“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”
ED: I started to write Black, Gay and Jewish when I realized that converting to Judaism and talking about Jewish things was taking up a lot of space on my now defunct blog about lesbian dating in NYC (I’d just come out). I started writing it as a sort of personal journal through the process of converting to Judaism and also because there was only one other blog penned by a black, gay and Jewish woman. (This isn’t to say that there weren’t awesome blogs out there about conversion; there are so many that it boggles the mind. A few are written by gay Jews and by Jews of Color, but rarely did I find anything on the web that had all three.) More »
This is a Guest Post by Edan Nissen, a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair Australia, now living in Israel. Edan has a BA from Monash University, Majoring in Politics and History of the Middle East with a Minor in Conflict Resolution.
A teacher stops a history classroom in the middle, the students are learning about the various tragedies of history. “Could all the students please stand up, we are going to have a minute of silence for the victims of the Nakba”. Most of the students stand is silence, thinking of the relatives that were affected, their homes destroyed and families that were forced to flee. Others had relatives that were killed. Two Students stand to the side, and during the silence they begin chatting. Their classmates are openly outraged, jaws are dropped but most students stand silently in their outrage. For these two students, it’s not that they don’t respect the loss of life, it’s that the tragedy of the Nakba is not relevant to them. They aren’t of Palestinian descent; they have their own national tragedies.
Shocked, aren’t you? This is a true story, well almost. The differences between this scenario and what actually happened are relatively minor. Swap the Nakba for the Holocaust, and the two boys for Israeli Palestinians and this scene has been played out several times, over several years and in several different locations. Yom Ha’Shoa, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust, was about a month ago and this happened again. I received a call from a friend who was in shock as two Arab students in her course spoke to each other while the nation- wide siren marking Yom Ha’Shoa rang out. The act was a mark of incredible disrespect for the loss of life, and destruction.
Last year a friend who had just finished participating in a Birthright program was telling me of his harrowing journey and mentioned that they had gone to the City of David. I said something along the lines of, “Right, Silwan. The tour through people’s backyards” in a tone that implied that I thought my friend, a fellow politically active organizer, would know what I was talking about. But, instead, he said something like, “Wait, that was Silwan?”
It became clear at that moment that the JNF’s aim via subsidiary support for ELAD to dispossess Palestinians of their homes in Silwan and replace them with settlers and a tourist site at the City of David was working. The process is barely noticeable to those who don’t know to look, which is most people. More »
So a small group of Palestinians, Israelis, and Germans –all in their 30s–are having drinks in Malmö, Sweden with a bunch of Jews, Muslims, Christians and other people of all ages who don’t identify with any religion.
That is not a joke. It happened a few days ago. I was there.
The group was the ensemble cast of Third Generation: “work in progress,” a brilliant performance piece conceived by Israeli playwright and director Yael Ronen (who was also there) and developed as a joint project of Berlin’s Schaubuhne and the Habimah National Theatre of Israel.
At the start of the show, Niels Bormann appears alone in front of the curtain; dressed in grey sweatpants, a red t-shirt emblazoned with 3G in large black letters, and a kefiya. He introduces the play with one apology after another: He is sorry that the costumes are not more sophisticated, but the show was developed in the Middle East, not Europe. He is sorry for making that politically incorrect statement. He is especially sorry for the role that Germany played in the murder of so many diverse groups of people. He polls the audience;
“Are there any Jews here?” Many hands go up. He apologizes. More »
What do you buy the children of the terrorist who tried to kill your wife?
This is not a question that many of us have ever asked, or even thought about thinking about figuring out how to ask. Or why, or whether, or how such a question could even exist. But this is what David Harris-Gershon found himself asking in a Toys-R-Us in Jerusalem one Friday afternoon, as it was preparing to close. This is the question that encapsulates the absurdity, desperation, and emotional daring in his mission to meet the jailed terrorist who planted the bomb at Hebrew University that killed nine people, including his friends Marla and Ben, and injured 100, including his wife, Jamie, who was eating lunch with them when the bomb detonated.
Harris-Gershon, a schoolteacher, dad, columnist for Tikkun and the Daily Kos, Moth Grandslam Storytelling champion, first-time author, and lover of words and dictionaries, learns a few things along the way, starting with language: More »
The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism’s Centennial Conference starts this weekend. The Conservative movement’s health, particularly its synagogue arm, USCJ, is not great. My previous post focused on the suburbanization of Conservative Judaism. The rapid decline of USCJ-affiliated synagogues is partially due to the continuing decrease in the numbers of suburban Jews in the old Jewish population centers. In 2010, 659 synagogues were affiliated with USCJ. Now, there are 620. The decline isn’t surprising. When populations move, such as the current shifts away from the older suburbs, we expect synagogues to close or merge. The issue is what happens in the new Jewish population centers, whether they are in walkable suburban areas or cities. Where are the new Conservative communities? This Summer, I contacted several people within USCJ to ask about synagogues that have joined USCJ in the past few years. I was unable to get a precise number, but the communications staff with whom I corresponded could only think of three synagogues that recentlyjoined. As best as I could tell, all three are older synagogues that changed affiliations or reaffiliated after a lapse. I don’t know of a single community that is less than 10 years old that has joined USCJ in the past 5 years. A movement that is losing synagogues due to de-suburbanization is one thing. A movement that hasn’t figured out how to get new communities to join has a serious problem.
As Jewschool readers well know, new Jewish communities are being created all the time. In theory, these communities might want to affiliate with the Conservative movement, but this hasn’t been happening. Here are three examples that hopefully highlight the movement’s gaps.
1. The decline of new USCJ-affiliated synagogues has happened along with the rise of independent minyanim and havurot. Thanks again to the shifts away from suburbia, these communities often appear in neighborhoods with large, young Jewish communities, but no nearby synagogues (or no nearby egalitarian congregations). Other times they are near or even meet at existing synagogues, but there’s nothing new about this. Breakaway communities that tap an unmet demand for something different are how many Jewish institutions got their start. Not every new community would fit in the wide Conservative tent, due to differences in theology or practice, but many would. I’ve lost count of the number of opinion pieces I’ve read that place the onus on the leaders of these communities to join a movement, but the opposite question is more useful. Why would one of these groups join USCJ? USCJ provides no services that one can’t easily find elsewhere that would help get a new community off the ground. There are already healthy online and in-person collaborations across minyanim that don’t require the expensive USCJ infrastructure. Perhaps in past decades, branding a community as Conservative was a way to attract new people, but the internet provides better ways to spread the word about a new community than USCJ ever did. USCJ has taken some steps to make it possible for these new communities to join, but they haven’t made any changes to give these communities a reason to work with USCJ.
2. I was a member of a self-labeled Conservative synagogue that wasn’t affiliated with USCJ in its early years. The synagogue grew into a vibrant community without any help from USCJ. When the congregation needed a new rabbi, Rabbinical Assembly union rules required it to affiliate with USCJ movement to be able to interview Conservative Rabbis for the position. I was part of the group evaluating whether affiliation was worthwhile. USCJ offered us useful things if we affiliated, but none of these (besides the pool of rabbis) seemed necessary. For example, affiliating with USCJ allowed the congregation to send children to USY, but the synagogue already had happy kids in BBYO. USCJ offered help in finding “replacements leaders when the rabbi went on vacation,” but the congregation already has a large pool of lay leaders. In the end, the synagogue decided to affiliate for the sake of the rabbi search and decided to get what services it could from USCJ while speaking up about the problems we saw in the organization. (This is the origin of my improveuscj at gmail address.)
3. IKAR in Los Angeles has all the trapping of a suburban Jewish Community Center style synagogue. There’s a large paid staff that leads services, pre-K child care, education programs for many age groups, and membership dues. (Yes, I know IKAR is also unique in many ways.) It has at least 15 paid staff, including 3 rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement. Nothing they do couldn’t fit within the bounds of a Conservative synagogue. They have gone from an idea to more than 500 households in less than a decade, in a town with multiple alternative synagogues of all kinds, and they did this, I assume, without any help from USCJ. IKAR seems to have a good relationship with the Conservative movement and (from their website) it looks like they participate in Conservative rabbinical school internship and other training programs. Perhaps, when Rabbi Sharon Brous decides to move on from her current role and they need to hire a replacement, USCJ might come calling, but that seems awfully late.
These cases bring home two main messages: 1. USCJ has not adapted to support communities with atypical structures or goals, particularly if they have knowledgable congregations. 2. USCJ is not useful to new communities getting off the ground.
In the past few years, USCJ has significantly reorganized. This difficult work has primarily focused on improving services and finances so that current synagogues don’t decide to leave. Not losing members is a good start, but it is not enough. USCJ and the Conservative movement as a whole needs to figure out why a new community would want to join. I’ll give some thoughts on this topic in my next post, but I have no clue if my ideas are right and no answer is easy.
The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism’s Centennial Conference starts this weekend. It comes at a time when the future direction and health of the movement is unclear. This series of posts will examine one of the factors behind the movement’s current challenges.
There is a certain variety of critique that tries to trace all the movement’s problems to the 1950 “Driving Teshuva,” which said it was ok to drive to synagogue on Shabbat. The usual line is that the driving teshuva was when the movement turned away from something-or-another, which led to its intellectual decline and eventual doom. The teshuva was a turning point for the movement. The Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards was only formed in 1948 [correction: CJLS was formed in 1927, but significantly reorganized in 1948]. This teshuva, in 1950, was a clear statement that Conservative rabbis were willing to publicly disagree with Orthodoxy. Still, placing the movement’s decline on a theological disagreement has always seemed weak to me. Despite current challenges, the movement has survived for 60 years since this decision and Conservative rabbis and leaders have played central roles in halachic and theological discussions that have affected all of Judaism. The link between saying it is ok to drive and the movement’s decline seems to be based more on wishful thinking among those who disagree, than on historical analysis. I do think the driving teshuva has hurt the movement in ways that are less often discussed, but this requires examining the text.
The driving teshuva is actually titled, “A Responsum on the Sabbath” (1950) by Rabbis Morris Adler, Jacob Agus, and Theodore Friedman. You can read the full text as part of this pdf file. I am borrowing some explanation liberally from this 2005 blog post by elf’s dh. In short, the teshuva’s goal was not to broadly permit driving on Shabbat. It was not even to permit driving to synagogue on Shabbat. It’s goal was to allow driving to synagogue on Shabbat when the alternative was that people wouldn’t have an active connection to Judaism without going to synagogue on Shabbat. In short, the teshuva says, if people are at risk of separating from the Jewish people, but regularly drive to synagogue on Shabbat, there are better ways to engage these Jews than harassing them to stop driving. Perhaps shunning drivers and delivering drashot against driving might not be the best way to encourage people to increase their connections to Judaism..
Put this way, this is little different from the many Modern Orthodox and Chabad synagogues which maintain an official position against driving on Shabbat, but still have seats and honors in the service for people who park down the block.
The problem with this teshuva is less its conclusion and more the assumptions that got it there. It assumes that the future of Judaism would be in communities where people could not or would not walk to synagogue. Conservative Judaism staked its future on the rise of suburbia. This was an intentional decision, not a recognition of the inevitable. It meant not just looking the other way when people drive on Shabbat, but, but accepting that driving on Shabbat would be a fundamental necessity. The driving teshuva was a key part of an active decision to embrace suburban life and actively abandon urban, walkable living. It meant abandoning cities in a way that Orthodoxy never did. It meant abandoning cities to an extent that non-Orthodox Jews never actually did.
As an example, here is a story told to me by the emeritus rabbi of a Conservative synagogue in an outlying area of a city with mostly single-family homes. He recounts asking Conservative movement officials for help around 1970, when the synagogue was losing members due to a shrinking local Jewish population, and most of the other local Conservative congregations moved to the suburbs. The Conservative movement officials told him that synagogues in cities were doomed to closure, and they only help they could give him would be to help help him find a new (suburban) pulpit. He declined their offer, and some decades later, the neighborhood (and the synagogue) have seen a great resurgence of Jews. His synagogue has more than doubled in size in the last 15 years.
The suburbanisation of Conservative Judaism served the movement very well during the rise of the suburbs. But nowadays, more and more Jews want to live in walkable neighborhoods, and the Conservative synagogues have left these city neighborhoods for suburbs that no longer attract enough Jews to support them all. Meanwhile, the movement’s key institutions still have a mindset that focuses on suburban-style synagogues/community centers. While the rise of Jewish suburbanization was marked by the driving teshuva, the movement has had decades to readjust how it interacts with Jewish in different types of communities. My next post will focus on what is currently happening and what could be done.
A Jewish friend who used to live here once commented that, in Berlin, it is impossible to walk more than a few blocks without bumping into another Holocaust memorial. This year, on the 80th anniversary of the Nazi rise to power and the 75th anniversary of the Kristalnacht pogroms, the entire city is part of a “theme-year”;a memorial to the lethal seeds that were planted here.
“Diversity Destroyed. Berlin 1933-1938-1945. A City Remembers” is the way in which Berlin is teaching its residents and visitors precisely how the diversity and democracy of Weimer Germany so quickly gave way to the rise of the brutal fascism that led directly to ghettoes, concentration camps, and extermination centers. In addition to the permanent Holocaust memorials, there are temporary exhibitions, lectures, films and other programs. These are publicized all over the city on kiosks, in subway stations, in the newspapers. It is impossible to avoid them.
The inspiration for the Stuff Jews Don’t Do Tumblr, according to the person who created it : “Growing up in a Jewish TV-centered home, I often encountered many things or situations in the primetime line-up that were unfamiliar. When I asked my mother why we didn’t eat Thanksgiving in the afternoon or why my brother never had a rat’s tail, her retort was always “Jews don’t do that!”"
Some things “Jews don’t do”: Shop at JC Penney, Drive Pick Up Trucks, Buy Lottery Tickets, Eat Hamburger Helper. This is stuff that runs contrary to what some Jews recognize as being Jewish, or what might be referred to as “”goyishe.” There’s a thread that connects them-mainly that they’re commonly associated with people of a certain class. When I was a kid, we shopped at Kmart (not even a JC Penney!). This might not be true anymore, but then, shopping at Kmart was unforgivable. People would tease you about it until you died, because it meant you were poor, and worse, you were too stupid (obviously as the result of being poor) to front like you didn’t shop at Kmart. The thing was, my family was poor. And we were Jews.
Like I said, a lot of the things listed in this Tumblr have nothing to do with Judaism, they have to do with class, but in addition, there’s also the greatly overlooked fact that, believe it or not, Jews don’t all live on the East and West coasts of the United States. Jews in the South might drive pick up trucks, because in the South, people might do that. Cultural norms exist, and people take them on.
Jews might also make and eat Jello molds, (I can’t believe I just typed that sentence) because maybe they don’t know about kashrut or they don’t care about it, and they think they’re delicious. And just so I keep making it all about me, kashrut was something I didn’t know about until college, because Jewish education is expensive, and I wasn’t around a lot of observant Jews. That’s what happens when you live outside of a Jewish bubble.
Look, I’m pretty sure (I hope) that the point of this Tumblr is to poke fun at the idea that Jews don’t do certain things, but actually it should be called “Stuff Jews Who Aren’t Me or Other Jews I Know Probably Do.” (Also, I’m pretty sure a kugel qualifies as a casserole.)
Israel’s Documented Story started posting last June and it’s been an interesting read. It’s an English language blog run by The Israel State Archives. They’ve been posting and commenting on documents, including recently declassified documents in the archvies. Here are some highlights:
They have British Mandate immigration records from 1920-1947, much of which were recently put online. While some records were destroyed or removed, the remaining documents have a lot of details, including pictures–and they are indexed by family: Immigrants to the British Mandate (Record Group 11)
There’s a great series on documents relating to Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Jerusalem and the subsequent Israel/Egypt peace process. The primary documents are here and I think all posts are tagged at: israelsdocuments.blogspot.com/search/label/1977 Here are some nice segments from that series:
Principles sometimes change: They document Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan’s guiding princples to negotiating with Egypt, how much these seemingly nonnegotiable principles deviated from the final peace agreement, and why.
“Over a period of 29 years all six of Israel’s prime ministers, including myself, have stated their readiness to go anywhere and at any time to meet the Arab rulers to talk about peace. These offers have remained without response apart from certain clandestine meetings subsequently publicly denied by both sides.” Huh? Run that by me again? Never ever any meetings except for the ones we’ve all denied?
The Spook’s Report: A Mossad agent’s perspective on the then top secret meeting in Morocco of Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Hassan Tuhami.
Following is a guest post by Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, current resident of Malmo, Sweden.
In early March, when I was asked to write a column about Jewish life in Malmö, I began like this: Google “Jews in Malmö.” Most of the results will be about the rise in anti-Semitism, the hostility between Muslims and Jews, the anti-Semitic rants of the mayor, and the number of Jews who are fleeing Sweden’s third largest city.
Six weeks later, you can skip the Google search. The Jewish media have their eye on Malmö, thanks to the most recent spewing of idiotic, anti-Semitic rants by mayor Ilmar Reepalu. This time, he tried to claim that the Jewish community of Malmö had allowed itself to be infiltrated by the white supremacist Sweden Democrat party in order to attack Muslims. When confronted, Reepalu admitted that his accusation was baseless. Dominos have begun to fall since then. The leader of his Social Democrat party scolded the mayor, and word has it that Reeplu might even be open to hearing from Jewish citizens. It remains unclear whether there will be any real impact on Reeplalu’s mayorship.
Yet, although Malmö’s Jews do face anti-Semitism from some hateful, even violent neighbors as well as from the mayor, things have changed since 2010, when the Forward published an article titled, “For Jews, Swedish City is a Place to Move Away From.” In fact, last month I used that title as a foil, declaring Malmö to be a delightful place to move to. The Jewish community here is undergoing a true renaissance and, on this Yom Hashoah, many members look toward the future with hope.
Hey, y’all. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy having a real job instead of blogging here or at my personal blog. Anyway, this has been crossposted to my new blog at davidamwilensky.com, which you should all go check out.
I tip my hat to Philologos, the pseudonymous author of the Forward’s language column, for two reasons:
In a recent column, he cited a column he wrote in 1998 about an incident in which an Arab Israeli member of the national soccer team declined to sing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. In ’98, he wrote that it sucks for Arab Israelis and that he understood their reluctance to sing it. But in ’98 he concluded that there was no way around it. In this more recent column, he admits that he was wrong and….
In this one he reacts to the recent silence of Salim Joubran during the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” by going further than the other commentaries I’ve read on the incident; Philologos went so far as to make specific suggestions about how the song could be changed.
So bravo to you, Philologos for admitting you were wrong and for making some nicely conceived suggestions for rectifying the problem of “Hatikvah.”
And with that, let me explain why he’s still wrong this time. As identified by Philologos, the basic problem with “Hatikvah” is contained in this rhetorical: “How, really, can one expect an Israeli Arab to sing about a Jew’s soul stirring for his country?” But I’d go one step further: How can one expect a group with an equally valid claim on the land to sing a national anthem that is a clearly not just an Israeli song, but a Jewish song?
He concludes that “Hativkah” should not “be abandoned for another anthem, or sung to the same tune with new words” because “there’s not point in accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Again, I’d go even further, but we’ll come back to that. First, Philologos’ specific problems with “Hatikvah”: More »
If you’re in New York this week, you should check out the “Other Zions” exhibit, currently on display at YIVO. Curated by Krysia Fisher, this absolutely fascinating exhibit showcases the impressive ambitions and efforts of three related Yiddish organisations, all committed to establishing a Jewish homeland within the Diaspora, documenting an oft-neglected chapter in the history of modern Jewish settlement. The exhibit marks the 70th anniversary of the all-Yiddish publication Afn Shvel, the 30th anniversary of the League for Yiddish, and 75 years since the establishment of the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization.
In July, YIVO hosted an opening for the exhibit, featuring acclaimed Yiddishists, both young and old. The evening centered on the accomplishments and ideological legacies of prominent figures in the Yiddish-speaking world, such as Abraham Rosin, the first editor of the Yiddish literary-cultural journal Afn Shvel; Dr. Mordekhe Schaechter, Yiddish linguist and third editor of Afn Shvel, and founder of Yugntruf; I.N. Steinberg, exiled religious, leftist Freeland activist; and other members of the Freeland movement. Several of the speakers and performers, children and grandchildren of the aforementioned figures, spoke first-hand about the legacy of their forbearers.
To get a schmeck of the history of the Jewish Freeland League, you can watch “No Land Without Heaven: I.N. Steinberg and the Freeland League,” featuring Dr. Adam Rovner (University of Denver), here and learn about the little-known history of the Freeland League, which included attempts to establish Yiddish-speaking Jewish settlements in such places as SW Tasmania, Surinam, and NW Australia. These efforts were ultimately thwarted, most notably by the establishment of the modern state of Israel, and perhaps that is why these stories are seldom related in standard histories of Jewish settlement.
Today, Mordekhe Schaechter’s grandson (and one of the speakers at the “Other Zions” opening this summer), Naftali Ejdelman, is working to achieve his grandfather’s vision with the establishment of Yiddish Farm in Goshen, NY. Naftali spoke of his grandfather’s attempts in the 1950’s to found a Yiddish-speaking colony on farmland in Roosevelt, New Jersey. Yiddish Farm opened its ‘doors’ to the public this summer with its first annual Golus Festival, an outdoor Jewish culture camping festival with live entertainment. Schaechter’s project unites secular and religious Jews through common love of Yiddish language and agricultural work. On a more micro level, other Schaechter progeny are discussing the establishment of a Yiddish-speaking Moishe House in New York City. If you are potentially interested either in working on the Yiddish Farm or living in a Yiddish Moishe House in NYC, please feel free to contact Naftali at email@example.com …and maybe you can live in “another Zion.”
Today, June 1st, is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, marking the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. This is both an Israeli state holiday and a rabbinically mandated minor religious holiday, which means it’s celebrated both with parades and liturgy.
I’ll admit that this mixing of politics and religion makes me deeply uncomfortable. Attributing military and political victories to God is a step further down the slippery slope of political demagoguery than I’d like to take. It makes it easy for politicians, generals, and their supporters to confuse luck, skill, and power for divine right. It’s not surprising that the term demagoguery originates in Ancient Greece — that’s also where the habit of proclaiming religious holidays for military victories started. Perhaps you’ve heard of Chanukah?
I’m not alone in my discomfort with this conflation. The sages of the Talmud were so uncomfortable with Chanukah as a military holiday, they wrote a new backstory for it… you know, the bit about the oil? The rabbis thought we’d be better off with a fairy tale invented 600 years after the events of the holiday instead of celebrating the military victory. One might wonder whether the hindsight knowledge that the victory came at the price of quite a bit of Jew-on-Jew violence and resulted in a corrupt Hasmoean dynasty that further consolodated the roles of high priest, king, and general into one person and eventually lost Israel to Rome.
Have a Beautiful Purim with a Righteous Heart from all of your Comrades at Jewschool.
Children in Purim Costume (pictured above), at the S.M. Gurewicz high school in Vilna, 1933. Note the two Native Americans complete with headdress and bow and arrow, two Gypsy girls complete with timbrels and beads and various other ethnographic costumes. Who are you dressing up as?
Here is the cover image of the May 1932 issue of Der Hammer דער האמער, illustrated by Jewish artist William Gropper Der Hammer, an interwar socialist daily with strong communist leanings, fashioned itself as the magazine of the Jewish Worker. It’s here as a reminder to all those in current struggles for justice and peace, and also to honor the upcoming anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and to honor the struggle of Chinese workers contracted to Apple Computers for a safe and healthy working environment free from chemicals that cause neurological damage.