The Talmudic Revolution

by Mo Martin

Mo Martin is the host of the new  podcast “Radio Free Babylonia”, produced by Jewish Public Media.

The year I first cracked open a book of Talmud was 2006, and life was pretty good. I was a moderate liberal filled with the righteous indignation of the Bush years, I was a 19-year-old Birthright-style Zionist in Israel (The Land Flowing With Beer and Single Jews My Age), and I was a loyal and proud son of the Conservative Jewish movement. Sure, life wasn’t perfect. I had an undiagnosed panic disorder, no girlfriend, and my friends back in the states missed me, and I missed them. But surely the Democrats were about to sweep the midterms, and with Israel withdrawing from Gaza, peace couldn’t be many years away, right? Talmud was an exciting intellectual adventure, and a necessary step on my way to the Rabbinate. As the foundation of Jewish religious thought, Talmud would clarify the complicated Halakhic discussions that I had been told were the heart of Jewish life. At that time, my religious life and my political beliefs were distinct.

Now it’s 2015, and I’m angry. More »

New Teams

In the wake of the terrible attacks in Paris, my friends all seem to be retreating to the safety and sanctimony of their respective political teams. Team Right, is doing everything in its power to use the tragedy to reinforce its political message: Jews are not really safe in the diaspora. The attacks in Paris are further proof that antisemitism in Europe is worse than it has ever been since the end of WWII. Israel is the only way for Jews to truly be safe. Muslims need to engage in some serious introspection and be more vocal in their condemnations of terrorism. Meanwhile on Team Left, people are urging us not to paint all Muslims with the brush of their fanatics and attempting to remind us that while the attacks on Charlie Hebdo were inexcusable and unequivocally wrong, that doesn’t mean that everything they ever published is retroactively right. Team Left is also arguing that there’s a double-standard when it comes to our expectations of condemnations and that this is rooted in Islamophobia.

The weaknesses of Team Right’s positions are obvious and glaring. While there has indisputably been a rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe over the past ten years, the notion that Jews are no longer safe in Europe is a gross, politically-motivated exaggeration. Netanyahu’s sleazy appearance in Paris, against French President François Hollande’s explicit wishes, along with statements by Israeli officials encouraging French Jews to move to Israel en masse, are disturbing on multiple levels. First, how dare Israeli officials presume to tell French Jews where they ought to live? This in and of itself is condescending and wrong. Second, Netanyahu et al are shamelessly using the community’s tragedy to score political points in the upcoming Israeli election. Third, these statements place Israel and its supporters in that revolting nexus of antisemitism and Zionism, where the safety of European Jews is jettisoned in favor of the antisemite’s desire for them to leave and the Zionist’s desire for them to come. Finally, the language that Team Right uses to talk about Islam is crass, insensitive, and inaccurate. This should come as no surprise. While Team Right is intolerant and largely ignorant of Islam and Muslims, they are exceptionally tolerant and chummy with people who have made careers out of spreading Islamophobia.

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Nu, let’s get to work

I’ll gladly leave the problematic power dynamics and historical inaccuracies of Leida Snow’s piece in the Forward to the very able responses already published. I just want to ask about one thing.

When Ms. Snow writes that “the American legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation is a wound so deep it may never fully heal,” what process of healing is she referring to?

Would it be the “healing” that has resulted in an incarcerated population that is larger than any other in the world, and overwhelmingly Black and brown? The “healing” that comes from more Black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850?

Is it the “healing” that comes from a “War on Drugs” that has decimated neighborhoods, and even entire cities and towns, upending families to punish the economically and socially disenfranchised?

The painful truth for Black and brown Americans is that there is no “healing” process in this country. It is an illusion concocted by America’s privileged classes to comfort ourselves that we are different in some meaningful way from our parents and grandparents. The same comfort that many Jewish Americans, sadly, try to extract from our otherwise noble civil rights legacy.

More »

On The Firing Of Theater J’s Ari Roth

Ian Thal is a playwright, performer and theater educator specializing in mime, commedia dell’arte, and puppetry, and has been known to act on Boston area stages from time to time, sometimes with Teatro delle Maschere. Formerly the community editor at The Jewish Advocate, he blogs irregularly at the unimaginatively entitled From The Journals of Ian Thal. He is a senior contributor to The Arts Fuse, Boston’s online arts magazine, in which this column originally appeared.

Ironically, those who smeared former Theater J artistic director Ari Roth with allegations that he is “anti-Israel” accomplished a feat that anti-Israeli activists could only dream of doing: making a Jewish Community Center boycott Israeli culture. More »

Wanted: Submissions for Anthology on Judaism, Body, and Identity

Have you battled an eating disorder or another form of disordered eating?

Have you grappled to make peace with your body?

Have you struggled to live within your body in an embodied way?

Have you had difficulty navigating transitions in your body due to development, life stage or lifestyle?

Have you suffered as you made peace with your sexuality, sexual identity or gender identity?

Are there ways in which you have resolved these issues?

We are currently in the midst of collecting soulful personal narratives from Jewish individuals for an upcoming anthology about the ways in which body, body experience and  the related struggles intersect with one’s religion or identity. We will then edit, compile, and anthologize this collection of stories of soul and spirit and hope they will foster courage, communication, connection and compassion – both for ourselves and for others.  We want to represent the full breadth of experience in a non-hierarchical way without sensationalizing suffering. Everyone is worthy and deserves to share their story. You don’t have to earn it with suffering at some pre-set benchmark. Length is not a factor as we want you to feel free to tell your story in as full or brief a form as feels complete, poignant and fulfilling to you. Longer may be better for some people to feel that they have fully expressed a true and full narrative that explains the arc of their journey. Others may choose to focus on a particularly meaningful or touching moment, anecdote, or experience and we want to leave room for all of those voices and perspectives in this compilation. More »

STARS OF DAVID sing in new recording

originally published on CastAlbums.org

On the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar.

If you saw the Philadelphia Theater Company production and are perplexed by my description of the show as a revue, there’s a reason. While that production has a book by Charles Busch, the book was later discarded in favor of the revue format. The opening number (by Gaby Alter, who shares lyric credits on this song with Pogrebin and director Gordon Greenberg) retains a hint of the story that once was, in which Pogrebin sets out to interview prominent Jews attempting to gain some insight into her own Jewish identity, but once that’s out of the way, the rest of the album offers a collection of sung monologues in the voices of each of these celebrities, with an equally impressive array of songwriters taking turns in musicalizing Pogrebin’s interviews. (Only one song, “Who Knew Jew,” about Gwynneth Paltrow, is not based directly on an interview from the book. For this one, Gaby Alter teamed with lyricist Jill Kargman, a friend of Paltrow’s who wrote the song based on her firsthand knowledge of the subject.) More »

“Walk Like an Egyptian” Re-Tooled as a Chanukah Song by its Very Jewish Singer

Experiencing your annual frustration that all Chanukah songs suck?  Well, here’s a sweet surprise.  Check out Susanna Hoffs, pop star and former member of The Bangles, re-tool their 1985 mega-hit “Walk Like an Egyptian“, to “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” , a song all about Chanukah, here in performance with the great Aimee Mann* and Ted Leo. It’s not just that Hoffs is Jewish, by the way; she has yichus. She is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Ralph Simon, who served Congregation Rodfei Zedek, in Chicago’s South Side Hyde Park neighborhood from 1943-87, was President of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), and was a leading founder of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and, therefore, the entire Ramah camping movement. He was a larger-than-life community rabbi for his historical moment of big house Judaism, and inspired countless people. See him here, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoffs’s uncle and cousin, Rabbis Matthew and Joshua Simon, were also prominent rabbisMore »

December Without Drama

Happy Challadays cardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.”  More »

Yesh Bereyrah–There Is A Choice: An Affirmative Judaism

This guestpost is by Jonah Rank and is part of our Fearless Judaism series.  Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Jonah is the student rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel (in Amsterdam, NY) and the rabbinic intern at the United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) for the 2014-2015 year. Since 2006, thon has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).

 

Grounded in a life of learning, my affirmative Judaism centers on tikkun olam—building a universe of peace once shattered by our limited capacity to transmit chesed, loving-kindness. In order to build further the universe our Divinity only started to build, we must steep ourselves in the values of the Jewish tradition. In this affirmation of Jewish tradition, the altruism of humanity must act as a conduit for the Divine Flow that seeks to inundate the world with sacred love.

When guided by Jewish wisdom, the affirmative Jew must accept that affirmation is a process of borer—picking and choosing. For as long as there have been Jews, there have been disagreements between Jews. This requires us to learn from all teachings of the Jewish tradition and to acknowledge at least three categories of Jewish teachings. More »

#TBT: Arlo, Thanksgiving, and Kippot (and Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here’s zt’s Thanksgiving 2007 piece about Arlo Guthrie, Thanksgiving, Kippot, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Chicago 7 trial, and the reactionary and self-hating Jewish Judge Julius Hoffman — all in a few short paragraphs.  Find it here.  Happy Thanksgiving, readers.

 

Verses Against Violence: A Jerusalem Gathering

by Amy Oppenheimer

Cross-posted at Jewlicious.com
Jerusalem.  The city of gold.  The city of peace.  And sometimes the city of violence.  But not the type of violence that you might expect.

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and just last night 40 women and men gathered in a local Jerusalem cafe for Verses Against Violence, an evening of poetry to raise awareness about the plight of domestic violence in Israel.  The evening featured twelve readers and a live music performance, and raised funds for Bat Melech, the only kosher and Sabbath-observant shelter for victims of domestic violence in Israel.

According to WIZO, there are 200,000 victims of domestic violence in Israel, but not nearly enough services to meet demand.  There are 14 shelters in all of Israel – 10 for secular Israelis, 2 for Arab Israelis and only 2 that cater to the religious Jewish population, both operated by Bat Melech. More »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear, Fearlessness and Forward Movement: A Guest Post by Naomi Adland

Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at editor@jewschool.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week! 

This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.

In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.

I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.

Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”

Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.

Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.

Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?

And the winner is …

Yes, here it is, the announcement that you have all been waiting for. After sifting through the… uhhh… hmmm… one entry to decide what cookie will represent Jewschool at NewGround’s evening Spotlight: The Space Between, the winner is Kung Fu Jew’s entry: spicy (jalapeno chocolate) hamantashen. His reasoning: “A classic Jewish cookie celebrating victory over Haman, with a new reminder that the exercise of power can be sharp on those who wield it too,” will accompany every cookie. The spicy hamantashen will be played by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, cause, ya know…November…Purim…whatever.

In any event, if you are in L.A. on Saturday night come to Spotlight. (It sells out so get your tickets now. Link on the FB event page.)

NewGround Spotlight and a contest!

NewGround is one of our favorite organizations. Their main activity is a year long fellowship for Muslim and Jewish adults in which the participants learn communication and conflict resolution in order to further mutual respect and cooperation while allowing for difficult and tense conversations. Or as they say it:

NewGround equips Jews and Muslims in America with the skills, resources, and relationships needed to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations and cooperation on issues of shared concern. Through an intensive fellowship, collaborative public programming and consulting, NewGround impacts a broad political and religious spectrum of Muslims, Jews and the institutions that represent them.

NewGround’s annual fundraiser/friendraiser event is called Spotlight. It is based on The Moth’s program of curated stories. This year’s theme is “The Space Between”. The event page on Facebook is here. More »

Throwback Thursday: Rav Ovadia Yosef’s First Yahrzeit and when Heroes and Villains are the Same

This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns).  The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.

TBT: Remembering Lou Reed, a Year Later

Throwback Thursday has been dark here for a while, with holidays falling on Thursdays, but with the holidays over, we’re back. Today, we recall legendary rock and roll poetic grouch, Lou Reed, front man of the Velvet Underground and prolific soloist, who died last Oct. 27, after which I wrote this piece, cross-posted in Heeb and on our blog, reflecting as a Jew on Reed’s cultural significance.

 

Everything you know about creativity might just be wrong

x-posted at Justice in the City

“Creativity” is the latest buzzword in education. The most watched TED talk ever is a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson in 2006 called “How schools kill creativity.” It has had almost twenty million views.

Sir Ken’s main point (which is later joined by his second main point) is that creativity is as important in education as literacy and should be given the same status. His second main point is that children are not taught creativity, rather they are educated out of creativity. This means that all children are naturally creative and the educational system beats that creativity out of them, scaring them with the ideas that there are some things that are right and others that are wrong, and that it is important to know the difference between them.

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