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 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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
Kol Nidrei service at Occupy Wall Street via The Jewish Week
This guestpost is by Mik Moore, a writer and campaign strategist, and the principal partner at Mik Moore Consulting LLC.
This morning I got up, poured myself a bowl of cereal and opened the NYTimes. Eventually I came to David Brooks’ column. A largely forgettable critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests for being insufficiently radical, it included this nugget:
Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.
This is classic Brooks. He writes something that appears innocent enough on its face, but is really underhanded, dishonest, and incendiary.
So, what’s going on here? In short, the right is looking for a way to discredit Occupy Wall Street, and so far nothing seems to stick. Hard to portray them as a mob when they are non-violent. Hard to portray them as just a bunch of hippies when so many different people are participating. Hard to portray them as radicals when their critiques are relatively mainstream.
Brooks has a different idea. Why not call them antisemites? Maybe that will slow them down.
For anyone who takes seriously accusations of antisemitism – and I do – this is dangerous. Crying “antisemitism!” when it isn’t there makes it more difficult to combat real antisemitism. It also makes young Jews cynical and older Jews scared.
Because Brooks thinks he’s slick, he doesn’t come out and say the protest organizers are antisemites. He just implies it. And if the tree (Adbusters) is tainted, don’t eat those apples (OWS)! Because what was the nature of Adbusters antisemitism, according to Brooks? “[A]n investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.”
An influential elite! Controling policy! Hey, isn’t that what these folks down on Wall Street say they are protesting? It doesn’t take much to connect Brooks’ dots.
Don’t buy it? You must not listen to Rush Limbaugh. On his radio show, Rush picked up on Brooks’ inference. But unlike Brooks, Rush doesn’t beat around the bush. According to Rush, the 99% are the gentiles. The 1% are the Jews. Wall Street bankers is code for rich Jews. It all makes sense!
Brooks is counting on his well tended reputation to enable him to play the antisemitism card and get away with it. He shouldn’t. 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.
This photograph (above) was taken for The Jewish Week during Kol Nidre services, held across from Zuccotti Park in support of Occupy Wall Street. Their presence alone should suffice as a rebuttal to Brooks’ insufferable insinuation.
In what seems like a development only possible on the satirical pages of the Onion, Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions has just unveiled plans to co-finance a new film about Judah Maccabee, with Joe Eszterhaus of Showgirls fame onboard as screenwriter. This is too good to be true. I mean, who better than Mel Gibson, the man who boldly asserted that Jews are responsible for all wars in the world, to capture the quintessential epic military struggle of Jewish national religious pride versus the lures of assimilation?
Well, time will only tell what choices Gibson will make, but if he sticks to my above plan, we’re going to have something even greater than The Passion of the Christ (2004). Or, as Reb Yudel puts it, “If Gibson’s Hanukkah film succeeds, can his Tisha b’Av blockbuster be far behind?”
Incidentally, I vividly recall dragging a date to a Sunday matinee screening of his last Jew epic in 2004. We paid for two tickets to see Dirty Dancing: Havana Nightsin the hopes that our tickets wouldn’t profit Gibson’s film, but later, a friend in the industry explained to me that films only benefit from concession stand money, not from actual ticket sales. Alas. The film itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, aside from its curious subtitling choices. While Gibson promised to cut out any direct implication of the Jews in Jesus’ crucifixion, the English subtitling did not always match the Aramaic dialogue onscreen. (I attended a high school which forced us to learn Aramaic. Now on facebook, I smugly resent that under the languages option, there is an “Aramaic of Jesus” and not also an ‘Aramaic of Rabban Gamliel.”) We, along with busloads of young Christian children, some of whom were as young as four years old, proceeded to watch what amounted to two full hours of Jesus being beaten to a bloody pulp. ::Spoiler alert:: Jesus is killed.
Eli Ungar-Sargon of Cut fame, whose blogging here at Jewschool has generated some interesting conversations, is off and running on his next project—a documentary film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As part of that project he surveyed both Israelis and Palestinians about their attitudes towards the other (i.e. Israelis about Arabs and Palestinians about Jews). The interviews with Palestinians have not been completely translated yet, and so the data is not ready, however, the data about Israelis is ready. Its not surprising, though its not pretty. At the same time, the data and interviews do not seem to support the screaming headline that the piece was given in Electronic Intifada where it was published. Here is the video:
More than anyone in recent memory, Matthew Hess is testing the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. After Nancy Appel of the Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning his comic Foreskin Man for its “grotesque anti-Semitic imagery,” many prominent intactivists felt the need to distance themselves from him and his organization MGMBill.org. Moreover, the furor over Foreskin Man undoubtedly contributed to the pressure that ultimately shut down the ballot initiative in Santa Monica. Over the past month, many people have been asking me whether Matthew Hess is an anti-Semite. I don’t know the man, so I decided to contact him and ask him some questions. Below are his unedited responses: More »
Every once in a while, somebody accuses Jewschool contributors of ignoring or belittling anti-Semitism. For those who found Borat to be a hilarious take-down of the haters, here’s a reminder from JTA of why some of us actually found Barron-Cohen’s shtick just a bit offense:
In the great tradition of Jewish lawyers defending Nazis and Nazi sympathizers (such as the infamous Supreme Court case involving neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, IL in the late 1970s), turns out that the most recent source of drunken and/or drug induced anti-Semitic rants (in the great tradition of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen), fashion designer John Galliano, has got himself a Jewish lawyer–to be fair, according to the interview linked below, he has been his lawyer for the last seven years.
YNet has published an interview with the Galliano’s lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, who has apparently received threats because representing the former top designer of Christian Dior. You can see the video of the clearly drunken and rather despicable rant at the HuffPost.
My favorite gem from the interview comes right at the beginning.
Your client is accused of making rather harsh anti-Semitic comments. What is your explanation for this?
“I have no explanation. It could happen to any one of us. Anyone can go to a bar, drink a little and get into a fight with someone.”
Yes. It could happen to any one of us. You walk into a bar, become obliterated drunk while under the influence of prescription drugs and then tell the people next to you that you wish Hitler had killed them… Happens all the time.
My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Galliano’s comments are unforgivable and despicable. Not to mention, in the greatest sense of irony, as a homosexual and self-proclaimed “gipsy” (apparently very publicly) he too would have fallen victim (twice) to the egregious and murderous crimes of the Nazi regime. However, I also think it wrong for people to be threatening his lawyer. Justice is justice, and lawyers take an oath to uphold justice; not to pick and choose which parts of the law to uphold. All the more so I find it acceptable for Zerbib to represent Galliano if they have had a professional relationship for nearly a decade.
Ultimately, anti-Semitic sentiment (drunken or sober) will not be eradicated because Jewish lawyers refuse to represent anti-Semites. Again, justice is justice and in free and democratic societies all people have the right to fair representation in court. Plus, if Galliano’s lawyer is going to make arguments in court such as the one quoted above–that any one of us could, in a drug and alcohol induced state, proclaim our love for Hitler–well, I think we can feel comfortable in how this case will go.
The following was posted on The Jewish Week Associate Editor Jonathan Mark’s blog last night. It is no longer up on The Jewish Week site.
Hopefully they’ll put it back up later, so that the views of their Associate Editor are clear and public. In the meantime, here is the text. Because it was culled from a pasted version, it might be formatted somewhat incorrectly, losing external links and/or missing the final paragraph:
When Glenn Beck Compares Reform Judaism To Radical Islam, He’s Unfair To Islam
When Glenn Beck says that Reform Judaism is like radical Islam, insofar as both are more about politics than faith, he’s being unfair to radical Islam.
Yes, both are deeply involved with politics and confuse their own politics with God’s.
But radical Islamists seems to be much more serious about their religion.
Reform rabbis often lead congregations whose overall culture is indifferent to Shabbat and kashrut, indifferent to daily prayer and intermarriage, and indifferent to religious literacy.
A radical Islamic leader, by contrast, is passionate and conscientious about prayer, the Islamic Sabbath, Halal food, and Islamic family purity. He would not be indifferent to intermarriage or classical Islamic teachings.
Only a Reform rabbi would officiate at an intermarriage on Shabbat itself, as did Rabbi James Ponet at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. A Radical Islamist wouldn’t do that.
Not even the Ten Commandments are as important to a Reform rabbi as intermarriage. The integrity of Shabbat (Commandment Four) was considered so meaningless that the ceremony couldn’t even wait until sunset. With a Reform rabbi, officiating for Clinton, a political figure, was more important than Shabbat, faith.
A radical Islamist would not have violated the Koran to perform an intermarriage for a king.
It’s hard to imagine a Reform rabbi who didn’t frequently take political positions. Among their political positions is that we shouldn’t be Islamophobic; we should know that jihad is a spiritual struggle, not a violent one; that imams are moderates until proven otherwise. OK, all the more reason Beck is right. Reform rabbis themselves say that Islam is first a religion of peace, more than politics.
It’s had to imagine a Reform rabbi who isn’t infatuated with the great Reform legends of fighting for Darfur, being part of the (imaginary) black-Jewish alliance, advocating for gay and transgender rights, hating Bush and Sarah Palin, cheering Obama’s pressure on Israel, all of which these Reform rabbis will attribute to their faith but it sure sounds like politics.
Reform rabbis love “dialogue,” the idea that all problems in the world — between religions and between nations — are just a big misunderstanding because we’re all basically the same and want the same things.
Radical Islamists don’t give a damn about dialogue. They don’t think all religions or all people, infidels included, are the same, because radical Islamists take their own faith that much more seriously.
Reform rabbis are “troubled” that settlers live in Canaan, that Ariel Sharon walked on the Temple Mount, that Moses, a Jew, used disproportionate force in killing an Egyptian. Hebron is not loved for its holiness, as faith would have it, but thought an obstacle to peace, as politics would have it.
Radical Islamists have faith that the Temple Mount is theirs, and the Western Wall, too. They have faith that they are Abraham’s children and belong anywhere in Canaan. Radical Islamists don’t care that Moses, an Egyptian, killed an Egyptian. Hebron is loved for its holiness, as faith would have it, not something to be negotiated, as politics would have it.
Radical Islamic leaders don’t go around saying that religion just means being ethical and good and voting for Democrats, the way most Reform rabbis do. Radical Islam believe that faith demands personal service to God, not just service to each other.
Radical Islamic leaders don’t define their faith so singularly with one political party, as do most Reform rabbis, who seem to believe that Judaism never, ever, says no to liberal dogma. Their Reform Jewish faith, to hear so many tell it. is indistinguishable from their Reform Jewish poliitics. To many Reform leaders, the left can disagree with the Torah but the Torah can never disagree with the left. When in conflict, the Torah must adapt.
To a radical Islamist, whose faith comes before politics, the Koran doesn’t adapt, everything adapts to the Koran.
Radical Islamists seem to have more fire in the belly when it comes to their faith.
Reform rabbis seem to have more fire in the belly when it comes to their “progressive” politics.
Beck is wrong. Radical Islamists and Reform rabbis are polar opposites when it comes to balancing faith and politics.
There are many Reform Jews that I love and greatly admire. These are my people. I’d rather be the worst Reform Jew than the very best Islamist. And I wish that Reform rabbis were, in fact, more about faith than about politics.
Dennis Prager, the talk-show host and author, is a Reform Jew who actually talks more about the importance of faith and religion than he talks about politics. Debbie Friedman, another great Reform Jew, was unique in how she restored the idea of blessing and God to the Reform sensibility. There are other Reform Jews like Prager and Friedman who prioritize faith over politics, but I don’t get that sense from too many Reform rabbis.
I despise, fear and fight radical Islamic politics but I love and envy their devotion to their faith. I love how even in the midst of the Cairo revolution, they stopped to prostrate themselves in prayer. When was the last time you saw Reform Jews at a political demonstration stop to say Mincha? And by the hundreds?
Here’s some more on Beck, on related issues, from the Zionist Organization of America, from BigJournalism.com regarding the Jewish Fund For Justice’s anti-Beck campaign, and from David Suissa, an exciting columnist for the Jewish Journal in L.A.
How many people who have opinions on Beck have actually seen him in action? Check out this clip of Beck speaking about Israel, threats to Jews, and attacking Iran.
Beck’s a better man than George Soros, and he’s a better Jew, too. If something bad, God forbid, ever happened to Israel, I’m convinced it would bother Beck more. One guy cares about me and the two countries I love. One guy doesn’t.
I don’t like it when someone who cares about us so much is hated, is laughed at, because his caring is imperfect.
I will not twist Mr. Beck’s brilliance to say anything besides what he said:
“Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the reform Judaism, it is more about politics. I’m not saying that they’re the same on … and they’re going to take it at that, but — stand in line.”
I will not take it “that way”…I will take it at face value. My religious experience is all about politics. Nothing to do with God, Israel (people and land) or Torah. Nope, nothing what-so-ever. More »
Many may recall Jackson’s tsuris in 1984 when, during a presidential bid, Jackson referred to NYC as Hymie-town. Ever since, he has made strides to make amends and build bridges to the Jewish community.
This fall, when bombs were sent to Chicago synagogues from Yemen, Jackson showed up at Anshe Emet Synagogue to show his solidarity. It would have been better had it been on Saturday during services, but ‘A’ for effort.
Still, there is always room to improve relations between African-Americans and Jews. And so Rabbi Michael Siegel took the opportunity to invite Jackson back to the Synagogue for Shabbat services… on Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend.
Rev. showed up at Shul for a lively Kabbalat Shabbat service with Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, gospel choir in tow. They belted out a few numbers (and made a few people uncomfortable with the mention of Jesus). The messages of solidarity were reinforced, and all were reminded of the time when a previous Rabbi of Anshe Emet marched with Dr. King. “We Shall Overcome” was sung. Kaddish was recited for Dr. King by a crowd of hundreds. Then we all hit the oneg buffet.
All in all, an inspiring evening. Though part of me is always a little cynical about such symbolic acts, it’s easy to put it in check when you think about how far we’ve come since 1984. We’ve got a long way to go still toward fixing the rift between Blacks and Jews, but with more events like these, we shall overcome… someday.
This morning Simon Greer, head of Jewish FundS for Justice, delivered 10,000 signatures and a giant pink slip to Fox News’ corporate headquarters in New York calling for Glenn Beck to be fired. Beck reneged on a pledge against twisting Holocaust history to his political ends, which was originally personally signed and sent to Greer after JFSJ brought fourteen representatives of Jewish organizations to meet with Beck’s superiours..
When Beck then ran a series called “The Puppet Master,” charging Jewish mega-philanthropist George Soros with complicity with killing other Jews during the Holocaust (despite the fact that he was a child at the time). The ADL’s Abe Foxman stepped in to condemn the language: “For a political commentator or entertainer to have the audacity to say, there’s a Jewish boy sending Jews to death camps, that’s horrific. It’s totally off limits and over the top.” (Then of course Foxman demurred and backtracked because Beck says nice things about Israel.) Of course, this was all an excuse to demonize Soros as one of the largest funders of progressive causes in America and around the world. Which is, obviously, Beck’s real target: social justice.
At today’s impromptu press conference outside the offices of News Corp., Greer and company brought the 10,000 names and unveiled Beck’s top ten most disturbing quotes of 2010 (below). Video of the press conference to come. More »
Image taken of Judith Frieze after her arrest in Jackson, Mississippi on June 21, 1961. Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Living the Legacygrew out of a need for requests from teachers of social justice education for materials. In their search, educators and researchers at the Jewish Women’s Archive discovered that what was missing from what already existed: the story of Jews in social justice movements.
JWA tackled the topic of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement as its starting point, and, including traditional Jewish texts, paid particular attention to “complicating the narrative,” said Judith Rosenbaum, Director of Public History at the Jewish Women’s Archive. The nuanced educational tool would talk about not only the activism of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement, but acknowledge the fissures, the fallouts, and what the impact of it all has been on the social justice movements of today.
Living the Legacy is designed for use in grades 8-12. Last year, 7 teachers used in the classroom, and during JWA’s Institute for Educators this past July, 26 teachers were trained to use it.
Through primary sources, the curriculum directly confronts questions of personal identity in relationship to history and contemporary issues: who are you, what does that have with what you do in the world, and where and how does your Judaism come into play? When does it feel scary to be Jewish, when is it safer to hide, and when do you put yourself on the line for the cause of justice?
A 1956 letter from the Greenville Hebrew Union Congregation to Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), regarding their disapproval of the statement that desegregation is a Jewish issues and that Jews should act on behalf of it, shows that Southern Jews saw themselves in a precarious position. “We know full well that any public utterance showing that Jews as a whole favor desegregation will have the direct effect of hurting the Jews’ position in the South…Southern Jews have established a very fine relationship with the white non Jews of the South. We believe that this harmonious relationshjp between the Jews and non Jews in the South is due in a large respect to the personal conduct, cultural progress and adherence to the customs that make for harmony between the Jews and non Jews.” The letter goes on to implore Eisendrath not to “embarrass and injure the Jews of this community and other Southern communities who feel as we do.”
In addition to highlighting the complicated relationships of Jews to race and assimilation, Livingthe Legacy also explores the impact of the Jewish relationship to the Civil Rights movement in the context of a shared history of resistance. Rosenbaum’s favorite letter is to a young woman known as “Chicky,” who had gone to the South as part of Freedom Summer, from her father, a refugee from Europe. While he worries about her safety, she “should not construct your parents’ concern about your safety as a disapproval of your present activities.”
The curriculum also tackles questions of which modes of activism are recorded in our collective memory, as well as the how the perceived solidarity of Blacks and Jews fell apart and the impact of movements such Black Power on Jewish culture and history. The establishment of Black and African American studies departments, for example, prompted an interest in reclamation of Jewish culture and the emergence of Jewish studies departments, among other things. “Other minority groups have these conversations too,” Rosenbaum pointed out. “We wanted to show that.”
Together with Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rosenbaum collected Jewish texts to dovetail with each section, aimed at creating the opportunity to think Jewishly and provocatively about the material, particularly in the context of contemporary issues. The curriculum provokes questions of Jewish responsibility, giving students the opportunity to consider issues such as segregation in their home communities, and the question of whether equal marriage is a civil rights question.
Living the Legacy is full of challenging and vulnerable pieces which make the process of unpacking the Jewish past in the Civil Rights movement a fascinating project. It’s well worth taking a spin through the primary sources on the website, even if you don’t consider yourself to be an educator. “It’s a newer, more inclusive way of looking at history,” said Rosenbaum. “People are excited.”