Kaunfer: Is continuity worth continuing?

In an op-ed piece reworked from a speech delivered at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in Denver, Rabbi Elie Kaunfer of Mechon Hadar writes that:

Jews, like all people, are searching for meaning, substance and connection. The more we are inundated with e-mails, status updates and tweets, the more we want to go deeper. Our souls are calling out for engagement; our hearts are crying out to be opened.

Judaism, at its core, is a response to that yearning, an answer to that call. What are we “continuing” with our calls for “continuity”? Why does Judaism need a future? Because Judaism offers a system, a covenantal language, a heritage and tradition that responds to the human need for meaning, substance and connection. It is our system, our language, our heritage; it is relevant, and that is the reason that we need a Jewish future.

We Jews have a word for the pathway to meaning, substance and connection. It is called Torah. I don’t just mean the Torah scroll that sits alone in the ark, or even just the words of the five books of Moses. I mean the sum total of Jewish sources and texts — the wisdom stored up in our textual heritage.

Truth be told, not the biggest hiddush (original insight) but seriously brave considering the original audience. The Federation pretty much wrote the book of Jewish continuity for continuity’s sake. I was, however, especially happy to read this article after an experience this last Friday night which speaks loudly toward what Kaunfer is getting at. More »

The Global Jewish Voice: Home of the international Jewish student conversation

Above, the Chilean Federation of Jewish Students protests discrimination.

Over at New Voices Magazine (my day job), we launched a new blog this week that Jewschoolers might be interested in. It’s called the Global Jewish Voice and it’s a way to jump-start a wider conversation that we normally have at New Voices. While New Voices is normally American or Israeli (and occasionally Canadian) in scope, the Global Jewish Voice is a fully international conversation about the lives of Jewish students and young adults.

The blog is staffed by 10 writers reporting on their lives on campus, in the workplace and at home. They are writing in from every corner of the globe, including Israel, the US, Chile, Spain, China, Canada, the UK and–no joke–Serbia. The blog’s student editor is based in Portland, Ore. There’s also an open submission policy.

A few highlights so far:

Reporting from the West Bank, Liran Shamriz describes the constant dilemma of being an army soldier and same-time sociology student:

This could quickly turn to riots – we need to get the hell out of here. We don’t even have bulletproof vests – any jerk in the street can knife me and disappear. I started to walk toward the trucks and my phone blinks again, this time from a Facebook message: “Shlomo gave us grades! I got a 91! I think he is good after all, he probably didn’t even check that well… how much did you get?”

Meanwhile in Chile, sometimes the struggle is more symbolic of living Jewishly in a non-Jewish world. University student Maxamilliano Grass is on the vanguard of Jewish student activism and pro-Israel work in a country with 75,000 Jews—and over 400,000 Palestinians: More »

Help me hire some student journalists!

now-hiringgif

Who says there are no paying jobs left in journalism?

By day, I’m the editor of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine, and the director of the 40-years-young organization that publishes it, the Jewish Student Press Service. Since the JSPS was founded (New Voices itself is 20 years old), we’ve been a home for independent Jewish journalism–written and published entirely by college students.

We operate on the most shoestring of budgets, but occasionally, we get the exciting the chance to actually hire someone. In this case, I’m looking for 10 someones! If you know a student journalist who might be interested in this, let me know in the comments or by emailing me at david(at)newvoices.org.

Here’s my full pitch:

Jewish Student Journalists: We Want to Pay You!

New Voices Magazine, the national Jewish student magazine, is seeking student journalists to do paid reporting from their campuses this fall! More »

Dear Tom Friedman, the Tea Party and Hezbollah are not the same thing

This guestpost is by RhetoricWatch. Though operating under a pseudonym here, RhetoricWatch is a professional in the field of Jewish journalism.

Before we go any further, let’s make one thing clear: The Tea Party is not a terrorist organization.

I don’t agree with its ideas, tactics or policy suggestions, and I’m worried about its seemingly rising influence in this country, which seems anti-intellectual, simplistic and detached from reality. Moreover, its rhetoric–which at times seems nativist and racist–is feeding a current of hatred and fear in this country that troubles me.

But none of this makes the Tea party comparable to Hezbollah. Not even close.

Which is why these couple sentences from Tom Friedman’s recent article on Norway–buried near the bottom of the page–surprised me:

Alas, that is the Tea Party… If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission.

Remember, Friedman is referring to the same Hezbollah that has launched many deadly attacks on Israel, that calls for Israel’s destruction as a state, that advocates extremist Muslim rule in the Middle East and that openly praised the killing of 200 US Marines in 1983. The Tea Party’s rhetoric may be bad, but it’s nowhere near that bad.

It surprises me all the more that it’s Friedman writing this. Friedman, who made a name for himself covering the Lebanese-Israeli conflict. Friedman, who writes about Israel and its terrorist enemies frequently and who focuses his columns on trying to avoid the extreme positions that some in Israel and the Middle East take. He should know better.

It’s not even a good analogy. Unlike the Tea Party, which is (as Friedman noted) a faction within the Republican party – and a small one at that – Hezbollah is a major political party in Lebanon. It is a faction in the ruling coalition, but it has representation in parliament and seats in the cabinet. Oh, and it’s also a violent terrorist organization – if I forgot to mention that before.

A better analogy, I think, would be to Yisrael Beiteinu, a hard-right – and nonviolent – political party. It is also independent, unlike the Tea Party, but like the Tea Party it advocates anti-democratic and counterproductive policy in Israel – combined with extremist rhetoric.

One major and consistent complaint that the left in the US has had against the Tea Party is that it cheapens tragic events like the Holocaust by making outlandish comparisons. This is a valid concern, and one worth caring about. But if we’re going to harshly criticize right-wing pundits for such comparisons, we need to call out left-wing pundits for bad comparisons as well.

Tom Friedman can and should criticize the Tea Party. He shouldn’t compare it to Hezbollah.

“Basic tenets of democracy… haven’t made Aliyah to Israel yet.”

Anat Hoffman being arrested last July for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. Credit: Chana Karmann-Lente

In an interview with Anat Hoffman at the New Voices Magazine Northwestern University Blog [full disclosure: I'm the Web Editor at New Voices], Hoffman speaks directly to the intense frustration with Israel I’m having this week as the country consistently shows off just how distinctly they misunderstand what the meaning of “democracy” is. Meanwhile, the term “Jewish democracy” keeps getting thrown around.

Hoffman, the director the Israel Religious Action Center–the Israeli Reform movement’s legal action arm–says in the interview:

“There’s no word in Hebrew for pluralism,” Hoffman says. “The word for ‘integrity’ is only a couple years old and ‘accountability’ has only been around for nine months. These are signs that the basic tenets of democracy and civil rights haven’t made Aliyah to Israel yet.”

I’ve met Hoffman. She’s a funny person about dark topics in that way that Israelis somehow manage to be.

Take a look at the full interview over here.

Introducing RepairLabs

I’m a big fan of Jewschool, though until today my name hasn’t graced it’s fine pages. Back in 2005, when I was working for B’nai Jeshurun, reading it made me feel connected to a rising cohort of committed activists in the Jewish world. Secret agent activists, working to change what they could with an inside/outside strategy. Sure, y’all were a bit clannish, and I still didn’t get all the UWS or Park Slope references, but I remember feeling part of something important.

That’s one of the ways that online communities function when they work -  they create strong bonds and lasting impact even among participants who aren’t even contributing or making themselves known. Jewschool might have a smaller readership at this moment than at its peak, but the foundations laid by Mobius/Orthodox Anarchist/Daniel Sieradski have led to great things.

Enter RepairLabs. Created by Repair the World, it represents a particular kind of online community in formation; a community of practice. Where Repair’s overall mission is to support and expand the role of service in Jewish life, RepairLabs is to support the staff at Jewish nonprofits that actually operate service programs. As editor of the site, my job is to contribute to the formation of what might be a new identity: the Jewish Service or Jewish Service Learning professional.

To accomplish this, a little bit of identity surgery is required. In my years interacting with the Jewish world, I’ve met many staff members who only identified with a particular organization, not with employment in the Jewish ‘sector.’ Contrast that with many Federation executives who move around with some frequency, and know full well that they are ‘Federation executives.’

A similar instance might be with Jews doing environmental work (Adama, Hazon, COEJL, Teva, etc.) My impression is that they see themselves as working in the Jewish environmental world, a somewhat developed niche. Many of those staff people engage in Jewish Service Learning, or Immersive Jewish Service Learning. Do they see themselves as ‘JSL professionals’ who might someday be working for another JSL program?

I hope that someday RepairLabs can function as a community hub for a sector of the Jewish professional world. We’re trying to entice folks with resources, articles, and info about upcoming events in the sector. Consider this an initial effort to crowdsource some of our thinking. But the most important offering has yet to come: the wisdom and enthusiasm of a real community.

Are you a JSL or IJSL professional? Is that designation even helpful? What resources can a capacity building effort like RepairLabs provide? Do you have any experiences with cultivating a community of practice that might be useful here?

Thank you!

(Full disclosure: Dan S. currently works for Repair the World, and he introduced me to that fine organization, leading to my current gig at RepairLabs. RepairLabs wouldn’t exist without all the amazing content from Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Rabbi Brent Spodek, Amy Schrager, Perry Teicher, and Beth Steinhorn.)

“Editor-in-chief emeritus” – and still no better at fact-checking

Check out this gem in Marty Peretz’s most recent TNR editorial:

…it is not Islam per sebut the very restraints on print and the idolization of language, among other factors, that are responsible for the benighted state of intellectual achievement in that orbit.

Peretz has mastered the art of turning a seemingly highly culturally-aware observation into a complete non-fact uninformed by, well, anything (and certainly lacking any understanding of basic cultural relativism).  Perhaps he’s forgotten that the Islamic world gave us, you know, the foundations of algebra and chemistry.  Those are kind of important.

The rest of the article is similar.  Peretz says lots of things I agree with, lots I don’t, and still manages to come off sounding like a pretentious Western intellectual supremacist.

Updated: light grammatical editing.

Austin gets its own jewblog: Git Nu

My first post at Jewschool was about being a Jew from Texas. Finally–now that I’ve lived in New Jersey for nearly four years and I’m getting ready to graduate and move somewhere other than my hometown of Austin–it seems that Jewish life in Austin is beginning to diversify.

I started thinking about this when I got an email from Mike Wachs, founder of Austin’s very own, brand-spanking-new local jewblog, Git Nu. It’s got a pretty daring design. Each post has an image. Mouse-over and of the images and the text of the post displays, and click on the image and you go through to the post.

Git Nu, Austins new jewblog

So far, there aren’t so many posts. With the help of a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin, Mike is just getting Git Nu off the ground. Here’s part of what he said in his email:

I’ve started a small, alternative outlet for Jewish Culture in Austin and just wanted to say hi. The site is called Git Nu and while there have only been a few outside contributions so far, the initial response seems to be one of excitement.

If you have any advice on soliciting content, building community, leading the discussion–in a general sense–or any other topics, any help would be much appreciated.

According to my mom’s boyfriend–he’s on the board of the Austin fed–Austin is the fastest-growing city in American for 20- and 30-somethings. He says that’s not a percentage, but in sheer numbers. So more people means more Jews. And more young Jews means more diverse offerings in the Jewish community in Austin.

At least, in theory. I haven’t seen a whole of evidence of it yet, but Git Nu looks like an indicator.

New website is really into denominational trichotomy

71 panelists? Like the Sanhedrin? Really?

There is a new website (newish–It says it launched in 2010, but it’s not clear exactly when…) called Jewish Values Online, subtitled multi Jewish perspectives on morals and ethics. At JVO, you can do a search for an answer to your question or ask new questions.

Let’s set aside their missing hyphen and the fact that their list of categories goes far beyond morals and ethics. Let’s check out their panel of 71 experts:

First of all, they’re all rabbis. There are no Jewish scholars of any other sort of training, no cantors nor any academics.

Second–and more egregiously–the rabbis are listed as being in one of three categories: Conservative, Orthodox and Reform. There are no Reconstructionist, Renewal or unaffiliated rabbis on the panel of experts.

Aside from the exclusion of Jewish voices that don’t fit into the trichotomy, it may also make some people cling to one panelist’s answer, ignoring other answers because they’re from another denomination.

I took a look at a few questions on the site and found that, in many cases, I would have been unable to determine which rabbis were from which denomination based on the answers they gave.

For instance, check out this question about marijuana and the three answers to it.

What are you reading?

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Jewschool will soon be embarking on a total overhaul of our blogroll.

So, we’re asking you:

What Jewish blogs do you read?

Which ones on our current list do you like?

Which ones on our current list do you not like?

Don’t wanna comment publicly on what you don’t like? Email me at davidAMwilensky{at}gmail{dot}com.

Thanks.

Hazon launches Tu Bi’Shvat Resource Website

Hazon has created an amazing resource for Tu Bi’Shvat where anyone can register for free and download a haggadah or customize your own, a leader’s guide and even a song book! It’s an incredible source for information and resources for running your own Tu Bi’Shvat seder or supplementing one which has become a tradition. Definitely head over and check it out because it really is something special. It’s all digital and it’s all free!

For those in NYC, you can join Hazon and Romemu for a Tu Bi’Shvat Seder and see this amazing resource in action!

Wednesday, January 19th
JCC Manhattan – 76th and Amsterdam
Doors open at 7:00pm, Seder begins promptly at 7:30pm

Celebrate Tu B’Shvat with the Hazon and Romemu communities as we experience the “new year for the trees” with song, spirit, and supper. This seder will be a kosher dairy meal including seasonal, gluten-free and vegan options.

Green Ticket- $30 (bring your own plate, bowl, cup and cutlery)
General Ticket- $36 (plate, bowl, cup and cutlery provided)

Register Today – hazon.kintera.org/tubshvat2011

Marching Against Cynicism

ACRI Human Rights March 2010

Jewschool is proud to publish this guest post by Nirit Moskovich, Yael Maizel and Ronit Sela, spokespersons for The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Israel’s largest and oldest civil rights agency. Follow their annual Human Rights March on Friday, December 10, starting 3:30 am EST on Twitter: #themarch.

It seems cynicism is our favorite pill these days, used whenever we get an allergic reaction to the latest “shtut” (ridiculous step or statement) made by our leaders and officials. How else should we react to a call for separate public buses, insisting that women sit in the back? To a legislative attempt to allow communities to discriminate against any newcomers, with the exception of “one non-Jew needed to turn on the light in my refrigerator if it goes off on Shabbat”, as elegantly put by MK David Rotem? To a racist smear-campaign against African asylum-seekers and migrant workers “who are swamping Israel and spreading deceases like HIV”, as the Interior Minister lied to the public?

Our leaders and the press are competing with each other now: Who will speak louder against “disloyal traitors”? Who will do a better job at silencing and pushing aside legitimate criticism? And who will simply stand idle while our country is losing its mind?

Xenophobia and incitement are not the sole actions of the zealous. They are part of an overall scheme by cynical leaders to solve serious problems that should be publicly debated by simply pointing a figure and saying “Look at her! She’s to blame!” This way no one looks at them and holds them accountable. Therefore any time the average “man on the street” is caught on TV cameras speaking out against Africans, voicing racial slurs against Arabs, and explaining that the whole world is against Israel because they are Antisemitic – then the politicians can be satisfied that they have done what they sought out to do. “Am Yisrael” is exactly where they wanted them to be. More »

What We Talk About When We Talk About the GA–New Voices

Here’s an excerpt from Caroline Kessler’s post at New Voices about the Jewish Federations of North America GA.

…here are some impressions:

To explain the “big-deal-ness” of this to non-Jews: just mention that Vice President Biden spoke, and they raise their eyebrows, as if they are impressed, and then squint, saying, “Is he Jewish?”

To stay awake during a session: count the number of times you hear the word “Delegitimization”–you won’t fall asleep, ever.

To be hypocritical: pretend you are an “older” delegate and don’t directly answer any of the questions that students ask during the sessions or workshop.

[...]

To sound like everyone else: use the following catchphrases–”delegitimization,” “conflict,” “framing,” “giving,” “development,” “social media,” “nolaga,” “Israel advocacy,” “Jewish identity,” “generation,” “future.”

Kessler’s full post is here.

Exactly as much as you will want to read about a single comic book and then feel compelled to click “Like” so all your Facebook friends will want to read it as well.

Friend-of-Jewschool David Wolkin has a massive interview with Sarah Glidden, creator of How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, up at Comics Alliance. The comic comes out tomorrow, which is about the time you should be finished reading the interview. Totally worth it, though.

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden

Note: Post title edited following conversation with Wolkin.

Innovations in Post-Progressive Kashrus

Those following along at home know that dlevy and I like to cook. (What, you mean you’re not still dreaming of our Deep-fried Tofutti Cuties? Don’t tell me you forgot about our pancakes too?)

Well, we’ve been at it again. And by “we’ve” I mean “I’ve.” With dlevy’s encouragement, of course.

It all started on Friday when my housemate dlevy, tweeted:

I WANT THIS INSIDE OF ME! RT @mwecker Scary yet oddly enticing! RT @WendyRosenfield: 1st, OMFG. 2nd, who’s in? is.gd/fRvFq

PIE-STUFFED CAKE!! on Twitpic by @thewanderingjewI was oddly mesmerised and horrified by this cake monstrosity. Clearly, I had no choice. Forget the fact that I had planned down to the very last minute until shabbos, and did not have time to bake, essentially, two cakes and two pies before sunset. Forget that our shabbos meals were to be fleishig and this monstrosity would only be milhig. Next thing I knew, I was offering to figure out how to bake it myself in our kitchen.

I dashed to the grocery store on my way home from work, bought the essentials, and somehow, b’ezras haShem!, managed to whip up two cake batters, two pies, drop said pies into two 10″ round cake pans, fill ‘em up with the batters, and bake them – all within an hour. ‘Twas truly a shabbos miracle!

Share photos on twitter with TwitpicThen there was the frosting. It had to be butter cream. My icing, which I used to hold the two cakes (“layers”) together failed. (Though, it turns out, the bottom vanilla layer absorbed that rum icing in a tasty way.) So motzei shabbos I was off to the store to buy (gasp!) pre-made icing. Yeah, I admit it. (Though I never will again.) Iced, the cake was ready to go.

Now here’s where this post takes a turn: I’m going to tell all you curious yidden out there NOT TO ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME. Read that as a warning. Take it to heart. Because, you see, that one small piece I tried? I got about halfway through it before feeling… ill isn’t a strong enough word. And I’m pretty sure my teeth all instantly rotted before jumping out of my mouth.

Bottom line? While most of our adventures in progressive kashrus are great, tasty fun, this one is a punch in the gut. Leave it for the goyyim.

Let’s do Stage 3 in the morning; P’sukei D’zimrah; Etc.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

Fellow Jewschooler BZ over at Mah Rabu has put up the long-awaited Part VIII of his Hilchot Pluralism series. HP is a series of case studies in what BZ calls Stage 3 Jewish pluralism. In Part VIII, he covers a novel solution to the issue of one and two-day yom tov observances. Tikkun Leil Shabbat, a DC group, celebrated Simchat Torah this year in such a way that people who believed it to be chag and people who believed it to be a weekday could participate equally within their own frameworks. It’s fascinating. You should read Hilchot Pluralism.

All of this had me re-reading all of HP. Re-reading it, combined with my slightly unsatisfactory recent experiences in a couple of different New York City prayer communities had me giving serious consideration to a big new project. I’ve also been thinking about less than a year from now when my NJ chavurah is not going to be an option for me every week.

HP paints such a perfect picture for me. The only place I’ve ever been (not that I don’t know of others) that lives up to BZ’s vision of Stage 3 pluralism is Kol Zimrah. KZ meets once a month and only on Friday nights. But I want what is on offer at KZ every Friday night. And then I want it again in the morning. And I want it in a daily minyan. And I want it on holidays. This is a tall order.

So this week, I began starting to think toward creating one more element of this.

For some, like me, what draws them to KZ is the pluralism. I like the singing, but I like the ideas more. However, most of the people who come are probably more drawn in by the singing and spirited atmosphere. The spirited singing is thanks to two liturgical developments. First, we can thank some Medieval Kabbalists for giving us Kabbalat Shabbat. And second, we can thank Shlomo Carelbach for giving us some great tunes to make Kabbalat Shabbat a fun, engaging prayer experience. In essence, KZ without a Carelbach Kabbalat Shabbat would be a shell of itself.

So maybe what we need to create is the same kind of big singing, big fun prayer experience on Shabbat morning.

Luckily, much like Kabbalat Shabbat, we have hefty section of psalms to sing in the morning too! P’sukei D’zimrah usually gets shafted in shul. Most people don’t even show up until its over. It’s also long, so if we actually sang all of it, we wouldn’t be done with services until it’s time for Minchah.

We’ve got tunes for all of these psalms, but some may not work for the kind of spirited experience I’m talking about here. Especially if Carlebach (or Carlebach-esque) music is what is needed, we’re in trouble. For Psalm 150 and for 92 and a few others, we’ve got no problem.

But for some pslams, this will take some work. I chatted with Russ, our chazan (OK, our JTS student chazan, but he’s our chazan) at Chavurat Lamdeinu here in Jersey, about it this morning. I’m a bit melodically-challenged sometimes, so the obvious hadn’t occurred to me. Russ pointed out that Carlebach (and others) have a gazillion nigunim out there that could be laid on top of some of these psalms. This will take some work, but it’s doable.

Of course, as others have pointed out to me as I’ve rambled about this idea off and on this week, there are also some significant practical challenges here. Getting a minyan together on a Shabbat morning is harder than on a Shabbat evening because you need a Torah. You also need people to read Torah. This stuff is infinitely surmountable, but it’s there nonetheless.

The biggest challenge would be time. At its fullest, by my count, P’sukei D’zimrah includes 16 full psalms, the entire Song of the Sea, two prayers and a whole host of ancillary biblical passages. This is a more than twice as much material as Kabbalat Shabbat, which only has 8 psalms and a few extra piyutim/songs (usually between one and three songs, though it depends on who you talk to).

So there would probably need to be cuts. Personally, I’d probably start with the ancillary biblical passages, but I wouldn’t want to make these decisions alone anyway.

There would also have to be some discussion of how to do the rest of the service, with very careful attention paid to the requirements of Stage 3.  Issues like the number of aliyot and the triennial cycle would certainly be up for discussion. Other parts of the service would need discussion too, such as the Amidah, where a Heiche Kedushah (leader does Amidah aloud through the Kedushah, everyone continues silently on their own, no leader’s repetition after) would probably merit discussion. And Birkot Hashacar etc, despite being a favorite of mine, would probably be right out because that can all be done at home before arriving or individually by people who arrive early.

That’s about as far as my thinking on this has taken me so far. Thoughts, anyone? Who’s with me?

Forward and BJPA joint survey: Israel and Park51

If you’ve got an opinion on Israel or  the not-Ground-Zero not-mosque, head over to The Forward / Berman Jewish Policy Archive survey Facebook page and make it known!  As these types of polls go, it’s actually quite good (although not, as one of our contributors lamented on an email thread, illustrated by Eli Valley.  Next year in Jerusalem, maybe).

I personally am particularly interested to see how the opinions on Park51 fall among Jews, especially those who describe themselves on the survey as having “followed the issue closely.”  We’ll see…

Dear Queer Kids, Please Stop Killing Yourselves

This week our country has finally woken up to the epidemic of gay teen suicide. Don’t be fooled by the media into thinking there’s been a sudden uptick in queer kids killing themselves — this has been going on for far too long. But for whatever reason, now people are starting to notice.

Dan Savage and his husband Terry have launched a YouTube project collecting videos from adult queer people to reassure kids out there that It Gets Better. There are aspects of the project that don’t entirely sit right with me, but I think it’s a good starting response. It’s worth pointing out that while this project is called “It Gets Better,” there is a different, youth-led project itself is called “Make It Better,” which should really be our goal. Because it only gets better if we all work hard to make it better.

Here’s my video, Jewschool. If you’re making one, please share a link in the comments. And if you’re a queer kid out there who feels alone, maybe Jewschool can be the start of a new community for you. Start making it so by leaving a message in the comments to this post.