It won’t come as any surprise that the mission of repairing the world takes on many forms, including that of advocacy for the social rights of various groups. We have historically seen Jews and Jewish organizations at the forefront of rights based campaigns. In the 50s and 60s it was in the civil rights movement. More recently, we have been active in support of Darfur in opposition to a 21st Century genocide.
A century ago, we’d be talking about the Jewish role in the fights for labor rights, the 8-hour working day and workplace safety. But rather unlike today, those fights were not for some other oppressed group, but by and for Jewish workers, as part of the American labor movement.
In recent years, a thriving social justice movement has emerged that includes service-oriented Jewish organizations. These include Avodah and Bend the Arc, who joined previously established groups like the Workmen’s Circle, Jewish Labor Committee, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Recent campaigns that received support from Jewish organizations include the fight for a domestic workers’ bill of rights and for agricultural workers raising tomatoes in Florida. More »
Its 48 hours before Pesach, and having read ”The Year of Living Biblically”, I’m preparing a lamb to meet its end so that I can smear its blood on the lintel of my door… What’s that? I don’t have to do that? Okay, the neighbors will be so relieved…
I will still have to rid myself of my chametz, however, as I can not possess or own any during Pesach. Before I engage in Bedikas Chametz, the search for chametz, I simply open my pantry- BAM! Bits of cereal at the bottom of the box. Legumes of all shapes and sizes, pasta and so on and so forth. On to the fridge. I half-eaten kugel from last week. Some fruit salad. Cheese slices. Egg Beaters.
Anyone else find themselves snarfing down whatever odds and ends remain the week before Pesach? Some people hate Passover cuisine. After a week of leftover crumbs, I’m ready to tear into Matzah. Whatever is sealed, I sell through a duly appointed process involving a Rabbi, pretzel logic and a certain number of he-goats and zuzim.
Those who do not avail themselves of the Rabbinic end-around of selling it on contract for a week with an option to an agreeable gentile have three options. 1. Keep your chametz and incur the wrath of the almighty and the sneers of neighbors. 2. BURN IT!
WOO HOO! Let’s burn everything in sight! It’s like Black Rock but with Bread! Its PAN-demonium! After all, we wont have another huge bonfire for 40 days when its Lag B’omer so let’s have a Biscuit Inferno! Cue the Music!
But wait, isn’t burning things bad, like crossing streams in ghostbusters? And can’t we do something with that stuff? There may be some excellent items sitting around. A bag of flour. A whole cake. A loaf of bread. Peanut Butter. Perfectly good food. Option 3: Donate.
In the Hagaddah we’re instructed Kol Difcheen- let all who are hungry come and eat. So how about it then? Donate your Chametz. You wont miss it. Fine, keep that bottle of Blanton’s, but the rest? Drop it at your local food pantry. Many congregations have a system set up for this. And in Israel, Modi’in’s Biur Hametz Project is coordinating the distribution of hametz to needy African refugees and migrant workers. That sounds so much more sensible.
It could be given to other as well. In Morocco, it was apparently the custom to give Hametz to one’s Arab or Berber neighbors. The Muslim neighbors would then repay the favor by supplying the pastries for the Mimouna festival at the end of Pesach. Such a healthy symbiotic way to coexist. Maybe that’s fantasy and maybe there’s a broader lesson. But in the interim, donate your your Hametz. To paraphrase Monty Python, BRING OUT YOUR BREAD! (to which the matza replies, I’m not quite bread yet…)
“77 Steps,” a documentary by Palestinian-Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana, is a selection at this year’s Other Israel Film Festival. The subject of the film is Mara’ana herself, who moves from her Arab-Muslim village to Tel Aviv. She includes a conversation between herself and a landlord who agrees to show her an apartment until he realizes she’s Arab. “Sometimes,” she tells the audience, “I had to shorten my name.”
After securing an apartment, Ibtisam throws herself into living life in Tel Aviv. “I want to belong to this place,” she says. At a roof top party, she meets Jonathan, her Jewish-Canadian emigre neighbor who’s been in Israel for 6 years. The rest of the film documents their relationship amid MP Avigdor Lieberman’s calls for loyalty oaths from Israeli Arabs, conflict with families, and Ibitsam’s resignation from the Meretz party in the face of the Gaza war (which the party will not renounce).
It’s Jonathan’s grandfather’s visit from Canada to Kibbutz Ein Dor, which he left in 1948, that’s perhaps the turning point for the couple’s relationship. Jonathan’s grandfather regrets leaving the kibbutz, and feels that his grandson’s aliyah makes up for this. He says, “At the time, Israel represented the best of morality. “Not anymore?” Itbisam asks. “No,” he replies.
At the kibbutz, Itbisam questions a staff member if she ever tells people that the kibbutz was built on Arab land. The conversation deteriorates when the staff member says that she believes Arabs should go live in a Palestinian state, and that although it was an injustice that Arabs were displaced, the Holocaust was “a greater injustice.” Jonathan chastizes Itbisam for being “aggressive” in the exchange. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” she says. “I know how I feel.”
Following a series of conversations that illumine “the limits of our relationship,” Jonathan moves out of the apartment building that neighbors Itbisam’s. The end of the affair isn’t melodramatic or angry; instead, it seems like an evolution. For Itbisam, it’s part of what she came to Tel Aviv to do, to stretch beyond the limitations of her previous life in her family’s village and to become more of herself. She counted the steps of the house she grew up in every day she lived there, all 77 of them, until the day she left. Of Tel Aviv, she says, “I found a place where I can get some rest.”
After the film, a conversation and q/a with Itbisam herself and the executive director of the film festival, Isaac Zablocki, took place at the Speakeasy Cafe. Zablocki remarked that the importance of the film for a North American Jewish audience lies in the fact that in it, “Israel is not what the tourists see. It’s a different perspective.”
Ultimately, Itbisam believes that the end of her relationship with Jonathan was due to a difference in culture. “We loved each other for two years, “she said. “I don’t have shame about my story…I’m not asking people what they think about my work. I just work.” While one of her sisters has seen the film, but it has not been shown in Arab communities. “I”m dealing with taboos. It’s too early for Arabs and Palestinians to deal with this film.”
“The film is about finding identity,” said Itbisam. “I’m lucky that I have a lot of identities. I’m deep in all of them-female, Palestinian, Arab. It’s not hate or love, I have a lot of identities, I’m proud of all of them.”
Last night’s screening of “77 Steps” was co sponsored by the New Israel Fund. The Other Israel Film Festival is running in Manhattan through November 17th. Visit www.otherisrael.org/ for a list of films and to buy tickets.
Shiri Raphaely is an American-Israeli currently living in Israel and working in the human rights field with the Mossawa Center and Friends of the Earth, Middle East. She co-writes on Midthoughtblog.com.
I recently watched The English Patient for the first time. Throughout the film, Count Almasy — the central character — balks against nations and allegiances that become increasingly immutable as World War II progresses. There is a beautiful phrase from the book describing Almasy’s love affair with the desert, driven by his revulsion towards boundaries, ownership and nationalism: “The desert could not be claimed or owned — it was a piece of cloth carried by winds, never held down by stones, and given a hundred shifting names before Canterbury existed, long before battles and treaties quilted Europe and the East…All of us, even those with European homes and children in the distance, wished to remove the clothing of our countries.”
Throughout the last year, living in a zone of conflict I have often felt an itchy desire to remove my clothing of nationality. This movie spoke to why, perhaps, I have felt so uncomfortable, by honing in on the tragedies that nationalism can create when combined with violence.
I sharply felt my natural tendency to bristle against nationalist labeling when in May 2010, the receptionist at the Haifa office of the Ministry of the Interior refused to stamp my traveler’s visa, kindly reminded me that I have been an Israeli citizen since leaving my mother’s womb, and set the appointment for me to get a light blue ID card. Now, I can vote; I have a bank account, a phone plan, and an Israeli passport; I am categorized as a toshevet choseret (returning citizen); and I suspect that the officials in the Ministry of the Interior believe I am staying forever. This bureaucratic process transformed by cultural and historical connection to Israel into an official part of my identification. I am no longer an observant visitor but am part of the state system. More »
I’ve long agreed with the sentiment of this Wall Street Journal article- that Borscht is an underrated, under-appreciated food among the under 40 set. Though I know Russians my age who enjoy a bowl now and then, most of my generation has never heard of it let alone tried it. It is a low calorie, no-fat food but it somehow never has caught on as an item either among hipsters, health-niks or beet-niks (couldn’t help myself..). The Borscht Diet! Borscht-tinis! Hey, did you hear that new eastern european brass band, Borscht!
Somehow, outside of pockets of immigrants, this delicious cold soup has never made it to the culinary heights of other foods. Its interesting to read the inner workings of the Gold family struggling with the flagging sales of their flagship product. With all the Jewish foodies out there, I’m wondering if maybe they’ve missed something or if any has some sage advice for Borscht producers (hey- sage in Borscht?).
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.
Julie Weise, Shtibl member and smart person, has written an important piece about the anti-14th amendmentagitation–looking at countries (Germany, Israel, Japan) who don’t grant citizenship on the basis of being born in their territory. Her bottom line:
We can already see the future of our nation if it renounces birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, and it isn’t pretty. Dragging economies, new forms of fraud, a disenfranchised underclass, children deported to places they have never even visited — countries that do not have birthright citizenship have experienced these problems and more, and have been forced to reconsider their practices. Germany, Israel and Japan are just three of those countries, and their experiences have much to teach us.
Jewish Bagel Brunch, Interfaith Service and Immigration Rally
Sunday March 21, 11:00 am – 4pm
If you’re in Washington DC, you can be part of history and help change the future for millions of our immigrant brothers and sisters. Join tens of thousands of people of faith from across the United States for “March for America: Change Takes Courage and Faith.” Register here: tinyurl.com/Jewishimmigrationmarch.
National Jewish Conference Call on Immigration Reform
Sunday March 21, 6pm
Learn about the Jewish imperative to call for immigration reform on a conference call with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rabbi David Saperstein (Reform), Rabbi Morris Alan (Conservative) and Rabbi Menachem Genack (Orthodox) and other leaders.
The We Were Strangers Too coalition is helping to organize lobby visits with members of Congress. Please register at the following site if you are able to stay in town: changetakesfaith.org/.
For individuals who cannot travel to Washington on the 21/22, we need you to call your Members of Congress and advocate for reform. Everyone who registers for the March 21 Jewish conference call will receive an email with the information for the national call-in day on March 22.
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Jewish Community Action, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society are the co-conveners of We Were Strangers Too: the Jewish Campaign for Immigration Reform.
From the good folks at JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs):
Just days before Passover, we have a tremendous opportunity to call on Congress to fix our broken immigration system. As we commemorate that We Were Strangers Too in the land of Egypt, we should take time to reflect on how strangers in the U.S. today are treated. Think of these as the “plagues” of our current immigration system:
1. Keeping Families Apart: The current system keeps families apart. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters are separated with no means of contacting one another during the detention process. Others have to wait as long as 22 years to be reunited with immediate family members who have been granted legal status. More »
Brazil has set aside a day to honor Jewish immigrants to the country.
Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar signed a measure setting March 18 as Jewish Immigration Day. The date coincides with the re-inauguration date in 2002 of the Brazilian synagogue Kahal Zur Israel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas.
“It was not easy to choose a date among many that represent the influence and the contribution of the Jewish community to the development of our country,” said Marcelo Itagiba, the Jewish congressman who had proposed the bill…
Brazil has some 120,000 Jews, the second largest Jewish population in Latin America after Argentina.
Amreeka, a film by Cherien Dabis (official site) about a single mother who makes her way from the West Bank to rural Illinois with her teenaged son, is now playing in New York. By the end of the month, this Palestinian take on the old “Coming to America” formula will be in theaters across the country. I sorta can’t wait.
Lately I’ve noticed I’m becoming more and more in sync with all things Palestine. As long as it’s not explicitly about the long war or nationalist politics, I can’t resist a Palestinian cultural experience. I root for their athletes. I read their [English-language] blogs. Seeing Palestinian individuals succeed has started giving me a kind of nachat I tend to associate with taking pride in the accomplishments of Israelis – or Jews – or New Yorkers. You know, my people.
I guess it was bound to happen. Stay linked to someone long enough, even through violence and terrorism and occupation, and you start to rub off on each other. Daniel Pipes has a whole website devoted to showing how Palestinian nationalists use Zionist rhetoric and concepts. This bugs the hell out of him, but I wonder what else would anyone expect? We eat their food. They use our organizing principles. We employ them. They trade agricultural products with us. We love their homeland a little too much, they love ours just as terribly, and certainly we both know what it’s like to be disposessed of our homes and turned into geopolitical pawns. The tightly linked infrastructures, economies, and cultural resources of Israel and Palestine are sometimes pointed to by one-state advocates claiming that two countries between the Jordan and the Sea are one too many. I may disagree, but I think it’s clear that there’s something connective, something almost familial going on in Canaan. We and the Palestinians may be more “killing” cousins than “kissing” cousins most of the time, but to me it seems we’re cousins nonetheless.
So this is my hearty Mabrouk & Mazal Tov to Ms. Dabis and to the cast and crew of Amreeka (including Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and at least one guy with the name of an American Jew). You’ll be getting my $9.50 down at the Landmark soon enough.
Editorial in last week’s Boston Globe calls out for Jews to remember and draw from their own history to protect immigrants’ access to health care:
US Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, a medical doctor, said on the House floor in July that “Obamacare,’’ as he calls it, “is going to give every single one of those illegal aliens health insurance at the cost of taxpayers.’’
Never mind that Americans already pay for illegal immigrants through emergency room and charity care, which drives up the cost of insurance for everybody. The Senate bill already written clearly defines eligible individuals only as “citizens or lawfully admitted permanent residents.’’ The House bills include an explicit section titled “No federal payment for undocumented aliens.’’
What part of “legal’’ don’t the opponents understand?
“Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means,’’ immigrants are no different from the Jews Shylock was defending in a great drama 400 years ago. The country needs to stop pretending that they don’t also bleed.
This is a problem we feel acutely in Massachusetts as the state tries valiantly to cover 30,000 LEGAL immigrants with 1/3 of the money they need, due to the funding pulled by the state legislature, removing Aliens with Special Status from eligibility for Commonwealth Care, the subsidized health care created by MA health care reform which sought to ensure universal health care for all MA residents, immigrants and citizens alike.
How many now middle-class Jewish families were once “aliens with special status?” If you prick them, do they not bleed?
What will YOU do about this? Or will it set a precedent for denying coverage to legal immigrants nationwide, as many fear?
News outlets have been buzzing about Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court as the first Hispanic nominee to this position. But who counts as Hispanic? Turns out, this question is just as tricky as who counts as a Jew, and as NPR pointed out yesterday, these two debates converge around the figure of Justice Benjamin Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew whose family came to the US from Holland, although they likely ended up there following the expulsion of Jews from Portugal. Was he the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice?
I can already hear the chorus of “who cares?” bubbling up in the comments, and to a certain extent, it doesn’t really matter at all. We certainly don’t want to take any ounce of honor away from Sonia Sotomayor. But I can also imagine that rethinking Cardozo as a Jew of color could create a very powerful role model for kids who don’t often see Jews like themselves represented on their Hebrew School classroom walls.
This sort of thing seems to happen to me fairly regularly. I’ll be walking down the street, taking a taxi, on the bus, or crossing the border, and will be questioned about my religious practices. The comments usually stem from the observation that I have my ears pierced. But not always: in the past, I’ve had a border guard quiz my friend and I, en route to LimmudNY, about our understanding and interpretation of the book of Daniel. Driving to Seattle, I was called “father” by a Catholic border guard who asked me how my parents felt about my earrings. I’ve been asked about living on the “wrong” (French, Catholic) side of town by a taxi driver in Montreal, questioned by a city of Montreal employee on homosexuality and Judaism while walking to school, and stopped while crossing a street in Vancouver because I was the “only Jew” this long-term resident of Vancouver had ever seen in the city.
I usually enjoy these conversations, bizarre though they may be.
And Thursday morning’s was no exception. I was quite early to the airport, forgetting that you don’t need to give yourself quite as much time to go through customs and security at YVR as you do at NY-area airports. I was sent to one of the dozen border guards who were free; I was one of two people in the “line.” Noticing the work visa in my passport, coded for “religious worker,” he asked what religious work I was doing, and what religion I practised. He looked at me, then asked how I could be a member of the Jewish clergy if I had my ears pierced. After clarifying that I wasn’t a clergy member, I tried to give a nonchalant answer, shrug off his question. It really wasn’t any of his business, right? At that point, he looked at my boarding card, saw that my flight was another two hours away, and said “we have time, let’s talk.” He still had my passport, which he hadn’t yet stamped, so what position was I in to say no?
He cited Leviticus 19:28, that one cannot mar their body, and again asked about my pierced ears. I tried to explain that Tanakh is open to interpretation, but he was adamant that it was literal. I asked if he understood everything he read in the Bible to be literal, and he said he did, noting that’s why he believes that the Jews are the chosen people, and why he holds Jews to a higher standard. Interesting… Did that mean he practiced stoning as punishment, avoided shrimp, and brought sacrifices to his priest? We eventually agreed that there was room for interpretation. (phew!)
But that somehow led him to Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac. He wanted to know how, if Jews are the chosen people, if Jacob was renamed Israel, I reconciled Hagar being told her seeds would be greatly multiplied, that her descendants would be numerous, that Ishmael became the descendant of Abraham that the Muslims follow. I tried to explain that there can be differences in interpretation, that despite the shift in lineage, the Qu’ran contains many of the same stories as the Torah, and that there are some academics who argue that originally Islam followed Abraham/Isaac, and only later, after a dispute, did some shift the stories to Ishmael.
I think I lost him. It might have been too much for an early morning conversation with an evangelical Christian border guard. But he did say that we’re all brothers, Jews and Muslims, if not cousins, and we should really all get along. I agreed. He asked if I’d been to Israel, what my opinion was about Palestine. I gave him a short answer. And then, smiling, he stamped my passport and told me he’d have to research earrings for Jewish men (we’d already established he had no problem with earrings for Jewish women).
And, after about 10 minutes of talking, I went through to security.
I’m curious: do other people find themselves in these situations? I’m fairly convinced they’re the product of my being a “visible” Jew, living in a country with a small Jewish population, and in cities (or neighbourhoods) that aren’t heavily Jewish. Do conversations like these happen in NY with airport employees? I’m guessing not, since they see Jews on a daily basis. But… maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to hear other people’s stories.
Some rare good news in the quest for compassionate immigration reform out here in Illinois:
Thanks to the unanimous passage of the Access to Religious Ministry Act in both state houses this past December, detained immigrants will now have the same access to clergy as those imprisoned for other crimes. Up until now, undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation in Illinois jails have been restricted to clergy visits of two hours or less per month.
In addition to representing a clear victory for freedom of religion, this new access will help us shine a brighter light on conditions in ICE detention facilities. The law is scheduled to go into effect in June and The Trib has just reported that volunteer lay-clergy training began yesterday in Chicago. Major kudos to bill-sponsor Sen. Iris Martinez and the inspirational, indefatigable Sisters of Mercy (above) who led the fight for the passage of the bill.
Here’s an new Jewish community immigration initiative you need to know about: “Progress by Pesach.”
PBP has brought together an impressive coalition of diverse Jewish orgs that are urging the Obama administration and Congress to make meaningful progress on compassionate immigration reform by April 2009.
There’s a variety of components to this campaign. Here’s the jist, from their sample letter to President Obama:
Our Jewish faith scripture tells us to “Welcome the Stranger” with love and compassion. However the singular focus on aggressive enforcement of outdated immigration laws creates a sense of fear and animosity between communities and the law enforcement that serves them. The policy of relying on raids and enforcement tactics as the sole means of controlling immigration has clearly failed.
The suffering caused by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in homes and workplaces underscores the problems with current U.S. immigration policies and the urgent need for reform. Please work to ensure our country sees progress in the direction of humanitarian immigration reform in time for Passover, in April 2009.
Hanan Arzay, 15, is a daughter of Muslim immigrants from Morocco who lives in East Islip, N.Y. In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, pedestrians threw eggs and coffee cups at the van that transported her to a Muslim school, she said, and one person threw a wine bottle, shattering the van’s window.
At school, her Koran teacher threw chalk at her for requesting literal translations of the holy book, Ms. Arzay said. After she was expelled from two Muslim schools, her uncle gave her “The Taqwacores.”
“This book is my lifeline,” Ms. Arzay said. “It saved my faith.”
Something about this story makes me think “Lower East Side yiddish culture, circa 1920″, and while I’m not into the idea of a band called “Vote Hezbollah”, it’s interesting to see similar processes of culture, immigration, religion, and rebellion across time.