Those Cufflinks

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 »

MK Dr. Ruth Calderon: The Knesset’s Guardian against Bittul Torah

“We all are sinners, won’t you send us to Bible study faster/Your hypocrite-esque reaction a blasphemy”

–Kendrick Lamar,  “Rigamortus”

Get ready for the strangest 45 seconds of your day.  #whatthewhat

This happened today on the floor of the Israeli Knesset.  MK Dr. Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) completed a speech with an unhinged, unprompted, upbraiding of young men in ultra-Orthodox (Hareidi) dress for coming and observing Parliamentary sessions from the visitors’ gallery instead of learning Torah.

A few key Hebrew phrases:

*Hillul Hashem — a desecration of God’s name, i.e., terrible public behavior by someone clearly recognized as Jewish, that brings disgrace to the Jewish people and their God

*Talmid(ei) Hakham(im) — Torah scholar(s)

*Bittul Torah — “wasting Torah”; it means slacking off when you could be learning Torah; this is the ultimate insult in the yeshiva world, what overbearing rabbis and sanctimonious veteran students accuse younger students of doing when they have a casual conversation.

*Hareidim — Ultra-Orthodox Jews (literally, “quakers”)

Here’s my translation of the clip:

“The last thing I want to say in the 27 seconds that I have [left] is this daily hillul hashem of people dressed like talmidei hakhamim who sit here, up in the gallery, slacking off, without a book, hour after hour, it drives me out of my mind!  It shames the dress of a talmid hakham, it shames the value of bittul Torah, and I request of you, either bring books, or go to the beit midrash and learn.  Thank you.”

More »

Kari Hochwald: “Living in Israel on this program allowed me to view it on my own terms, on my own time, and everything that I experienced could only be done from living there.”

Israel Teaching FellowsKari Hochwald is 23 years old  and from Jacksonville, Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2012 with a degree in English. She spent the past year volunteering in Israel through Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program in Rehovot. After a few months back at home, Kari has decided to return to Israel to live and work in Tel Aviv.

Jewschool: Say some things about your Jewish background and your previous experience(s) in Israel.

Kari Hochwald: My Jewish background is.. Conservaform? I guess? ( My family switched from a Conservative to Reform temple when I was 11). I really only stayed involved up through my Bat Mitzvah and a couple of years of volunteering at the temple. I was very uninvolved in high school and didn’t really find a Jewish outlet until the end of my Junior year in college when I went on a Taglit Birthright trip with the University of Florida Hillel, visiting Israel for the first time. Jacksonville doesn’t have a huge thriving Jewish community so I never had that many Jewish friends, and it’s hard to get involved on the college level when you don’t know many people at Hillel/Chabad (it’s a bit clique-y). Now my Judaism is more Israel centered and I would identify more with the “secular” movement. I was very involved with Hillel during my senior year of college, as a Masa intern and Zionist Gators group founder.

My experience in Israel this year was, of course, amazing, and so different from what you think you are seeing on Birthright. I felt a connection to Israel during that brief ten days,  but being able to live there for ten months and attempt to understand the language, culture, controversies, and diverse land were things I could never have experienced otherwise. The highlight was partaking in all of the Jewish holidays in Israel, when no one questioned why I was missing class on Yom Kippur, and Chanukah was the main December event. My Hebrew didn’t improve immensely, but from teaching in a middle school I had a much better understanding of English grammar (ever heard of stative verbs?).

JS: Why Israel Teaching Fellows? More »

Occupy Wording: On the refusal of some to face the reality of the occupation

An earlier version appeared with photos from the occupation at allthesedays.org

I hesitated before writing this. I didn’t want to even engage with the silly idea that “there is no occupation.” Unfortunately, that idea is finding more and more traction in main stream forums.

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly (GA) is set to begin in a week. It will be taking place in West Jerusalem at the national convention center. It is a place that sits just a few minutes’ drive from the occupation.

The Forward has already reported on the fact that the GA will not have any discussion on the occupation despite it purporting to be the place that inspires and engages current and emerging Jewish leaders” in order to tackle “the most critical issues of the day”. The Forward explains that Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the JFNA, emphasized the GA’s focus will be on “’dialogue’ and ‘questions,’ particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred”.

This may seem like a positive step for the established Jewish community, so often seen as deterring analysis and open dialogue. Unfortunately it’s simply more of the same.

Apparently Silverman doesn’t want the occupation included in the content of the GA, because he doesn’t want to “get into the political arena”, but as The Forward reports, the GA has already entered that arena. There is a long list of events on political issues from Israel advocacy in the Diaspora to the separation of Synagogue and State in Israel. One speaker at the GA will be Knesset Minister Naftali Bennett who has said thoughtful things such as “When you were still climbing trees… we had here a Jewish state” and “I will do everything in my power to make sure that they [the Palestinians] don’t get a state.” A wide array of Israeli politicians will be there.

So much for staying out of politics.

More »

A Palestinian, and Israeli, and a German Walk into a Malmö Theatre….

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 »

Young American Jews arrested in Hebron on Shabbat Hayei Sarah

This just in, just in time for this year’s Project Hayei Sarah:

Members of All That’s Left, a collective of activists committed to ending the occupation, marked the eve of ‘Shabbat Chayei Sarah’ by staging a protest against segregation in the city of Hebron. During Shabbat Chayei Sarah, thousands of Jews gather in Hebron to celebrate the reading of the biblical passage in which Abraham purchases the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site located in the center of modern-day Hebron.

The activists intended to erect a tent on the city’s segregated Shuhada Street, adorned with signs reading, “Segregation is not my Judaism,” and to hold an alternative study session examining the Chayei Sarah text. The tent was to resemble Abraham’s Tent, which according to traditional Jewish exegesis was open on all four sides so that any passing stranger would know s/he was welcome.

Police prevented them from erecting the tent and confiscated their signs but allowed them to continue a discussion of the parsha for an hour and a half. The activists were then arrested.  +972 Mag reported that Meretz chairwoman Zehava Gal-On intervened for their release later that night with all charges dropped.

All That’s Left member Talia Krevsky said, “Our signs are a direct response to counter some of the appalling graffiti we have seen in and around Hebron, with images of Jewish stars alongside racist statements such as ‘Death to Arabs.’ That is not our Judaism.”

 

Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron, City of Refuge, where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat, Jews the world over read Parashat Hayei Sarah (Bereishit 23:1-25:18), opening with the detailed narration of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s negotiated purchase of the Cave of Machpela from local Hittites as a burial ground.  Thousands of Jews will converge upon the contemporary city of Hebron, for a sort of annual, National-Religious Woodstock packing in with the several hundred Israeli citizens who have maintained a settlement there since the first few refused government orders to leave after Pesach of 1968.  This festival takes place annually on this parashah, which is seen by the organizers as the proof of the sole and eternal Jewish ownership over Hebron. The basic thrust of the Torah at the heart of the claim is something like this:  Avraham bought this land for a lot of money before lots of witnesses and the Torah is the contract to it.  Therefore, it’s ours, always.  Others who may reside here — ie the Palestinians — are trespassers.  This argument justifies the violence to which the 177,000 Palestinian Hebronites are regularly subjected.

I think that this Torah argument is pretty peculiar:  even if the Torah is accepted as a legally-actionable historical record of contract law, it’s entirely unclear why it would preclude any future contract transactions in the area; or why the purchase of the Cave environs would be taken to cover a whole, much larger, metropolitan area 3500 years later; or why all future descendants of the purchaser would be equal and exclusive inheritors to that plot; and by “all future descendants” we mean the descendants of one of his sons, Isaac, and not the other son, Ishmael.  I would like to explore a richer and fuller picture of the legacy of the city of Hebron as we have learned it from the Tanakh and our Sages.  This piece should be viewed as a part of a larger effort called Project Hayei Sarah — a several-years-old initiative of a number of Torah educators disturbed by the disgrace done in the name of Torah that is today’s Hebron — to teach a more responsible and truthful Torah about this historically rich city.

The 35th chapter of Bemidbar legislates that six cities be appointed as cities of refuge, three cities on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west side of the Jordan.  Open to Israelites as well as for resident aliens, these six cities were to be a refuge for anyone who kills someone accidentally, so they could to flee there and be safe from vengeful relatives of the victim. More »

Book Review: What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

Book Review:  What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?  A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

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 »

Zionism is Over

This is a guest post by Avi Goldblatt, an old school Hebrew stuck in a relatively young man’s body. He is a classical liberal (ie Conservative Republican) which makes him about as popular as transfats in a NYC restaurant and as rare in the Jewish community as women’s suffrage in Dar al-Islam. He can be reached here.

On October 20th, the American Zionist Movement, the regional affiliate of the World Zionist Organization convened a conference entitled Zionism: From Ideology to Action. The conference agenda featured speakers such as Ambassador Ido Aharoni (the Consul General of Israel in New York), Professor Gil Troy, Yossi Klein Halevi, several WZO/AZM officials, and more.

The conference was billed as “exploring” the “centrality of Israel in jewish life,” “loving and criticizing Israel,” and “telling Israel’s story our way.” Conference sessions are entitled Next Year In Jerusalem, Making Zionism Relevant Today, Zionist Theater, and more. Each of the sessions could be done by any pro-Israel organization (save for Zionist Theater – whatever that is), from the David Project to the Hasbara Fellowship there were a number of cutting edge organizations bringing Israel to the public. To understand the motivation of the somewhat obscure AZM, one need only look at the heading of the first email they sent promoting the event, “I’m Pro-Israel – Why the hell do you call me a Zionist?”  More »

Filed under Israel, Zionism

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Apply for Encounter’s Davar Acher Leadership Program

“Davar Acher” is a classic rabbinic phrase used by the ancient rabbis to posit an additional and alternative opinion. It means literally ‘another thing’, ‘another word’ and ‘the word of the other’. As an expressionDavar Acher is emblematic of the multivocality preserved  in rabbinic tradition, where minority and rejected opinions are passed on alongside majority and accepted opinions. Whoever learns Torah is invited to make his or her heart into a “heart of many rooms”, a heart embodying this diversity of opinion within oneself.

The Davar Acher: Leadership Program is comprised of a series of four courses

  • Facilitation Intensive (Applications due October 1, 2013)
  • Grounding Your Voice in the Tradition (Applications due December 1, 2013)
  • Accessing & Activating Your Voice (Applications due January 13, 2014)
  • The Role of Multiple Perspectives in Conflict Transformation (Applications due March 7, 2014)

  Click here for a full list of course descriptions, dates and application deadlines.

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FELLOWSHIP OPPORTUNITY: 

Encounter is offering a limited number of outstanding applicants the opportunity to participate as paid fellows in the entire Davar Acher: Leadership Program. Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $800 USD for their participation in all four courses, and will be part of an extraordinary cohort of committed leaders. The application deadline for the first course in the series is October 8th, 2013.

Who Should Apply: 

Encounter seeks religious, political and ideological diversity in all of our programs. A foundational principle of Encounter’s work is to seed generative discussion in Jewish communal leadership across difference, enabling even those who vociferously disagree with one another, to be in constructive exchange with one another. We welcome and encourage participants of widely varying backgrounds.

1.     Those deeply immersed in Jewish life who are currently in or aspiring to positions of leadership within the Jewish community

2.     Those who have demonstrated leadership in the Jewish world

3.     Those who have demonstrated a commitment to seeding constructive Jewish communal engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Questions are welcome! Please email: davaracher@encounterprograms.org

Achvat Amim, a new 5-month human rights MASA program

Achvat Amim, which means “solidarity of nations” in Hebrew is a new 5-month volunteer experience in Jerusalem that directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples.

Achvat Amim is based in Jerusalem, where participants will work with leading Israeli human rights organizations. Participants will also develop leadership and community organizing skills and make connections with people from Israel, Palestine and around the world. The program is beginning this coming January, now is the time to apply!

Everything you need to know including details, background and what you’ll learn and do is on the website: achvatamim.org and any questions you have can directed to the Program DirectorDaniel Roth, at daniel@achvatamim.org

*Grants are available.

Why so silent on peace negotiations, Israeli left?

This is a guest post by A. Daniel Roth, an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. He was born and raised in Toronto and lived in a commune of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in New York City. Daniel is a member of the All That’s Left collective. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and @adanielroth.

The question was posed: Why is the Israeli left so bored with the peace talks? Why so silent? They are not bored per se with the current round of talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators (set to quietly move forward through April 30, 2014). The Israeli left is, however, not paying much attention to these latest encounters between Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni.

Actually, I’m not sure if anyone is paying attention here at all. More »

Job: Israel Conversations Initiative Program Coordinator

I sure wish I lived in NY. Actually, I wish this was somewhere other than NY. But for someone out there who likes living in NY, this is a bahhhhgain.


The ground-breaking Israel Conversations Initiative (name to be determined) aims to build an inclusive, empowering model supporting young Jews to talk, study, deliberate, and ultimately define their own relationships to the State of Israel. The project will center on training a cohort of emerging Jewish leaders to facilitate and convene a series of conversations and events drawing together New York Jews in their 20s and 30s across diverse viewpoints. Moving beyond the avoidance, intimidation, and volatility that has surrounded many public conversations on Israel in the American Jewish community, the Initiative will create forums for productive, welcoming, head-on engagement with “hot topics” that inspire passionate disagreement. More »

Naftali Bennett interrupted at MASA bash by anti-annexation chants

Thirty young MASA participants and other young Diaspora Jews stood up at their program’s end-year bash to interrupt the address of Minister of Knesset Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party. The participants chanted “Diaspora Jews say ‘end the occupation,’ Diaspora Jews say ‘no to annexation.’” After being removed from the event, they distributed flyers and answered questions by other participants.

This was the first protest by a new activist group dubbing themselves “All That’s Left” comprised of North American young Jews united against the occupation. According to All That’s Left member Joshua Leifer, “The dialogue following the action led to frank and open discussions that aren’t being held enough in Diaspora Jewish communities.”

From a statement, the group wanted to draw attention to Bennett’s central leadership in the settlement movement, opposition to a Palestinian state, proposal to annex 60% of the West Bank, and racist statements against Arabs. “MASA’s choice to invite Naftali Bennett as a keynote speaker to the event does not reflect my Zionism and reasons for coming to Israel,” remarked demonstrator Isabel Frey. “It was necessary to make clear that there also are young Zionists that do not support the occupation, Bennett and his position.” More »

One Hundred and Twenty Minutes in the JCC

Sometimes when I go to Jewish events that I know will include a  question and answer session,  I make a chart that looks like this:

# of times someone asks a question that is not actually a question  ( __ ) 

# of times speaker is interrupted by someone in the audience ( __ )

# of rants by audience members  ( ___ ) *

This chart has come in particularly handy at conferences, but can be applied on a holiday such as Shavuot, if you write. (It also makes an excellent drinking game.)

I spent Shavuot at the JCC in Manhattan, which, if you have not attended a tikkun there before, can be really overwhelming. It’s super crowded, especially in the areas with the cheesecake and water and coffee. The offerings are pretty diverse: yoga, films, art, speakers, and more traditional learning situations with chevrutah. I came because I was in the neighborhood, and also for the 10 pm session with Rabbi Jacqueline Koch Ellenson (RKE in this piece, for the sake of brevity here), director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, called “Women of the Wall, Pluralism in Israel, and American Jews.”

RKE began by asking the audience about the values that motivate their activism (“I just don’t want someone to say that my voice can’t be heard,” said one woman,) and also about the values that they felt Israel should embody, which were no surprise in a liberal Jewish crowd: equality, democracy, justice, respect, Judaism, co-existence, pluralism. “I am worried by what I see in the news,” said RKE, before giving a brief history of the actions of Women of the Wall, beginning in 1988, when the group gathered at the Kotel for the first time. In 1993, the group attempted to read Torah for the first time at the Wall, resulting in the arrest and detainment of group members. (The Torah reading happened, outside the jail near Jaffa Gate, while members of the group and allies waited for folks to be released.)  ”There was a feeling of being vulnerable, and yet so strong,” said RKE. The events  continued to escalate after 1993, and American Jewish support for WOW grew.  RKE: “Seeing Jewish women being taken away by Israeli police in a Jewish state? How can it be?” More »

A short post on a man in a wheelchair

The hatred being spewed toward Stephen Hawking is disturbing.

The man made a choice informed by his own views and information on the ground. Anyone hiding behind the “fact” that Israel is only democracy in the Middle East or that Palestinians have it better under Israeli rule or any of the other tired and lame excuses for the vile things being said about a physicist in a wheelchair, should be ashamed of themselves.

Perhaps as opposed to automatically blaming those who have the audacity to stand up and say something — even if it is seen as overbearing, inappropriate, or bias — the American Jewish community could say something about the Palestinians and how as Jews we don’t like the way they are being treated BY OTHER JEWS. I don’t know, that might actually work.

It might be time for a significant change in our approach to dealing with legitimate criticism of Israel.  But it has been time for that for the last 15 years.

Ach, like I said, this was a short post.

Open Hillel Update

Yesterday, the Open Hillel campaign, a student led initiative to change policies around permitted conversations on Israel on campus, presented their petition ( 801 signatures strong as of this writing) and letter to the  Hillel International Board in Washington, D.C.

The grassroots initiative was started by members of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a Hillel-affiliated group, when PJA was prevented from co-sponsoring an event with the Palestine Solidarity Committee in Hillel. Open Hillel urges  Hillel International to revise, reconsider, and ultimately remove its Standards for Partnership, which read: “Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, has chapters and affiliates on university campuses across the US and abroad. Hillel International currently publishes “Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities” which declare, “Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

The Open Hillel campaign asks that Hillel  ”remove all political litmus tests for co-sponsorships, affiliated groups, and invited speakers.”

More from the letter (written and signed by Jewish student leaders from universities across the country):

“Pluralism should be extended to the subject of Israel, and no Jewish individual or group should be excluded from the community simply because of political views. The prohibition against anyone who “delegitimizes” or “applies a double standard” to Israel is used to silence students who are critical of Israeli policies or express views with which the Hillel leadership disagrees. These policies deny all students the opportunity to learn about a range of views and form well-supported and defensible opinions about Israel. We all lose out when important perspectives within our community are stifled.”

The campaign is currently awaiting a response from Hillel International and will continue to expand if Hillel International is resistant to the requests of the petition and letter,


Seeing Past The Wall

guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon

For almost two decades, my relationship with the Western Wall, or Kotel as it’s known in Hebrew, has been deeply fraught. Having been raised in a religious Zionist family, I was taught as a child to revere “these stones that have the hearts of men” as sacred. But one year, when I was 15 years old, I had an experience at the Wall that changed all that.

It was the holiday of Shavuot and the custom in my hometown of Jerusalem, was for people to stay up all night studying Torah and then walk to the Kotel to pray at dawn. Having participated in an early prayer, I was on my way out of the plaza when I spotted a few dozen non-Orthodox men and women gathered in the parking lot. Before they were able to get very far into their egalitarian service, the group was surrounded by a jeering mob of ultra-Orthodox thugs who yelled insults and threw garbage and dirty diapers at them. I remember standing with the non-Orthodox group in solidarity until the police arrived and forced us to leave.

Today, I am no longer a religious Zionist. For the past four years I’ve been working on a film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has upended the way I think about Israel, Zionism, and my own Jewish identity. Indeed, I now know that the Western Wall plaza is actually the site of a disturbing crime. A mere two days after capturing the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, the Israeli military approached the residents of the Moroccan quarter, which ended just meters from the Western Wall, and asked them to leave. When they refused, their houses were demolished and they were expelled. More than one hundred Palestinian families were made homeless that day and at least one woman was killed during the demolitions. They were not the first Palestinians to be treated by the State of Israel in this manner and they would not be the last.

In a way, the internal Jewish dispute over who gets to pray at the Kotel is analogous to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The logical and just solution is for everyone to be able to share the space equally. But one group claims exclusive rights and uses the violence of the state as a vehicle to maintain its privilege there. The difficulties in achieving a just solution are not practical so much as they are psychological and emotional. Moreover, the problem is not the presence of Orthodox and non-Orthodox worshippers in the same space. The problem is the inequitable orientation of the police toward the two groups.

I’m hopeful that the latest proposal by Natan Sharansky to solve the problem of non-Orthodox prayer at the Kotel will work. After all, most Israelis do recognize that Jews of different stripes have an equal right to pray at the Western Wall. And what a small step it would be to go from that to seeing the other half of the population living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, along with their brothers and sisters in exile, as having an equal right to share the land. Perhaps it’s time to shift our focus from “the stones with hearts of men,” to “the men with hearts of stone.”

Eli Ungar-Sargon is a documentary filmmaker based in Los Angeles. He is currently raising finishing funds through Kickstarter for his second feature-length documentary, A People Without a Land.