require me to wrap teffilin every day as they apparently did to that poor, unsuspecting Birthright Israel alumnus in Gal Beckerman’s article, “Birthright Alumni Center Tied to Haredi Outreach”. Then I would certainly have no time to put pen to paper. Fortunately, I have a moment off to respond…

It’s the first titillating paragraph of Rebecca Sugar’s “response” to mounting criticisms about the way she farmed out all Birthright NEXT programming in the New York area to the JEC, a haredi kiruv (ultra-Orthodox evangelism) organization.

Ms. Sugar, listen carefully. First, let me congratulate you on your writing style. You’ve hit heights of snark I can only spy forlornly through a dented telescope. Second, you’re missing the point:

The concern raised by Gal Beckerman and the editors of the Jewish Daily Forward, by David Kelsey, by Shmarya Rosenberg, and by yours truly and fellow Jewschool bloggers & commenters was not that Orthodox Jews can’t run pluralistic Jewish institutions that cater to, respect, and serve the entire Jewish community.  Some of the best Hillel professionals I’ve ever met are Orthodox. I’ve seen Jews who affiliate in whole or in part with Orthodox forms of Judaism become valued leaders in Jewish social justice organizations like JUFJ, communities like Jews in the Woods, and educational projects like Limmud.

However, Ms. Sugar – and this is a big however — these individuals were honest, righteous frum men and women whose love of the wider Jewish community was broader than any partisan loyalties they held for their own brand of Jewishness. They were not flag-wavers or missionaries. They were not liars. They were not stealth kiruv workers.

The folks at The JEC are stealth kiruv workers. As reported by Gal Beckerman,

In conversations with the Forward, a handful of Birthright alumni have painted a picture of the JEC as a place where Orthodoxy [sic] is the end goal, though it is encouraged through slow, gentle steps that are often difficult to perceive. “If they had just said, if their whole mission statement was, we’re Orthodox Jews, we’d love to present this lifestyle to you and see if it’s for you, and then did the same exact things that they are doing, that would not bother me,” said David Siegel, who was involved with the JEC for two years and went on three of the center’s follow-up trips to Israel.

“Each and every one of them on a person-to-person level is totally open to helping you understand life, spirituality, growth, relationships; anything you want to talk about, they’re open about it,” said another Birthright alumnus, who asked to remain anonymous. “The issue for me was eventually after spending a lot of time there, it became apparent that they did have an agenda to try and get me to incorporate Orthodox practice into my life. And that became awkward.” After he started individual studies with a rabbi, the situation became strained. “Eventually they wanted me to start memorizing sections of Talmud even though that was not something I was interested in doing,” the anonymous alumnus said. “They wanted me to start wrapping tefillin. I didn’t want to do that, either. And instead of just saying, all right, do your own thing, they kept bringing it up and pressing the issue.”

This would not be a problem if there were other Birthright NEXT providers in the NY area — but the JEC is the only authorized provider of  Birthright NEXT programming in that largest BRI alumni community in the world.

This would not be a problem if the JEC were open about its Haredi affiliation, kiruv goals, and connection to Ohr Somayach — but it’s not.

This would not be a problem if the JEC supported Birthright’s non-Haredi alumni in their diversity of Jewish styles and nurtured their personal paths of Jewish growth — but Jewish growth only means one thing for the JEC.

This would not be a problem if the JEC didn’t sponsor extreme right-wing political speakers under the guise of Jewish educational programming — but we’ve already reported on that here.

It comes down to the simple proposition that the Birthright program is not supposed to be a kiruv scam, Ms. Sugar.  And no false accusations of Ortho-bashing, no matter how cleverly worded, can distract from that truth.

Freedom isn’t Free

Just a reminder that religious fundamentalism isn’t only a problem for villagers in the mountains of Pakistan, or for women on city busses in Jerusalem.

 Posted by Ed Brayton at Scienceblogs.com, an account from a U.S. Army Captain about religious persecution by high-ranking Evangelical Christians in the United States military:

…As a Platoon Leader serving in Iraq, my Squad Leaders and I were ordered to attend a mission briefing with the Battalion Command Team’s security squad. The briefing concluded with a Soldier being ordered to lead the group in prayer. I was disturbed because I knew that there were Soldiers on this team who did not share the specific, sectarian Christian religious beliefs being expressed. I was standing at the edge of the formation, and chose to quietly walk away. I was later counseled by my Commander and informed that the Battalion Command Team had heard of the incident and recommended I be relieved from my duties as Platoon Leader. My Commander explained that, by not bowing my head in blatantly Christian prayer with the others, I was sending a message that I “want my Soldiers to die.” These words penetrated my core. What leader can imagine a worse accusation? Who wouldn’t doubt herself or himself when confronted with this message? The threat of being relieved was completely overshadowed and, again, I was an outsider, incapable of leadership because I refused this unconstitutional perversion of Christianity synonymous with the Command. Could I not, would I not be an effective combat ready officer/leader/warrior without first very publicly and repeatedly demonstrating my singular loyalty to Jesus Christ? Could I not lead brave military women and men into combat for my country without being an avowed fundamentalist Christian? I stopped practicing my own religion; I disassociated myself from Soldiers who were similarly persecuted; I lost hope…

Read the full story here. Note both the ubiquity of sectarian religious pressure during the Captain’s military service, as well as the way he was betrayed by the supposedly confidential system for reporting issues like these. For those who have been paying attention to this particular trend in recent American history, this isn’t surprising.

logo_interior800x600Mikey Weinstein, who forwarded the story to Brayton, is the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Their work can be supported by donation, by contacting your elected officials, and by spreading the word about this trend of military ‘steeplejacking’. It’s a problem not just for us religious minorities, but for non-fundamentalist Christians as well, and for everyone to whom the First Amendment is important. We can all imagine the danger of a military dominated by “C Street“-style Christianist crusaders.

Gullible’s Travels

Dear readers,29279

Want to experience a stealth-haredi political hack job in the guise of an educational talk about health care reform?

Then have we got an event for you! RSVP at the New York Birthright Next website for September 9th’s ”Q&A with Grace-Marie Turner, President of the Galen Institute“!

This media darling and shill for the pharmaceutical industry will be happy to take a few hours out of her busy lobbying schedule to educate you on ”what is happening with health care reform and what you need to know about the bill before Congress”!

jeclogocropped1No, there is nothing unseemly about this arrangement at all. Just like there’s nothing untoward about having all Birthright Next programming in the largest BRI alumni community in the world be under the sole jurisdiction of an ultra-Orthodox kiruv organization.

What’s next? A weekend at Ohr Somayach with Orly Taitz?

If you’d like to tell the fine folks at Birthright Israel what a great job their Birthright Next providers in NYC are doing, here‘s their contact page.

Dov Hikind, Holocaust Denier

Why is Dov Hikind such a shmuck?

I’ll admit that I was amused by his grandstanding in the New York State Assembly, waving his chumash around above his head and yelling about the gays destroying civilization.

But suppressing the memory of Holocaust victims? That’s pretty low, and not funny at all.

According to the New York Post, Jewish Brooklyn’s second-favorite shanda is currently venting his indignation at a plan recently approved by City officials and the NYC Parks Department to add prominent elements commemorating the persecution and murder of  “homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled, political prisoners and Roma and Sinti Gypsies” to the public Holocaust Memorial in Sheepshead Bay.

From the horse’s mouth:

“To include these other groups diminishes their memory… These people are not in the same category as Jewish people with regards to the Holocaust… It is so vastly different. You cannot compare political prisoners with Jewish victims.” 

Always with the snappy response, Gawker points out, ”No, you certainly cannot, especially if you’re a real dick.”

It’s a fact. Eleven million people were systematically killed by Hitler and his Nazi regime in Europe in the mid-twentieth century. Six million were Jews who were victims of a special, all-inclusive, genocidal rage that was meticulously cultivated and undertaken by Nazi Germany, from early propaganda to the gas chambers, and which succeeded beyond all nightmares. But the other five million were there in the camps too. They were stripped of their rights under the same legal blasphemy, were imprisoned by the same fascist government, labored to death over their own graves, shot by the same death squads, and burned in the same ovens, because they too were considered sub-human in Germany. You can’t take that away from them. And unless victimhood is a brightly-colored plastic toy, and you’re a four-year-old, I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

It’s a city memorial on city land. If Dov Hikind (D-Kahanistan) wants a Jews-only memorial, he should build it in his garage.

Drunk Americans = Israeli Public Opinion?

Notice: Video contains offensive language.

I’ve been coming across this video everywhere today. The Huffington Post and Mondoweiss have the video. @ibnezra on Twitter linked to it with the satirical intro “the peace loving people of israel“. The Huffington Post title is “The Real Reaction from Jerusalem.”

It’s called “synecdoche” in literature — when a small part is used as a reference to a whole thing, or vice versa. Hence, “Washington declared” for “the US government declared;” or “two more pairs of eyes” for “two more people watching.” Who do you think the featured teenagers out on the Midrachov represent? Who would back them up? Where do they acquire their attitudes?

Presenting this the way Max Blumenthal did is misleading. Anyone who knows Israel sees these kids and knows those accents are American. With the exception of the South African-sounding girl and the Israeli accented guy at the very end, these all appear to be pre-college, right-wing yeshiva Americans. It’s a very recognizable demographic in Israeli life, not the broader public. (The Israeli also says something dismissive that one might say in the presence of such Americans.)

And consequently, this strikes me as similar to misleading statistics that a majority of Israelis supported McCain and feared Obama by up to 75% — which was only true among American expats. The wider general public supported Obama by much higher figures: 46% McCain, 34% Obama and 18% undecided, nearly neck and neck. And as Paul Hilder wrote recently, over two-thirds  of both Palestinians and Israelis polled both want President Obama to get involved to solve the conflict.

So my question is, who exactly is trying to speak on behalf of whom, here?

[Editor's note: This post was revised after publishing for clarity with the assistance of the author.]

AJWS launches On1Foot.org

marvin_logoNow we’re talking. Just in time for your Shavuot Night Torah Study, the American Jewish World Service has launched On1Foot.org, a user-editable repository of social justice-oriented texts from Jewish tradition.

If you were wondering where in the Jerusalem Talmud is the original source for the dictum “one who saves a single life has saved the world entire”, a simple search yields Sanhedrin 4:22.

If you’re looking for a well-spoken prophet of antiquity who railed against the exploitation of the poor — Amos pops up with some choice words.

If you are curious what statement was made by some Jewish leaders arrested working for civil rights in Florida in 1964, you can read a passage from it here.

It’s a veritable wiki-concordance of “tikkun olam”! Here is how it is described in an announcement from AJWS:

On1Foot is an online, open source database of Jewish social justice texts. We invite you to visit On1Foot to explore this exciting new resource for Jewish social justice education.

On1Foot allows users to:

  • Search and browse hundreds of biblical, rabbinic and contemporary Jewish texts about social justice
  • Upload new texts
  • Comment on existing texts
  • Create custom source sheets using the texts and suggested discussion questions

On1Foot is a project of American Jewish World Service and is co-sponsored by AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Hazon, Tzedek, Mechon Hadar and Uri L’Tzedek.

As we say down here in the District: Happy learning!

JP <3 <3

jared20polis2021Last night I attended a program featuring Congressman Jared Polis at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in DC. Polis is a progressive, freshman representative from the Boulder, Colorado area. He’s also the first gay Jew elected to Congress. And in my imagination we’ve just eloped to MassachUtah, the magical land of same-sex polygamy (my other husband, of course, being my awesome boyfriend).

Congressperson Polis answered questions from an interviewer and from the audience on a wide range of topics. He spoke about his Jewish background and how his upbringing influenced his political values. He talked about being the first politician elected to Congress as an out gay person, and how his partner Marlon is popular with his Republican colleagues. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the need for change in that policy came up a few times along with other LGBT rights issues like outlawing workplace discrimination, and he told stories about speaking with military officials, Iraqis, and Afghanis as part of a congressional delegation to the war zones. Polis  had a lot to say about education as well, as the former director of a network of charter schools for older immigrant high school students. He also expressed his take that while a single-payer national health care system would be ideal, the currently ascendant framework of a public option to complement the private health insurance companies would function adequately. You can find out more about the Congressman, his life, and his politics by reading  his blog.

But anyway, enough about politics. He’s brilliant, gregarious, funny, and totally cute. If you’re in Colorado’s second district and agree with his positions, re-elect him. I’ll just sit here staring off into space and doodling “CW + JP” in my notebook…

Jonathan Mark takes on “Maharat Judaism”

You know, I grew up Modern Orthodox. I’ve been rooting for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah since even before I had friends and family there. And though my religious identity has grown inordinately more complicated as time goes on, there’s something homey and admirable to me about the Orthodox fringe — the love of tradition and ease with it, the love of God’s world and elevation of secular knowledge to religious obligation, the willingness to swim against the current in the frum world, and especially the demand that a static Torah and a fluid human culture meet each other, crosspollinate, and grow – but retain their integrity — over and over and over again.

So why was I nodding inside, feeling chills and cheers in equal measure, when I read this rant by Jonathan Mark, in which he thrashes the liberal Orthodox for doing what it is they do: ’expanding the palace of Torah,’ with nuance and caution?

Hop on over to his blog. See him assert how…

+ Rav Avi Weiss plays politics to the detriment of his values.

+ Nobody really cares what YCT does anyway.

+ Chabad is *the* model for success as a Jewish movement.

+ The liberal Orthodox community lacks the depth it should have.

+ The liberal Orthodox community lacks the strength of its convictions.

+ Blu Greenberg is the mashiach.

I sorta think he has a point. (Especially about Blu Greenberg.) Check it out and tell us what you think.