Zoo Minyan, an independent minyan that meets in the neighborhood around the zoo in DC, is not meeting for davening this week. Why do I care? And why is this interesting? Let me back up:
I’m on the Bolt Bus, headed down to DC for the J Street Conference. The conference proper doesn’t start until Saturday night, but I’m heading down to spend Shabbat in DC, hoping to get some good shul-hopping done for your reading pleasure.
My plan was to go to multi-denominational, non-membership, convention-defying synagogue Sixth and I tonight and to the still-extant, just had their 40th birthday, proving all the “indie minyans will never last people wrong,” first-wave chavurah Fabrangen tomorrow morning.
But then, while emailing back and forth with Mah Rabu blogger and fellow Jewschooler BZ, he suggested the I try out Zoo Minyan instead. Apropos my post from the other day about feminizing the theology of Kaddish Shalem, he thought I might like Zoo Minyan. During their service, they apparently alternate between masculine and feminine names for God. So I got a little excited to see that in practice.
But it’s not a total waste because I have some thoughts to share that came out of this failure to launch. The first time I heard such an attitude from an indie minyanaire was from an organizer of the ultra-lightweight London minyan Wandering Jews. They don’t organize anything other than a place and time. They refuse to beg people to be hosts. If no one volunteers to host, there’s no davening. If not enough people bring stuff for the potluck, there’s no communal dinner. Etc.
I heard a woman speak about this approach at Limmud Colorado a couple of years ago. She said, if people value Wandering Jews, they will make it happen. And if they’re not making it happen, then it isn’t valuable and they should just let it go and slip away. This stands in about the starkest contrast possible to the synagogue continuity-obsessed folks.
And at Zoo Minyan, it seems there is a somewhat similar attitude. And now I don’t get to go. Oh well, their loss. And Fabrangen’s gain.
That’s right, folks. You heard it here first. (Well, actually, you heard it at JTA first.)
Birthright Israel said it has received a record-breaking number of North American applicants for its free, 10-day trips to Israel.
The organization, which provides all-expense-paid trips to Israel for Diaspora Jews aged 18 to 26, received 40,108 applicants during the seven-day registration period ending Tuesday
Israel’s Minister For Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, called it “the most successful project in the Jewish world.”
[Emphasis mine, obviously.] JTA’s full story is here.
That’s quite a claim. I dunno how the actual founding of the state doesn’t take top honors there, but I’ll leave it to the bloviation specialists at Birthright and in the Israeli government to duke it out over that.
(x-posted to to KFAR) This week, representatives from Jewish cultural institutions from around the world convened in New York for the annual ‘Schmooze Conference” of the International Jewish Presenters Association. Other commitments prevented my attendance, but I was fortunate to speak at the first one a few years back.
Its a wonderful concept, and it seems to have some practical benefits beyond collegiality. As with his other projects and contributions, I applaud Michael Dorf for bringing this idea to fruition. The greater opportunity, however, is for this Association to be more than an Annual Conference for the American Jewish community.
We know all the research and findings over the last decade about the impact of Jewish arts and culture and their role as a portal to Jewish identity. IJPA has an opportunity to be the voice of the providers of these portals and advocate for the artists and member presenters who are expanding notions of Jewish expression. With the arrival of Mp3 players and digital videos and music distribution, there is unprecedented opportunity to engage untold numbers of Jews, young and old. The passing of Debbie Friedman this week, with her innumerable musical contributions to Jewish life, underscores this.
Sure enough, barely 48 hours after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, the Jewish media picked up on her Jewish roots. Now, little else will likely matter in the timeline of events.
It will be lost on most Jews, I predict, that this paragon of Jewish involvement — a leader within her Jewish community, a representative of Jews to America and beyond — was a proud, patrilineal, intermarried Jew who found Judaism late.
Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist mother father and a Jewish father mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA. She married astronaut Mark Kelly — not Jewish, as far as reports say — in a ceremony with two canopies, a huppah and Naval swords. She attended services at a local Reform synagogue. Apparently she came to her faith later in life, taking up mainstream Jewish causes in the Arizona legislature.
The community will, I predict, renew the claims of anti-Semitism without realizing that most of the Jewish world frowns on the very substance of her life. The Jewish community expends much energy discussing the dangers of non-Jewish influences on young Jews. Special condemnation is expended even in liberal circles on dual-religion households. Plenty recommendations are aimed against the very choices Giffords and her parents made. Yet it’s clear that Jewish values triumphed in both her outlook and her later-life affiliation. Genetics, as we mixed Jews know, convey no values — loving parents do. Seeking purity (read: kosher) in culture, faith, community and love leads directly to racism, xenophobia, paranoia.
While the headlines in Israel already ran “Jewish congresswoman shooter favorited Mein Kampf” and the-world-hates-Jews mantra rings again, it’s already forgotten that Giffords would be a second-class citizen in Israel. This woman who spoke so highly of Jewish women, wouldn’t have the right get a divorce in Israel. “In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”
Giffords represented successive generations of blending Jewish life with the surrounding world: a worldy Jew, not a ghettoed Jew. She may have championed Jewish causes in her legislative agenda, but by all glowing accounts was fiercely for justice, fairness and equality for all. Including illegal immigrants.
She was Jewish enough to be killed for her Jewishness, if indeed that is the case. (Which seems unlikely to be the primary cause, but that’s not stopping the Jewish-Israeli media, it appears.) And she’s Jewish enough for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus. Jewish enough to be our martyr, it seems, but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life.
I, for one, see in Giffords the kind of Jewish choices and identity they’ll see tons more of: intermarried and mixed in heritage, uniquely Jewish, universally human. Like myself, like 50% of Jews under 25 today. More and more, we will be your leaders, your country’s leaders, and your faces to the world. We will make you proud of our accomplishments, even as we defy the protocols of Jewish continuity. If only the Jewish community would treat us with as much honor in life as in martyrdom.
[Editor's note: subsequent editing confused sources. According to JTA, her father is Jewish, her mother is Christian Scientist.]
The 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, which was criticized for methodological problems, painted a grim picture. It had the American Jewish population on the decline and led to a decade of the official Jews running around with their heads cut off, trying to stop intermarriage, which, as we know, is the root of all evil.
Leonard Saxe, the Klutznick professor of contemporary Jewish Studies at Brandeis, said that the survey was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Saxe has a new study out that puts us in a growth trend, estimating one million more Jews than previously thought, for a total of 6.5 million.
“We have to stop worrying about whether the community will exist,” Saxe said. “Instead we should worry about the content, about how we make communal life meaningful for the many Jews who are out there.”
Which is kind of what we’ve been saying all along.
I’ve got universities on the brain lately as my own Drew has recently intensified our so-far lackluster work on our “Strategic Plan.” So this event caught my eye.
The HC website lists these questions as up for discussion at the event:
How will colleges and universities meet the challenges of the shifting paradigms in higher education?
What should their roles be in developing the next generation of Jewish leadership?
Students who have experienced Birthright Israel are ready for more engagement with Israel and with Jewish life; are we ready for them?
What aspects of higher education should the Jewish community support?
The first, second and fourth questions sound great. The third one is giving me some trouble.
First of all, it acknowledges a premise that I reject: that the Birthright is the source of engaged young Jews in America. It’s part of the clod of notions that spring forth from the idea that young Jews, especially college Jews, are not engaged with Jewish life, and that the only way to engage them is through Israel.
Second of all, and even more narrow-sighted, is this problem: Do any of these college presidents think that the only source of engaged Jewish students at their institutions is Birthright? If they’re focused on “are we ready for them [Birthright alumni]?” how is that going to affect their readiness for Jewish students engaged with Jewish life in some other way? And what does it even mean that they need to be ready?
These questions are not meant as rhetorical, by the way. I’m looking for y’all’s ideas on this. So if anyone goes to this, I’d love to hear how it goes.
Five young Jews interrupted Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly (GA) of Jewish federations yesterday. You can read the first-hand accounts by lead protestor and Jewlicious and ROI alum Rae Abileah, LA Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman, and JTA’s Fundermentalist Jacob Berkman, among many others.
I will echo the comments by LA’s Eshman when I note that these protestors spoke in a language of Israel’s self-interest, setting them apart from the Muslim protestors at UC-Irvine earlier this year. The media statements by the protestors demonstrate — despite their chosen allegiances or tactics — thoughtfulness and rootedness in Jewish ethical culture. As Eshman reported, ‘ “What were they against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath? The occupation? Gaza? Most Jews would agree with them.” ‘ I and many others on Jewschool have made the occupation and many Israeli policies the topic of our consistent, vocal and stringent calls for reform.
I admire dedicated, assertive, moral student activists. The 1969 student sit-in of the GA resulted in reform of Jewish student program funding. Ultimately, it led to the expansion of Hillel. Many of those young leaders now head Jewish organizations and I’m honored to have some of them as mentors. But New Voices’ editor Ben Sales compares that event with today’s stunt, saying, “Far from articulating a positive and productive vision for the Jewish community, all they did was yell vapid sound bytes during a public event.”
I may have little taste for these theatrics. But for every five protestors who resort to dramatic headline seeking, there are dozens more like me. More »
Of late, for a variety of reasons, I haven’t gone to my Chicago shul much. Between indie-minyans and leading services for the Jewish elderly, there’s not been much occasion for me to enter the institutions into which I purportedly refuse to set foot…
Still its scary to learn of the plot this week by getting emails from them about these bomb threats.
Mr. Al-Quesadilla, please dont’ bomb the the shul that I don’t set foot in. If its not going to be there for future generations of Jooz to use, I want it to be because of my principled stand, or at least the one I am purported to take (until I too have kids), rather than a due to your clumsy but scary terrorism attempt.
At the very least, I would prefer the aleph-bet soup Jooish defense organizations to exploit this event by soliciting funds in the name of defending Jooz from the very real turbaned boogey-men under our beds and laser printers. That way even more of us can be turned off by heavy-handed scare tactics (like we haven’t had enough of that with the elections…). It is not without irony that I hear the whir of printer drums warming up to spit out millions of fear-filled solicitation letters.
1. What does the decline of COEJL and the rise of HAZON say about the dynamics in Jewish organizational life? Who is in a position to exploit those dynamics to push for more change at a faster pace, in fields other than the environment?
2. How will the rise of J Street affect the dynamics within JCRC’s, federations, synagogue Israel committees, Hillel and other places where Israel advocacy is a driving force but not the formal heart of the mission? Does anyone have a snapshot of what should or will be different than today?
3. How will the rising acceptance of LGBTQ Jews in the Jewish community mainstream affect the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide?
4. Is there a chance that money spent on engaging less connected younger Jews will decided upon BY representatives of the target group instead of by older consultants and veteran communal agency staff members?
5. Is the rising generation of new leadership successfully mimicking the norms of the older generations, or demanding change as a condition of future engagement despite the short term consequence of not being promoted?
Kudos to EV’slatest comfort zone-negating comic aimed at the ugly recesses of establishment Jewry’s view of Jews, Judaism, Israel and all those arrayed to wipe us out. Without the specter of Helen Thomases under the bed, would the previous generation of Jews have cared to be Jewish? Or would they, like our generation, opt-in and opt-out as merited by compelling relevance (or lack thereof) to our lives? And in searching for a way to make Jewish life compelling against a competitive array of interesting options, would Abe Foxman really mount an anti-Semite’s head as a beacon for all young Jews to see?
L’kovod the aseres yamey tshuva, I present two interesting writers who converted from Judaism to Christianity. Let’s put it this way: They had to worry about a whole different kind of Tshuva:
Jacobo Fijman (1898-1970)
Poet and Madman. Born in Bessarabia, Fijman lived and died in Argentina. Spent much of his life in a state mental asylum. Surrealist poet, gnostic and anarchist. A taste:
el camino más alto y más desierto.
Oficio de las máscaras absurdas; pero tan humanas.
Roncan los extravíos;
tosen las muecas
y descargan sus golpes
dilatación vidriosa de los ojos
en el camino más alto y más desierto.
Se erizan los cabellos del espanto.
La mucha luz alaba su inocencia…
Nicolae Steinhardt (1912–1989). Theologian and Memoirist. Underground Favorite. Revered in Romania for his Jurnalul fericirii (The Diary of Happiness; 1991), an account of his journey to orthodox Christianity during the years he spent in Communist prisons. A Taste:
Outside a bakery, an old beggar, small, discreet. I give him 3 or 4 lei. He takes off his hat, respectfully, and thanks me for a long while. Why, I don’t know – the memory of my father, the physical resemblance (small and stooping) – his gesture – so polite, the shame of being saluted by an old man for a few lei, the onslaught of images of prison in my memory, revelatory of the human condition’s wretchedness – but I burst out crying in the middle of the street, like a madman.
The premise behind the Love/Hate series is that social justice and Israel feel awkward together. They just mix poorly. And the Jewish establishment is breathing down our necks trying to get young people to check their liberalism at the door instead of their loyalties to Israel. So this event represents a coalition of emerging Jewish communities who want an open space to discuss the most difficult issues.
As a taste of what NIF and Makom have been cooking up, here’s a question from the interactive part of the evening. Agree or disagree with each of these statements:
Anybody should be able to become an American citizen.
Anybody should be able to become an Israeli citizen.
Whoa, the guilt-and-fear-o-meter just spiked. More »
Love, Hate and the Jewish State 3.0: What’s Jewish about a Jewish state?
Thursday, June 24 at 7:00 pm
The JCC in Manhattan
334 Amsterdam Ave at 76th Street
Do your social justice values impact the way that you relate to Israel as the Jewish state?
Social justice and Israel are often polarizing and separate conversations. Israel’s Jewish character affects government policy, life-cycle events, state symbols, and everyday life for both Jews and non-Jews.
Join us for the third in a series of highly interactive, non-persuasive, open discussions with a diverse group of people in their 20s and 30s. The program will be followed by a reception.
Hosted by Joel Chasnoff, Comedian and Author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah
This event is brought to you by the New Israel Fund and Makom, co-sponsored by a growing list of organizations, including: Bnai Jeshurun’s Tzeirim, Brooklyn Jews, Encounter, the Foundation for Jewish Culture, Hazon, J Street NYC, the JCC in Manhattan, JDub Records, Jewcy.com, Jewschool.com, Kehillat Hadar, Pursue: Action for a Just World, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, and Zeek.
Peter Beinart is still on his (incredibly polite but) hard-hitting crusade against the Jewish establishment’s lockstep on Israel. First on the NY Review of Books, then bloggingheads.tv, now NPR with Brooke Gladstone. In this 12-minute clip, he politely brushes aside the “self-perpetuating victimization” of Steven Rosen, a 23-year AIPAC senior staffer, and the charge of being anti-Israel for criticizing the Jewish state. Full transcript at NPR, but worth listening to all 12 minutes.
Attentive as always to the sentiment of my peers who obsess less about this issue than I do, the past weekend’s flotilla events have only confirmed what Peter Beinart wrote. His words confirm what I and others on Jewschool have long prophesied: young Jews are refusing “to check their liberalism” at Israel’s door.
All week, the reticence of my peers — actively engaged Jews in their 20s and 30s — to have “the Israel conversation” with me has been collapsing. Amazingly, friends who long avoided it. The sudden burst of awareness about Israel’s prohibition of cooking ingredients, toys and minor life amenities in Gaza has undermined sympathy for confroting even rebar-wielding provacateurs. Israel’s international disregard sours in their mouths. The severity of Israel’s recent behavior has shaken so many loose from the inhibitions to say openly and angrily, “What the fuck? How could Israel do that?”
“This has given me so much guilt. What is it about this that is different from what normally goes on there?” asked one friend over brunch.
“It’s like Israel tries to solve every problem with the military,” mourned another friend the night before. An organizer by profession, she smartly asked, “Where can we put political pressure to make this stop?”
“I am giving up on Israel. They can’t ask me to defend this policy,” said another the day before that. More »
Jewish educators on Twitter who want to be part of a bigger conversation know the hashtag of choice is #JEd21. This hashtag was created by Phil Brodsky (yes, hashtags do have creators!) when he was the Hornstein Intern at Darim Online. Much of the conversation tagged with #JEd21 involves the application of technology to Jewish education, because after all, what is the 21st century if not the Information Age?
Longtime Jewschool readers (or dlevy groupies) might remember that I’ve been working part-time (for eight years!) on my masters degree at Hebrew College. I’m pleased to let you all know that this coming Sunday, I will be graduating with two degrees — an MA in Jewish studies and a Masters of Jewish Education. Since so much of my life has straddled the worlds of Jewish education and the internet, I set out to take a hard look at what Jewish education really does look like in the 21st century, and what it could look like if we all put our heads together.
Once my research started, I quickly realized I’d need to limit my inquiry a bit — this isn’t a doctoral dissertation, after all. So, I decided to stick with what I know best (and is dearest to my heart), supplementary Jewish education for teens. Below is the fruit of my labor. I don’t know how interesting it will be to any of you, but here you go.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that two other Jewschoolers make it into my citations.
I am antagonistic towards the Jewish establishment. Reiterating my evaluation of their leadership in my prior post, they offer no compelling vision beyond raising money to feed a bloated infrastructure dedicated to fighting yesterday’s battles.
Which is why attending tonight’s benefit for Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps was so important for refreshing my faith in Jewry. Tonight several hundred Jews of all ages honored not just a special leader, their founder Rabbi David Rosenn, but a burgeoning community that is fun, deep, and committed to values I powerfully share. Rosenn has moved on after 13 years to become COO for the New Israel Fund, and the bittersweet appreciation for and from him was tear jerking.
In his remarks, Rosenn touched on the strains of thought at war in the American Jewish psyche: It is an interesting time in our community, he said, where old institutions are giving way; what will emerge in their place is uncertain. People don’t just wind up with good values, they are taught them, and not just in the classroom — they learn when their community lives out those values. Ultimately, justice is not only important for the continuity of Judaism but for democratic societies as a whole.
Noting the passion present, I could only echo the sentiments of Avodah alum Cara Herbitter upon introducing Rosenn, “I wish the establishment would adopt the values of Avodah.”
I spent plenty time lampooning and harpooning the organized Jewish community. I lambast because I care. I care that Jews and Judaism stand for something, that we represent something to the world other than our own existence. I hunger for leaders who see the same visions for a Jewish role in creating right relationships globally. If that room is any indication of where the Jewish community is headed, then we are redeemed of all our predecessors’ selfish failures.
In the room I saw Jewish continuity of a wholly healthier paradigm. Attendees discussed the obvious lesson of a pillar of the social justice world taking his credibility to a begging frontier: social justice in Israel. And in the territories. Same-sex couples lauded their acceptance here. A speaker of intermarried background made us all laugh by integrating Irish influence into her Yiddish vocabulary. The values here were far more than just direct service or structural justice.
The event took the occasion to announce the launch of Pursue, the renamed AJWS-Avodah Partnership, taglined “Action for a just world.” Already the central address for Jewish change-makers in New York City, San Francisco and DC, the community it represents also holds keys to a leadership with a modern vision. Interim director Ilanit Gerblich Kalir concluded this evening by saying, “We work for the day when every Jew can turn to another and ask, ‘Where did you do your service?’” In order for that day to come, we must first have a day when Jewish leaders can role model the answer. This is a start. We need more, the world needs more. But this is a beautiful start.
C'mon, the Polish Carpathians are at least as beautiful as the Judean Hills!
The recent Forward article entitled “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President” seems to be answering the elephant-sized question that many have been silently asking themselves: Why are so many Jewish organizations (including March of the Living) and The State of Israel voicing such an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy for Poles in a time of their most terrible loss? Could it be an indication that Jewish communities and organizations are finally looking at the Poles as more than the ambivalent caretakers of their most sacred graveyard? Is it simply a sign that the established Jewish community can reach out their hands even to those they perceive as perpetrators of a most grave crime?
Kaczynski’s politics were not more popular among Poland’s Jewish community of 8,000 than among Poles at large. But the Jews had real reason to mourn a leader who had shown sympathy and support both to them and to the State of Israel, from the day when, soon after winning the 2005 presidential election, he compared himself to Ariel Sharon.
Indeed, there are analogies between the political philosophies of the two. Both were conservative leaders with strong nationalist feelings and were at the helm of countries they considered threatened by neighbors. (Kaczynski took a dim view not only of the past, but also of the present policies of Germany and Russia.) Both were impatient with what they considered liberal indifference to their respective national traditions and values. And both strongly believed in the fundamental role of the state as the nation’s most valuable institution. Both tended to look at what they believed history’s judgment would be, rather than at public opinion polls.
Kaczynski was far from being the only conservative European politician in power today. Yet it would be difficult to imagine any other European leader comparing himself to Sharon; the public-opinion fallout would be devastating. But Kaczynski had no such qualms. To him, the Israeli prime minister was an inspiration, and Israel a friendly state. Much of Polish public opinion tended to agree with him. No criticism followed his Sharon remarks.
That’s right, a top Polish politician was into THE BULLDOZER. In this intricate web of official condolence calls and mixed feelings, Gebert articulates too well that the contemporary Polish-Jewish relationship can be understood through the perceived political affinities between two right-wing nationalists who became intensely unpopular during their lifetimes. It goes to show that as Jewish cultural revival continues throughout the Polish lands, the elite descendants of Polish Jewry living in America and Israel largely see their relationship to Poland through a Zionist, not Ashkenazi, lens. This seems to imply that, at least on an official level, the development of Polish-Jewish reconciliation has largely been achieved through the work of politicians, not through the work of grassroots activists who spend so much time investing in a future for Jewish culture and memory in Poland. I never would have thought that March of the Living, an organization that has been repeatedly criticized for portraying Poland as a bloody, smoldering launching pad for the Zionist future, would require a moment of silence for victims of the crash as it toured its participants through Auschwitz. Do our leaders really feel sympathy for the Poles, or are we just trying to maintain alliances in a Europe increasingly critical of Israeli policy? A mixture of both?
His (Kaczynski’s) Jewish sympathies earned him the scorn of antisemitic extremists, who accused him of being Jewish himself (his “true” name supposedly was Kalkstein); somehow, his brother escaped being thus tainted. Rydzyk brutally attacked the Polish president during a lecture in 2007, accusing him of giving in to Jews, both by allocating land for the museum and supposedly ignoring the alleged threat of Jewish reparation demands. In contrast with his brother, Lech Kaczynski never granted the fundamentalist station an interview. But he had to pay the price for tolerating Jarosław’s alliances. At the funeral last year of Marek Edelman, deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a hero to the president, Kaczynski stood in silence and alone: The family refused him the right to speak, as Edelman had bitterly criticized the twin brothers’ policies…
…Alive, Kaczynski was a divisive and increasingly unpopular figure because of his authoritarian views, with approval ratings recently as low as 32%. But his tragic death has transformed him into a national icon, with all of Poland united in mourning. Polish Jews shared that pain with all other Polish citizens: A memorial service held in Warsaw’s only synagogue was packed full the day after the plane crash.