Coverage in the media of mounting economic inequality around the world has become commonplace over the past few months. In many ways this coverage is late to the game as growing movements for equity and justice have left a wake in their paths. Perhaps there are lessons to be found in the ideas, crises, and visions of the Kibbutz movement.
Passover at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek, 2012
The century old Socialist experiment known as the Kibbutz elicits images of Jewish pioneers pitching tents, farmers tilling fields, and folks living in rural utopia. The reality today is, as with most things, much more complicated than collective memory can often allow.
In the late 1970s the utopian dream began to deteriorate. Israel’s first non-labour government came into power and the status of the Kibbutz shifted as the country began to look towards the privatization of once national institutions.
Former Secretary-General of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet and current Director of Givat Haviva Educational Institution, Yaniv Sagee sees the story of the Kibbutz as intertwined with that of the country. “The Kibbutz was seen as a public investment for building the state of Israel… Until 1977, and it served as a base for confidence for the Kibbutz members because they knew they can give to the Kibbutz everything that they have and they get from the Kibbutz everything they need. And they were sure it was going to happen because they didn’t only have to rely on the kibbutz. If it wasn’t successful the movement would help and if the movement needed support then there was the government,” he said.
For many Kibbutz communities, it was the beginning of the end.
Around the world, there is a growing willingness to boycott Israeli companies that operate and provide services to the West Bank Settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Last year the European Union set a ban on funds going to projects operating in the settlements and there has also been a recent wave of boycott and divestment announcements from European companies. Danske, Denmark’s largest bank announced that it will begin boycotting Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, and news soon followed that a key Swedish Bank may follow suit.
I recall chatting with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, composer, musician and poet Alicia Jo Rabins in a Mexican joint in Chicago after a Golem show a few years back, right after the big market crash. I asked what else she was working on, and she started talking about a project revolving around Bernie Madoff. I (and I’m sure many others) suggested she apply to the 6 Points Fellowship, which happily saw the merit in her and her work. The resulting project has finally reached its debut moment. Rabins’ new full-length song cycle, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, at Joe’s Pub in New York City on Thursday, November 8th and again on the 15th. Details after the jump. More »
In a curious piece in yesterday’s Israel Hayom, Isi Leibler decries a leadership crisis in the diaspora. That of course, is not much in the way of news. Oh, wait, but maybe it is. Leibler claims that “the key professionals dominating the scene are close to retirement, yet failing to groom successors.”
What’s odd, though is exactly what he thinks leadership is. I can’t speak as well to the European scene…Since I know the American scene best, let’s focus on that. Leibler singles out AIPAC as the exception to the rule and then mentions the “the three major public political organizations — the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (the Presidents Conference),” as apparently representative of the entire Jewish community leadership in the USA.
He points to the fact that each of these organizations is headed by a charismatic figure (talented professional) reaching retirement age and also are the key fundraisers.
While he’s certainly correct in this analysis of these organizations, I wonder why he considers this the “leadership” of the Jewish community? More »
This is a guest post by Dasi Fruchter, an organizer with Uri L’Tzedek‘s Civic Engagement Campaign.
“…and it is rationally compelling that a worker should not be left solitary and alone, to the point that he needs to hire himself out for a pittance to satisfy his hunger and to feed his family stale bread and house them in a dark and lowly hovel. To give them the capacity for self-defense the law grants him the right to organize, and to make regulations that will assist his peers, distribute work fairly and justly, and achieve a respectful employer-employee relationship and appropriate wage, thus enabling him to provide family with a standard of living equivalent to that of his neighbor” (Rabbi Ben-Tzion Meir Chai Uzziel, Hoshen Mishpat 42:6)
When I tell people what I do, I am often proud to include my identity as an activist and community organizer in the description. Also included in a very substantial way is my commitment to Torah-observant Judaism. Only several years ago, those two identities seriously clashed, but since I’ve become involved with Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox Social Justice organization, fusing my commitments to both halacha (Jewish Law) and to social justice was a logical and seamless step.
My activist story is a long one, but I wanted to share an integral part of it with you. Every Shabbat in my childhood home was a fantastic event. Everyone was invited and the table bubbled over with joy, song, my father’s homemade challah bread, and stirring conversation. The personal engagement, the energy, and the palpable feeling of community were present every week. I particularly remember my mother’s commitment to inviting people that were different from us to our Shabbat table–the synagogue janitor or the school security guard. In retrospect, I now understand the communal space that we created at our Shabbat table – a combination of celebration, reflection, and earnest conversation across difference– was and is a radical space, a space that I try to foster every day in my commitment to Jewish spiritual leadership.
As I grew up, I learned that these workers, who I learned later were classified as “low-wage” workers, were not treated by society with the same dignity as people in professional positions. It was particularly striking to think about the workers who attempted to work on the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Though they were working 40-hour weeks, they still sunk more than $5,000 below the poverty line, while attempting to live on $15,080 a year, often without benefits. If the wage had kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, it would be $10.55. Nineteen states have already raised their minimum wage to keep up with the high cost of living, and New York State is the most recent addition to this group, though the bill faces immense resistance from the New York State Senate.
Sometimes, when I tell people about the type of work I do with Uri L’Tzedek, I’m immediately dismissed for my “left-wing” politics. I understand that there are different fiscal arguments for raising the minimum wage, maintaining it, or taking it away all together. What I don’t understand, however, is the acceptance that there are people working more than 40 hours a week who have no chance of making ends meet. I try to explain that this is not a partisan issue–it is a moral issue. Uri L’Tzedek seeks to achieve its social justice goals through not only ensuring that the minimum wage standard is upheld in kosher restaurants, but also through the constant struggle to achieve a higher standard for workers in the service industry. We want to limit poverty. This is not about the social safety net. This is a step forward to a living wage. When people work, they should be able to live dignified lives based on their labor.
So when I had the opportunity to represent Uri L’Tzedek as a part of a coalition of 60 faith organizations, workers, labor groups, and community members working on raising the minimum wage in New York, I jumped at the opportunity with gusto. Uri L’Tzedek, which serves as a part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, chose to be involved in the minimum wage effort as a part of a wider Civic Engagement project across the country.
It has been an honor to serve on a coalition with pastors, workers, and organizers–coming together to seek dignity for workers in the fastest growing sector in our country. Tuesday marks the three-year anniversary of the last time the minimum wage was raised in New York.
The coalition of workers, businesses, and community members will come together on July 24th for a National Day of Action for Low Wage Workers. The goals of the march from Herald Square to Union Square are twofold. The first is explicitly legislative and seeks to put pressure on prominent members of the State Senate to raise the minimum wage. The second goal seeks to plant the seeds for a vibrant and unified movement of low wage workers. Due to the fact that low-wage workers are spread across industries, they often face difficulty when trying to organize for higher standards or basic rights. This historic coalition and day of action will attempt to convey that if necessary, workers in the rapidly growing low-wage sector will stand up as a group against exploitation.
Following the march will be my favorite part–where Uri L’Tzedek will facilitate pop-up Batei Midrash (houses of study) all over Union Square. These small groups, facilitated by Jewish community leaders and Rabbis in the tradition of Jewish Torah learning, will study both ancient and contemporary Jewish texts together about ethical treatment of workers and responsibilities to the poor.
I hope you can join me there on Tuesday to create a strong and unified Jewish voice to advocate for the dignity of workers.
An article about this coalition was published in the New York Times earlier this week. More details for the National Day of Action for Low-Wage workers can be found here. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Jewschool founder Mobius aka Dan Sieradski is part of the panel at this very interesting event at the 14th Street Y on “The Future of Jewish Culture.” A full press kit is here. A quick look at the panel shows it covers not only various sectors but geographies and aims to address a significant amount of ground in an evening:
“After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale
back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing
issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:
New perspectives on American Jewish identity
Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future”
May 15, 2012 7pm, 14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003
If you’re in the area and are interested, sign up here. Naturally, this is a subject that deserves and requires significantly more time than a single evening. The need to advocate for, plan and implement a national Jewish Cultural Policy could be the focus of a week long conference with representatives from major communal institutions and umbrella organizations, local presenting arms and various elements from artists and performers to independent organizations. It could also be a great panel to recreate at the General Assembly because the message points need to be heard by people who hold the purse strings and those who put the money in that purse
As someone who runs a Jewish cultural initiative, I’m very interested in this and am excited that its taking place. I’d be interested to know who’s attending and if any funders or folks from the institutional community will be within earshot. And of course, as a non-New Yorker, I’m glad to see there’s three other regional centers represented on the panel.
I’m not going to rehash the history of Jews in the labor movement, or point out the irony of right wing Jews trying to distance themselves from Occupy in light of that history. May Day demands that we remove ourselves from the daily practice of exploiting of ourselves.s. We won’t work, we won’t use the bank, we won’t go to school, or at least, we won’t do these things in the way we normally do them, and we’re asking everyone to take the streets, instead of asking others to do what we would not. We’ll gather together in public space, celebrating the possibility of a different world, while refusing to participate, for at least today, in the one that’s broken. Sound familiar?
Thanksgiving celebrators around the country, here ye. Amidst all your holiday planning and travel, and your decisions on how to spend “Black Friday,” please consider how you might conclude this festive weekend. On Saturday evening, Rosh Chodesh will be upon us. On Sunday morning it is traditional to give praise to the Most High. One way to do this is by Occupying Rosh Chodesh, as some of us are doing this Sunday at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. All are invited. For more information see below:
What is Rosh Chodesh? This Sunday November 27th we are entering into the darkest month of the year, Kislev. However, during the month of Kislev, we celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of light.
Why be Occupied with it? It’s easy to celebrate when life is pleasant, when victory has been achieved and when the weather is warm. Rosh Chodesh is a monthly celebration fueled by a historical memory of enslavement. No matter where we are in the struggle for freedom and justice, Jewish tradition commands us to find ways to join forces and sing together – to experience the feeling of what redemption will truly taste like.
How will we celebrate it? On the Thanksgiving Sunday, two days after Black Friday, we will welcome the Hebrew month of Kislev with song and praise. In contrast to the melodies used to urge us toward the season of ‘holiday shopping’ we will sing the traditional Hallel / songs of praise sung on Rosh Chodesh. As part of the service, there will also be a chance for some learning and reflection on how Rosh Chodesh connects to the wider Occupy movement. The whole service should last no longer than one hour.
Who is invited? We welcome people of all backgrounds, races, gender identities and religious/faith affiliations.
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 local here in DC asked me to write a bit about how there came to be Jewish practice at Occupy Wall St, Occupy K St and elsewhere. I wrote a bit and thought it might be interesting to other folks. So, here ’tis:
Since the industrial revolution, and perhaps even before, Jews have figured prominently in the intellectual and practical movements that created capitalism as well as those that opposed it. Jews have always been disproportionately represented on both sides of the inequality debate. In the 1980s Milton Friedman wrote a famous essay on what he viewed as a paradox–if Jews have benefited a great deal from capitalism why do they tend to oppose it. Jews working against inequality and capitalism is not new, it has existed as long as capitalism has (thanks to Brent Chaim Spodek for pointing me towards this essay).
The question of Jews and Occupy Wall St/Occupy K St/etc was never one of whether we would be involved, but when and how. As the high holidays approached, many were split between wanting to focus on the spiritual discipline that comes with this season in the Jewish calendar and the activist fervor that was building. The idea sprung up that we wouldn’t have to chose! We could host services in solidarity with the emerging movement.
This is not just any year. We are in a state of moral crisis as a country. The richest among us continue to live lives of great wealth (perhaps even opulence), while our nation, the richest on earth, sees families go to bed hungry. Many felt that praying in a new and different way was more appropriate on that night and many nights since. Rather than in a big beautiful synagogue, sometimes it’s better to pray in the street.
Unsurprisingly, Jewschool and Jewschoolers have been all over the Occupy Wall Street movement. From organizing the widely successful Kol Nidre services to playing hacky sack and even demanding justice for the 99% or whatever they are demanding. However, this Jewschooler (admittedly the most “The Man” of any) is a bit put off by this movement.
I have had conversations about Occupy Wall Street with a number of people from across the spectrum and except for my friends on the far left, most “understand the frustration” but don’t feel like what is going on in Lower Manhattan is good. It is clear to me that this movement has no direction. Simply saying you are against greed is like saying you are for breathing. Who besides Gordon Gekko, who in fact later revised his statement, will say that greed is good?
My major complaint is that this is no “there” there in this movement. The demands are amorphous and without any sort of path to achievement. There is real anger in this country and around the world at the actions of the Financial Industry. This moment provides a huge opportunity to mobilize average, non-political folks—those soccer moms and NASCAR dads—around this issue. But sleeping in a park for a few weeks isn’t fixing anything nor is it bringing more attention to the problem. Rather it is bringing attention to the protestors and their on-the-street interactions with police and the so-called 1%. More »
Jewschool founder Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.
I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.
This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.
This is a guest post by David Slusky, a graduate student in Princeton’s economics department.
“We, like every administration for decades, do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and a two-state solution, which we strongly support, but to Israel’s future itself.”
—White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/17/2011
If the Obama administration wants to reduce settlement building in the West Bank, it should demand coordinated economic incentives, instead of blunt instruments like last year’s settlement building freeze. This would focus on the individuals instead of on the physical buildings of the settlements.
Many Israelis become settlers in the first place for economic, not ideological reasons. For example, they want to live near Jerusalem. With the current subsidies for settlers, living, say, a 30-minute commute, in the West Bank (which surrounds Jerusalem on three sides) costs the same as living a two hour-commute west of Jerusalem (within the Green Line). These Israelis are not fanatical; they simply want to live in houses large enough for their families, near observant synagogues and good public transportation to their work.
Current government subsidies create economic settlers, who then, through living with ideological settlers, become ideological settlers themselves. Reducing the number of economic settlers should therefore be a primary target for current American government policy.
Currently in Israel, settlers benefit from numerous financial subsidies (e.g. housing, transportation), all the result of government policy. I’d like to propose that, to non-coercively reduce settlement activity (as opposed to the forceful pullout from Gaza), the Israeli government should:
1) End all subsidies specific to settlers, including:
a. Financial assistance for purchasing or building
b. Education subsidies for students and teachers
c. Trade and industry grants and tax benefitsb
d. Benefits to social workers
e. Transportation subsidies1
2) Create subsidies for “long term” settlers who move back (to prevent individuals from moving and then moving back immediately)
3) Create subsidies for people who live outside of settlements
This will obviously be politically and logistically difficult for any Israeli government but a strong push from the United States government could have a significant impact on the size of the settler population, which is a necessary step toward a comprehensive peace plan.
1 For example, a single bus ride within Jerusalem is NIS 6.40, whereas from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station to the nearby settlements – including some trips over 30 minutes – is only NIS 4.10.
This past week, rabbis across the country received a request from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to sign a public rabbinic letter to Congress that urged our Representatives and Senators not to cut any foreign aid to Israel as part of the FY2012 budget. The request was co-signed by the rabbinical leaders of four major American Jewish denominations.
As rabbis who received these appeals for our endorsement, we would like to voice our respectful but strong disagreement to the letter. We take particular issue with the statement:
As Jews we are committed to the vision of the Prophets and Jewish sages who considered the pursuit of peace a religious obligation. Foreign Aid to Israel is an essential way that we can fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it”
We certainly agree that the pursuit of peace is our primary religious obligation. Our tradition emphasizes that we should not only seek peace but pursue it actively. However we cannot affirm that three billion dollars of annual and unconditional aid – mainly in the form of military aid – in any way fulfills the religious obligation of pursuing peace.
This aid provides Israel with military hardware that it uses to maintain its Occupation and to expand settlements on Palestinian land. It provides American bulldozers that demolish Palestinian homes. It provides tear gas that is regularly shot by the IDF at nonviolent Palestinian protesters. It also provided the Apache helicopters that dropped tons of bombs on civilian populations in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, as well as the white phosphorus that Israel dropped on Gazan civilians, causing grievous burns to their bodies – including the bodies of children.
In light of Israel’s past and continuing military actions, how can we possibly affirm that our continued unconditional aid fulfills the sacred obligation of pursuing peace?
We also take exception to this assertion:
U.S. foreign aid reaffirms our commitment to a democratic ally in the Middle East and gives Israel the military edge to maintain its security and the economic stability to pursue peace.
In fact our ally, the Netanyahu administration, has even rebuffed mild pressure from the US government to comply with the longstanding US position against new settlements in the West Bank. If we believe that any peaceful settlement requires the end of the Occupation and Israel’s settlement policy, how will massive and unconditional foreign aid – and the support of hundreds of rabbis for this aid – promote a negotiated peaceful settlement of the conflict?
An Israeli government that continues to settle occupied territory with impunity will not change its policy as long as it is guaranteed three billion dollars a year. With every other ally, our government pursues a time-honored diplomatic policy that uses “sticks” as well as “carrots.” We believe the cause of peace would be better served by conditioning support to Israel on its adherence to American and Jewish values of equality and justice.
We are also mindful that the Arab world itself feels under assault by the US when it witnesses Palestinians regularly assaulted with American-made weapons. With the vast and important changes currently underway in the Middle East, we are deeply troubled by the message that this policy sends to Arab citizens who themselves are struggling for freedom and justice.
We know that many of our colleagues who have signed this statement have taken courageous public stands condemning Israel’s human rights abuses in the past. We also know it is enormously challenging to publicly take exception to our country’s aid policy to Israel. Nonetheless, we respectfully urge our our colleagues to consider the deeper implications represented by their support of this letter.
Unconditional aid to Israel may ensure Israel’s continued military dominance, but will it truly fulfill our religious obligation to pursue peace?
Guestpost by Amanda, comedian, occasional blogger, and paper bag puppeteer.
While writing cover letters to try and end my five-month long spell of unemployment, I was also reading a book that discussed Depression-era unemployment protests, which were apparently pretty kickin’ and often involved singing. Since I enjoy writing rhyming songs, I thought it would be fun to sing songs about unemployment rates, my belief that we need more government investment to create jobs, and extending unemployment benefits.
On Sunday December 5th, I am gathering with other people who enjoy singing and hate high unemployment rates on the sidewalk in front of the White House (Pennsylvania Avenue between East and West Executive Avenues) between 3 and 4pm (and rehearsing at 2) to sing about our desire for more employment. I hope you will join us in a singing protest of unemployment rates, unemployment insurance, and the needs for increased government investment –all to the tunes of Christmas and Hannukah songs. If you are interested in joining me in trying to increase awareness of unemployment and have a hopefully very fun protest, please RSVP.
And to get you excited (or not, depending on how much you enjoy hard to parse lyrics), here are two sample songs:
My mother remembers when Devon was a classy street with quality merchant stores, but that was in the 50′s. Since I can remember it from the mid-70′s it was always a bit run down, heavily ethnic (it is the most diverse mile of pavement in all of Chicago) but not without its charm. The Indo-Pak part of the street is now far more dense, lively and even clean.
Jewishly speaking, the locus of W. Rogers Park has been rapidly shifting North toward Touhy and even Howard. The Russian immigrants who once kept the shift at bay have moved to the burbs. In the last five years we’ve seen several new shuls open on Touhy, including Sharei Tzedek (aka Bais Barnaby’s), Mkor Hayyim, Sephardic Ohel Shalom and the new Adas Jeshurun. These are joined by Or Menorah and the Egal Minyan in the Temple Menorah building closer to Howard, where a ‘Kosher’ jewel opened 5 years back.
Is Devon dying? Of course it is. But it has been dying for three decades now. Someday I’ll drive my kids through the neighborhood and show them what once was, just as last week I drove through N. Lawndale, where my grandfather grew up a century ago. There too are the shells of shuls by the dozen, now Baptist churches. Undoubtedly the Sentinel or Forward back in the 50′s decried the “Demise of Douglas Boulevard.” And fifty years from now, my grandchildren will read a post on their iPads about the “Downfall of Dundee,” around which there is now another great cluster of Jewish life.
My parents are struggling to pay their mortgage, my soon-to-be wife will probably never break the six-figure income mark, and since I’ve spent my entire career working within the Jewish nonprofit sector, my savings look more like an emergency fund than a capital investment.
So what’s a broke social entrepreneur to do?
One option is to live on less, like these friends of mine do. And, I know, KRG asked how parents with a 3-year old could live as modestly as dcc suggested. But let’s look at a concrete example: A family with a preschooler, with a second baby on the way, has been living on a modest income (household income of $35,000 last year, $45,000 this year) and paid off their debts, bought a house, and are doing well.
Do I think everyone can pull this off? No. Do I think we need to be lamenting the lack of six-figure income or “upper middle class” financial mobility in order to contribute to Jewish community? No. But perhaps a solution would be to come up with a happy medium between the six-figure expectation and this model of modesty.