Sweden’s Jews Say, “I’m a learner, not a fighter!”

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?

Imagine my surprise, then, to find my various in-boxes filled with messages from concerned friends all over the world. I had posted here on Jewschool about last September’s explosion at the Jewish community center of Malmö, where I live, so the Tablet Magazine artical entitled “Swedish Jews Continue Their Fight: In Malmö, kippah walks are part of a resurgence of identity” had them worried.
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Judaism: An Inconvenient Mistress

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.

Please Come to Malmö in the Springtime*

 

Somebody threw heavy stones followed by an explosive device at the Jewish community center in Malmö, Sweden late Thursday night.  Contrary to the headlines in the world Jewish press, though, the blast did not “rock” the building. I live on the fifth floor, and my houseguest and my dog both slept through the event. I had been awake, and  heard a repetitive pounding followed by single loud bang. “Firecracker” was my first thought. There were no further noises, so I did not investigate it.

By morning, I had forgotten about it.  Around 9 AM a friend texted me a one-liner from Stockholm: “Are you OK?” I had no idea what she was referring to; perhaps the Yom Kippur services I had led?

My visitor and I had been schmoozing over a slow breakfast so we had not heard the news yet. Something about that text message still unnerved me, so I asked,  “Do you think something happened, maybe even something major, and we just haven’t heard about it yet?”

That is when we learned that someone had set off a very week blast at the front door of the community building, likely preceded by stones thrown at the glass.  The Jewish center  houses several apartments, the offices of the Jewish community, Chabad House, a Jewish pre-school, and a kosher caterer. Nobody had been hurt. The only real damage was the glass at the front door. By the time we got downstairs, it had been cleaned up, the window sealed with special tape. The pre-school was operating as usual and the ground floor smelled of baking challah, as it does every Friday. Apart from the taped up door, the only evidence of criminal activity were the two police offers stationed in front of the building.

Messages of concern began pouring in, but I had not anticipated the notice from Malmo’s Network for Faith and Understanding.  A solidarity vigil was already planned for 6 PM that evening. Rebecka H, the organizer, called to say that she wanted to hold the vigil immediately and on site, but she also wanted to respect Shabbat. She understood many Jewish people might be at home preparing;  her intention was to bring the community together to show their support and concern for us.

Indeed they did. About 70 women, men and children gathered in front of the building with large candles. Leaders of several Christian churches, two Muslim groups, and other spiritual and social organizations offered speeches, all brief and moving. Rebecka herself sang a poignant tune, accompanied by musician on a small drum. Journalist Barbro Posner represented the Jewish community. Rebekah  invited me to speak, but I had nothing to add to the absolute rightness of the moment.

Rebecka ended the vigil just prior to Shabbat, requesting that the crowd be aware that the Jewish Sabbath was beginning.  After many hugs and a few words with the local press, I went upstairs to finish preparing dinner. My friend from London, who doesn’t understand Swedish, was moved to tears.

The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa  to publish a Reuter’s photo of the vigil next to an  indefensible rant  by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness—we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims. Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Gellar, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City busses,  borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.”  Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.

Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Gellar and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.

Yes, there are hate crimes against Jews here. Yes, the mayor has repeatedly exacerbated this problem with odious speech of his own. It is understandable that some Holocaust survivors and their children have been traumatized and felt the need to leave.  A  rabbi who has been the victim of countless incidents of verbal and physical attacks to his person and his property feels that he and his family are under siege, and I have great empathy for them.  Yet he always encourages me to be “out” as Jewish everywhere, especially among my Arab and Iranian classmates at my Swedish for Immigrants school.

Jewish communal leaders who declare that the municipality and the Swedish government must provide Malmo’s Jews with a more robust security program, including at the building in which I live, are correct.
But Jews should not feel chased out of Malmo. Rather, the Wiesenthal Center should remove the absurd Travel Advisory that it slapped on my adopted hometown, and instead encourage more Jews to visit.  Anyone who does will see that Malmö is a diverse city with all of the joys and challenges that this brings.

 

*Maybe for  Limmud Oresund 2013.

It isn’t very pleasant

Reports surfaced today regarding a savage beating in East Lansing, MI in which Zachary Tennen, a 19-year-old sophomore Journalism student at Michigan State University, was asked if he was Jewish before two men of college age beat the crap out him. This attack included a Hitler salute and the symbolic torture of trying to staple the boys mouth together shit getting kicked out of the kid. Updated info here.

According to the report from The Detroit Free Press, the police in East Lansing aren’t yet ready to call this hate crime a hate crime. They have witnesses and a suspect.

But here is the kicker:

Zachary told his parents no one at the party helped him as he was attacked and then thrown out of the gathering. He took a cab to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing for initial treatment, but underwent surgery at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland hospital in Pontiac overnight to have his jaw wired shut, his mother said.

The facts are bad enough here: A 19-year old kid was beaten for being Jewish. That is horrific. Adding to these nasty truths we know that no one who saw this go down helped this boy. It is inexcusable.

Unsurprisingly, Tennen said that not only the physical but the emotional trauma “isn’t very pleasant.”

A quote from a German minster comes to mind. More »

Is honest disagreement and debate still a Jewish virtue?

It is no secret that Jews like a good debate. It’s a deeply ingrained part of our culture. I once heard Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz say that as much as the Talmud (a repository of disagreements and debates) is a product of Jewish culture, it has as much of an influence in shaping Jewish culture. We call an honest debate in Judaism a machloket l’shem shamayim, a disagreement for the sake of heaven. In other words, we don’t have to agree with someone’s opposing viewpoint, but we do have to respect the person.

Matt Abelson, a JTS rabbinical student, recently completed his year of study in Jerusalem. Perhaps one of the most challenging years in rabbinical school for a whole host of reasons, it is nearly impossible to return from the experience unchanged. Abelson wrote a post in which he slams the Encounter program for encouraging students to disengage from traditional Zionist ideology when it comes to their relationship with Israel. This is a “problem” that has been gaining increased attention in the last few years. It is a tense subject for many. As I have mentioned at other times on this blog, there were figures who sought to end my own career before it even began because, despite not even knowing me in real life, they decided I was anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic. I responded to Rabbi Daniel Gordis here when he brought up the issue last year.

I do not have a problem with the fact that Matt Abelson has a problem with Encounter. I do have a problem with how he misrepresents their program. I won’t go into those details here, because I already responded to his blog post there (I included my comment below the fold). I also have a problem with the notion of shirking the responsibility for responsible debate because an issue elicits strong emotion. However, I do want to pose the question, is it an acceptable response to “opt out” of a difficult discussion because it makes you uncomfortable? Go and check out his post and come back here to comment. More »

We’re Here. We’re Jews. Get Used to It.

Last month, while attending a workshop in Israel, I introduced myself as a new resident of Malmö. Before I could finish my next sentence, I was interrupted by a man with a kipa and a North American accent.

    “Why on earth did you move there? It’s the most anti-Semitic city on the planet!”

I tried to deflect the disruption with humor, but he wouldn’t shut up until the facilitator intervened.

Ironically, this was during a “listening circle,” designed to create a mood of awareness and attention to other people’s stories. The goal of this session was to encourage Palestinians, Israelis, and international visitors to listen closely as each participant shared a single, brief story that would allow us to understand something about her or him.

I thought about that experience last Shabbat, as I joined hundreds of people—Malmö residents and visitors, Jews and non-Jews, politicians and neighbors, religious and secular people of all ages—on a “kipa-walk” through the streets of Malmo. It was a significantly larger, very highly publicized version of the Shabbat afternoon walks that have been occurring almost monthly since December. Those walks were all low-key strolls attended by 15 to 30 people, Jews and some allies wearing kipot and other Jewish symbols. The “kipa-walks” are in response to the increased anti-Semitism that has emerged in Malmö over the past few years. A local rabbi and his wife have even been physically attacked in broad daylight on several occasions, and a peaceful Jewish demonstration was assaulted by a mob. Most of the aggression has been verbal, however, and these walks have most emphatically been a positive, prideful response to countless dim-witted, ignorant comments made by Malmo mayor Ilmar Reepalu following these attacks. More »

Meet Csanad Szegedi, Your New Favourite Jewish Anti-Semite

Csanad Szegedi was enjoying a fine career as a politician in Hungary’s nationalist Jobbik Party. The 30-year-old Hungarian helped market Hungarian nationalist merchandise online, acted as an EU lawmaker, and did not skimp on the Jew-bashing in his public speeches.

Csanad Szegedi, your new favourite Jewish anti-Semite

This all came to screeching halt upon his recent discovery that his maternal grandmother was a Jew who survived the Holocaust.  Shortly after learning of his Jewish ancestry, he resigned from his positions in the Jobbik Party.

That’s right  ladies: Mr. Szegedi is a Jew by halakhic standards. And he’s available.

 

This is almost as good as if the recently-declared U.S. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan would suddenly find out he’s really a woman.  Almost.

Edon Pinchot is Titanium

Lest there be any doubt in your minds, Skokie, IL is the bastion of cool these days. Jewschool’s very own Adam Davis just moved there, I grew up there, and…oh yeah, the likely winner of this season’s America’s Got Talent hails from there too.

AGT Contestant and Skokie native Edon Pinchot, 14

Singing sensation AGT finalist Edon Pinchot is 14 years old and about to start high school at Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy this coming fall. He and his family live just blocks from my parents (who are long-time friends of his grandparents), and his parents are pillars of the orthodox Jewish community there.   I remember his mother, Laurie—an exquisitely refined, thoughtful woman, from the Skokie Women’s Tefilla Group which I regularly attended in my pre-adolescent years. The rest of the family are also substantial folks who excel at what they do.
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The Nose Plays

I have never really been a fan of Catholic League president Bill Donohue. Arguably you could call him a conservative agitator. As a liberal Jew, conservative Catholics really aren’t my political cup of tea. He targets those who do not present a perfectly conservative Catholic point of view on the social contract for protest and boycott. He uses the First Amendment to the best of his ability.

However it appears he doesn’t like it when others do the same.

In recent week’s, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of The Shalom Center and left-wing causes everywhere, wrote an op-ed that was published on The Huffington Post and else where, criticizing the crack down against US Nuns for disagreeing with the Bishops.

Bill didn’t like this.

BuzzFeed, better known for hard-nosed lists of funny pictures than for hard-nosed breaking news, broke this piece today and if you have yet to read the fact that Billy Boy told Arthur not to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, well I suggest you read it.

Bill Donohue is blow hard and while his anti-Semetic rant in the emails that were provided to BuzzFeed by “someone close to the Rabbi” are not surprising they piss me off. You could say his comments make me one Pissed Off Liberal Jew.

Noa-body puts Noa in a corner

In addition to her own distinguished career, Achinoam Nini (aka Noa) has a history of working on behalf of peace and reconciliation. Notably, she has partnered with Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, a Christian and resident of Haifa, on a concert tour and as the country’s entrants 2009 entrants into the Eurovision contest.  This  creative collaboration brought them wide attention around the world, mostly of the positive sort.

On Yom Hazikaron, the acclaimed international Israeli musical artist performed for a gathering of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former fighters and their families on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This recent performance brought on attention of a much uglier, vile sort from extremist corners in Israeli and North American Jewish corners.

Calling her “Garbage” and “Rat” and far worse.  They’ve taken to facebook calling for a boycott of Noa’s performances, and Noa has responded.

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ZOA response to my ‘irresponsible’ op-ed: I am ‘young and inexperienced,’ my writing ‘amateurish’

Crossposted to New Voices and davidamwilensky.com

Not to get too overwrought, but here’s my blog post in response to a Zionist Organization of America press release in response to my JTA op-ed in response to their JTA op-ed. Throughout the press release, notice how many of my points are avoided by going on an ad hominem rampage against me.

NEW YORK, May 1 – David Wilensky’s op-ed on “the correct use of Title VI” (Apr. 27, 2012) was an amateurish attempt to condemn an important new legal tool for Jewish students who are now protected from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  He claims that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) – which spearheaded the effort to achieve this civil rights protection – is misusing Title VI “to stifle legitimate discourse” and as a “bludgeon” to advance “far-right political viewpoints.”  These ridiculous charges are baseless.  Wilensky cites no evidence for his claims, merely engaging in silly name-calling.

I don’t know where they got “‘the correct use of Title VI’” from, but it doesn’t appear anywhere on the version of it on the JTA website. Given that they got the date wrong by about week (it was published on 4/18, not 4/27), I’m gonna guess that the mystery phrasing and the incorrect date were taken from the publication date and headline that accompanied my op-ed in one of the local Jewish papers that runs JTA material on about a one-week delay. (I could take a cheap shot at the ZOA for being so web incompetent that they don’t have a Google alert set up for the name of their own organization, but that would be “silly name-calling.”)

Speaking of which, can anyone point me to the part of my op-ed where I engage in “name-calling” of any sort — “silly” or otherwise? (Rest assured, when I do engage in name-calling I take it quite seriously.)

As for my writing being “amateurish,” I guess the “-ish” suffix lends that some validity as an opinion. As it turns out, I make my living doing this writing thing so I’m technically the opposite of an amateur. I hasten to point out that Klein and Tuchman are the amateurs here. I don’t know much about Tuchman, but she’s lawyer. Klein on the other hand is a well-known pillar of the professional reactionary community. I don’t think much of this screed, but since I’m no professional paranoia-peddler, I’ll refrain from passing judgement on its level of amateurishness. More »

Crowe to play Aronofsky’s Noah

Russell Crowe
Dario Cantatore/Getty Images Russell Crowe

Following Earth Day it seemed appropriate to share that Academy-ward winning actor Russell Crowe will star in director Darren Aronofsky’s (Black Swan) feature film about the biblical boat builder, Noah. The film will be released spring 2014.  Crowe’s depiction of Jewish detective Richie Roberts in American Gangster keeps coming to mind, how he was such an everyman.  Now he’ll get to be an ish tzaddik tamim haya b’dorotav (A righteous man in his generation). Exciting. Hunky. Noah.  I can’t wait for the musical. I wanna hear Crowe say, “I’m on a boat!”

The news comes on the heels of the quite public demise of another epic on The Maccabees following a biblical meltdown by esrt-while anti Semite Mel Gibson toward his scriptwriter Joe Ezterhaus, who brought us quality films like Showgirls.

“The news prompted the “Basic Instinct” writer to allege in a letter posted by the Wrap that Gibson, who was to produce and possibly direct the film, never wanted to make it because, as Eszterhas said of Gibson, “You hate Jews.”

N0 kidding, Joe?  News to us… Who wants to eat?

From Malmo on Yom haShoah

Malmo Synagogue

Following is a guest post by Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, current resident of Malmo, Sweden.

In early March, when I was asked to write a column about Jewish life in Malmö, I began like this: Google “Jews in Malmö.” Most of the results will be about the rise in anti-Semitism, the hostility between Muslims and Jews, the anti-Semitic rants of the mayor, and the number of Jews who are fleeing Sweden’s third largest city.

Six weeks later, you can skip the Google search. The Jewish media have their eye on Malmö, thanks to the most recent spewing of idiotic, anti-Semitic rants by mayor Ilmar Reepalu. This time, he tried to claim that the Jewish community of Malmö had allowed itself to be infiltrated by the white supremacist Sweden Democrat party in order to attack Muslims. When confronted, Reepalu admitted that his accusation was baseless. Dominos have begun to fall since then. The leader of his Social Democrat party scolded the mayor, and word has it that Reeplu might even be open to hearing from Jewish citizens.  It remains unclear whether there will be any real impact on Reeplalu’s mayorship.

Yet, although Malmö’s Jews do face anti-Semitism from some hateful, even violent neighbors as well as from the mayor, things have changed since 2010, when the Forward published an article titled, “For Jews, Swedish City is a Place to Move Away From.”  In fact, last month I used that title as a foil, declaring Malmö to be a delightful place to move to.  The Jewish community here is undergoing a true renaissance and, on this Yom Hashoah,  many members look toward the future with hope.

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Jews in the House: the Antisemitism Edition

When recently asked if he detects any Antisemitism among the House Republican caucus, Rep. Eric Cantor answered by not answering, rambling on about the continuing struggle to improve “religious and racial matters” in this country.

“We’ve continued to provide, ya know, equal treatment to everybody,” Cantor remarked. Best of all was his uncomfortable silence when pressed yet again to comment specifically upon his colleagues in the House.  See for yourself:

 

Playing politics: ZOA has it all wrong when it comes to college

Crossposted to New Voices and davidamwilensky.com.

JTA has published a new op-ed by me, a response to a piece by some Zionist Organization of America honchos published by JTA earlier this week:

Op-Ed: Title VI should be used only on true hatemongers, not political opponents

By David A.M. Wilensky

NEW YORK (JTA) – In the eyes of the Zionist Organization of America, the most depraved enemies of the Jewish people are obnoxious college campus loudmouths. As the editor of New Voices, a national magazine by and for Jewish college students, I have a different perspective.

The ZOA led the campaign to have discrimination against Jewish students recognized as a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, originally passed in 1964 to remedy racial discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. But in its charge to circle the Jewish communal wagons, the ZOA has overreached.

ZOA President Morton Klein and Susan Tuchman, director of the group’s Center for Law and Justice, wrote in a JTA Op-Ed that Jewish college students today face “harassment and discrimination at schools receiving federal funding.” The ZOA pitched a six-year fit about it, which the group credits with this triumph: “The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, finally clarified in October 2010 that Jewish students finally would be afforded the same protection” that other minorities have under Title VI.

The ZOA campaign capitalizes on and needlessly exacerbates the Jewish community’s already unwarranted paranoia about what’s happening to our young men and women on campus. As a member of the class of 2011 and as the editor of New Voices, I can say with confidence that there’s never been a better time to walk the halls and lawns of American academia as a Jew.

[...]

If you’re so inclined you can read the rest of it over here at JTA.

And if you’re not tickled by the fact that the ad below appears on the same page as my op-ed, you’re probably dead inside.

“The Wandering Who?” Gilad Atzmon and Jewish Identity

This s a guest post by independent filmmaker Eli Ungar-Sargon. His first feature-length film, Cut, is about circumcision and Jewish identity. He is currently in post-production on his second feature length film, A People Without a Land.

When Gilad Atzmon blew through Los Angeles to promote his latest book The Wandering Who?, I knew nothing about him. As I sat down to hear him speak I was handed a flyer by a nervous looking young woman. The flyer declared: “LEVANTINE CENTER HOSTS ANTI-SEMITE” and it furnished a series of Atzmon quotes to support its aspersion. The young woman and knit yarmulka-clad man who were handing these flyers out were politely asked to leave and they did so without protest. As I listened to Atzmon first speak and then perform a few musical numbers on his saxophone, it occurred to me that antisemite or not, I was genuinely interested in what this man had to say.

The Wandering Who? seeks to answer the seemingly simple question: “What do people mean when they call themselves Jews?” Near the beginning of the book, Atzmon makes a foundational tripartite distinction between three kinds of Jews. In the first category are people who follow the Jewish religion. The second contain those who were accidentally born to Jewish parents, but see themselves as human beings. And the third category is “Those who put their Jewish-ness over and above all of their other traits.”

The obvious problem with these categories is that real Jewish people seldom fall into only one of them. I know as many religious Jews who fall into categories 1 and 2 as I do secular Jews who fall into categories 2 and 3. Do their identities contain logical contradictions? Surely they do. But these contradictions do not emerge as a consequence of their Jewish-ness, rather they come from the nature of identity itself. To his credit, Atzmon points out that similar contradictions emerge within feminist and gay identity politics and it could be argued that his categorical distinctions are there for conceptual clarity. Nevertheless, Atzmon includes both ardent Zionists and self-identified Jewish Leftists in his third category, arguing that they belong to the same identity continuum:

“If we redefine Zionism as a modern form of Jewish activism that aims to halt assimilation, we can then reassess all Jewish tribal activity as an internal debate within a diverse Zionist political movement…The Israel lobby and the Alan Dershowitzes of the world are the voices of Zionism; the third-category socialists are there to stop proud, self-hating Jews from blowing the whistle.”

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Mobius is for the #Occupation

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

As many know, Mobius, activist and founder of this blog, is known for his outspoken views ending on the Occupation and more recently for his leadership in Jewish slice of the the #Occupy movement (among his prodigious other accomplishments).

In a somewhat surreal turn of events, earlier this week as police evicted Sieradski and the rest of #occupy wall street from Zucotti Park, the Electronic Intifada denounced him for  being a tool of the Zionist PR machine. Got that?  They associated him with his twitter and real-life debate partner, William Daroff, who proudly clams that title.  Clearly, having posed together for a photo makes them philosophical bunk mates. Confused yet? It gets better.

Those who believe that Mobius was against the occupation are apparently incorrect, according to Adam Greenhouse and Electronic Intifada.  Huh?

Not only this, but he is, or was, and now is again- FOR the #Occupation.  Of course- and apparently Electronic Intifada is as well. But not THAT occupation.  And  Mobius is not entitled to be thus as he hasn’t been nearly outspoken enough about his views. Which E.I. is against because, well, he’s so clearly in bed with the rightwing Zionists. And Muppets.

Which they’re for- no wait, against.. Okay, I’m confused. Blame the Jews!

Stranger still, Electronic Initifada did this in the context of announcing the delivery of a message of Palestinian solidarity with the #Occupy movement in NYC.  They announce solidarity, denounce Sieradski for being an anarchist statist capitalist communist jew sellout.

And btw, since we’re off the topic, the Muppets also deserve a state of their own too. Who doesn’t anymore (except Kurds, Boriquenas and American Indians)?  Personally, I believe the @Muppets should be free to live everywhere.  As long as its not in my backyard because my 6th cousins are moving in as soon as UNESCO declares their right to return to my #basement.  I also wish to denounce those who would deny them the right to both have the state of #Muppestine and the right to denounce such states on principle!  Really, this totally made sense when explained by the Electric Meyhem.

Somewhere I hear Bill Murray turning to Harold Ramis and saying, “Wait, I thought you said the Occupation was baaaaad.”  DOWN! with the evil #occupiers of the anti-zionist non-entity!  No wait- FREE Palestine! End the #Occupation! Muppets!  No, wait, we support the occupiers just not the #occupation!  Reverse that.  We are with the 6 million!  Wherever we stand, it is in opposition to the opposition of the opposition of the occupation, except when we’re not.  And then we are.

At least the Palestinian Solidarity movement got its support of #occupy straight on one point, and that was… failing to make a clear point. Nice work and way to muddy the waters for the enemies of progress.  Thanks for the giggles!  But not really.

Occupy Mishegas

A week ago, between 500 – 1000 Jews showed up at the Occupy Wall Street encampment for Yom Kippur services alongside three other cities. (Our first-person reportage from NYC, DC, Boston here and here.) Here’s a collection of the highlights:

  • Occupy Sukkot quickly followed on the success of Yom Kippur, with independent plans to erect sukkahs in New YorkBostonPhiladelphiaWashington, D.C.AtlantaOaklandLos AngelesPortland and Seattle.
  • “Occupy Judaism” saw its first  arrests in Seattle, where police arrested 10 and dismantled the illegal structure (pics, video).
  • The NYPD however, according to Dan Sieradski, gave the Wall Street sukkah a wide berth while Josh Nathan-Kazis tweeted the NYPD were warning those erecting tents about halakhic requirements on seeing the stars.
  • David Brooks in a NY Times editorial coyly accused the Occupy Wall Street movement of anti-semitism, picked up swiftly by (oh yes) Rush Limbaugh. The 1% vs. 99%, apparently, is code for “Jews” and “Gentiles.”
  • Mik Moore responded forcefully on Facebook, reposted to Jewschool, “What he is doing is divisive. It diminishes real antisemitism. And it ignores the thousands of Jews who are active participants in shaping Occupy Wall Street.”
  • Connect with Occupy Judaism’s official blog, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Got pictures or reflections on your Occupy Sukkot goings on? Tell us on Twitter, Facebook or email.