We’ve Been Waiting 60 Years For Things to Calm Down: Conversation with a Friend From Silwan

I spent ten minutes today speaking with an acquaintance who is Arab and lives in Silwan, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem just south of the Old City. I’ve known him for several years, and we’ve always had a friendly relationship, but I’ve never asked him about his life before. Today I decided to ask how he’s doing. I asked whether he lives in an area where things are really bad, and he told me “everyone lives in an area where it’s really bad.” Then he told me that a couple days ago he drove past the house in Silwan that they demolished this week: “You should have seen what happened – pieces flew everywhere, large chunks of the house, and all of the houses and cars nearby were damaged. It’s never been like that before. I’ve seen houses demolished before, and it was always contained to that house. But this time it was like they didn’t even care what else got damaged. They weren’t even trying to be careful. They didn’t bother cleaning anything up. I don’t know why they did it like that this time.” Thankfully his house is far enough away that it wasn’t affected. (Thankful, really, that I don’t have another person to feel too worried about, at least for today.)

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Suspicion in our Eyes and Terror in our Hearts: “They Are All the Same”

I haven’t told my children that their cousins’ cousin was brutally murdered last week by a knife-wielding terrorist. And I haven’t told them about the five men murdered yesterday in the midst of prayer, one of whom was the son of one of my favorite professors in college. About the mother who had to bury her beautiful daughter and the 24 children from the same street who were orphaned in one terrible moment. I can’t bring myself to share such horrendous, inhuman acts with them.

It’s different than with the rockets last summer. The rockets were terrible, but they felt somehow less personal, the people shooting them (though also horrible and murderous) a tiny bit less cold-blooded. I could talk about nameless, amorphous bad guys with my kids, though it was difficult and scary. But to tell my children about men who violated a house of worship with axes and a meat cleaver and shot people at close range during their silent prayer? About the man who picked up a knife and slashed the throat of an unarmed, kind-hearted young woman? I just can’t shatter their innocence that way. Not when they’re so young.

Nothing can justify such acts. Absolutely nothing.

Yet as much as part of me is being pulled constantly inward toward focusing only on my own Jewish family ever since this new wave of terror began, I have not been able to stop thinking about these powerful words:

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The Vampires

Note: This is next in our series of posts on visions of fearless Jewish future, inspired by Naomi Adland’s dispatch from the GA, which we ran last week. We’ll be running one every week, and we want to hear from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at editor@jewschool.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. 

 

Just now (it’s 6 am in Brooklyn), I woke abruptly from a dream that my MFA program was requiring us all to take a workshop in which we read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As soon as one of the workshop members started reading from the novel, the faces of everyone in the room became ghoulish, sharp toothed, black eyed. Terrified, I ran out the door of the building and into the street, but as I ran, I thought, you’ll go back, you have to go back. And I did. I turned around and went back into the building, which I think was a church, and as it turned out, there was a small group of people gathered in the lobby who had also decided they could not be in the room with the vampires.

I have a history of anxiety dreams, and of solving problems, literary ones of my own making, in my sleep. I might have been worrying about writing this piece for this series when I dreamt about the vampires, because in the awake version of myself, it’s obvious what the dream was about.  It’s so obvious, it’s laughable: You are afraid, but you’ll go back. The vampires (self hate inflicted anti-Semitic imagery or result of watching too many horror movie trailers?) might be in the same building, but we can be in another room. They can’t have the whole structure. There are more of us than of them. We’ll get it all in the end. Maybe.

Here is where my painfully obvious dream parallels end.  Judaism, particularly the observant part of it, and I are not on the best of terms right now, we have not been for a while. I could not build an organizational strategic plan based on my vision of a fearless Jewish community, but I am one hundred percent on the fact that it includes an active ingathering of those who scare us. Those who pose those questions that we can’t and/or don’t want to answer, they get a big space at whatever the table of the future is. Let everyone in, without a political or religious litmus test, if we say we want to be there, even if we’re not sure where exactly “there” is, even if we’re not sure if we can figure it out together, but that’s fine. Certainty is not a need any longer.

The future table isn’t convened by Islamophobia, or racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, or people who have spent all their time sharpening one relentlessly narrow vision of a Jew. Men who claim to have beautiful politics but can neither listen nor hear simply don’t get space anymore, because it turns out, we don’t owe it to them. In the fearless future, that shit is over, because we are calling people out, and we don’t have to worry about what that calling out will do to our livelihood. Risk, intellectual and political, will be a value, but maybe even more important than risk will be accountability and challenge and, maybe here’s the center of it all : not running away, and not becoming a room or an organization or a  building or a country full of panicked ghouls, powered by fear.

The Summer is Over; It’s Time to Address the Winter of Police Violence inside Israel

Sarah Stern is originally from Washington D.C. and currently works at the Mossawa Center in Haifa. 

This summer, as I considered from far-away in Haifa what it would be like to live in Gaza or Southern Israel, many of my American Jewish friends on the East Coast were considering what it would be like to live in Ferguson. My friends in America and I were both watching each other’s dramas, with many Jews very emotionally invested from overseas in what was happening in Israel. For young Jews like me who began forming opinions on Israel/Palestine during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, we were frustrated that in our short adult memory, we could vividly recall three all-too similar wars in the past six years. More »

Jon Stewart on Jews who call him “self-loathing” for his Israel comedy

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, is promoting his new film Rosewater and seems to feel comfortable with a dust up over his long-running lampooning of pro-Israel dogma. After being silent on Israel except in the scope of carefully-crafted skits on the show, it’s notable to see him finally let loose a little on the ridiculous way the Jewish community treats criticism of Israel. Read the whole interview here, the juicy bits excerpted below:

How does that make you feel? Is [Iran's calling you a Mossad agent] humorous to you?
Of course. Because it’s ridiculous. It’s humorous to me in the same way that a lot of what happens in the movie is humorous to me. There is an absurdity in dogma and rigidity and even that question has dogma, but on the other side. It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.

You can’t criticize Israel, right?
No. And you can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.

I know the feeling.
Yeah, and you see it and it is pretty vicious. And how are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that they can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.

And it will only improve The State if they do.
You’re absolutely right. I always want to say to people when they come at me like that: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?

Stewart’s albeit comedic treatment of Israel and Palestine with equanimity has been a breath of fresh air for so many of us younger Jews. As the Pew research study told us, the majority of American Jews and especially young Jews are with you, Jon. Keep it up. And thank you!

Fear, Fearlessness and Forward Movement: A Guest Post by Naomi Adland

Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at editor@jewschool.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week! 

This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.

In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.

I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.

Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”

Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.

Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.

Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?

#TBT Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah.  In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of  aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians.  In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.

Terror

If we are killed, be it terrorism or just murder; If we are stabbed, bombed, run over, or burned to the ground where we stand; If we are cut down one of these days or all of them; If we are the victims of a person or a system

If then our ashes are turned into ammo,
That would be terror.

 

 

This originally appeared here.

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.

Plant a Tree, Build a Movement

Brought to you by Ilana Sumka and other experienced leaders in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, comes this delegation overcoming the divides between Jew and Palestinian:

In February 2015, join The Center for Jewish Nonviolence and T’ruah for a tree replanting delegation to the Tent of Nations in the West Bank. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a new project committed to developing a culture and practice of Jewish Nonviolence in North America and the EU, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Led by long-time educator and activist Ilana Sumka, the Center will train and mobilize members of the international Jewish community to join Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent activists seeking to secure human and civil rights. To watch the promo video or help plant a tree, click here. The deadline to apply is November 14.  To apply now, click here.

More details on their Facebook page.

Public Caning While Standing in a Bucket of Pig’s Blood: The Facebook Dialogue Dilemma

I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which facebook and other online discourse can be constructive or destructive. I try to engage people with diverse opinions in thinking through vitally important issues – in the hopes (as grandiose as this might sound) of moving all of us, in some small way, toward a better future. As opinionated as I might be, I hope and believe I’ve remained open to changing my opinions based on other peoples’ respectful, well-thought-out responses and alternative views, and that I make that clear in the way I engage others. And I know I’ve learned a lot and grown tremendously from dialogue with people who disagree with me.

But then I end up on a facebook friend’s thread on how to respond to Palestinian stone-throwing where real live people make comments like this: “penalty should be public stoning. tie them to a post and allow the local populace 30 minutes of free stone throwing. or they could choose option B which is a public caning by a female IDF officer (10 should suffice) while standing in a bucket of pigs blood.” How does one even begin to respond to such a statement? I took a friend’s advice to report the comment as hate speech, but hearing things like that from a person who is only a couple degrees removed from me shakes me up, probably more than it should. It makes me hesitant to engage in further discussion, and I find it also makes me respond less rationally and thoughtfully to other topics. The experience (and others like it) is making me wonder how much to open myself up to hearing from people who strongly disagree with me, versus how much to maintain a smaller circle of people with whom I am open to conversation on these issues.

This experience affected me especially harshly since it came on the heels of a recent decision to relax my usually stringent criteria for accepting facebook friend requests: the “friend” on whose wall this was posted is not someone I know in real life. But he sent me a friend request and I decided to accept because, although our opinions in general seem to be very different, I had been impressed by his thoughtful and respectful mode of discourse on a number of facebook threads. And then this.

I would love to hear suggestions of constructive and positive ways to respond to such vitriol, beyond defriending people, ignoring, or anonymously reporting hate-filled posts. Is it worth it to respond when people make such emotional and vile comments? In what ways, and whom, does it help?

The Poor of Your [Eternally Undivided] City Come First

We don’t notice it here in the quiet neighborhood of Katamon. If it weren’t for my newsfeed and the sounds of firework-like explosions and helicopters I hear each night, I might not know anything out of the ordinary was happening in Jerusalem. I can’t honestly say I wish this were different. I invested so much emotional energy this summer in trying vainly to protect my children’s innocence as sirens wailed and rockets were mercifully blasted out of the sky. Now that Jerusalem is quiet, I’m incredibly grateful that my children have returned to their routines, their biggest anxieties caused by the mean girl in class and the upcoming math quiz. The last thing I want is for their blissful ignorance to be shattered again by violence. I get why so many people here just want to enjoy the renewed calm.

Except that things are not calm. Ever since the horrific killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir last June, the rioting throughout East Jerusalem has been nearly constant – so much so that it has become the background noise that many of us simply tune out. Until the internal violence explodes into our West Jerusalem world, we feel like it’s just not our problem.

But this is not just “their” problem. It is ours, and not only when “our” innocents are killed.

I’m sure Hamas and other groups bear much of the responsibility for inciting the current violence. I’m upset and angry about this, but there is little we can do to wipe out that influence at its source. What we can and must do is take responsibility for our own part in creating and perpetuating the increasingly bleak atmosphere of frustration, despair and hopelessness which has served as the breeding ground for the current unrest:

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Elaborate Yiddishist Anti-Zionist Joke?

The Forward, which has a deep left-leaning Yiddishist history, said the Christopher Columbus should be celebrated as an 15th Century Theodore Herzl. If this is a joke, well done The Forward. If not and they really are looking to compare Zionisms to the “discovery” of the “New World” then well done on making the argument for all anti-Zionists.

If this wasn’t a joke I can’t believe the editors allowed such a sloppy and simple version of history (and historical comparison) to be published on its website. Either way this will be used for proof of something that The Forward didn’t intend. It is pretty surprising.

Happy Indigenous People’s Day.

Interfaith and Israel

This is a guestpost by Liya Rechtman.

My family’s Passover Seder this year marked two firsts for my boyfriend: his first time meeting my dad and his first time eating homemade gefilte fish. As we read the haggadah around the table, I felt myself tensing up: ‘oh no, what if he gets that passage about Hillel and Shamai and he can’t pronounce the weird Hebrew town names?’ and ‘Worse! What if he winds up with “Tell me morano, my brother” and he has no idea what it’s about?’ When a reading did finally fall on him, and my boyfriend started on with “I am a Jew because…” I sort of giggled, loudly. My mom, tactful as always, told him that perhaps they would let someone else read the passage and come back to him. The first minor, awkward, interfaith hurdle had been managed gracefully by all parties involved.

The Seder moved on that night, and for several months to come the disparity between my Jewish tradition and his ex-Muslim atheism were significant parts of our identity, but not prohibitively so in the context of our relationship. Our faith/non-faith perspectives consistently yielded to thoughtful, extended discussion and debate about God, materialism, and meaning, among other things. That is, until three boys were declared dead in Israel and I stayed up all night crying. More »

Photo Essay: The Work.

Here is my photo essay from a day of activist/volunteer work in Hebron.

“In the H2 section of Hebron movement is restricted, street by street, for tens of thousands of Palestinians as settlers slowly take over more land.”

 

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.

Making Sense of Our Sons’ Deaths

My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.

This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”

Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.

As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.

Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.

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On Jobs and Justice and SodaStream and the Occupation

Word is that SodaStream is packing up their factory in the occupied territory and heading to the Negev desert in Israel.  A piece at ShalomLife.com takes aim at the BDS movement, which took aim at SodaStream this year, imagining what might happen if SodaStream packs up and leaves behind the hundreds of Palestinian workers who make a living at the factory. The article, of course, has a disclaimer at the bottom, presumably tacked on after a large number of comments pointed out  that this particular piece of Hasbara (“advocacy” in Hebrew) had jumped the gun, given that the the official announcement is yet to be made and there is no word as to what SodaStream will do regarding their Palestinian workforce. It is actually rather funny to have an entire article dedicated to an imaginary scenario, which then is noted as imaginary in a disclaimer at the end. Here it is:

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Seeing and Being Seen: Ask Big Questions

I contributed a blogpost to our friends at At Big Questions for this month’s theme of Seeing and Being Seen, which they encouraged me to cross-post here.  Check out more of their work!

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.  When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”

– Ralph Ellison, Prologue to Invisible Man

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words.  But which words?  And how do we know?  And what is it, exactly, that we know?

To continue, click here.

 

Someday I Will Transcend the Fear

I am afraid.

I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.

I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.

I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.

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