Preregister now for the J Street 2011 conference!

Pregistration for J Street’s 2011 conference is now open.  The theme for this one, which will take place at the Washington Convention Center from February 26th-March 1st, is “Giving Voice To Our Values.”

Preregistering is free, and allows you to receive information about early registration specials.  Whether you made it to the last one or not, you should definitely think about coming this time around.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even meet one of us Jewschoolers?

Justify My Love

Shaul Magid has an interesting and provocative piece up at Zeek about the J Street conference.

“I love Israel.” What exactly does that mean? I know what it means to love my child, my family, my partner, my parents, even my dog. Love is relational, it is reciprocal, it is personal. What exactly is Israel as an object of love? Is it the state? Its people? The land? The idea? How can I love the people, most of whom I don’t know? From what I know of them I can say with some confidence that I don’t love Baruch Goldstein, or Yigal Amir, or Meir Kahane, or Moshe Levinger (and I am quite sure they don’t love me either).

Full article here.

“Lost” on J Street?

j_street_largeThe following is a guest post by treyfe. He is a stay-at-home father and observant, atheist Jew who is trying to be a good ally, while staying true to the best traditions in Judaism.

One of many surprises for me at the J Steet conference was the role intermarriage played in both J Street’s self-concept and the efforts to criticize other organizations. I was ready for challenges to my identity as a leftist, but as a product of intermarriage? Really, it is all interconnected!

So for those of you joining us late, J Street had its big roll out in the New York Times Magazine September 9, in a mostly positive portrayal. To illustrate their youthfulness, J Street’s staff is listed as being an average age of 30. What’s more, “They’re all intermarried,” Ben Ami says. “They’re all doing Buddhist seders.” The Buddhist seders comment was perhaps exaggeration. (And why must Eastern faiths be the intermarriage ad absurdium?) None of the published letters to the editor addressed intermarriage. Their characterization seems to be bolstering J Street’s youthful, cosmopolitan, non-ghettoized bonafides.

Fast forward to the interview in the New Yorker with Ben-Ami on the eve of the conference. Here Ben-Ami is called out by Jeffrey Goldberg to affirm this or repudiate that. He adopts what Goldberg rightly calls a Seinfeldian tone to dispute his quote, and Goldberg makes the old joke about improving the gene pool as a peace offering. Tablet helpfully corroborates that indeed “at least one [staff member] is married to a rabbinical student.”

Also in the run up to the conference, Masa, of the infamous “Lost” video, became sponsors without visible controversy. So are J Street cosmopolitans seeking enlightenment from their charoset or are they hunting lost Jews? More »

The relationship between a Jewish identity and a political identity

The J Street conference was one of the most intellectually and physically taxing experiences I’ve ever had.  I learned an incredible amount, met amazing people, and feel compelled to keep educating myself on the issues.

I had an idea for a post near the beginning, and ended up not being able to write it until now because of how tired I was at and following the conference.  So this post represents a thought that matured throughout the conference, undergoing numerous changes in perspective as it did so.

The core question I want to ask is: What’s the relationship between a Jewish identity and a political identity?
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Yoffie, don’t abandon human rights entirely

Rabbi Eric Yoffie at J Street, photo courtesy of Dan Sieradski

I suspect we direct our most bruised anger at those most likely to be our supporters…who don’t. That “self-hater” is such a cutting insult is part and parcel of that emotion. And it’s why it’s taken me a couple days to come down from the anger I felt towards Rabbi Eric Yoffie following his speech at J Street.

On Tuesday, he spoke strongly and provocatively. He did not shy from controversy and never wavered. He has the prophetic instinct to make himself unwelcome in his own house, which I support and commend. It’s a talent I value, admire and aspire to. Kol hakavod to him.

Most of his speech was right on the money, leading me to applaud many times, but two moments left me seething, ready to verbally skewer him and decry him as a traitor. Thanks to Noam Shelef of Americans for Peace Now, I now have a term for my eagerness to briefly disown Yoffie: the narcissism of small differences. I have since cooled off my anger and I wish to give Yoffie a second chance. More »

Who are we trying to convince?

j_street_largeThe following is a guest post by Naomi Goldenson.

In discussions this morning about internal Jewish dynamics, people wanted to know how it is that we get the organized mainstream to see that it’s in their interest to make the conversation more inclusive. This invariably turns into a conversation not just about how to get them to accept critical pro-peace views, but how to keep young people involved in general and various other continuity concerns. Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel Fund pointed out that decline in support of Israel may not be the symptom of lack of engagement in Jewish community. We may be confusing cause and effect.

At the same time we heard about the need to state our pro-Israel credentials up-front and often. When someone from the audience questioned why she should have to do this, the reply was pragmatic: just deal with it because it will make people listen to what you have to say. For some American Jews, however, having to do this is not a question of principle. Many American Jews do not necessarily have that “pedigree.” Are their voices less important? And for Jews who did not attend Jewish summer camp, never traveled to Israel, and know little Hebrew, why should they feel any connection to Israel? More »

Noa Baum’s Negative Capability

j_street_largeThe following is a guest post by Mark Snyderman.

Theater J and J Street organized several panels that examined the situation through film and performance. Israeli-born storyteller Noa Baum performed her show, A Land Twice Promised, a story of her friendship formed with a Palestinian woman in Davis, California. Their sons become fast friends; the women, more slowly, more deeply.

These mothers exchange their stories as they warm to one another: each coming of age in or near Jerusalem. Surviving the wars of their childhood. Each imbued with a deep fear and mistrust of the other. Their accounts give way to those of their mothers, and others. We heard the Old City fall twice, from different perspectives. (The pregnant implications: can it happen again? Will it?)

Noa is a force. I cannot better describe her. Her performance transports and transforms. After the show, there’s more: she shares her unscripted thoughts. The personal suffering on all sides is immense. It endures, and it shall continue. But it can also paralyze and poison: if the parties conceive of justice as a function of their personal suffering and the memory of their own collective pain, there is nothing for it but more of the same. More »

URJ President Yoffie booed at J Street, I smirk

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle.

Maybe there’s some hubris involved when I chime in on the ongoing J Street conference. I’m not even there and we’ve got four or five Jewschoolers there covering it quite capably here and at Twitter. But when Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism shows up at J Street and gets booed by a crowd, I’ve got to say something. After all, I’m the self-proclaimed URJ expert here at Jewschool. Indeed, one of our guest posters has already written about this beautiful moment in this post, but I’ll take a very different angle.

To recap the relationship so far between the URJ and J Street: although Yoffie and the Religious Action Center (a DC lobby affiliated with the URJ) were initially quite warm to J Street, Yoffie lost his cool with J Street during the Gaza shit early this year. He disagreed vehemently with J Street’s assessment that Operation Cast Lead was a bad idea in this Forward op-ed. Here is J Street’s response to the piece.

But now, it seems that Yoffie sees that J Street agrees with him on more than it disagrees. And it seems J Street sees the value in having the leader of the largest Jewish religious organization in America present at their inaugural conference.

Here’s the text of his address to the J Street conference yesterday. An excerpt: More »

What I didn’t notice…

j_street_largeThis a guest post by Rabbi Ezra Weinberg.

Sometimes the first interaction you have at a conference can be emblematic of the experience. In my instance, the first person I spoke to said, “Wow, so many people, so few people of color.” My impulse was to say, “REALLY? Is that what you’re choosing to notice?” While her observation happened to be an annoying yet irrefutable truism, it got me seeing things a little differently. I started seeing what was not here.

Clearly, the organizers wanted to make sure there were many Jewish voices represented, including religious voices. But the religious voices and words used to describe our Jewish mandate for justice were unfortunately predictable. I cringed when I heard one speaker talk about “Isaiah’s fast” and when another said “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.” In another example, Ronit Avni of Just Vision used an anecdote about how she “values a Talmudic approach which values complexity and minority opinions.” Jeremy Ben Ami and others were adamant about not reducing the conflict to “us vs them.” Who can argue these points? But when you quote the same overused passages about justice and make blanket statements about using minority opinions or what Judaism does or doesn’t stand for, you better have some substance to back it up. There was lip-service for embracing complexity and opposing viewpoints within sound-bites of Torah that were used, but not a clear enough demonstration of that commitment, at least in the opening plenary. More »

Political compromise or dialogue?

j_street_largeThis is a guest post by Naomi Goldenson.

First thing this afternoon at the JStreet conference there was a town-hall plenary session, within which there was space for dialogue among participants, and questions about important policy issues. Interestingly, it seemed to give an equal platform to Jeremy Ben-Ami, representing JStreet, and to Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Union for Reform Judaism. All of Rabbi Yoffie’s comments did not concur with my understanding of JStreet’s political leanings. For example, “The day after the withdrawal Gaza should have become the Singapore of the Middle East.” This was not the tight message control I had come to expect from the emails I’ve been receiving from JStreet this past year.

After each of them spoke questions were posed for discussion. If you didn’t already know, the questions that were officially posed would have made it clear that JStreet is on the defensive against attacks from the right and not the left (not that there aren’t critiques from the left). For starters, how does a “pro-peace” group reconcile itself to the need for self-defense? “Pro-peace” is not pacifist, but I’m sure plenty of people would like to confuse the two in order to paint JStreet as naive. Next. More »

J Street: The Radical Center

J StreetThe following is a guest post from Moriel Rothman

I think I know what J Street needs to be. I was having a conversation with Moises Salinas, the Vice President of Meretz USA, following a phenomenal presentation (by Ron Skolnik, Aziz abu Sarah, Ralph Hexter, Susannah Heschel and Elizabeth Wendt) on the deeply problematic and unhelpful nature of the BDS movement, and he used a term that really struck me: “the radical center.” That’s it, I thought, that’s what we need to be. J Street needs to be the radical center. The “radical center.” Isn’t that a contradiction?

Yes, it is. And that is the beauty of it. Allow me to break this down:

What is the center? The center is nuance, the center is complexity, the center is tolerance for a diversity of views, the center incorporates elements from both the left and the right, the center rejects the paradigms of right and wrong, the center opposes simplification.

What is radicalism? Radicalism is conviction, radicalism is dedication to a cause which is believed in which an overflow soul, radicalism is the burn of passion, the drive of action.

What is often wrong with the center? The center can be a lack of conviction, the idea that they are right and they are right, so we can’t really take a position. Center can be the perversion of nuance; its use not as a guiding beacon, but as a impediment for action.

What is often wrong with radicalism? Radicalism can be narrow, radicalism can blind, radicalism can alienate, polarize, extremicize, radicalism can be a tool for making oneself feel good by avoiding the complexities that confuse and frustrate and hurt.

So. J Street needs to combine the positive elements of both, to adopt centrist politics that buy into neither the simplifications the radical right or the radical left, but also positions that are forged with conviction, stances that are taken strongly. J Street needs simultaneously to be open, broad, thoughtful and to be willing to take strong, radical stances within those guidelines.

Confusing? It should be. If J Street falls into simplicity, if J Street becomes easy to understand and to categorize, then J Street fails. We need to be the contradiction of the radical center.

As Billy Wimsatt said, maybe J Street’s message should be: “Don’t be meshugganahs.” Let’s do it, team, let’s be nuanced centrist radicalist non-meshuganahs.

Wish you were at J Street? Follow us and friends on Twitter!

J StreetFollow Jewschool and our friends on Twitter for live updates as the conference progresses!

Here‘s a list of our bloggers, and here‘s a list of the people we’re enjoying following.

You can also use the #jstconf09 hashtag to see what everyone’s saying…

Is this the best they can do?

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They’re kidding, right? Courtesy of Attackerman.

Filed under J Street 2009

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Crowds and Cuts: Monday morning at J Street

j_street_largeThis is a guest post by Mark Sniderman.

The hotel and facilities are beautiful and ample. The conference is well-planned and executed. But the battle between attendees and meeting rooms proved to be no contest: overflow crowds for the morning sessions were the rule. Queues formed for the upcoming sessions, not just in the hope of gaining a seat, but getting into the room at all. The rooms were full beyond standing room. Standers lined the rooms. People sat on the floor anywhere they could; sometimes, even behind the speakers’ table. The most frequently overheard question: “Can you believe how packed this is?”

The session on the American Left and Israel overflowed the room and the topic. More »

J Street conference 2009 webcast

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Our friends over at Jewcy Magazine are streaming live video of the 2009 J Street Conference here.  It looks great, so if you’re not here with us, check it out…

Filed under J Street 2009

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Finally: From Middlebury to J Street

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Editor’s note: The following is a post from guest blogger Moriel Rothman blogging live from the first annual JStreet Conference.

Finally.
I am at here at the beginning of the J Street U segment of the J Street conference, and after only the first evening, the feeling I have is “finally.”
When I tried to explain to my friends back at Middlebury College what J Street is, I found that I had trouble summarizing and classifying what J Street is: Finally.
However, for my friends back home, I will try, based on what I’ve felt during these first fews hours.
J Street is an organization that supports Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State.
J Street is an organization that desires peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians.
J Street is complexity, and it is nuance.
J Street is a voice that is made up of many different voices, that speaks in English and in Hebrew and in Arabic.
J Street is pulsing with energy, glowing with nervous excitement.
J Street is a chance for change, and the challenging the tired paradigms of narrowness and of “good and bad.”

Or, that’s how I see J Street, at least. I am thrilled to be here, to be a part of this, to help J Street move forward, and to grow. I am here to work for peace in a way that combines the complexities of who I am and what I believe.

Finally.

Opening session, introductions, and surprises

j_street_largeThe J Street U opening program has just finished.  Technically, this program begins and ends a day earlier than the regular J Street conference, so our individual programming takes place throughout the day tomorrow.  In the evening, we join the conference, and go through their programming on Monday.  We then have the option of our own advocacy session on Capitol Hill, or staying in the regular conference for Tuesday and going to their advocacy session on Wednesday.  I’ve elected to take this option, and so, it turns out, has one of our guest bloggers, Moriel Rothman, whom I bumped into at the beginning of the opening program.  We turn out to have a lot in common (such as us both beatboxing), and we’re spending some time talking about how to cover the events here meaningfully as we go through the program.

Tonight has been very constructive.  I’m looking forward to crashing at the hostel a few blocks away where a lot of us are staying.  Tomorrow’s an even busier day.

There’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air.  But people are surprisingly level-headed.  No one’s flying off the handle with radicalism or unfounded idealistic dreams of changing the world right away.  But there’s real hope here.  We heard some speakers talk about the role college campuses play in the shaping and realization of U.S. Middle Eastern policy; it’s empowering to have people address you like that.  So tomorrow, when we actually make good on these ideas, and have real discussions with real facts, it’s going to come home – we have a job to do, and we’re here to learn how to do it.

I’ll continue to tweet the student and regular conferences.

Cross-posted to my blog.

If you believe that things can get worse, why not believe they can get better? – Fourth Entry for JStreet contest with Jewschool

j_street_largeEditor’s Note: The following is the third winner of four recent entries by individual who will be heading to Washington, D.C. at the end of the month for JStreet’s first national conference: Driving Change, Securing Peace. The following post was written by Rabbi Ezra Weinberg of New York City. Yashar Koach – and see you in DC! To everyone else: there’s still time to sign up – and if you can’t come, check back here for live blogging by our contest winners as well as some of your favorite Jewschoolers.

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I was asked earlier this week what I thought of Jay Michaelson’s article in last week’s Forward entitled, “How I’m losing my Love for Israel.” Having read and mulled it over several times, the only words I could think of in response were “disheartening.” It has never been a lonelier time to support Israel as a peace-builder, in words alone, let alone though actions. Those of us devoted to bridging the ever growing gap between a Zionist identity and builders of a just world for all inhabitants often seem like the shrinking minority. Michaelson speaks frankly about the polarization effect this middle space has left him. All his reason for despair are justifiable. His loss of love for Israel stings precisely because of this familiar identification with that experience of being yanked apart living by opposing forces: in this case the “Israel bashers” versus the “Israel no-question askers.” For one to honestly care about the welfare of both Israelis and Palestinians takes courage and an unusual amount of risk. And the pressure to choose sides or to disengage completely is mounting.
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