Caring Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

This is a guest post by Rabbi Joshua Strom. Joshua Strom is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, where he lives with his wife Tali and their sons, Jonah and Gabriel.

Black – White. Yes – No. Israeli – Palestinian.  All – Nothing. Us – Them.

Once again we find ourselves in familiar territory. Once again our passions are inflamed. Once again the words fill the op-ed sections, our conversations, our e-mail forwards, our social media feeds:

“The right to defend itself.” “End the occupation.” “Rockets fired.” “Civilian casualties.”

And so on. And so on.

And once again, it seems, all nuance has gone completely out the window. The word “and” is replaced with “but,” negating everything that came before it, all for the sake of having the last word in our Facebook comments, our Twitter exchanges. The complexity of the events that led us here; the volatility of those directly and indirectly touched by the conflict; the range of emotion and logic spanned on a daily, if not hourly, basis; the fluctuation between hope for a better day and utter despair that peace will never come—they all seem to disappear, vanishing into thin air with a pop and a fizzle, like missiles intercepted by our own personal Iron Domes. More »

“Let Justice Rise Up”: On Prayer and Times of Crisis

by Danya Lagos

The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »

Tribalism vs. Universalism

Moti Rieber is a rabbi, writer and activist based in Overland Park, Kansas. He serves as rabbi of the Lawrence (KS) Jewish Community Congregation.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart, as warfare between Israel and the Hamas government of Gaza has broken out yet again. I believe this is the fourth time since the Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza that hostilities have broken out.

Like many who are concerned about that small piece of land that is home to two peoples, my social media pages have seen a lot of extremely emotional posts about the situation. On one hand are the pro-Israel voices, who essentially say that the Gazans brought this on themselves by electing Hamas and allowing them to shoot rockets into Israel. On the other hand are pro-Palestinian voices, who see this situation as the outcome of 60 years of Israeli occupation and (what they see as) Israel’s refusal to negotiate in good faith toward a peaceful settlement. And there are Jews in both camps.

I think this reflects a tension between two strains within Judaism: tribalism – the communal imperative to privilege Jewish peoplehood and self-defense, particularly defense of Israel and its actions; and univeralism – the call, emanating for the prophetic tradition, to live according to our best values, to treat The Other as we would wish to be treated. For the tribalist, Israel’s actions are necessary self-defense, however unfortunate; for the universalist, Israel’s actions are at best reckless and at worst an abrogation of its, and the Jewish people’s, commitment to be a “light unto the nations.” More »

Tired of Choosing Sides

by Leah Solomon

I am so tired of sides. I am so tired of one-sidedness. Of being expected to have empathy only for my own.

There is so much pain today. So much suffering.

More and more of our soliders dying. Teenagers just beginning their lives, who will never grow into the amazing people they would have become. Devoted fathers with children and wives waiting for them at home.

Hundreds of dead in Gaza. Thousands wounded. So many people who have lost their homes and everything they own. Parents who have had to bear the unthinkable task of burying their children. Terrified children who will suffer the rest of their lives without limbs, without parents, in pain. More »

The Circles We Sit In

Rachel is a middle school teacher in the East Bay and current New Israel Fund Facilitation Fellow.  She is connected to the local Jewish community through work with NIF, Hazon bike rides, and Wilderness Torah, and will soon be a farmer at Adamah: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship.

A recently published self-help book called The Chairs Are Where the People Go (Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti) describes the authors’ life lessons learned about everyday social encounters, including the seemingly simple notion that people will go, move, and interact wherever and however the chairs in a room are arranged.  Such was certainly the case several weeks ago at New Israel Fund’s “Love, Hate, and the Jewish State.” On a Wednesday night in the spunky San Francisco Public Works building, chairs were lovingly arranged in several small circles, waiting to be filled with the hopeful voices of members of the Bay Area young adult Jewish community drawn together by a desire to have meaningful, open conversations about Israel.

“Love, Hate, and the Jewish State” was an evening of conversation that drew together over 80 young adults from across the Bay Area to talk about what matters to them in relation to Israel.  Crowd-sourced topics ranging from “This Land is Whose Land?” to “Occupation / Anti-occupation:  Framing the Issue” or “Minority Rights in Israel” were on the table, as were the widely diverse perspectives and opinions in the room. More »

Clarification: I Do Not Think Palestinians are More Moral than Israelis

by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall

A story: Jerusalem Day, 2012. I am standing at the Damascus Gate, before the Israeli parade has made its way from West Jerusalem into the occupied parts of the city to celebrate “reunification.” I am watching two small demonstrations, separated by a small police barrier. On one side, there is a group of young Israelis, mostly teenagers. They are waving Israeli flags, and their veins are bulging as they scream “Mavet LaAravim! Mavet LaAravim!” Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs! On the other side, there is a group of young Palestinian men, and they are also chanting and waving Palestinian flags, their fists clenched and their shouts filled with testosterone, “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yehud!” A reference to an incident in the 7th century in which Muslims forcibly expelled the Jews of Khaybar. And I think: they are so similar. We are so similar. We are all swept up in self-righteousness, we are all afraid and violent and capable of wishing expulsion and death on the other side. More »

Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight (by Idan Landau)

Translated and introduced by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher: My own process, in which I began to shift from a liberal to a leftist, from a Zionist to a non-Zionist, from someone who generally believed Official State narratives to someone who generally rejects them, and from someone who wanted to join the IDF and be a “good soldier” to someone who ultimately refused to enlist, began during “Operation Cast Lead,” almost six years ago. This was, in part, because of stories, including the story of the two brothers of one of my classmates at Middlebury College who were shot “by accident” by Israeli soldiers as they left their farm in the Gaza Strip, and then left to bleed to deathas the army forbid an ambulance from getting to them. But in addition to the stories, it was also the numbers: Israel had killed so many people- many of them children- in such a short period of time. I did not want to believe that the Israeli government and army acted with blatant, callous, cruel disregard towards Palestinian civilians, but that it is ultimately what I came to believe, in part thanks to Israeli journalists and writers who were brave enough to speak out against what was happening. And if I am honest with myself: It’s not that these Israelis were saying things that Palestinian journalists and writers were not saying. It’s that they were Israeli Jews. I am not proud of this, but I acknowledge it, and it is with this in mind that I decided to translate a piece on the first four days of this recent Gaza “war” by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, a Professor of Linguistics at Ben Gurion University. The Hebrew original can be found on his blog, לא למות טיפש, or, Don’t Die Dumb, which I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who speak Hebrew. For those who do not, here is my translation of one of Idan’s pieces on the recent situation in Gaza. 

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Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight

Idan Landau. July 11th, 2014.

A riddle: If we are so right, if every one of the air strikes on Gaza is a solid rock of morality, if the residents of Gaza deserve all that they are getting- then why are the facts being concealed from us in the Israeli media? Why don’t they tell us what the entire world can find out with the click of a button?

Seemingly democratic, actually Pravda. More »

1:52am: Hearing Sirens, Live and Phantom

by Leah Solomon

Sat. night, 1:52am:  Jerusalem

I was shaking a bit when the siren went off early this evening but I am shaking much more now.

When we heard the siren, we were all standing in our living room just a few feet outside the reinforced safe room. Siren went off, all five of us walked more or less calmly inside, closed the heavy metal shutters. Sat on the floor, heard a quiet, muffled boom. Waited ten minutes per instructions, came out and continued with our evening. The kids seemed a little agitated but mostly fine.

Bedtime was delayed a bit. All asleep by 9:00. Around 12:00, out of the quiet night, I hear my eight year old yelling, confusedly, from his top bunk: “we have to — we have to go to the…” I get out of bed and run to him. He is sitting up with a bloody nose. I reassure him that he doesn’t need to run anywhere, get him more tissues, go back to bed. More »

Losing Our Grip on Our Humanity

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

My eight year old came home from camp today and told me his best friend said we should kill all the Arabs if that’s what we need to do to protect ourselves.

A friend of a friend was arguing on facebook that the children of terrorists are not innocent because they are happy that their fathers have killed Jews and therefore it’s legitimate to destroy their homes. She wasn’t even talking about a specific “guilty” child – she made clear that ALL Palestinian children are happy when Jews are killed, and therefore it’s simply wrong to treat them as innocent.

How did we come to this?! Why are so many of us convinced that we really are more human than they are, more deserving of life and liberty and happiness?  More »

A Still, Small Voice for Suicide Prevention: Elijah’s Journey

by Gabe Kretzmer Seed

Gabe Kretzmer Seed is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and graduate fellow at Elijah’s Journey.

I’ve had the honor of serving as the inaugural graduate fellow for Elijah’s Journey, a wonderful organization which helps to serve as a voice regarding suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.  This Shabbat we will read the haftarah (prophetic portion) from which the organization gets its name.  Though read rarely, due to quirks in the Jewish calendar related to 17th of Tammuz fast day, it is considered the “regular” addition to Parashat Pinchas.

There, in I Kings 18:46-19:20, Elijah has just performed a miracle and proved God’s power over the prophets of Baal. Yet he is pursued by the evil, idolatrous Queen Jezebel, and dejected, asks God to take his life. God instructs Elijah to eat and drink and take a 40 day journey in order to re-assess the situation. Elijah eventually hears God’s voice in a still, small voice, and decides to continue his calling and mission. Elijah’s desire to stop living, lonely period of reconsideration, and reception of a line of hope from a barely audible source, can strike a strong chord with those who have considered ending their lives.  In the United States alone, over one million contemplate suicide each year and over 40,000 do take their own lives. We can all walk in God’s ways and serve as a listening ear and source of encouragement for those around of us who may feel down, dejected or unsupported. More »

Honoring God, Who Gives Life to All Flesh

by Rabbi Ari Hart

Rabbi Ari Hart is a founder of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance and of Uri L’Tzedek.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), God is called “Elohei haruchot l’chol basar,” the one who gives spirit to all flesh (Numbers 27:16).

In that spirit of a God who gives life to all beings, I ask that those who, like me, support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’s civilian targeted missiles, stop and read the names below of the children who have died in Gaza since the fighting began. Know that the same God that breathed spirit into you breathed spirit into them.

Seraj Ayad Abed al-A’al, 8
Mohammed Ayman Ashour, 15
Hussein Yousef Kawareh, 13
Bassim Salim Kawareh, 10
Mousa Habib, 16
Ahmad Na’el Mehdi, 16
Dunia Mehdi Hamad, 16
Amir Areef, 13
Mohammed Malkiyeh, 1½ years old
Ibrahim Masri, 14
Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, 4
Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, unreported age
Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, a young girl

Though I hold Hamas responsible for this war and for the tremendous suffering they have inflicted on innocent Israelis and Palestinians, I also acknowledge that no matter how precise Israel’s strikes are, innocents will be killed as a result. Including children. Children who have the same goofy smiles, the same dreams, and the same fears as our children. Israel’s right to self defense is not free. It comes with a profound human cost that we, as a people who strive for moral grandeur, must face.

Personal Grief, National Mourning, and “Keeping Politics out of it”

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

These thoughts grew in response to Facebook posts encouraging us just to grieve the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, but to keep politics out of it, and not use them for ideology advancement:

Here’s what I’m struggling with (and have struggled with after every terrorist attack since I’ve lived here): The death of these boys is horrifying and heartbreaking. I cry when I imagine (as every Israeli parent has, over and over the past two weeks) experiencing what their parents have gone through. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain or the pain and fear of these children in the final moments of their lives.

But. The death of these three boys is no more awful or final or tragic than the deaths of the thousands of Jewish Israeli children lost every year to illness or in car accidents. Their parents’ grief is just as devastating. And those thousands of children are no less “ours” than Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yet we don’t mourn them, or come together as a “unified” people when they die. Thousands do not attend their funerals. For all that they are equally part of our Jewish family, and their lives just as senselessly cut short, we do not enter into a state of national mourning. Their deaths are a personal tragedy, not a national one. More »

Jews for Jackson — Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer

Jews Standing With the South

Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer

“Step-by-step, day-by-day, and community-by-community we are working to build a new economy that will transform Jackson and the South. This transformation will be rooted in creating an economy based on worker ownership, worker self-management, and worker democracy in the form of cooperative enterprise. Together these are the foundations for creating economic democracy, which is the next step in the long march to create a just society based on human rights, human dignity, social equality, and economic equity. We encourage everyone who believes in these social aims to stand with us in creating a national network to support Cooperation Jackson, the Southern Grassroots Economies Project and the movement for economic democracy.”  — Cooperation Jackson

In Jackson, the rest of Mississippi, and throughout the South, those most marginalized in our present economy are at the forefront of a grassroots movement to build the next economy. This is part of a larger global vision to create financial mechanisms that do not profit off of inflicting harm upon oppressed communities, but instead explicitly serve their interests.

Cooperation Jackson and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project are two organizations modeling this vision. Their efforts are grounded in a tradition of Black collective action built on aspirations to challenge racism and build community power. This practice spans from mutual aid societies to the Underground Railroad, from desegregation efforts to rural agricultural cooperatives, from legal challenges to nonviolent direct action. More »

The Fallacy of Limited Compassion

This is a guest post by Eli Ungar-SargonEli Ungar-Sargon is an LA-based independent filmmaker. His second feature-length film, A People Without a Land, has its world premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival on July 3rd

When news hit that three Israeli teenagers had gone missing in the West Bank, the response from the Jewish world was immediate and intense. The assumption that Eyal Yiftach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel were kidnapped by Palestinians seems now to have been confirmed, but the details are sparse and the story is still developing. The abduction of children is an inexcusable offense. There is no moral justification for such an act. I am not writing to give excuses for this crime and I sincerely hope that these boys are found and returned to their families safely. But I do think that it’s instructive and important to take a step back and examine our responses to such tragedies.

A few short weeks ago, we learned that two Palestinian teenagers, Nadem Syam Nawara and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh were shot and killed by the IDF during a protest. Despite the fact that there were three angles of video footage, independent eyewitness testimony, and hospital reports, my Facebook Wall filled with comments from Jewish friends insisting that we don’t know what really happened. For all we know, they argued, Nawara and Odeh might have been killed by Palestinians in an effort to make the IDF look bad. Some went as far as to claim that the boys might still be alive. Why is it that with far less information, none of my Jewish friends are spinning fantastic theories around the kidnapping of Yiftach, Shaar, and Frenkel? More »

Skirts in Context

This is a guest post by Avigayil Halpern.

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school is obstacle courses in gym class. Riding on small, flat, scooters and propelling ourselves with our hands we would wind our way through a series of foam pads and balance beams in relay races, an activity that I found more fun than the usual sports activities. I don’t remember these races for the fun, however. On a regular basis, my skirt would catch in the wheels of the scooters as I raced my peers through the obstacles, and this is what sticks in my head.

I’ve worn skirts to school every day since first grade. The skirts/school connection is so strong in my mind that I have had nightmares about accidentally showing up at school in a pair of jeans, the Orthodox day school girl equivalent of the showing-up-at-school-in-your-underwear dream. It has been such a part of the natural order of my world that back when my skirt got caught in the scooter wheels, I shrugged and pulled it out again, calmly, accepting that the dress code would make me fall a little behind the boy racing me from the other team.  More »

Unequivocal disaster, Education and Sharing Narratives

This is a Guest Post by Edan Nissen, a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair Australia, now living in Israel. Edan has a BA from Monash University, Majoring in Politics and History of the Middle East with a Minor in Conflict Resolution.

A teacher stops a history classroom in the middle, the students are learning about the various tragedies of history. “Could all the students please stand up, we are going to have a minute of silence for the victims of the Nakba”. Most of the students stand is silence, thinking of the relatives that were affected, their homes destroyed and families that were forced to flee. Others had relatives that were killed. Two Students stand to the side, and during the silence they begin chatting. Their classmates are openly outraged, jaws are dropped but most students stand silently in their outrage. For these two students, it’s not that they don’t respect the loss of life, it’s that the tragedy of the Nakba is not relevant to them. They aren’t of Palestinian descent; they have their own national tragedies.

Shocked, aren’t you? This is a true story, well almost. The differences between this scenario and what actually happened are relatively minor. Swap the Nakba for the Holocaust, and the two boys for Israeli Palestinians and this scene has been played out several times, over several years and in several different locations. Yom Ha’Shoa, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust, was about a month ago and this happened again. I received a call from a friend who was in shock as two Arab students in her course spoke to each other while the nation- wide siren marking Yom Ha’Shoa rang out. The act was a mark of incredible disrespect for the loss of life, and destruction.

More »

After BDS victory, tending a scorched campus community

This is a guest post by Rabbi Oren J. Hayon, the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington.

In his biography of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Plutarch recounts the details of the ancient Greek general’s costly victory against Rome at Asculum in 279 BCE. According to Plutarch’s account, shortly after the battle, Pyrrhus considered the devastating losses to his Macedonian troops and made the dark but prescient reflection: “If we were to be victorious in one more battle against the Romans, it would utterly destroy us.” [Life of Pyrrhus, 21:9]

The story of that long-ago battle comes to remind us that some victories produce a sense of exhilaration so intoxicating that they prevent us from realizing that we are actually marching unwittingly toward defeat. I write these lines in the immediate aftermath of a period in the life of our organization which looks unmistakably like a time of triumph. Nevertheless, as I write, I am keenly aware of how we have been diminished by the events of this year. I find myself surprised and concerned about how much we have lost, and about how much more we stand to lose in the future.  More »

Community Without Consensus?

This is a guest post by Naomi Adland.

I started working at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America in January as a graduate intern, tasked with helping the Jewish social justice world have meaningful conversations about Israel – a project that, at the time, sounded deceptively simple to me. I leapt at the chance to work with an organization I have long admired, with people who are smart, dedicated, and passionate about Judaism and the Jewish community, because I share the vision that Hartman outlined:

We believe that a state that is going to live up to its aspiration to be Jewish and democratic needs a base of American Jewish supporters committed to both of those values and eager to help Israel get there, and that the loss of the social justice community from the ranks of Zionist leaders will have profound ripple effects on the health of Israeli society.

The project seemed like the perfect fit for me, because the Venn diagram between organizations I have worked with or volunteered for and organizations that make up the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is almost a perfect circle. I fight domestic poverty as a member of the AVODAH alumni community, and global injustices as a part of the AJWS community. I have worked to reform the Farm Bill and raise awareness about alternative transportation with Hazon, and as a teenager, the Religious Action Center helped me lobby Congress for the first time, setting me on a path that recently resulted in my graduation from the Wagner School of Public Service at NYU.

It’s possible that because of my connections with these organizations, I underestimated the challenge ahead of me. More »