Moving to the Ancestral Homeland (Chicago); Leaving the Holy Land (Jerusalem): Some Explanation

This week, after 14 years living in Israel, where I never intended to leave, I’m moving back to my ancestral homeland of the South Side of Chicago, where, among other things, I’m excited to be spearheading the “Back to Basics” intro. to Judaism class for the Mishkan community. When I made the decision, in late November, I sent a detailed explanation to my friends; some of the issues covered there may be of general interest, regarding the history of Jewish, urban life, white flight, and cultural identity, as well as the prospects for a progressive Israel, so I am sharing an edited version of what I originally wrote, here with the Jewschool community.

1) I’m from there

I think I’m a rarity among American Jews in that I feel like I’m from somewhere. On my Grandpa Norman’s side, my family has been on the South Side of Chicago uninterrupted since 1888. I’m from somewhere with a story. The ~4-square mile area of the Southeast Side had 13 synagogues in 1962. By 1972, it had one. So abrupt and devastating was the scourge of White Flight. The one that remained, by the way, was the first one, old Bikur Cholim, which my great-great grandfather helped build in the late 1880s in working class South Chicago, and which was already “on its last legs” by the 1940s and sputtered along until the 1980s. More »

Back to Basics: Inspired, Intro. to Judaism Class in Chicago

Chicago Jewschoolers, take note! Jewschool Senior Editor Aryeh Bernstein is moving back to Chicago and will be teaching a beginners Judaism class for the Mishkan community. Registration just opened.

Inspired Judaism in Small Installments for Busy People

will kick off February 4th and runs Wednesdays through July 29th, 6:30-8:30 pm [Conversion Add-on 8:40-9:30 pm]

@ The Mishkan Space at 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave, 403a

Sign up for 1 class, 4 classes, 8 classes, or the Whole Megillah

• for conversion
• adult b’nai mitzvah

• general brain food for everyone

Finally learn all the stuff you pretend to already know about Judaism. Impress your friends at parties, not to mention, stimulate your most under-utilized organ with a sophisticated dive into the fundamentals of Jewish practice, thought, philosophy, culture and tradition. Take your Jewish intellectual life to the next level.

Learn more about Mishkan here.

Racial Inequality in America: NYC Hadar/Avi Schaefer Fund Symposium with Reduced Rate for Jewschoolers

by Rabbi Shai Held
A Special Invitation to Jewschool Readers:

Racial Inequality in America: Judaism, Human Equality, and the Quest for Justice

January 11, 2015

Fifty years ago, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.”  America has undoubtedly come far since Heschel spoke these words, but how far?  Where have we come, and where we do still need to go?  Join us for a remarkable day of learning, as we explore Jewish approaches to human equality and discuss some of the most painful and pressing questions facing America.

Sessions include: More »

Throwback Thursday: Ending Torture, the CIA, and the Obama Administration

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee finally released its report on torture as practiced by the CIA on terrorism suspects in the post-9/11 years, opening and re-opening much national debate about the controversial interrogation practices, such as waterboarding.  During the years when revelation of these practices first came to light, Jewschool writers posted and organized passionately against these practices.  For today’s Throwback Thursday, we are re-running this 2008 guest post by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of T’ruah (then RHR-NA), urging President-Elect Obama to stand by his campaign promise to ban and end torture.  Her question whether people would oppose torture on moral grounds even if it were found to be effective (which it generally is not) is particularly poignant in this week’s debates.  Read the post here.

#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.

NewGround Spotlight and a contest!

NewGround is one of our favorite organizations. Their main activity is a year long fellowship for Muslim and Jewish adults in which the participants learn communication and conflict resolution in order to further mutual respect and cooperation while allowing for difficult and tense conversations. Or as they say it:

NewGround equips Jews and Muslims in America with the skills, resources, and relationships needed to strengthen Muslim-Jewish relations and cooperation on issues of shared concern. Through an intensive fellowship, collaborative public programming and consulting, NewGround impacts a broad political and religious spectrum of Muslims, Jews and the institutions that represent them.

NewGround’s annual fundraiser/friendraiser event is called Spotlight. It is based on The Moth’s program of curated stories. This year’s theme is “The Space Between”. The event page on Facebook is here. More »

Throwback Thursday: Rav Ovadia Yosef’s First Yahrzeit and when Heroes and Villains are the Same

This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns).  The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.

Thanks, But No Thanks: A Response to “We Still Need Healing and We Still Need Each Other”

by Danya Lagos

I would like to thank Lizzie Busch for her thoughtful response piece to my post “Therapy and the Jewish Left” and for assuming in good faith that my intention in the piece was not, in fact, to drive a wedge between the personal and the political, as nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if we want to talk about the personal and its relation to the political, when I call for the Jewish Left to relegate its overblown therapeutics regimen to the sidelines in favor of immediate direct action, I speak precisely from my own vantage point as a Jew operating largely on the margins of the traditional sites of class, ethnic, and gender privilege within in the North American Jewish community that Busch suggests might have been missing from my analysis.

More »

In Response to “Therapy and the Jewish Left”: We Still Need Healing and We Still Need Each Other

by Lizzie Busch

Disclaimer: I am the daughter of a psychiatrist. I hope that this will not make me too biased in responding to Danya Lagos’ blog post “Therapy and the Jewish Left”.

When I initially read Lagos’ blog post, I reacted strongly against it. In large part, I was reacting to the basic feminist assertion that “the personal is political”. We cannot separate our political work from our personal feelings. Upon reading more carefully, I assume that Lagos wouldn’t disagree: their argument seems to be that the Jewish Left is focusing on trauma and care to the point that it becomes navel-gazing, and that navel-gazing is happening at the expense of true organizing and political work.

That may be true. My dad’s friend, the late psychiatrist Arnie Cooper, tells this joke:

Q: What’s the difference between the American Psychoanalytic Association and the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union?

A: Two generations. More »

Throwback Thursday: On Slippery Language and “Independent” Jews

Over here at Jewschool, we’ve been all about the Indy-Jews for our whole decade-plus life span.  We have spill much ink explaining the independent orientation to others who don’t share it.  Today’s #TBT is a 2009 classic from crack Jewschool fisker BZ on the slippery meaning of the term “Independent”.  Adapting some careful criticisms from Nate Silver of political pundits who talk about independent voters without saying what  they mean, BZ considers the way professional and amateur Jewish pollsters, journalists, and mavens obscure more than they clarify in their opinionating about independent Jews.  Sometimes posts slip under the radar for purely logistical issues — timing or what-have-you.  This late Saturday night post didn’t get the attention it deserved in its time, so we’re re-running it now, five years later.

jewschool.com/2009/11/21/19029/independent/

The Scouts as Stubborn, Old Guard Leaders: The Torah’s Warning Tale

This week’s parashah (Shelach-Lekha; Bemidbar 13-15) focuses on the second of the Israelites’ two most devastating moments of collective failure in the desert — the mass rebellion and breakdown after the scouts overstepped their jurisdiction for reconnaissance by insisting that the land was unconquerable.  Before everything goes haywire, the Torah introduces the scouts by name and tribe, and describing them, saying that “they were all people, leaders of the children of Israel”– “כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה”.  Why this extraneous clause, “they were all people/kulam anashim“?  The Torah could have just said that “they were all leaders of the children of Israel/כלם ראשי בני ישראל”.   The Zohar records a fascinating midrash teasing out what might be hinted at in this emphasized clause:

“‘They were all people’:  All of them were worthy and were leaders of Israel, but they took bad council for themselves.  Why did they take this council?  They reasoned, ‘If Israel will be brought up to the land, we will be removed from leadership and Moshe will appoint other leaders, for we are worthy in the desert to be leaders, but in the land, we will not be worthy’.  Because they took this bad council for themselves, they died, along with everyone who took their word.  (Zohar III (Bemidbar, Shlach-Lekha, 156b) More »

Throwback Thursday: the Price of Jew$chool

Nearly all of the issues I raised in my 2011 post,The Price of Jew$chool,” which lamented the state of Jewish Day School tuition and the weaknesses of its alternatives in formal Jewish education, unfortunately remain quite relevant today.  Then again, statements such as the 25-year-old Greek Chief-Rabbi elect‘s recent reflection that the internet was his Jewish education, stand as sobering reminders that beyond the U.S. and Israel, Jewish education, even in its most modest forms, is a scare resourceAccording the 2013 Pew Report Forum findings on Jewish life in America, 23% of Jews report having attended Jewish Day School or yeshiva in their youth, and nearly 60% have attended some other form of (non-Day School) formal Jewish education. What does the future hold? How can we respond to this continuing crisis?

The Price of Jew$school

Before you panic, rest assured: we’re not about to start charging you when you read more than 20 posts per month.  No, we’re talking about the ever-skyrocketing expense of sending children to Jewish day school in the U.S.

With $7,000 you might be able to fly back and forth to Israel six times, but for the same price you could stay put in Overland Park KS and learn at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy for one year.  One thousand dollars more will buy you—show them what they’ve won—one year of 1-8th grade education at the Cincinnati Hebrew Day School. If you want to send your child to the Solomon Schechter of Atlanta, be prepared to shell out upwards of $17,000 per year starting with first grade.  $26,650 might be a fine price for a Toyota RAV4 Sport, but did you know that for the same price, you can ‘kaneh likha rav’—or maybe even four—and enroll for one year of high school at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA? $29, 955 would be a steal for a small, foreclosed apartment in a depressed real estate market, but it could also buy you one year’s education at Milken community high school in LA.  These numbers don’t even include the usual “give and get” $1,000+ minimums typically imposed upon day school families on a yearly basis. More »

TBT: Blogging the Homer DOH!

Rabbi, I forgot what day of          the omer it isWaaaay back in 2003, Mobius posted about Counting the Homer, a Simpsons Omer counter. To see the brief post in its original formal, click here.  Good find Mobius… It was, and remains, a popular counter, but no matter which of those links you click, you may be disappointed. The original JVibe host has since gone belly up.  And so if you’d like to keep up with the count, click here.

For those counting, last night was a Baker’s Dozen and two Donuts, 15 Donuts of the Homer (add one for tonight’s number).  In addition to the proper Sefira bracha, you might also need to say a mezonos. Apparently you can also follow the Homer on twitter.

 

Throwback Thursday: Kung Fu Jew on “Why I Post the Worst of Israeli News”

Here at Jewschool we have a long, illustrious history, 11 1/2 years of rambunctious, playful, earnest, free-thinking, alternative riffing on contemporary Jewish life.  It’s worth taking stock of where we’ve come from, and in that light, the Jewschool editors are now inaugurating a new feature:   Jewschool Throwback Thursdays.  Every week, one of us will dig up a classic post from the Jewschool vault that we think is still timely and relevant, or that would benefit reconsideration, with some years of growth and maturity.

One of the signature features of Jewschool culture is criticizing things we think are destructive in the Jewish world, airing our dirty laundry out of the belief that it can be cleaned.  This becomes especially contentious when it comes to criticism regarding Israel. In recent months, the Jewish world has seen a  great deal of mudslinging and controversy over “Open Hillel” battles, un-invitations of speakers deemed too critical of Israel, or not critical enough of advocates of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, etc., and Jewschool has covered this closely.  For this kick-of Throwback Thursday, we bring you a classic piece from five years ago by our current Editor-in-Chief articulating, in as clear and forceful a way as I know, why we criticize the Israeli government when we feel it deserves it.  The piece drew a blizzard of comments in its time; we hope it stokes conversation again now:

Why I Post the Worst of Israeli News

by Kung Fu Jew, Thursday, February 19, 2009

More »

Open Hillel vs Hillel the Defender, Episode One Million: David Harris-Gershon Goes to Santa Barbara

Just in case you’re keeping a scrap book of everything being said about the whole Open Hillel controversy, or you’re just interested in the broader issues about American Jews’ relationship to Israel and the place of dissent in the organized community, check out this smart piece in Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon.  (Of course, if you’re like me, you may shake your head wondering how we got to a place where a writer as talented and thoughtful as David actually has to spend so much time on Planet Obvious.  It’s embarrassing.)

Avid Jewschoolians may recall my October review of Harris-Gershon’s book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?  A Memoir, which narrates the events surrounding his wife’s injury in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, healing, grief, and emotional breakdown leading to an obsessive pursuit of the apparently remorseful attacker and culminating with meeting his family.  Not surprisingly, this book has led Harris-Gershon, a journalist with The Daily Kos and Tikkun, on a speaking circuit in Jewish communities.  Recently, Santa Barbara Hillel invited him to speak, then discovered that Harris-Gershon, a two-state advocate, had written sympathetically about economic boycott as legitimate, non-violent protest, and consequently threatened to revoke his invitation and bar his entry into the Hillel building unless he made a public statement clarifying his positions on BDS.  This is probably too much build-up already; just read what he has to say about the episode here.

The Forward’s 2013 Salary Survey, Round 1: Registering the Gender Gap

“Things gonna change; it’s apparent, and all the transparent gonna be seen through.
Let God redeem you, keep your deen true.
Watch out what you cling to; you can get the green too.  Observe how a queen do…
You could get the money, you could get the power, but keep your eyes on the final hour.” — Lauryn Hill (“Final Hour”)

Jane Eisner and her good crew at The Forward have published their fifth annual salary survey, listing the 62 top-earning executives of American, Jewish non-profit organizations and their salaries.  The main two questions emerging from these annual surveys are whether the salaries paid to our community’s leaders are appropriate, excessive, or insufficient, and why the gender gap remains so significant.

This year’s survey is accompanied, for the first time, by statistical analysis by Wharton Business School statistics Professor Abraham Wyner and his student Tamara Pier, quantifying pretty accessibly which CEO’s are overpaid in relation to the expected salary for an organization of the size they run.  Wyner and his team also tackle the gender gap, quantifying how much of it should be attributed to the fact that when women run Jewish organizations, they tend to be smaller organizations, and how much should be attributed to other factors, such as sex discrimination in salary.

For what I hope is just round one of processing of this information here in Jewschool, I’m not jumping to conclusions yet about which, if any, of the salaries on this list is excessive and what kind of waste is going on in Jewish philanthropy, etc., as I don’t feel that I have sufficient command of the market data for how much non-profit CEO’s should be paid in order to recruit top people, what salaries need to be in different cities based on cost of living, etc.

I would like to home in on the gender data, just to focus our attention toward a productive strategy conversation toward communal repair.  A few disturbing observations: More »

The future of New Jew Culture

Speakers' Lab

Jewschool founder Mobius aka Dan Sieradski is part of the panel at this very interesting event at the 14th Street Y on “The Future of  Jewish Culture.”  A full press kit is here.  A quick look at the panel shows it covers not only various sectors but geographies and aims to address a significant amount of ground in an evening:

“After a decade of flourishing Jewish creativity, major Jewish cultural enterprises are being forced to scale
back operations or close entirely. Using recent funding cuts as a springboard to examine the most pressing
issues facing new Jewish arts and culture, “Now What?” addresses:

  • New perspectives on American Jewish identity
  • Waning support for quality Jewish art and culture
  • Strategies for cultivating Jewish art and culture in the future”

May 15, 2012  7pm,  14th Street Y, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Ave.), New York, NY 10003

If you’re in the area and are interested, sign up here.  Naturally, this is a subject that deserves and requires significantly more time than a single evening. The need to advocate for, plan and implement a national Jewish Cultural Policy could be the  focus of a week long conference with representatives from major communal institutions and umbrella organizations, local presenting arms and various elements from artists and performers to independent organizations.   It could also be a great panel to recreate at the General Assembly because the message points need to be heard by people who hold the purse strings and those who put the money in that purse

Michael Dorf has attempted similar efforts at International Jewish Presenters Association Schmooze conferences which tried to create a Jewish SXSW on the heels of the annual APAP Conference.  FJC did a bit of planning and even implementation with its New Jewish Culture Network.  All of these have been significant achievements but none go far enough.  We need buy-in from establishment organizations and entities, these efforts fall short.

As someone who runs a Jewish cultural initiative, I’m very interested in this and am excited that its taking place.  I’d be interested to know who’s attending and if any funders or folks from the institutional community will be within earshot.  And of course, as a non-New Yorker, I’m glad to see there’s three other regional centers represented on the panel.

Cultural folks- what are your thoughts?

Commentary blogger impugns Jewschool for support of OWS and J Street

Over at Commentary Magazine, Jewschool has been impugned in the silliest of conspiracy theories. (Sorry, and you thought this post would be newsworthy!) Apparently, we’ve colluded with the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby J Street to “insulate” Occupy Wall Street from spurious accusations of rampant antisemitism. Both of those bodies — J Street and OWS — of course represent the vilest of trends in American life to Commentary.

Commentator Omri Ceren spins this giddy tale: J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami worked through Jewschool “boss” Daniel Sieradski to sic on OWS’s critics figures like former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Vermont Governor Madeline Kunin. All to protect OWS from the vile Jew-hating going on under its auspices. The evidence: the phrase “Occupy Wall Street” occurs 700+ times in our archives, we’re co-sponsoring the J Street conference, and the Sieradski-operated Occupy Judaism site suspiciously vanished last night!

If Ceren had any journalistic chops, this entertaining proposal would have unraveled before embarrassing himself and his sponsor. As Sieradski rebutted last night, a simple tweet or email would have revealed:

Just for your information: I resigned from Jewschool in 2007 when I went to work at JTA News as part of a noncompete agreement and have had no relationship to the site in the successive five years. Also, Occupy Judaism has never worked with J Street in any capacity and the letter, to my understanding, originated with Mark Green and Elliot Spitzer, not J Street. Furthermore, I did not take the Occupy Judaism site down – I was experiencing an issue with my DNS server which I was unaware of until I saw Omri’s tweets accusing me of colluding with J Street to hide said letter.

As of yesterday morning, Ceren acknowledged his lack of professionalism when he changed a few lines in his article, but posted neither correction notice nor apology.

As for Jewschool’s involvement in both the Occupy movement and J Street, we’re quite comfortable with our association to both.  For the third time, we’re co-sponsoring J Street’s conference and a half-dozen of our writers will be there. A number of our contributors were (and remain) active members of Occupy Wall Street and leaders in Occupy Judaism. Now, we’re not prone to statements of what Jewschool as a whole believes — our editorial board and contributors, all volunteers, run the full spectrum of progressive views. But I think it’s quite safe to say that we enjoy being portrayed by Commentary’s comical conspiracy as a hub of activism on progressive movements within America and American Jewry today.

And, look, Jewschool is no stranger to amateur blogging — we’re all volunteers here, writing about Jews and progressive issues because of our passion for both. If Ceren made a few mistakes, we’ll forgive him that. Here, we don’t have paid staff or editors to fact check everything. We’re not lush with Commentary’s generous editorial budget. But we expect every writer to blog from personal experience (not Googling), to fact check, and when proven wrong to own their mistakes like big kids. But our masthead is clearly posted, our Twitter and email accounts are active, and yet never once have we or Sieradski been contacted. It’s clear from Commentary’s recent history that their mistakes are ideologically motivated. And the editorial staff seem to hardly care, for this continues to be a problem. As of today neither Ceren nor Tobin gave Jewschool, Sieradski, or Occupy Wall Street any courtesy of an apology or noted correction.

Commentary Magazine: all the news that’s fit to Google with half the accuracy.