The Heroes We Won’t Hear

Max Socol is a Jewish educator and political activist in Raleigh, NC.

With so many remembrances of the Freedom Summer published in the Jewish press over the last month, it seems strange to say that something was missed. But it’s true, there is more to this story, as I learned at the 50th Anniversary Conference in Jackson, MS. To my surprise, the event was a “who’s who” of Jewish political activists who have been quietly shunned from our community because of their unorthodox views on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
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How A Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Restored My Faith In Humanity

As the horrific images from Gaza continue their relentless march through my newsfeed, I am haunted by the fact that many of my closest friends and family believe that Israel is justified in its latest attack. It is disturbing to see how easily these otherwise good and decent people have been manipulated into supporting what amounts to a hi-tech massacre. To be sure, lip service is often paid to the innocent victims, but this is usually little more than a rhetorical prelude to a lengthy discussion about how Hamas is really to blame for the roughly 1,000 civilian casualties.

What a breath of fresh air it was to see this Israeli news report by Tzion Nanous. Near the end, 13 year old Tome Yechezkel, who has lived her whole life under the threat of rockets, shows more empathy and common sense than all of her political leaders(and many of my adult friends) put together. Here is my translation of the report’s moving conclusion:

Tome: I’m here my whole life. I have nothing else.

Tzion Nanous: From the moment that Tome was born, Qassam rockets have been falling in Nir Am. Here she is, 8 years ago, at the age of 5 when the alarm was called ‘Red Dawn’.

‘Red Dawn! Red Dawn!’

Tzion Nanous: Having endured Qassam rockets her whole life, after being sequestered in her house yesterday morning, she maintains a firm view of the other side.

Tome: Think about the fact that all of these bombs are falling on someone. I have a bomb shelter. If I hear ‘Red’…I have a public warning system. If I hear ‘Red’ I run to my bomb shelter. Okay. So it’s not the childhood that people dream of, running to a bomb shelter when there’s a warning. But they have no public warning system…That boom? That’s Gaza without a public warning system. The residents of Gaza who are guilty of nothing. These bombs are falling on them. It’s much easier to yell ‘They should die!’ and ‘They should go to hell!’ ‘Who cares about them? They murder our people.’ But people there are also dying. They’re also being blown up. They also can’t leave…Their life is shit. Worse than mine.

Tzion Nanous: Yuli, Tome’s mother, is scared. Not from Qassam rockets and not from infiltrators, but from the reaction of people to what her daughter just said. ‘How,’ she asks ‘have we turned into a State where compassion for the other side is a position that is almost subversive, almost illegitimate?’ It is precisely the people who live here on the border and endure [Qassam rockets] their whole life who know very well: In the end, after the war, we will need to continue to live at a distance of a few solitary kilometers [from Gaza]. The army does great work, but military force alone can’t solve the problem in the long run.”

It’s difficult to be hopeful at a time like this, but Tome gives me hope for a different kind of future. A future where it’s not so easy to get us to shut off our natural capacity for compassion. A future where the slaughter of 1,000 of our fellow human beings is not met with deflections but moral outrage. A future where I have a difficult time explaining to my grandchildren how this could have ever happened in the first place.

“It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.””

“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.”

(More here.)

A Letter from Israel Right Now

Much of this is taken from an email to a good friend.

Tel Aviv Rally. July 2014. By A. Daniel Roth

I am glad that you got this conversation started. I need to be thinking this way about making a positive impact on the world as humans and as Jews. I have been working hard lately, getting the next round of “Achvat Amim” participants ready, and covering the situation from the border areas with Gaza, Ashkelon, and Tel Aviv. I’m sorry it took me this long to write back. I’ve been learning an enormous amount about me and about the media. Writing and sitting in the studio gives you a chance to go through an analytical process, not a complete one – TV may not be built for thorough analysis at all – but something. Being in the field involves a lot more communication about what you see around you, what others say around you, and how it feels. It’s a strange and interesting world. The other day, I was walking to work and cool breeze, unusual for July, was blowing in from the West. It reminded me that I needed to write you back and it reminded me of all the pain and progress over where you are and the overbearing feeling of chaos over here.

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Nothing you post here will change anyone’s mind

The Forward has a short piece online about the changing nature of Social Media news coverage and its impact on the public perception of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza.  This article – like every article bemoaning the rapid fire, limited nature of the platform – notes that the speed at which information is disseminated changed the way we experience conflict.  But that isn’t it alone. The fact that both sides have these tools, I have to say I don’t think it is the platforms “fault” for the way we see this conflict.

The New Yorker published the translated Yediot Ahronot piece by Etgar Keret about the degradation of the civil discourse in Israel. In “Israel’s Other War” Keret laments the perversion of the deeply held value of true democratic (and Jewish) societies: that the voice of the minority has value. The phrase “Let the IDF Win” has again become a popular refrain in Israel during this conflict.  Keret notes this phrase has nothing to do with the external enemy but rather the subversive voices on the home-front. Lefties and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are lumped together with Hamas terrorists for simply disagreeing with their elected officials or expressing concern for the dead children in Gaza.

I encourage you all to read this piece but the thesis delineates that Israelis “are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion—especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives—is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.”

But as an American living a charmed life in California I still feel this false choice forced upon me by the Jewish world. The anonymity of the key board and safety of our curated social networks insulate us to a degree that we only see and experience this conflict in the way we want to believe that it is happening. More »

A Bunch of Jews Went to Israel during “Operation Protective Edge” Just to Have Sex (and I’m Horrified)

What kind of privilege flaunting nonsense is this: Mideast War Gets Jewish American Singles Ready to Fuck. How could anyone in their right mind go to Israel for the express purpose of getting laid (on some awkward Birthright-for-people-who-are-too-old trip, too)? What kind of insensitive program plans a fun trip to Israel and then when a war breaks out says “okay, we might have to stay in a different hotel or something, but we’re definitely still going”?

People are dying!

And don’t tell me I just don’t understand because I’m not Israeli, rockets are part of normal life in the Middle East, real Israelis just suck it up and go about their business. That’s a load of crap and you know it. Things are dangerous and not letting up, and the Iron Dome isn’t foolproof. But that’s beside the point—the point is, people are dying, and some privileged dorks are trying to get laid in the blood stained rubble. Doesn’t this strike you as horrifying? Or at the very least, gauche?

It’s like having a date in a cemetery, and even though there’s a funeral going on, you’re still going to make out, because hey, you didn’t know the dead guy, so what does it matter? It matters! It’s disrespectful!

Regardless of your Israel/Palestine politics, this is just embarrassing. Can’t these people get laid on their own effed up continent? Like, really?

There are so many layers to this horror. How out of touch could someone be to decide to go be a tourist in a war zone?

If someone had some important business in Israel, like a wedding or a mandatory rabbinical program or whatever, I could see it. If someone had some really intense research, if someone wanted to learn about the conflict in horrifying ways, if someone were a journalist, etc etc. There are so many other reasons that I could see as potentially legitimate, though not my choices. But a trip for the sole purpose of flirtation? No. Just, no.

And I get that they had already planned the trip. But still, when the rockets started flying, the people running the program should have had the decency to postpone things. Even if there were no actual threats to the safety of the participants, it’s still awful. It looks bad for J-Date, and, dare I say it, it’s bad for the Jews. It turns my stomach that no one involved with this trip had the heart to think of all the people wounded and dying and all the families grieving and think, “you know what? I’ll go some other time.”

Throwback Thursday: The last Gaza wars…

This Thursday as we look back in time through Jewschool’s archives, there is unfortunately plenty of commentary and analysis from past Gaza wars.

Like a TV rerun, we see the topics and even personalities replay before us. In 2008 during Operation Cast Lead, I wrote about the necessity of Israeli human rights monitoring, Josh Frankel wrote about how other progressives should accept the use of military force sometimes, Rabbi Brant Rosen wrote about his shock at the civilian toll in Gaza. In 2012 Adam Davis wrote about Achinoam Nini being attacked by Israeli racists for her pro-peace stances, I reported from a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv, and all too many more posts. All of these can be found again in the headlines this week.

But the post I want to feature this week is a brave opinion piece from just after the 2012 Gaza flare up, Towards a More Productive Progressive Response on Gaza, by guest author Sandy Johnston. Sandy takes issue with and rebuts some of the one-sided Facebook comments made by lefties about the conflict.

I repost this today because it is easy in these times to entrench within our ideological comfort zones and take the contrapositive of our self-perceived moral opponents. That is, to knee-jerk advocate the opposite of whatever “their side” says. Alas, as Gershom Gorenberg points out, this is a historical weakness of liberals. (His article also highlights pro-war bluster is a weakness of hawks, though clearly that shortcoming kills more people than being devil’s advocate.)

If we are to be intellectually honest leaders advancing a progressive agenda, then we must not shy away from the nuance and difficulty of this conflict. Any with an easy answer is wrong. And anyone saying otherwise is an extremist.

Read it below the fold.

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Caring Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

This is a guest post by Rabbi Joshua Strom. Joshua Strom is the Associate Rabbi at Temple Shaaray Tefila in New York City, where he lives with his wife Tali and their sons, Jonah and Gabriel.

Black – White. Yes – No. Israeli – Palestinian.  All – Nothing. Us – Them.

Once again we find ourselves in familiar territory. Once again our passions are inflamed. Once again the words fill the op-ed sections, our conversations, our e-mail forwards, our social media feeds:

“The right to defend itself.” “End the occupation.” “Rockets fired.” “Civilian casualties.”

And so on. And so on.

And once again, it seems, all nuance has gone completely out the window. The word “and” is replaced with “but,” negating everything that came before it, all for the sake of having the last word in our Facebook comments, our Twitter exchanges. The complexity of the events that led us here; the volatility of those directly and indirectly touched by the conflict; the range of emotion and logic spanned on a daily, if not hourly, basis; the fluctuation between hope for a better day and utter despair that peace will never come—they all seem to disappear, vanishing into thin air with a pop and a fizzle, like missiles intercepted by our own personal Iron Domes. More »

“Let Justice Rise Up”: On Prayer and Times of Crisis

by Danya Lagos

The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »

Gawker Trolling Seems Redundant

I know. I know, Gawker was trolling with this post calling for Israel — or a Jewish state — in Germany.  I also know that if we check our bias at the door we could see some logic in this suggestion.  But you can’t ignore the complexity of history or the complicated nature of the present reality. Beyond the ignorant black-and-white ahistorical narrative of “Holocaust leads to Israel,” there are a couple of statements made as fact that are way beyond the pale.

It starts with the general intellectual argument against Zionism, which is fine if dishonest, but goes much further into the land of fantasy.

No matter where you stand in the “Israelis vs. Palestinians” political arguments—in which both sides are hopelessly entrenched and unmoving—it seems fair to acknowledge that there are some fundamental problems with the location of the nation of Israel. For one thing, it was carved out of land already occupied by someone else. Whether or not you think Israel was justified in carving itself a nation out of Palestine, you must admit that the act of doing so was bound to cause some resentment.

This ignores too much history. Of course there were people in the now state of Israel, most of them were Arabs and some were Jews. And before you jump up-and-down on me as mouth-breathing right-wing fascist, the facts are pretty clear: Zionism started its colonial exercise of Palestine in the late 19th Century in a more-or-less legal manner.

It goes on and really gets away from facts:

Let’s stipulate that [Zionist and Arab] positions, at the time of the founding of modern Israel, were reasonable:

Jewish people: We have been persecuted too long. We want our own state!

Palestinians: Okay, but don’t take my stuff to get it, please!

So the establishment of Israel, regarded by many as a towering achievement of historic justice, will forever be tainted by the fact that it was established by taking land from people who had done nothing wrong. That act laid the groundwork for the nonstop conflict that continues to this day.

If it was only that easy or simple. Or even close to the truth. There was an infrastructure in place well before WWII and in fact a number of wars (or violent uprisings) that had happened before the international establishment of the state of Israel. The Partition Plan, complete with its flaws, was the defining international legal document of the establishment of Israel. The ensuing wars against the Arabs shifted boarders but for the love of all things good, this idea that the organized Palestinians (and the rest of the Arab world at that time) would have said anything like this is ludicrous.

I am all for having a real conversation about the mass populations transfers or ethnic cleansing (depending on your prospective).  I will happily discuss Zionism as the answer to historical Antisemitism or Zionism causing its nouveau rise in Europe and elsewhere. I will always go toe-to-toe with absolutists on any side of an argument because I believe that no political situation is completely black or white (and I like to argue). But what we all can’t allow is the pure distortion of the facts and history. It helps no one.

So, good job Gawker, you got me with your trolling. But next time perhaps you can take an aggressive and controversial position, perhaps you can do it based on fact.

Tribalism vs. Universalism

Moti Rieber is a rabbi, writer and activist based in Overland Park, Kansas. He serves as rabbi of the Lawrence (KS) Jewish Community Congregation.

I’m writing this with a heavy heart, as warfare between Israel and the Hamas government of Gaza has broken out yet again. I believe this is the fourth time since the Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza that hostilities have broken out.

Like many who are concerned about that small piece of land that is home to two peoples, my social media pages have seen a lot of extremely emotional posts about the situation. On one hand are the pro-Israel voices, who essentially say that the Gazans brought this on themselves by electing Hamas and allowing them to shoot rockets into Israel. On the other hand are pro-Palestinian voices, who see this situation as the outcome of 60 years of Israeli occupation and (what they see as) Israel’s refusal to negotiate in good faith toward a peaceful settlement. And there are Jews in both camps.

I think this reflects a tension between two strains within Judaism: tribalism – the communal imperative to privilege Jewish peoplehood and self-defense, particularly defense of Israel and its actions; and univeralism – the call, emanating for the prophetic tradition, to live according to our best values, to treat The Other as we would wish to be treated. For the tribalist, Israel’s actions are necessary self-defense, however unfortunate; for the universalist, Israel’s actions are at best reckless and at worst an abrogation of its, and the Jewish people’s, commitment to be a “light unto the nations.” More »

Tired of Choosing Sides

by Leah Solomon

I am so tired of sides. I am so tired of one-sidedness. Of being expected to have empathy only for my own.

There is so much pain today. So much suffering.

More and more of our soliders dying. Teenagers just beginning their lives, who will never grow into the amazing people they would have become. Devoted fathers with children and wives waiting for them at home.

Hundreds of dead in Gaza. Thousands wounded. So many people who have lost their homes and everything they own. Parents who have had to bear the unthinkable task of burying their children. Terrified children who will suffer the rest of their lives without limbs, without parents, in pain. More »

The Circles We Sit In

Rachel is a middle school teacher in the East Bay and current New Israel Fund Facilitation Fellow.  She is connected to the local Jewish community through work with NIF, Hazon bike rides, and Wilderness Torah, and will soon be a farmer at Adamah: The Jewish Environmental Fellowship.

A recently published self-help book called The Chairs Are Where the People Go (Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti) describes the authors’ life lessons learned about everyday social encounters, including the seemingly simple notion that people will go, move, and interact wherever and however the chairs in a room are arranged.  Such was certainly the case several weeks ago at New Israel Fund’s “Love, Hate, and the Jewish State.” On a Wednesday night in the spunky San Francisco Public Works building, chairs were lovingly arranged in several small circles, waiting to be filled with the hopeful voices of members of the Bay Area young adult Jewish community drawn together by a desire to have meaningful, open conversations about Israel.

“Love, Hate, and the Jewish State” was an evening of conversation that drew together over 80 young adults from across the Bay Area to talk about what matters to them in relation to Israel.  Crowd-sourced topics ranging from “This Land is Whose Land?” to “Occupation / Anti-occupation:  Framing the Issue” or “Minority Rights in Israel” were on the table, as were the widely diverse perspectives and opinions in the room. More »

Clarification: I Do Not Think Palestinians are More Moral than Israelis

by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

Cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall

A story: Jerusalem Day, 2012. I am standing at the Damascus Gate, before the Israeli parade has made its way from West Jerusalem into the occupied parts of the city to celebrate “reunification.” I am watching two small demonstrations, separated by a small police barrier. On one side, there is a group of young Israelis, mostly teenagers. They are waving Israeli flags, and their veins are bulging as they scream “Mavet LaAravim! Mavet LaAravim!” Death to Arabs! Death to Arabs! On the other side, there is a group of young Palestinian men, and they are also chanting and waving Palestinian flags, their fists clenched and their shouts filled with testosterone, “Khaybar Khaybar ya Yehud!” A reference to an incident in the 7th century in which Muslims forcibly expelled the Jews of Khaybar. And I think: they are so similar. We are so similar. We are all swept up in self-righteousness, we are all afraid and violent and capable of wishing expulsion and death on the other side. More »

Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight (by Idan Landau)

Translated and introduced by Moriel Rothman-Zecher, cross-posted from his blog, The Leftern Wall.

Moriel Rothman-Zecher: My own process, in which I began to shift from a liberal to a leftist, from a Zionist to a non-Zionist, from someone who generally believed Official State narratives to someone who generally rejects them, and from someone who wanted to join the IDF and be a “good soldier” to someone who ultimately refused to enlist, began during “Operation Cast Lead,” almost six years ago. This was, in part, because of stories, including the story of the two brothers of one of my classmates at Middlebury College who were shot “by accident” by Israeli soldiers as they left their farm in the Gaza Strip, and then left to bleed to deathas the army forbid an ambulance from getting to them. But in addition to the stories, it was also the numbers: Israel had killed so many people- many of them children- in such a short period of time. I did not want to believe that the Israeli government and army acted with blatant, callous, cruel disregard towards Palestinian civilians, but that it is ultimately what I came to believe, in part thanks to Israeli journalists and writers who were brave enough to speak out against what was happening. And if I am honest with myself: It’s not that these Israelis were saying things that Palestinian journalists and writers were not saying. It’s that they were Israeli Jews. I am not proud of this, but I acknowledge it, and it is with this in mind that I decided to translate a piece on the first four days of this recent Gaza “war” by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, a Professor of Linguistics at Ben Gurion University. The Hebrew original can be found on his blog, לא למות טיפש, or, Don’t Die Dumb, which I cannot recommend highly enough for those of you who speak Hebrew. For those who do not, here is my translation of one of Idan’s pieces on the recent situation in Gaza. 

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Facing the Massacre with Eyes Shut Tight

Idan Landau. July 11th, 2014.

A riddle: If we are so right, if every one of the air strikes on Gaza is a solid rock of morality, if the residents of Gaza deserve all that they are getting- then why are the facts being concealed from us in the Israeli media? Why don’t they tell us what the entire world can find out with the click of a button?

Seemingly democratic, actually Pravda. More »

Tuesday Night 17 b’Tammuz / Ramadan Break-the-Fast Event at Masjid Malcolm Shabazz

NYC-area Jewschoolers,

We hope you can join us tomorrow night (Tuesday, July 15) at 7:30pm for a special break-the-fast communal gathering in Harlem at the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque (Malcolm X’s mosque, located near the corner of W 116th St and Lenox Ave.).  Especially in light of the tragic violence besetting the Middle East, we want to come together as a community in the spirit of peace and unity.

This event is part of the broader בוחרים בחיים – اختيار الحياة – Choose Life Ramadan-17 b’Tammuz fast to support a message of peace and coexistence.

Everyone is welcome to join in for prayer, food, and reflection. We hope you can join us for what we know will be a meaningful conversation.

If you can make it, please BYOS (bring your own siddur) and bring some nosh along to share.

Tzom Qal and let us pray for peace.

Netanyahu Never Supported a Palestinian State, but Now it’s Official

Perhaps file this under “there’s nothing to see here”, but I suspect that David Horovitz, over at The Times of Israel, gets it right when he insists that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments about the game plan for the Palestinians and the occupied territories at his  press conference are significant and demand our attention, though they were under-reported by the media.   For those of us who always thought that Netanyahu was engaging in Orwellian chicanery when he spoke of a Palestinian state, it is useful for him to be on record in such an unusually candid way, that he does not mean it, and for those who (naively?) took him at his word, it is useful, though depressing, to have that balloon popped.  ”Earlier this spring, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sparked a storm in Israel-US ties when he told a private gathering that the US-Kerry-Allen security proposals weren’t worth the paper they were written on. Netanyahu on Friday said the same, and more, in public.”   Kudos to Horowitz for calling our attention to these remarks; shame on other media outlets for overlooking the story.  Though they were understandably more focused on the immediate military crisis, perhaps they were also completely out of practice for how to cover a PM press conference since no one can easily remember when Netanyahu last conducted one.  Here’s the full story at TOI.

1:52am: Hearing Sirens, Live and Phantom

by Leah Solomon

Sat. night, 1:52am:  Jerusalem

I was shaking a bit when the siren went off early this evening but I am shaking much more now.

When we heard the siren, we were all standing in our living room just a few feet outside the reinforced safe room. Siren went off, all five of us walked more or less calmly inside, closed the heavy metal shutters. Sat on the floor, heard a quiet, muffled boom. Waited ten minutes per instructions, came out and continued with our evening. The kids seemed a little agitated but mostly fine.

Bedtime was delayed a bit. All asleep by 9:00. Around 12:00, out of the quiet night, I hear my eight year old yelling, confusedly, from his top bunk: “we have to — we have to go to the…” I get out of bed and run to him. He is sitting up with a bloody nose. I reassure him that he doesn’t need to run anywhere, get him more tissues, go back to bed. More »