by guestpost [➚] · Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
This is a guestpost by Liya Rechtman.
My family’s Passover Seder this year marked two firsts for my boyfriend: his first time meeting my dad and his first time eating homemade gefilte fish. As we read the haggadah around the table, I felt myself tensing up: ‘oh no, what if he gets that passage about Hillel and Shamai and he can’t pronounce the weird Hebrew town names?’ and ‘Worse! What if he winds up with “Tell me morano, my brother” and he has no idea what it’s about?’ When a reading did finally fall on him, and my boyfriend started on with “I am a Jew because…” I sort of giggled, loudly. My mom, tactful as always, told him that perhaps they would let someone else read the passage and come back to him. The first minor, awkward, interfaith hurdle had been managed gracefully by all parties involved.
The Seder moved on that night, and for several months to come the disparity between my Jewish tradition and his ex-Muslim atheism were significant parts of our identity, but not prohibitively so in the context of our relationship. Our faith/non-faith perspectives consistently yielded to thoughtful, extended discussion and debate about God, materialism, and meaning, among other things. That is, until three boys were declared dead in Israel and I stayed up all night crying. More »
My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.
This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”
Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.
As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.
Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.
I contributed a blogpost to our friends at At Big Questions for this month’s theme of Seeing and Being Seen, which they encouraged me to cross-post here. Check out more of their work!
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”
– Ralph Ellison, Prologue to Invisible Man
We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But which words? And how do we know? And what is it, exactly, that we know?
You all know what I’m talking about. As much as Jews are working to combat Antisemitism, so do Jews love to refer to anyone who is rude to them or disagrees with them as an Antisemite. And now, as it turns out, anyone who is rude can always be implied to be a Hamas supporter who is also anti-human rights and definitely a misogynist.
The Forward has a short piece online about the changing nature of Social Media news coverage and its impact on the public perception of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. This article – like every article bemoaning the rapid fire, limited nature of the platform – notes that the speed at which information is disseminated changed the way we experience conflict. But that isn’t it alone. The fact that both sides have these tools, I have to say I don’t think it is the platforms “fault” for the way we see this conflict.
The New Yorker published the translated Yediot Ahronot piece by Etgar Keret about the degradation of the civil discourse in Israel. In “Israel’s Other War” Keret laments the perversion of the deeply held value of true democratic (and Jewish) societies: that the voice of the minority has value. The phrase “Let the IDF Win” has again become a popular refrain in Israel during this conflict. Keret notes this phrase has nothing to do with the external enemy but rather the subversive voices on the home-front. Lefties and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are lumped together with Hamas terrorists for simply disagreeing with their elected officials or expressing concern for the dead children in Gaza.
I encourage you all to read this piece but the thesis delineates that Israelis “are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion—especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives—is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.”
But as an American living a charmed life in California I still feel this false choice forced upon me by the Jewish world. The anonymity of the key board and safety of our curated social networks insulate us to a degree that we only see and experience this conflict in the way we want to believe that it is happening. More »
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 »
I know. I know, Gawker was trolling with this post calling for Israel — or a Jewish state — in Germany. I also know that if we check our bias at the door we could see some logic in this suggestion. But you can’t ignore the complexity of history or the complicated nature of the present reality. Beyond the ignorant black-and-white ahistorical narrative of “Holocaust leads to Israel,” there are a couple of statements made as fact that are way beyond the pale.
It starts with the general intellectual argument against Zionism, which is fine if dishonest, but goes much further into the land of fantasy.
No matter where you stand in the “Israelis vs. Palestinians” political arguments—in which both sides are hopelessly entrenched and unmoving—it seems fair to acknowledge that there are some fundamental problems with the location of the nation of Israel. For one thing, it was carved out of land already occupied by someone else. Whether or not you think Israel was justified in carving itself a nation out of Palestine, you must admit that the act of doing so was bound to cause some resentment.
This ignores too much history. Of course there were people in the now state of Israel, most of them were Arabs and some were Jews. And before you jump up-and-down on me as mouth-breathing right-wing fascist, the facts are pretty clear: Zionism started its colonial exercise of Palestine in the late 19th Century in a more-or-less legal manner.
It goes on and really gets away from facts:
Let’s stipulate that [Zionist and Arab] positions, at the time of the founding of modern Israel, were reasonable:
Jewish people: We have been persecuted too long. We want our own state!
Palestinians: Okay, but don’t take my stuff to get it, please!
So the establishment of Israel, regarded by many as a towering achievement of historic justice, will forever be tainted by the fact that it was established by taking land from people who had done nothing wrong. That act laid the groundwork for the nonstop conflict that continues to this day.
If it was only that easy or simple. Or even close to the truth. There was an infrastructure in place well before WWII and in fact a number of wars (or violent uprisings) that had happened before the international establishment of the state of Israel. The Partition Plan, complete with its flaws, was the defining international legal document of the establishment of Israel. The ensuing wars against the Arabs shifted boarders but for the love of all things good, this idea that the organized Palestinians (and the rest of the Arab world at that time) would have said anything like this is ludicrous.
I am all for having a real conversation about the mass populations transfers or ethnic cleansing (depending on your prospective). I will happily discuss Zionism as the answer to historical Antisemitism or Zionism causing its nouveau rise in Europe and elsewhere. I will always go toe-to-toe with absolutists on any side of an argument because I believe that no political situation is completely black or white (and I like to argue). But what we all can’t allow is the pure distortion of the facts and history. It helps no one.
So, good job Gawker, you got me with your trolling. But next time perhaps you can take an aggressive and controversial position, perhaps you can do it based on fact.
ED: I started to write Black, Gay and Jewish when I realized that converting to Judaism and talking about Jewish things was taking up a lot of space on my now defunct blog about lesbian dating in NYC (I’d just come out). I started writing it as a sort of personal journal through the process of converting to Judaism and also because there was only one other blog penned by a black, gay and Jewish woman. (This isn’t to say that there weren’t awesome blogs out there about conversion; there are so many that it boggles the mind. A few are written by gay Jews and by Jews of Color, but rarely did I find anything on the web that had all three.) More »
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.
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 »
"Nazi Party" at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit (photo credit: City Pages)
Whereas the local city council did nothing official to condemn the high school students who on Purim masqueraded as members of the KKK for such an egregious display of racism, a group of local Minnesotans banded together to express their disappointment and hurt at the Minneapolis restaurant’s shocking display of insensitivity in hosting the now-notorious annual “Nazi Party.” More »
For anyone trying to hold on to those last breaths of Purim, here is my piece from the recent Jerusalem Sermon Slam on the theme of Amalek, in which I consider a bizarrely persistent custom about about language, Amalek’s relationship to sexual violence and degradation, and how we capture that dystopic reality theologically. It was a provocative evening — a safe space for dangerous Torah (h/t for that phrase to my student, Rabbi Eric Woodward). Check out the other videos from the event, as well. My personal favorites are by Charlie Buckholtz (Amalek, predatory housing corruption, and more), Candace Mittel (remembering so that there’s no room left for Amalek), Bonna Haberman (how we produce Amalek), and Julie Seltzer (finding Amalek through its physical letters). To find out more about Sermon Slam and to support its next steps, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign. Check out upcoming Sermon Slams March 24 in Philadelphia, March 27 at Brandeis University, April 3 triple-header in Berkeley, Boston, and NYC-Washington Heights, April 7 in Philadelphia (Interfaith), and April 10 in Providence.
I believe that journalist Patrick Kelly’s heart was in the right place when he donned a kippah to experience life as a visible Jew here in Malmö, then wrote about it for the on-line magazine that features “Swedish News in English,” The Local.
Kelly wished to understand the experiences of, and to offer support to, our mutual friend Shmuel Goldberg and other kippah-wearing Jews here (especially Rabbi Shneur Kessleman) who have been threatened repeatedly. Unfortunately, however, Kelly’s nuanced article has been cut and spliced by several careless American Jewish writers who, in their rush to paint my adopted hometown—and perhaps the entire country of Sweden, and sometimes all of Scandinavia or even northern Europe as a whole—as dangerously anti-Semitic, do an injustice to Goldberg’s experiences, and to Kelly’s desire to honor rather than exploit them.
A few nights after Kelly’s piece appeared in The Local, I had a long talk with Shmuel. He does not enjoy being stared at, pointed to, or threatened when he walks around Malmö wearing a kippah. At the same time, he thinks that a) the number of people who behave like this is small, compared to the number of immigrants and other minorities in Malmö who also receive unpleasant treatment; that b) more useful than moaning about anti-Semitism in Malmö would be if the community held a “Jewish pride” type cultural festival and that c) if something good can come out of these negative experiences, it might be this:
Sweden is a very secular society; Shmuel and I both know several non-Jews who wear their religion on their head, or around their neck, and are also mistreated or teased. He has spoken with devout Christians and Muslims who do not feel safe declaiming their faith in public. According to Shmuel, the freedom to express one’s religion should, along with the freedom to be out as gay, or the freedom to celebrate one’s ethnicity, be part and parcel of the open society that Sweden aspires to be.
Fortunately, several initiatives that address the many nuanced issues of celebrating diversity in this place that was, until recently, quite homogeneous, are currently under way here. Just last week, Copenhagen’s Middle East Peace Orchestra performed together with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Musicians and audience members included Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and people who do not identify with any religious group. Songs were song and stories told in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Arabic as well as Danish and Swedish. Watch this space for more information on such initiatives and events in the months to come.
A Jewish friend who used to live here once commented that, in Berlin, it is impossible to walk more than a few blocks without bumping into another Holocaust memorial. This year, on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and the 75th anniversary of the Kristalnacht pogroms, the entire city is part of a “theme-year”;a memorial to the lethal seeds that were planted here.
“Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933-1938-1945. A City Remembers” is the way in which Berlin is teaching its residents and visitors precisely how the diversity and democracy of Weimer Germany so quickly gave way to the rise of the brutal fascism that led directly to ghettoes, concentration camps, and extermination centers. In addition to the permanent Holocaust memorials, there are temporary exhibitions, lectures, films and other programs. These are publicized all over the city on kiosks, in subway stations, in the newspapers. It is impossible to avoid them.
This is a guest post by Eliana Fishman, who lives, works, and prays in Washington DC. (See the response by Raphael Magarik here.)
What is the American Jewish story, and how do we tell it?
The question of whether or not to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut has become a symbol of the division between religious Zionists and religious anti-Zionists. Religious Zionists, in particular followers of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaCohen Kook, recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut with a blessing, while religious anti-Zionists do not say Hallel at all. On Yom Ha’atzmaut liturgical choice represents political orientation. This binary leaves American Jewish congregations in a bind. Is Yom Ha’atzmaut a day when American Jews can pray together? How can a community committed to a multitude of opinions around Zionism also share liturgy?
I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut. Not because I am an anti-Zionist (I’m not), not because I have lefty politics (I do), and not because I’m not a daily davener (I am). I don’t say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut because I am an American Jew. Hallel on Yom Ha’atzmaut is not about Zionism, and it’s not about joy over the establishment of a Jewish state. Hallel is about narrative.
One of the earliest references to Hallel’s recitation is in Masechet Pesachim 117a. The Talmud explains that Hallel is not about simple joy, but about the narrative of redemption. A baraita specifies six cases where the entirety of the Jewish people (or what Chazal considered to be adequate representation of the entirety of the Jewish people) faced life-threatening adversity (e.g. at the Red Sea, when Joshua faced the Canaanites, when Deborah and Barak faced Sisera, etc). In each situation God redeems the entirety of the Jewish people, and a prophet established Hallel. The seventh instance that the baraita brings is either a summary, or a distinct case. The unnamed chachamim state that in each and every era that the Jewish people experience danger, Israel’s prophets establish the recitation of Hallel, and, when the people are redeemed, Israel says Hallel because of their redemption.
In each of these cases Hallel is recited first for extreme danger, and then for redemption. There is never any sense of “redemption is about to occur”, or “redemption is continuous”. Additionally, according to this baraita, Hallel is only recited when the entirety of the Jewish people are redeemed.
Did the establishment of the State of Israel redeem the entire Jewish people, or did it redeem only Jews in the land of Israel? Were American Jews redeemed on May 14, 1948? In order to answer that question we have to explore what redemption may or may not have occurred with the establishment of the State of Israel. I have three possible responses to that question—the Holocaust answer, the Arab army answer, and the continual answer. More »
Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
“Knowledge is the beginning of action, and action is the completion of knowledge.”
-Wang Yang-ming (1472-1529)
“I went to the Bulgarian Orthodox church the other day,” I told my friend. (Once in a while, I’m dragged to some esoteric church or other by another friend of mine who’s Spiritually Seeking (TM), and I humor her.) That’s all I said. That’s how this all started.
“I’m into yoga and Buddhism and astrology or whatever. I can’t really get into formal religion,” she replied. “I don’t even know why anyone would be Jewish, like choosing to be Jewish.” I told her, of course, that I probably wouldn’t have had the stamina myself if my dad hadn’t been Jewish. This is usually how I’d mollify such situations; you know, the old “Yeah, you’re right, but what can I say?”
“I mean, I don’t support Israel,” she went on, saying that although she didn’t really know all the facts, she did know such cold hard facts as “people are dying” and “the US shouldn’t be giving money to Israel.” I didn’t really know what she was getting at, but I’ve heard these conversations turn into “the Jews stole the land” more than enough times to know this wasn’t just going to be about fiscal policies.
“Israel is huge, and more people on the other side have died. Unless something has radically changed since I was last updated.”
“I don’t want to talk about Israel,” I said.
“Once I saw this stupid Israel group shouting stuff about Palestine, like how it’s not really a country,” she said. “How can you be such a vile piece of shit? I wanted to spit on them.”
And I don’t like how Jewish people automatically side with Israel as if they are Israeli,” she went on. “Do you really think they care about you stupid Americans over here, just because you’re Jewish?”
“It’s not all Israel’s fault,” I said. “That’s all I’m gonna say.” I have this rule where I don’t talk about subjects like this when neither party has enough information to have a real discussion. She had just told me she didn’t know much, and I’d be the first to admit I don’t know anything about Israel or Palestine, to say nothing of the basics of politics. It’s pretty tough to learn anything anyway when your only options are either Aish or the lone book in your library’s Israel section, “Israel: How to Handle This Fascist State?”
“Well, you’re biased because you’re trying to be Jewish,” she said. “You’re personally invested in this because of the Jewish element. You can’t be objective, and that’s sad. I can’t believe how people can be so closed-minded.”
I didn’t know what to say. I really had nothing to say. I don’t know much about the “conflict” either, except for what I learned in my History of Zionism class, which is basically this:
Somehow I suspected that wasn’t going to change her mind.
Israel was beside the point, though. I realized this as she continued, telling me that “Jews think they’re better than everyone,” “Jews are so elitist,” and “It’s racist not to intermarry.”
Sure, when I lived in Brooklyn, I heard this sort of thing on the bus and waiting for the subway, but only when I’m back home in Virginia do I hear it from friends. When I told her afterwards that I didn’t like being called “elitist,” she told me I was taking it too personally, and that she didn’t see why she would have offended me.
I’d try to crudely analyze such a frustrating situation if I thought it actually needed analysis.
The truth is, it’s exhausting to be the “spokesperson” all the time to people who will never fundamentally understand. Of course someone who’s raised to believe that “it’s racist not to intermarry” is going to think that “Jews are elitist.” I’m not going to change that. But I thought that when I got disillusioned with the details of the process of my Orthodox conversion and left Brooklyn after five months there, I’d just leave behind the Jewish community and religion and it would all work out, and that I wouldn’t mind the inevitable barrage of “Jews are like X” jokes, because I was over it. I actually thought I could do this, I thought I could avoid all of it, as long as I acted right, said the right things, diverted the subject…right up until I heard “Jews think they’re better than everyone.”
And it just wasn’t happening.
So thank you, anti-Zionist friend, for getting me out of that lie before it could get any deeper. Thanks for now believing I’m elitist and probably ultra-religious too, just because I disagreed with you. You made me realize that this goes far beyond anything I could do to avoid it. Now I won’t have to pretend to laugh at your jerky Jewish jokes anymore.