Jon Stewart on Jews who call him “self-loathing” for his Israel comedy

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, is promoting his new film Rosewater and seems to feel comfortable with a dust up over his long-running lampooning of pro-Israel dogma. After being silent on Israel except in the scope of carefully-crafted skits on the show, it’s notable to see him finally let loose a little on the ridiculous way the Jewish community treats criticism of Israel. Read the whole interview here, the juicy bits excerpted below:

How does that make you feel? Is [Iran's calling you a Mossad agent] humorous to you?
Of course. Because it’s ridiculous. It’s humorous to me in the same way that a lot of what happens in the movie is humorous to me. There is an absurdity in dogma and rigidity and even that question has dogma, but on the other side. It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.

You can’t criticize Israel, right?
No. And you can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

I know the feeling.
Yeah, and you see it and it is pretty vicious. And how are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that they can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

And it will only improve The State if they do.
You’re absolutely right. I always want to say to people when they come at me like that: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

Stewart’s albeit comedic treatment of Israel and Palestine with equanimity has been a breath of fresh air for so many of us younger Jews. As the Pew research study told us, the majority of American Jews and especially young Jews are with you, Jon. Keep it up. And thank you!

Plant a Tree, Build a Movement

Brought to you by Ilana Sumka and other experienced leaders in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, comes this delegation overcoming the divides between Jew and Palestinian:

In February 2015, join The Center for Jewish Nonviolence and T’ruah for a tree replanting delegation to the Tent of Nations in the West Bank. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a new project committed to developing a culture and practice of Jewish Nonviolence in North America and the EU, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Led by long-time educator and activist Ilana Sumka, the Center will train and mobilize members of the international Jewish community to join Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent activists seeking to secure human and civil rights. To watch the promo video or help plant a tree, click here. The deadline to apply is November 14.  To apply now, click here.

More details on their Facebook page.

The Jewish Food Taste Test

This reflects every interfaith family’s cultural exchanges over Jewish foods. Shana tova from Jewschool!

Hamas video in Hebrew becomes parodied Israeli hit

Hamas produced a music video in Hebrew singing about terror attacks against Israelis and intended to intimidate them. But the strategy has backfired, as social media-savvy Israelis with their trademark dark humor remixed the catchy tune. Posting to YouTube, Israelis turned murderous lemons into oddly entertaining lemonade, including versions in a capella, acoustic, cartoon, and even animal performers.

The original:

The A Capella version (racist headgarb aside):

An eerily fitting Lion King version:

Check out the Smurf, acoustic, parrot, and diningware instrument versions. This collection selected from, of all places, Artuz 7.

VIDEO: “If Not Now” vigils against war in Israel and Gaza

Beautiful video of some of the recent If Not Now vigils. And grassroots organizing teams now opening in NYC, DC, Oakland, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Jackson, and New Hampshire. Check their site for the materials you’ll need to convene your own Kaddish vigil for all those affected in Israel-Palestine.

Tisha B’Av at Grand Army Plaza asks Israel-Gaza “If not now?”

Last night, several hundred young Jews gathered under the banner of “If Not Now” in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza to observe Tisha B’Av, the annual holiday of Jewish contrition, and read the names of those killed in recent fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. These breathtaking photos by Gili Getz capture the somber reflection of the next generation of American Jewry reflecting on their relationship to Israel, to Palestine, to war, and to peace.

I lived in Brooklyn for seven years and I recognize so many of my colleagues in the photos: rabbinical students, young Jewish professionals, lay leaders of the Jewish social justice movement, and scions of famous rabbis. This is the center of New York young Jewry. The group already held two previous anti-war vigils in New York and Washington, DC, outside the offices of the Jewish Federations of North American and the Conference of Presidents, respectively, to object to their support for the continuation of fighting between Israel and Gaza.

As studies have shown for years now, young Jews see the Middle East very differently from their parents. And this crowd attests deeply to that: the people in these photos are the cream of the crop of American Jewish education: day school-educated, engaged in religious life, Birthright and Masa alumni, and shaping the innovative efforts that establishment Jewry looks to for continuity and salvation. The generation gap is real. Very, very real.

Throwback Thursday: The last Gaza wars…

This Thursday as we look back in time through Jewschool’s archives, there is unfortunately plenty of commentary and analysis from past Gaza wars.

Like a TV rerun, we see the topics and even personalities replay before us. In 2008 during Operation Cast Lead, I wrote about the necessity of Israeli human rights monitoring, Josh Frankel wrote about how other progressives should accept the use of military force sometimes, Rabbi Brant Rosen wrote about his shock at the civilian toll in Gaza. In 2012 Adam Davis wrote about Achinoam Nini being attacked by Israeli racists for her pro-peace stances, I reported from a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv, and all too many more posts. All of these can be found again in the headlines this week.

But the post I want to feature this week is a brave opinion piece from just after the 2012 Gaza flare up, Towards a More Productive Progressive Response on Gaza, by guest author Sandy Johnston. Sandy takes issue with and rebuts some of the one-sided Facebook comments made by lefties about the conflict.

I repost this today because it is easy in these times to entrench within our ideological comfort zones and take the contrapositive of our self-perceived moral opponents. That is, to knee-jerk advocate the opposite of whatever “their side” says. Alas, as Gershom Gorenberg points out, this is a historical weakness of liberals. (His article also highlights pro-war bluster is a weakness of hawks, though clearly that shortcoming kills more people than being devil’s advocate.)

If we are to be intellectually honest leaders advancing a progressive agenda, then we must not shy away from the nuance and difficulty of this conflict. Any with an easy answer is wrong. And anyone saying otherwise is an extremist.

Read it below the fold.

More »

Speak up for asylum seekers in Israel on World Refugee Day

Join Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel on today, World Refugee Day, as they campaign for the simple rights of refugees in Israel. They’re fighting against the Israeli government’s decision to imprison them in the Negev by the thousands. Instead, a Jewish nation built by Jewish refugees should permit them to live and work without fear of being deported back to war and persecution in their home countries.

Join the campaign, take a picture of yourself, and post it on their Facebook page.

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“3 Houses” documents life in East Jerusalem

Israel’s equivalent of the ACLU, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has just released a 10-minute documentary explaining life in East Jerusalem for Palestinians struggling for basic services from the Jerusalem municipality.

3 Houses was filmed in Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada, Jerusalem neighborhoods that were cut off from the rest of the city when the Separation Barrier was built in 2002. Since then, these neighborhoods and the tens of thousands of people who live there have been utterly neglected by the Jerusalem municipality. In 2013, the desperate situation in this no-man’s-land was even further exacerbated when the municipality announced its intent to demolish the homes of thousands of residents.

Learn more about the film, screenings, and ACRI’s advocacy for equal public services in East Jerusalem on their site.

In San Francisco: Love, Hate & the Jewish State 3.0

An evening of conversation & connection on Israel & Social Justice

May 28, 2014,  7-10 PM
Public Works, 161 Erie St , San Francisco
Space is limited, 21 and over
RSVP here

Share your story. Leave the boxing gloves at home.
Love, Hate, and the Jewish State is a civil dialogue for Jews in our 20s and 30s to share our personal experiences about Israel and social justice. We are creating a space where authentic discourse and diverse opinions are welcome. You get to own the discussion.

The Program: Love Hate 3.0
Our goal is to create meaningful interactions around Israel and social justice. To achieve this, we will provide exercises to help you talk, listen, and ask questions. NIF’s trained Facilitation Fellows will support this process, helping us foster community without shying away from differences.

Following this evening, New Generations will convene follow-up dialogue groups that will transform our event into a series of conversations for deeper exploration of the relationship between social justice and Israel.

Sign this petition: Fight union busting at Perelman Jewish Day School

This just in from a Jesse Bacon, concerned parent of a child at Perelman Jewish Day School in Philadelphia:

Perelman Jewish Day School teachers have been unionized for nearly four decades. Suddenly in March the schools board of directors withdrew recognition of the teachers’ union. The school took unilateral action to bust their teachers’ union, as the Hobby Lobby case was being heard in DC and on the eve of the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and while Philly’s teachers’ union is also under attack.

Fortunately, the union is fighting back, but there is a lot of fear and demonstrating broad community support, from Jewish folks, from people with a tie to the school, and from people who care about education. The school is hiding behind a religious exemption while claiming that Jewish law on respecting labor doesn’t apply.

I’ve been involved in similar efforts at my alma mater, Seattle University, in urging the administration that their religiously-rooted passion for social justice is at odds with their claims that their religious status also exempts the university from union requirements. Luckily, the courts threw their case out on its merits. Treating teachers fairly is just as part of religion and social justice as the rest.

Fellowship for indie minyan summer institute

This is your friendly reminder that applications for the fellowship to the National Havurah Committe’s Summer Institute is at hand — May 4th! Submit your applications and join a community of young people that have been reinvigorating Jewish worship and community-building from coast to coast.

Attend the NHC Summer Institute as a Zeitler Fellow! Application Deadline - May 4th

Do you spend your time thinking about how to build participatory, spirited, inclusive, thoughtful, lay-led Jewish community? Join over 300 people doing just that this summer at the NHC (National Havurah Committee) Summer Institute in Ridge, New Hampshire! A week at Institute includes plenty of serious study, moving prayer, spirited conversation, late-night jam sessions, singing, dancing, swimming, meditation, and hiking, as well as an opportunity to meet and learn from a diverse, multigenerational  group of attendees. Institute attendees create a wonderful community together for a week — and leave with new ideas, skills, and experiences to bring back to their home communities for the rest of the year and beyond.

For attendees between the ages of 22 and 32, the NHC is now accepting applications for its Zeitler Fellows Program! Fellows participate in the full Summer Institute programming and in four workshops designed specifically for them. As a Fellow, you receive a scholarship for tuition, room, and board, and are expected to pay only for registration and dues ($147) for the full week (August 4-10). Preference is given to those who have never attended Institute before. The application can be found here.

Please see our website for more information or call the NHC office at 215-248-1335. The application deadline is May 4th.

2014′s top 7 seder supplements and themed haggadot

I thought for one foolish moment that 5774 offered a shallow harvest for Pesach supplements. But I was totally wrong and many thought-provoking, educational, and even downright moving contributions to Passover religious life. Here Jewschool collected this year’s notables and even further below are more fascinating options from previous years. [Updated: Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps released theirs today. Make that the top 8.]

The Bard Prison Initiative at Bard College has produced a beautiful and moving supplement on an important American issue on mass incarceration and education. Highlight: “Our fellow citizens who are prisoners are incarcerated because of crimes they committed mostly as young men and women. They are individuals who did not have the privilege to learn and study. We Jews believe that learning is a form of prayer and that learning and studying are the foundation of judgment.”

Keshet’s truly inspiring seder supplement should receive a special award in my eyes. This short but deeply touching piece is based on a true coming out story and reworked to be read by anyone: “Several years ago, Keshet member Adina Koch came out at her family’s Passover Seder. In true Koch family fashion, she did so by offering words of Torah. [...] This Pesach, we offer Adina’s words of Torah as a teaching for all of our Seder tables.”  More »

Boston launch party for “The Veterans of History,” a secular history for young Jews

From our friends in Boston comes a completely secular curriculum of Jewish history, designed by the long-time educator at Boston Workman’s Circle, Mitchell Silver. Join them at their launch party:

Come join us for dessert on

Saturday, April 12 – 7:30 pm
at Boston Workmen’s Circle
(1762 Beacon Street, Brookline)

for a book launch
to celebrate Boston Workmen’s Circle’s publication of

The Veterans of History:
A Young Person’s History of the Jews
by Mitchell Silver

“Written for young adults, The Veterans of History is a compelling narrative of Jewish history told from a Jewish cultural perspective. Covering biblical times to the present, it helps young Jews to identify with and place themselves in the broad sweep of Jewish experience.”

Buy it here and follow them on Facebook. Stay tuned for Jewschool’s review…

Throwback (belated) Thursday: The dawn of Jewish hipsterdom

I have to applaud Aryeh Bernstein for this idea. This blog has covered the first sparks of many Jewish movements before they were worth reporting by others. And looking back 10 years later, we can see how the debates of last decade are, largely, over. Intermarriage acceptance? Won. Independent minyanim? In every major city. (Come check out Selah in Seattle.) Pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace? Now a real force in Congress.

But what about Jewish “hipsterdom,” perhaps better expressed as the burst of hybrid Jewish arts, culture, music, creativity and expression in the early 2000s? Remember the early days of HEEB, Jewcy, JDub Records, Kavod House, the Jewish Fashion Conspiracy, and Storahtelling? Simultaneously, the first waves of philanthropy aiming to “fight” intermarriage washed ashore. Nine years ago (oh yes, nine) this community was debating the pros and cons of accepting “continuity” funding for our new ideas.

Just take this post back from December 29, 2005, by Dan Sieradski, “NY Jewish Week Knocks Jewish Hipsterism.” Said Sieradski,

All of the grant money available to Jewish cultural projects fall under the auspices of Jewish continuity — recently rebranded “renaissance & renewal.” These are merely euphemisms for getting Jews to shtup other Jews. It seems to be the only thing big-wig Jewish philanthropists find themselves concerned with, with the few exceptions of those focused on Jewish education and social action. In this climate, the only way for innovative Jewish projects to get funded is if they present themselves within the context of Jewish continuity. It’s a dirty game, but it’s the reality.

The landscape is different. Some of these initiatives stand tall: Hadar has spawned an successful institute, Mechon Hadar. And the field features notable graves: JDub Records (z”l). But the big picture matters more than the specific instances: emergent groups are institutionalizing into permanent features, displacing and replacing older ones. No accident that the very term “emergent” was coined by Jewish Jumpstart, whose Shawn Landres you can see there in the comments of Sieradski’s post.

Take a trip in the wayback machine and read it here.

Trampling Torah and perpetuating antisemitism on the 700 Club

Jews are more successful financially, Pat Robertson said on his TV show, because they are “polishing diamonds, not fixing cars.”

I’m not sure who is worse in this clip, Robertson or his guest, anti-gay wacko Rabbi Daniel Lapin. In the jaw-dropping segment of Robertson’s 700 Club , courtesy of Right Wing Watch, Lapin was stumping for his book about how the Bible wants you to get rich:

“When you correctly said in Jewish neighborhoods you do not find Jews lying under their cars on Sunday afternoons, no, I pay one of the best mechanics around to take care of my BMW, I’d be crazy to take my time doing it myself,” Lapin said. “Or for me to mow my lawn, I’m the worse lawnmower in the world, but the young man who lives down the street from me, he’s one of the best and he’s happy to do it and I’m happy.”  More »

Dear social change field: give Rabbi Andy Bachman his dream job

I’ve been startled by some of the laments following Rabbi Andy Bachman’s announcement that in a year’s time he’ll leave the pulpit of Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn.

When I moved to New York in 2005, Bachman was already a recognized force. To me and other young Jewish communal professionals, he was proof that not all people over 30 were out of touch with the Jewish community of the future. He set a new standard for openness, creativity, and passionate progressive principles. When I left the city seven years later, he had become an indispensable ally and inspirational role model for me.

So when he announced just a day ago that he wouldn’t renew his pulpit contract in 2015, it struck me as wonderful that he would now turn his capable skills to benefiting directly those in need:

Last year, the combination of watching our community’s response to Hurricane Sandy as well as the fortuitous and inevitable rite of passage of turning 50, I began to explore the idea of moving beyond strictly Jewish service and contemplate seriously the idea of serving disadvantaged communities broadly throughout New York City.  The issues of poverty, hunger, homelessness, education, and violence remain central to my own concerns as a citizen of New York.  And so as I thought of another chapter to my professional life, I became increasingly inspired by the opportunity to serve communities in need in Brooklyn and beyond.

I was delighted and proud for him. In fact, I felt the same desire. But then the moaning started. Haaretz’s article announced his “quitting” and I heard both crowing and bemoaning that he was “leaving the Jewish community.”

This is bullshit. Bachman isn’t converting to Hinduism and he’s not issued a smackdown of Jewish communal service. He has not issued a refusal to return to Jewish employment later, nor is it clear that his institution of choice won’t be Jewish in nature. (A number of excellent organizations come to mind.)

It’s clear to me that anyone so dedicated to (and so successful at) imbuing social action in others that he would want to take a leadership role directly. Hell, I know because I feel it myself. There is only so much talking, educating, writing, cajoling, recruiting, extolling, and lauding about bettering the world before we just want to do it. Our faith community in particular is some of the wealthiest, well-fed, well-housed populations in America. Yes, there are Jewish poor and sick and homeless, especially elderly and immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.

But if you are truly ambitious about solving the world’s ills, working only with or within the Jewish community might just be too small. Too narrow. Too underachieving. We are only .2% of the world. Dream big, my parents told me, and go for broke. Find those truly in need — those next door or across the ocean — and go where you can make the biggest difference. And despite my wishes otherwise, the singular might of the Jewish people is not enough to go it alone.

Because there is really no difference in my heart between my Jewish passions and my desires for a more healthy, peaceful humanity. As we’ve learned from Jewish Jumpstart’s recent studies of Jewish philanthropy, the loyalties that motivate Jews to donate to their law school, the Met, the ACLU and their local homeless shelter are the same values that move the to give to Jewish organizations. In fact, most Jewish dollars go to non-Jewish causes; even those who give the highest ratio of their charity to Jewish organizations still apportion less than half to explicitly Jewish institutions.  Similarly, I am lucky that my day job does reflect both my Jewish and nonsectarian passions — but really, there is no such division.

There should be no value judgement on Rabbi Andy Bachman’s getting his salary from an explicitly Jewish organization, because regardless of his paycheck he is and will always be an Jewish agent of change for a better world. Many of us young professionals will emulate his journey into and out of Jewish and nonsectarian institutions. (Many activists are Jewish professionals in their hearts, if only there was a Jewish job available.) And that movement weaves us tighter to our communities and into the fabric of the global justice movement. (And if you’re worried that changemakers are in scarce supply in our community, hey, I have a few amazing friends for hire.)

And so I say to every capable social change organization out there:  Give Rabbi Andy Bachman his dream job. He deserves it and you’ll need more like him to change the world. And we younger professionals are not that far behind him.

[Livecast from] Jerusalem, CAP and Molad host “Israel, the U.S. and the Middle East: New Visions”

[Update: This conference will now be livecast to those of us in the Diaspora. Watch here on Tuesday, April 1st from 8 am - 1 pm ET.]

Jewschool has mentioned previously the work of Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, a new progressive institution in Israel aiming at rebuilding and rebooting the Israeli progressive camp. It’s no accident that Molad, as a “think-do tank,” resembles some of the preeminent progressive think tanks in America, like the Center for American Progress. CAP, among others, successfully injected progressive policies into American public debate.

Now movers and shakers in Israeli society have seen the need to combat the damage done by Israel’s lop-sided political conversation. Right-wing and far-right think tanks like the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, the Shalem Center, the Center for Strategic Zionist Studies and others, funded largely by American right-wing money, have operated uncontested for years. Now, bold Israelis are anteing up to provide the body of policy research, media monitoring and intellectual backbone to halt Israel’s march towards anti-democratic and anti-peace policies.

Thus Molad and CAP invite you to their first policy gathering, “Israel, the U.S., and the Middle East: New Visions.” Moderated by Matt Duss and Eric Alterman, the day-long event addresses the two largest American-Israeli shared interests: an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord and a deal with Iran. Speaking are Knesset opposition leader Labor MK Yitzak Herzog, social protests leader MK Stav Shaffir, founders of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, security and human rights experts, and more.

Full details below, RSVP here.

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