Two Prayers for Syria (and updated with more)

What can we pray about Syria? As the United States looks to enter the fray of a Syrian civil war, concerned American Jews and Israelis are penning responses in prayer. Shared here are two recent liturgical creations, by very different authors: The first is by Rabbi Barenblat, a Renewal rabbi at of Congregation Beth Israel in Massachusetts and the author of The Velveteen Rabbi. The second is by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading figure in the religious Zionist movement and head of the Petach Tikvah hesder yeshiva.

Both rabbis ask for both sides to display compassion, mercy, humanity and brotherhood to forestall further loss of innocent life and unnecessary revenge upon the other. That said, the Cherlow prayer leaves me a mite uncomfortable by invoking Number 35:33, that killers be killed. Nevertheless, his draft is reportedly being read by the Bnei Akiva youth movement across the religious-national world. Movement secretary-general Danny Hirshberg said on settler media, “The Israeli public needs to look beyond the screen of hate and enmity to see the pain of those civilians being hurt by the Syrian tyrant.”

Read both below the fold… More »

This is Not an Ulpan

While I deeply love learning Hebrew, ulpan often hurts my heart. I can’t help but bristle at prejudicial Israeli attitudes that go against the anti-oppression work that bring many of us there. Be they prejudices against Arabs, Jewish religion, President Obama or anything else, most of ulpan classmates take on those prejudices without question. Sadly, even enthusiastically.

Truthfully, the successful Hebrew ulpan model began under the need to assimilate huge numbers of immigrants and forge collective identity. Its very purpose was to be doctrinaire. But today, it’s apparent that parts of this model are inappropriate for the needs of some. American Jewry especially has the highest failed emigration rate, due in part to the values and worldview gap between how Israelis and Americans see society. Better dialogue between Israelis and American Jewry is crucial these days, so why would we want to enter a learning environment aimed at assimilation and affinity-building instead of engagement and equal exchange?

That is why this past year a group of American and Canadian learners banded together in Tel Aviv to launch This is Not an Ulpan, the first explicitly lefty Hebrew learning community. More »

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Naftali Bennett interrupted at MASA bash by anti-annexation chants

Thirty young MASA participants and other young Diaspora Jews stood up at their program’s end-year bash to interrupt the address of Minister of Knesset Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. The participants chanted “Diaspora Jews say ‘end the occupation,’ Diaspora Jews say ‘no to annexation.’” After being removed from the event, they distributed flyers and answered questions by other participants.

This was the first protest by a new activist group dubbing themselves “All That’s Left” comprised of North American young Jews united against the occupation. According to All That’s Left member Joshua Leifer, “The dialogue following the action led to frank and open discussions that aren’t being held enough in Diaspora Jewish communities.”

From a statement, the group wanted to draw attention to Bennett’s central leadership in the settlement movement, opposition to a Palestinian state, proposal to annex 60% of the West Bank, and racist statements against Arabs. “MASA’s choice to invite Naftali Bennett as a keynote speaker to the event does not reflect my Zionism and reasons for coming to Israel,” remarked demonstrator Isabel Frey. “It was necessary to make clear that there also are young Zionists that do not support the occupation, Bennett and his position.” More »

Service learning programs in Israel will widen the generation gap — thankfully

Spotted in Jerusalem, advertising for human rights tours for North American Jews

At the Forward, Repair the World and the Jewish Agency present their new study of service learning opportunities for young North American Jews. They argue that addressing societal needs in Israel — a context of service to others in a Jewish place with other Jews — is “unparalleled” in successfully attracting young people to visit Israel for longer than ten days, feel Jewish, and get involved back at home in North America.

But after eight years working at the intersection of the Jewish social justice sector and pro-Israel organizations, allow me to issue the Jewish community a warning: Social justice trips to Israel will widen the generation gap. So please, continue straight away. More »

A Newly Feminist Knesset — Sort Of (Updated)

Updated: New ministerial positions were appointed since time of publishing, including two more women.

There are 53 new faces in the 19th Knesset — 16 of them women. With the 11 women who retained their seats, this is one of the highest women’s representation in Israel’s parliament at 27 MKs. But it’s not just because four more women got elected than last time. Former lawmaker Naomi Chazan was wont to lament last Knesset that barely a tenth of MKs were female and even fewer were feminist. Not the case any longer. Just a week ago, all but one banded together in a new women’s lobby.

The inaugural speeches of Ruth Calderon and Merav Michaelli went viral in Israel. Other new faces include the first female Ethiopian MK, a leader of the 2011 social protests, the former CEO of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, a city council woman from Tel Aviv, the former mayor of Herzliya, professors, print journalists and famous TV hosts.

But the road to a more feminist-friendly legislation isn’t assured as only four will hold ministries and key leaders sit in the opposition. To boot, Netanyahu didn’t attend their inaugural event.

Which is the most feminist party?

MKs will have time to prove their feminist credentials, but as far as numbers go, seven parties have female representatives. Yesh Atid has both the highest number and the second-greatest proportion with 8 all-new women among 19 total party seats.

But we can’t rely on just quantity over quality: could Likud Beiteinu’s 7 reelected women MKs possibly be more pro-women than the life-long women’s activists on Labor’s 4 MKs? Don’t be ridiculous, Labor includes both party chairwoman Shelly Yachamovich, feminist crusader Merav Michaelli, pluralism pioneer Dr. Ruth Calderon, and the leader of the 2011 social protests Stav Shaffir. Together, they’ve already submitted 18 women’s interest bills for discussion.

Meanwhile, half of unabashedly lefty Meretz’s six seats are held by women and Zahava Gal-On is reigning party chairwoman. And what about the HaTnua party, widely regarded as a one-woman party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni with five (male) coat tail riders?And last but not least, we shouldn’t forget the Arab public’s loudest voice, Balad party firebrand Hanin Zoabi.

Who are the most powerful women?

Power can be in the eyes of the beholder, but here’s where matters are least ideal. The new cabinet was reduced to 20 ministers and 8 deputy ministers — only 4 are women when there should proportionally be at least 6-7. The four ministers are Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni (HaTnua), Minister of Health Yael German (Yesh Atid), Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beiteinu), and Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat (Likud).

[Update: Final results since yesterday show that two more women received secondary ministries -- Fania Kirshenbaum and Tzipi Hotovely, both of Likud, who will be Deputy Ministers of Interior and Transportation, respectively. That certainly gives Likud Beiteinu's slate of four women them most formal power, even if only the Ministry of the Interior is a key agency.]

This is disappointing given Israel’s below-average track record in women governmental leaders. As Ynet detailed, the country’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commission called on International Women’s Day for the government to appoint more women. Women have never chaired any of the most important committees like defense or economics, usually comprise barely 7% – 16% of committee members, and only one woman has ever been Speaker of Knesset.

And we’re left wondering how effective the most familiar of our heroines will be from the opposition, where both Labor chairwoman Shelley Yachamovich and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On sit. Hopefully, the new women’s caucus will allow them to work collaboratively beyond their outsider positions.

More »

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Ultra-orthodox call for protest rally against Women of the Wall; support rallies organized all over Jewish America

This weekend, a poster appeared all over ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in Jerusalem against Women of the Wall‘s fight for gender equality at holy sites in Israel. The poster calls for ultra-Orthodox opposition to rally at the Western Wall tomorrow Monday, March 11 at 7 am.

And in Jerusalem and cities across America, Jews are rallying to support WoW:

Monday, March 11

  • Washington DC Friends of Women of the Wall’s solidarity service and program will be across from the Embassy of Israel on Monday, March 11. Sponsors include Am Kolel, Ameinu, New Israel Fund, Eizor Moshava-Habonim Dror, Temple Shalom Chevy Chase, Temple Micah, and Washington Friends of Women of the Wall.
  • Seal Beach, California: Rabbi Galit Levy-Slater is holding a congregational solidarity event.

Tuesday, March 12

  • Join Women of the Wall at the Kotel in Jerusalem: A mini-bus (one way) leaves from Gan Hapaamon at 6:30 AM. (RSVP required at wowhebrew@gmail.com.)
  • New York’s Wake up for Religious Tolerance! solidarity minyan at 9 am on the north side of Union Square Park. Sponsors include Mechon Hadar, Romemu, Kolot Chayeinu, New Israel Fund, Bnai Jeshurun, Lillith Magazine, Town & Village Synagogue, Ansche Chesed, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, East End Temple, Jewish Theological Seminary, the National Council of Jewish Women, and many more. (See flyer here.)

Sunday, March 19

  • San Francisco Friends of WOW will meet for a sing-in outside of their Israeli consulate at 11 am. RSVP to sdembitz@gmail.com.

Action alert: Eritrean asylum seekers to be deported

From the young activists in Israel with Amnesty International, an urgent appeal to Diaspora Jews who remember the times when we were refugees:

STOP THE DEPORTATION OF 25 ERITREAN ASLYUM SEEKERS FROM ISRAEL TO ERITREA OR UGANDA

“Your Only Way Out of the Israeli Prison is to Uganda or Eritrea” — Immigration Authorities to Eritrean Asylum Seekers detained in Saharonim Prison

25 Eritrean asylum seekers are in imminent danger of being deported back to Eritrea from Saharonim detention center in Israel. Israeli authorities in the facility told the asylum seekers that the only way they would ever get of the Israeli prison would be to go to Eritrea or Uganda. These individuals are currently being held under the Anti-Infiltration Law which mandates their automatic detention for a minimum of three years without trial.

Being released as an asylum seeker or refugee is impossible as prisoners lack access to the forms the Ministry of Interior requires to begin the RSD process. Therefore, after months of detention, many individuals have signed forms saying they want to go to Uganda and a very few have signed saying they want to go to Eritrea.

News reaching human rights groups over the last few days make it seem that even individuals who had signed to go to Uganda are now in the process of being deported to Eritrea. We are unsure exactly when/if the deportations will take place, but we do fear that it could happen over the next week. More »

“Liberating” the Western Wall — again

This morning in Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall brought heavy Israeli symbolism along with 150 participants to their monthly peaceful protest — three of the IDF veterans who captured the wall in the 1967 war. All went uninterrupted for the first time in 22 months until they departed through security, where nine women were separated and detained. Those included Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Susan Silverman (sister of comedian Sarah Silverman), and Rabbi Silverman’s daughter Hallel, and eight-month pregnant rabbinical student Lior Nevo.

Quoted in the Jerusalem Post, Ilon Bar-Tov, a paratrooper who fought in the Old City battles, “It’s unacceptable that the police are stopping women from wearing tallitot, it’s like Iran. I can’t believe they are stopping people from praying one way or another.”

Although the term “liberating” the Western Wall is hard to borrow, the symbolism is obviously aimed at Israeli mainstream ears. The iconic faces of these paratroopers grace every postcard stand and Jerusalem Day poster since the event itself. Their names are nearly household. Petitions submitted to the Supreme Court are challenging the all-haredi representation on the board of the plaza’s governing body, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. All denominations and the secular public should be able to participate in the decisions affecting the plaza, they argue.

And it’s working to force the Israeli government to pay attention. In late December, Prime Minister Netanyahu for the first time acknowledged the unsustainable status quo at the plaza. The American Reform and Conservative movements, along other diaspora women’s groups, have stood solidly behind Women of the Wall. The most previous arrests of Anat Hoffman pushed even the Jewish Agency board to demand a change. The Prime Minister asked Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky to “look into the matter” and report back after the elections. Hearing that, ultra-orthodox extremist groups deplored the presence of “Zionist occupation” and “whores” at the Wall.

Do the government utterances of “unsustainable status quo” and “look into the matter” strike you as similar to another conflict in the region?

Apply for the 2013 Hollander Social Justice Fellowship — due Thursday

Do you have a social justice cause you are passionate about and want to pursue with the NHC Summer Institute community? Apply for the Hollander Social Justice Fellowship! You will receive a scholarship for Institute tuition, room, and board, and up to $100 for materials or preparation, in exchange for planning social justice oriented programming for the NHC Summer Institute community.

We expect that the strongest applications will come from people with at least three to five years of professional or volunteer experience in their area. Preference will be given to people involved in an ongoing social justice campaign (or launching a campaign) who wish to bring it to the NHC Summer Institute community. Submit an application by January 21, 2013 to hollanderfellow@havurah.org.

2013 Knesset Elections Results

Israeli Channel 2 TV news reports elections results

According to Israel’s Channel 2 TV news, this is the breakdown of the next Knesset:

  • Likud Beiteinu: 31 (-11)
  • Yesh Atid: 19 (+11)
  • Labor: 17 (+9)
  • The Jewish Home: 12 (+7)
  • Shas: 12 (+2)
  • HaTnua: 7 (+7)
  • Meretz: 7 (+4)
  • United Torah Judaism: 6 (+1)
  • Hadash: 4
  • Ra’am-Ta’al: 3 (-1)
  • Balad: 2 (-1)
The right-wing stands at 61 seats, the left at 59 (previously 55:65). Gone are Kadima (-21), Independence (-5), Strong Israel (-2) and Am Shalem (-1). The right:
  • Likud Beiteinu : 31
  • The Jewish Home: 12
  • Shas: 12
  • United Torah Judaism: 6
The “center” and left-wing:
  • Yesh Atid: 19
  • HaTnua: 7
  • Labor: 17
  • Meretz: 7
  • Arab parties (Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al, Balad): 9
That means Binyamin Netanyahu will likely get to make the coalition as everyone expected in the lead up. Here are the questions that commentators are now asking:
  • With such a narrow lead — one seat — which center party will Netanyahu include to lend greater stability?
  • Since Yesh Atid is the likeliest contender with a sizable 19 seats, does that mean Netanyahu will leave out one of the more right-wing parties?
  • Would Netanyahu leave out one of the ultra-orthodox parties Shas or UTJ? That might be necessary since Yesh Atid campaigned centrally on putting the yeshivabuchers to work.
  • Is it really all but certain that Netanyahu will forgo including more centrist parties like Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua or even Labor?
Despite the fact that Netanyahu will be given the keys to the car again and there will be no (or precious few) progressives in Israel’s government this time either, there are a few silver linings. Larry Derfner at 972 Mag says no matter how you slice it, Netanyahu has lost control of a now more extreme right-wing. His days are numbered, but those coming to take his place are even worse. Brent Sasley at Open Zion is more optimistic that a centrist coalition is indeed possible, citing leadership differences between Netanyahu and head of the Jewish Home, Naftali Bennett.
And in the most interesting analysis of the results, Assaf Oron points out at The Only Democracy that in the last elections there were three Likud parties — Likud itself, Kadima as centrist-Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu as Russian-Likud — with a total of 70 seats between them, while also taking a few seats from the left. Now, Likud-Beiteinu is down to 31 total. “The Right has passed its undeserved zenith,” he writes. Meanwhile, the lefties elected are actually progressives, including a strengthened Meretz and Labor.
More to come.

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Mishegas: MLK, Phillip Roth, Mel Brooks and Hitler

Jewish Food Justice Fellowship

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And you thought American elections ads were bad

Israeli elections advertisements

Have you entered Jewschool and Mah Rabu’s elections predictions pool? Monday, January 21st at midnight EST is your last chance to enter! 

I’m finding two big differences between American and Israeli electoral advertisements. First, ads here in Israel are more entertaining, mostly because they’re way more offensive. It’s even worse than the coded racism of past years’ Republican commercials — there seems no need for anything covert here. This month, the Sephardi ultra-orthodox party called Russians goyyim while an extreme right party charged Palestinian citizens with disloyalty, just to mention a couple that raised eyebrows.

The second big difference is the blessedly short campaign period here, no more than 101 days and only during the final weeks of which TV ads may run. The short campaign season is thanks to strict Israeli elections regulations: The maximum campaign gift is $480 per household annually (believe it!); only parties can receive donations for the general election; individuals may only raise money for their primary campaigns. (And only a handful of parties even conduct primaries. Avigdor Lieberman, for example, picks Yisrael Beiteinu’s entire slate.) Most notably to me, advertisements on radio, TV and print are paid for publicly based on a party’s existing seats in Knesset. Yes, that means that Kadima, sitting at nearly a quarter of the outgoing Knesset, received the most advertising airtime even though it will barely win one seat.

This is not to say that Israeli elections are free from undue influence. Kibbutzim and the largest union, the Histadrut, are exempted from some restrictions on financing elections. (Guess who they usually support.) Meanwhile, institutions like the state-run religious military academies illegally mobilize for religious parties. And the right-wing parties’ primaries awash with many times the amount of American Jewish money than the left. Worse, Yisrael Hayom is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and is Netanyahu’s personal trumpeter. The latter is apparently perfectly legal.

Minus the state-run yeshivas, America stands to benefit by adopting the same restrictions on campaign funding, campaign length, and public financing. Below you’ll find TV spots from most of the major parties this election, even the ones which put American race-baiting in Little League. (Thanks to my fellow Dorot Fellow Daniel Haboucha for allowing me to share the links he collected.) More »

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How many refugees has Israel accepted in 64 years?

From the Presidents Conference in Jerusalem in June 2012, Jewish leaders were asked a single question: “Since 1948, how many non-Jewish people has the State of Israel accepted as refugees?” Due notice that all the Israelis are way closer to the truth than the rosy-eyed Americans.

How many refugees do you think Israel should accept as part of its obligation under the UN refugee covenant — of which Israel was on the steering committee for the drafting of it and 5 of 26 contributing NGOs were Jewish ones? Hmmmm?

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Mishegas: Kim Kardashian on Gaza, Maccabeats resurrected, and a Jewish slang dictionary

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Twenty minutes in a Tel Aviv bomb shelter

Yesterday, I sat surrounded by tutu-sporting 8-year-olds in the basement bomb shelter of a Tel Aviv community center. There is nothing more tragic to watch than wet-eyed and fearful miniature ballerinas. The twenty minutes I spent there summoned with clarity many of the reasons that brought me to Israel eight years ago in the first place.

When we heard the siren, it was unmistakable. If you’ve heard the Shabbos horn in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, it’s the same sound. And I see the same behaviors here in Israel as when my family heard our first tornado alert in rural Colorado: we looked out our front window to see our elderly neighbor sitting drinking a beer in a lawn chair in his driveway casually watching the sky. The atmosphere here is likewise the same practiced routine with one eye always on the news. If anything, people seem to believe they’ve seen this TV episode before and know how it ends: the Hebrew press is now reporting that Israel authorized 75,000 reserve soldiers be called up and asked Homeland Security to prepare for 7 weeks of fighting.

When talk does turn to the escalation, I hear a similar escalation in internal-Israeli debating. After noting to a Tel Avivi friend that 1991 was the last time the alarm was heard here, he tersely replied, “Yes, we’re more used to suicide bombers in nightclubs and cafes.” Later that day, someone from the north commented that it was about time Tel Avivis felt something personal at stake. And as of earlier today, rockets have fallen near Jerusalem too.

And meanwhile, the civilian residents of Gaza — impoverished and deprived of myriad simple freedoms — huddle in their homes while leaflets and text messages from the IDF warn them to leave combat zones. But to where, it’s not apparent. Unlike the alarm and shelters that I have access to all over Tel Aviv, there is no warning for incoming IDF airstrikes on the missiles hidden beneath the house next door, nor are there fortified bomb shelters to retreat into. Certainly their ruling, blood-thirsty, religious fundamentalist junta will take seriously their demands for ceasefire…

All of this was yet to cross my mind as I sat in the shelter with ballerinas full of confusion. There’s little to do in there except pondering a little of your own mortality. Those minutes — let us hope they will not add up to hours this month — make you reflect briefly about what you value and hope for most for the world, and wonder whether you are working hard enough for it to come to be. An end to wars is definitely on my list and ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I am now even more dedicated to.

Unlikely ways Obama could appreciate Netanyahu’s backing of Romney

Yediot Ahronot on US Election Day by Kung Fu Jew 18, on Flickr

President Obama won his reelection. And while American Jews supported him just as much as in 2008, there is one Jew who very publicly backed the losing horse: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Officially, Netanyahu said in a short statement that he will “continue working with President Obama in order to safeguard the interests crucial for the security of Israel’s citizens.” Netanyahu stepped boldly into American electoral politics by appearing with Romney and participating in Republican ads in Florida. More »

Please Cher (ha) this last video by SchlepLabs

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What if Anat Hoffman wasn’t white?

Anat Hoffman, head of both Women of the Wall and the Reform Movement’s action center in Israel, was arrested while saying the Sh’ma with 250 other American Jews from Hadassah. The Reform movement called immediately for an investigation, the Conservative movement called for global Sh’ma flashmobs, and other groups joined the condemnation.  (Jewschool contributor LJCM rightly asks why there aren’t even more, but here I’ll press a parallel observation.) Something is obviously wrong with this abandonment of American Jewry’s pretenses against criticizing the democratically-elected government of the State of Israel.

Tellingly, the head of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Garry Skolnick, gave hint to this counter-current in an email blast: “When Protestant groups are pushing for a total reconsideration of all American foreign aid to Israel and Iran is working hard to develop the capacity to go nuclear, we must be thoughtful as to how, and in what forums, we choose to address the very real issues that are of burning concern to us.” He continued, “Yes, Israel must change. But those of us who love her must help her change, not hurt her through our good intentions.”

As one (female) Jewschool contributor quipped, “No one’s got the tits at all in this movement.” But it’s not just “wussing out” on women’s rights as another contributor said, it’s the obvious selective outcry of institutions joining this particular outcry. They’ve been silent on recent offenses equally important — and in a few cases, even more dire. More »