A good shabbos to you and to all Israel from the Warsaw Maccabee Motorcycle Club. This photo was featured in a 1929 issue of Nasz Przeglad (Our Review), a Polish-language Jewish journal with Zionist leanings. The journal had about 23,000 subscribers in the late 1930s.
Here is the cover image of the May 1932 issue of Der Hammer דער האמער, illustrated by Jewish artist William Gropper Der Hammer, an interwar socialist daily with strong communist leanings, fashioned itself as the magazine of the Jewish Worker. It’s here as a reminder to all those in current struggles for justice and peace, and also to honor the upcoming anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and to honor the struggle of Chinese workers contracted to Apple Computers for a safe and healthy working environment free from chemicals that cause neurological damage.
Finally, after so many years, Federations are working to complete the Ethiopian Aliyah. JFNA has announced at $5.5 Million Dollar campaign to fund bring 7800 Ethiopian Olim, many of whom have been waiting for close to a decade, to Israel. This is a considerably more modest effort than the last, more ambitious effort to raise $100 Million in 2005, which did not meet its goals. If they only needed $5.5 Million, why has it take so long? In the world of Federation funding, this is chump change.
Of course, the concern once they arrive is, where and how will they be absorbed? I’m thrilled they are finally coming home, but over 1,000 Olim are still stuck in centers years after their arrival. How will the Israeli government handle seven times that? Will there be a balance to integrate them into Israeli society, housing and community? Or will they retain their unique culture only due to segregation?
“We must not make the mistakes of yesterday – Ethiopian olim should be helped to get permanent housing and integrate in Israeli society” Natan Sharansky, Nov. 16 2010
One hopes Sharansky’s words are taken to heart.
Sure enough, barely 48 hours after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, the Jewish media picked up on her Jewish roots. Now, little else will likely matter in the timeline of events.
It will be lost on most Jews, I predict, that this paragon of Jewish involvement — a leader within her Jewish community, a representative of Jews to America and beyond — was a proud, patrilineal, intermarried Jew who found Judaism late.
Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist mother father and a Jewish father mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA. She married astronaut Mark Kelly — not Jewish, as far as reports say — in a ceremony with two canopies, a huppah and Naval swords. She attended services at a local Reform synagogue. Apparently she came to her faith later in life, taking up mainstream Jewish causes in the Arizona legislature.
The community will, I predict, renew the claims of anti-Semitism without realizing that most of the Jewish world frowns on the very substance of her life. The Jewish community expends much energy discussing the dangers of non-Jewish influences on young Jews. Special condemnation is expended even in liberal circles on dual-religion households. Plenty recommendations are aimed against the very choices Giffords and her parents made. Yet it’s clear that Jewish values triumphed in both her outlook and her later-life affiliation. Genetics, as we mixed Jews know, convey no values — loving parents do. Seeking purity (read: kosher) in culture, faith, community and love leads directly to racism, xenophobia, paranoia.
While the headlines in Israel already ran “Jewish congresswoman shooter favorited Mein Kampf” and the-world-hates-Jews mantra rings again, it’s already forgotten that Giffords would be a second-class citizen in Israel. This woman who spoke so highly of Jewish women, wouldn’t have the right get a divorce in Israel. “In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”
Giffords represented successive generations of blending Jewish life with the surrounding world: a worldy Jew, not a ghettoed Jew. She may have championed Jewish causes in her legislative agenda, but by all glowing accounts was fiercely for justice, fairness and equality for all. Including illegal immigrants.
She was Jewish enough to be killed for her Jewishness, if indeed that is the case. (Which seems unlikely to be the primary cause, but that’s not stopping the Jewish-Israeli media, it appears.) And she’s Jewish enough for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus. Jewish enough to be our martyr, it seems, but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life.
I, for one, see in Giffords the kind of Jewish choices and identity they’ll see tons more of: intermarried and mixed in heritage, uniquely Jewish, universally human. Like myself, like 50% of Jews under 25 today. More and more, we will be your leaders, your country’s leaders, and your faces to the world. We will make you proud of our accomplishments, even as we defy the protocols of Jewish continuity. If only the Jewish community would treat us with as much honor in life as in martyrdom.
[Editor's note: subsequent editing confused sources. According to JTA, her father is Jewish, her mother is Christian Scientist.]
Somehow, a copy of the Jewish Week Singles Supplement found its way into my apartment, and because I am a glutton for punishment, I looked at it. Here’s the breakdown: There are places other than the Upper West Side to meet people and find Jewish community. Orthodox Jews who are divorced would like to date again, and it’s hard. It’s also hard to be a single Jew when you’re over 40. Also, sometimes, being single makes people sad and they make theatre out of it. Of course, there is nary a gay mentioned anywhere in the magazine, because we all know gay people just want to have a lot of sex and no relationships, ESPECIALLY the Jewish gays.
On the upswing: There is an interesting piece about Jewish women who become single mothers by choice, and another about interfaith relationships and how they might actually galvanize, and not destroy the Jewish people. What I thought was the most important part of the supplement was a piece by Sandy Brawarsky called “Tuesday, the Rabbi Went Out,” about single rabbis and the stigma they deal with regarding their marital status. Apparently, many folks who were interviewed for the article declined to be named, because ”they feared for their rabbinic careers as well as their dating lives.” I’ve heard from a lot of rabbinic students that it’s hard to reveal their chosen field to potential dates, but the idea that one’s career could be jeopardized by not having a partner is beyond ridiculous.
It’s also problematic that both male and female rabbis (again, no one who identifies outside the definitive gender binary was involved in the making of this article) are lumped together in the conversation, because as single folks, they face very different issues with respect to dealing with their situation. A single female rabbi is challenging to our beliefs about women, that women have babies, especially Jewish women. Without a partner, how will this happen? Single male rabbis face a challenge to their masculinity, because in addition to being the head of a shul, they’re also expected to be head of a household, and if masculinity and femininity isn’t demonstrated in the way we’re accustomed to, we’re threatened, and the last place we want to be threatened is in a Jewish space.
Trust me when I say that the organized Jewish community, or maybe all Jewish communities, are lonely places for single people, even (especially?) if you aren’t interested in changing your status. Interviewed for the article, Rabbi Felicia Sol, of Bnai Jeshrun on the Upper West Side, said, “It is a challenge to the Jewish community to create as many avenues for people to find partners and be supportive of all kinds of families, but it is just as important to be inclusive to those who are single.”
Seriously, though, is this ever going to happen? My money is on probably not, because, after all, religion has become about family and we remain inflexible as to what that concept is, and about letting people define that notion for themselves. The article does end with some hope, though. Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, of the Conservative Synagogue of the Hamptons, offered this: “I think we could do more to change the culture where marriage is the highest value.”
L’kovod the aseres yamey tshuva, I present two interesting writers who converted from Judaism to Christianity. Let’s put it this way: They had to worry about a whole different kind of Tshuva:
Jacobo Fijman (1898-1970)
Poet and Madman. Born in Bessarabia, Fijman lived and died in Argentina. Spent much of his life in a state mental asylum. Surrealist poet, gnostic and anarchist. A taste:
el camino más alto y más desierto.
Oficio de las máscaras absurdas; pero tan humanas.
Roncan los extravíos;
tosen las muecas
y descargan sus golpes
dilatación vidriosa de los ojos
en el camino más alto y más desierto.
Se erizan los cabellos del espanto.
La mucha luz alaba su inocencia…
Nicolae Steinhardt (1912–1989). Theologian and Memoirist. Underground Favorite. Revered in Romania for his Jurnalul fericirii (The Diary of Happiness; 1991), an account of his journey to orthodox Christianity during the years he spent in Communist prisons. A Taste:
Outside a bakery, an old beggar, small, discreet. I give him 3 or 4 lei. He takes off his hat, respectfully, and thanks me for a long while. Why, I don’t know – the memory of my father, the physical resemblance (small and stooping) – his gesture – so polite, the shame of being saluted by an old man for a few lei, the onslaught of images of prison in my memory, revelatory of the human condition’s wretchedness – but I burst out crying in the middle of the street, like a madman.
My rabbi made a bold move during his d’var Torah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah services this year. After a brief word on Park 51 earlier in the service, in which he condemned the bigoted opposition in the strongest terms I could have imagined, I wasn’t expecting too much more fire and brimstone, especially on Israel-Palestine. And he looked sort of nervous to me – who wouldn’t, facing such a large crowd (this is Rosh Hashanah, mind you, so we’re talking every Jew in town) that was by and large far more conservative than you. Yet he called for an end to the Gaza blockade and asked congregants to write a letter to Netanyahu’s office urging him to fully engage in the peace talks and bring home results. Strong stuff.
Nine years after the attacks of 9/11, I want to stop and think about framing. How we frame conflicts, both in our mind and externally, has a lot to do with more concrete things like foreign policy, or the nature of the domestic discourse on an issue. 9/11 was an attack on the core of Americanism, and not only because of the physical spectacle of the WTC being leveled by a bunch of reclusive angry dudes. It represents the clash of two worldviews – an American constitutionalist perspective in which personal freedom is of the highest importance, and a religious fundamentalist one (which religion it is is completely irrelevant) in which those who think wrong, believe wrong, act wrong, are to be punished by those who know better. It’s disgusting no matter who it comes from.
In that bin Laden most likely knew what the U.S.’ response to 9/11 would be (“We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus; and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy’s intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by threatening to burn copies of the Koran,” says Ted Koppel), he made a masterful calculation in goading us into it. But I can’t help but think that he also gave us the greatest opportunity ever to definitively rise above the war-on-terror paradigm. It’s not too late to change course and stop trampling on the mangled remains of the constitutional freedoms (see above links, courtesy of Koppel) bin Laden sought to demonstrate the inferiority of, an effort for which we’ve done far more than he ever could have. This would take a reframing at the national level, something Obama did a bit of in his Cairo speech, but, more importantly, it would also take people of conscience standing up to bigotry at every level. Park 51 is the starkest example we’ve seen so far that this society has yet to move past the paralyzing ethos of American vs. un-American. Or, in simpler terms, a lot of people in this country are still racist.
And so, G()d’s children are still drowning. And until we end the war on terror abroad and the war on Islam at home, and until we, as my rabbi urged, truly walk in the other’s shoes and know their pain as we do our own, the water rises higher. May the memories of the 3000 innocents who died on 9/11, and the thousands more who have died since in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, and more, not be forgotten.
Update: this has been cross-posted to the New Voices blog.
My pregnant wife sitting at home, I stood in the grocery store aisle with two bottles of grape juice in my hand–in the one hand I had the bottle of Kedem grape juice (I usually buy the organic, but they were all out) and in the other hand, a bottle of organic Santa Cruz 100% Concord Grape juice. I didn’t know what to do. My wife and I are dedicated to maintaining an organic diet. Some consumers choose organic products only when available; we choose to ONLY purchase organic products, if there’s not an organic option, we don’t get it. But here it was, Friday afternoon, too late to run around to more stores to look for organic juice that had a hekhsher. What to do… Can I, a soon to be rabbi ordained by the Conservative Movement, say kiddush on juice without a hekhsher? It’s not something I had ever done before… would I be willing to start? I was.
Unlike some, I have read and learned quite a bit about stam yeinam. Literally meaning ‘their wine,’ it refers to the practice of maintaining that when it comes to grape products, only Jewish hands may be a part of the production from start to finish. Dating back to Talmudic times, this practice was solidified, codified and reinforced by the work of the Tosafot (Franco-German medieval Talmudic commentators specifically interested in halakhic legal theory). In theory, the practice has two reasons, as far as my research has shown me. 1) There was the fear that wine purchased for kiddush could have been used or dedicated for avodah zarah (idol worship), and 2) that in certain areas blood was used as a purifier (the salts would act to separate out impurities in the wine). So today, in 2010, when there is no more avodah zarah as it was meant by the Talmud and there is hardly a winery in the world that would use blood as a purifier, what do we do with this tradition? (Hebrew readers who are interested in this topic should DEFINITELY check out Hayim Soloveitchik’s book on the topic titled “יינם”)
(Joint post from me and MarGavriel)
I don’t know about you, but when someone says “Selihot,” my heart sinks, because in my experience, selihot are Hebrew Text Walls of Doom, muttered incomprehensibly and far too fast, punctuated by wails of Divine Attributes which are the only bits I actually recognise. Sound familiar?
Apparently (who knew?) when done properly, they’re actually poems with actual meaning. Not just text walls of doom. More on one verse of one of them in just a moment, but first – liturgically, what exactly are selihot?
Selihot are poems originally recited by the cantor, in his repetition of the Amidah. On weekday fasts, they form part of the berakha סלח לנו, and on Yom Kippur, part of the middle berakha, the Yom Kippur one. Before, after, and between the poems, the 13 Attributes of Divine Mercy (ה’ ה’ אל רחום וחנון) are recited, prefaced by either אל ארך אפים or אל מלך יושב.
In recent centuries, almost all our communities have removed the Selihot liturgy from its original context, and placed it after the whole Hazzan’s Repetition, presumably because of concerns of hefsek [thought-train derailment]. Some few communities resist the urge to destroy, and retain the original structure; if yours does, feel free to leave a note in the comments for the edification of others.
In recent years, communities have also removed the Selihot liturgy from the prayerbook and placed it instead on grubby photocopied handouts, but you can find this one (by Solomon ibn Gabirol) in Artscroll, on page 868. Here’s a sound file of the stanza.
Last night, I heard Prof. Jonathan Sarna give a lecture on Democratization in American Jewry in the years following the Revolutionary War. He explained, using a couple of fascinating examples, that in that period of time you start to see the waning of the authority of the synagogue, and the Jewish community more generally: break-away shuls, a Kohein marrying a widowed convert against the wishes of the shul leadership, and a learned individual finding halachic solution to issues involving the excommunication of intermarried Jews, against the wishes of the kahal.
During Q&A, someone asked about the relationships of the break-away shuls to the organizations from which they departed. Prof. Sarna explained that, in time, exterior threats would cause these groups to come together. I’ve heard a similar explanation about the relationship of the Hasidim to the Mitnagdim after the haskalah. The modern example given was an Orthodox Rabbi sitting on the bimah of a Conservative shul in Boston during Cast Lead, claiming that differences between them needed to be put aside when Israel was threatened.
I understood his point, but the example made me cringe. I remember there being some level of objection from within the Jewish community, even during Cast Lead, and it pains me that the best example for the uniting of Jewish community is around a mythic threat to Israel (which is not to say that I approve of rockets, either). It being erev Yom Yerushalayim, I’m also reminded of the mythic existential threat from ’67, but I digress.
We’ve done an OK job of covering a number of recent cases of civil rights problems in Israel (here, here, here). Over at Zeek, Moshe Yaroni sums things up beautifully:
Israeli democracy is under siege, and it’s no less stark than that. For years, the peace groups in Israel have been warning that occupation cannot co-exist with democracy without one eventually strangling the other. It is no longer a theoretical argument.
There are two bills in the Knesset that, to my mind, may begin to expose the cracks in the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. The first is the bill about conversation, about which there’s been ample coverage of late.
The official statement put out by the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements reads:
The bill threatens to alter the Law of Return and consolidate conversion power into the hands of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Both of these results could have devastating effects on the relationship between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry and thus on the broader unity of the Jewish people. Such concentration of power in favor of Ultra-Orthodox Jewry effectively negates the roles of the non-Orthodox movements both within Israel and abroad, sending the message that only the Orthodox have a place within our Homeland.
As I wrote yesterday, liberal Jews already have less religious freedom than the Orthodox in Israel (why the Reform movement doesn’t make the work of Anat Hoffman a central pillar of its Israel education baffles me and is a subject for another post). Here we have a bill that, if passed, would make it clear to the world what Rabbanut-and-therefore-government of Israel thinks of liberal Jewry, in Israel or abroad. I think in many cases, liberal Jews, out of either ignorance or ideology, support policies in Israel which go against their beliefs about human rights and democracy (not to mention against the way that they practice their Judaism), and I almost cynically hope that this bill will increase the cognitive dissonance amongst the general public.
Much less has been written about the equally worrying bill to outlaw human rights groups which criticize the Israeli government. More »
Connecticut, One of the 13 Original Colonies.
The recently posted NYTimes Article about East Haven, CT Police smacks some childhood memories back into my head.
I grew up in Connecticut, in a part of Connecticut that was heavily working class with some ironic mixture of aristocracy and decaying housing projects. It was also not a particularly Jewish place, but being in the tri-state area, it possessed a medium sized Jewish community. I was raised in a town with a small Jewish population, and went to shul in the larger, exceptionally poor city to the immediate southeast. When I read this article about allegations against the East Haven Police Department, I remember and identify with the diseased kind of racist-garbage corruption among the police and town government, which stands accused of police bias, brutality and violence against its burgeoning Hispanic population. As I think more and more, I see my own upbringing in this news and remember odd moments in which racial prejudice, growing ethnic diversity, and the heavy presence of white ethnics, like the Irish, Italians and Greeks, always smashed into my Jewishness. I always felt that my Jewish self, how I understood its history and all that shiz, was really fired in a kiln of bigotry and national resentment. Mix recent, Latino immigration with the generations of working-class blacks and white ethnics that had been working CT land for generations, and you get people sweating. How did the Jews fit into the history of this working-class New England town? Did Jewish tradition, or even ritual life, have express anything about the the material conditions of my upbringing? I just think today of all the Jewish kids who are experiencing something like East Haven up close, and to hear their voices. We are still dwelling most deeply in Bovel.
To read about recent accusations of Police Bias in East Haven, CT, read the NYTimes article here.
C'mon, the Polish Carpathians are at least as beautiful as the Judean Hills!
The recent Forward
article entitled “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President
” seems to be answering the elephant-sized question that many have been silently asking themselves: Why are so many Jewish organizations (including March of the Living) and The State of Israel voicing such an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy for Poles in a time of their most terrible loss?
Could it be an indication that Jewish communities and organizations are finally looking at the Poles as more than the ambivalent caretakers of their most sacred graveyard? Is it simply a sign that the established Jewish community can reach out their hands even to those they perceive as perpetrators of a most grave crime?
Konstanty Gebert, founding member of Solidarinosc and The Flying Jewish University, writes about Lech Kaczynski, the Polish President who died in the crash:
Kaczynski’s politics were not more popular among Poland’s Jewish community of 8,000 than among Poles at large. But the Jews had real reason to mourn a leader who had shown sympathy and support both to them and to the State of Israel, from the day when, soon after winning the 2005 presidential election, he compared himself to Ariel Sharon.
Indeed, there are analogies between the political philosophies of the two. Both were conservative leaders with strong nationalist feelings and were at the helm of countries they considered threatened by neighbors. (Kaczynski took a dim view not only of the past, but also of the present policies of Germany and Russia.) Both were impatient with what they considered liberal indifference to their respective national traditions and values. And both strongly believed in the fundamental role of the state as the nation’s most valuable institution. Both tended to look at what they believed history’s judgment would be, rather than at public opinion polls.
Kaczynski was far from being the only conservative European politician in power today. Yet it would be difficult to imagine any other European leader comparing himself to Sharon; the public-opinion fallout would be devastating. But Kaczynski had no such qualms. To him, the Israeli prime minister was an inspiration, and Israel a friendly state. Much of Polish public opinion tended to agree with him. No criticism followed his Sharon remarks.
That’s right, a top Polish politician was into THE BULLDOZER. In this intricate web of official condolence calls and mixed feelings, Gebert articulates too well that the contemporary Polish-Jewish relationship can be understood through the perceived political affinities between two right-wing nationalists who became intensely unpopular during their lifetimes. It goes to show that as Jewish cultural revival continues throughout the Polish lands, the elite descendants of Polish Jewry living in America and Israel largely see their relationship to Poland through a Zionist, not Ashkenazi, lens. This seems to imply that, at least on an official level, the development of Polish-Jewish reconciliation has largely been achieved through the work of politicians, not through the work of grassroots activists who spend so much time investing in a future for Jewish culture and memory in Poland. I never would have thought that March of the Living, an organization that has been repeatedly criticized for portraying Poland as a bloody, smoldering launching pad for the Zionist future, would require a moment of silence for victims of the crash as it toured its participants through Auschwitz. Do our leaders really feel sympathy for the Poles, or are we just trying to maintain alliances in a Europe increasingly critical of Israeli policy? A mixture of both?
His (Kaczynski’s) Jewish sympathies earned him the scorn of antisemitic extremists, who accused him of being Jewish himself (his “true” name supposedly was Kalkstein); somehow, his brother escaped being thus tainted. Rydzyk brutally attacked the Polish president during a lecture in 2007, accusing him of giving in to Jews, both by allocating land for the museum and supposedly ignoring the alleged threat of Jewish reparation demands. In contrast with his brother, Lech Kaczynski never granted the fundamentalist station an interview. But he had to pay the price for tolerating Jarosław’s alliances. At the funeral last year of Marek Edelman, deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a hero to the president, Kaczynski stood in silence and alone: The family refused him the right to speak, as Edelman had bitterly criticized the twin brothers’ policies…
…Alive, Kaczynski was a divisive and increasingly unpopular figure because of his authoritarian views, with approval ratings recently as low as 32%. But his tragic death has transformed him into a national icon, with all of Poland united in mourning. Polish Jews shared that pain with all other Polish citizens: A memorial service held in Warsaw’s only synagogue was packed full the day after the plane crash.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs responds to the Polish Tragedy.
This is a guest post by Adam Davis, founder of Kippot for Hope. Jewschooler David A.M. Wilensky bought his mom’s significant other a kippah from Kippot for Hope for Chanukah and he loves it.
Did you know that there is a thriving community of almost a thousand African Jews living in Uganda?
After spending an incredible seder night with them last year, I set up Kippot for Hope—a non-profit initiative which aims to improve the communities living conditions by selling the handmade colourful kippot, beautifully crocheted by the women of the community.
In the remote hills of eastern Uganda, in the shadow of the Mount Elgon, live a small community of Africans who are also practising Jews. My wife, Genevieve, and I, currently living in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, asked the community leader if we could join their Seder. He was most welcoming and so we set out on the six hour bus ride to Mbale.
On the journey we read more about the community and their history. In 1919, a Christian Ugandan leader called came to believe the customs and laws in the Old Testament were quite true. When he was told that it is the Jews that observe such laws he explained “Then we will be Jewish”. These people became known as The Abayudaya (“The People of Judaea”) and the population grew to over 3,000. During the Idi Amin era, most of the population were forced to convert to either Christianity or Islam although 300 members remained committed to Judaism and worshipped in secret. Today there are almost a thousand Jews of the Abauudaya, divided into six smaller communities spread across 100 miles in the hills overlooking Mbale.
When we finally reached the community, we were greeted by small Ugandan children, the boys all wearing kippot, with shouts of “Shalom Shalom”. As the sun set on the distant horizon in a stunning display of oranges and crimsons, the entire community made their way to the synagogue for the Seder. More »
Many USAers have already filled out their census forms. Or are at least thinking about it. Or have at least taken the form and added it to their pile of mail to be dealt with later. (Seriously, fill it out and send it back. It’s good for you, your community, your neighbourhood, your city, your state… And I hear it gives you whiter teeth and shinier hair.)
The buzz around the Jewish community, at least if I’m to take various listservs I’m on as representative of the larger American Jewish community, is what to do about “race” and Jews. Of the 29 races listed, none represent Jews (or Arabs). Jews aren’t sure how to fill this out. The problem, really, is that the US government is asking for “race,” not ethnicity, not nationality, not heritage… It’s not surprising that Jews aren’t listed as a race – we’re not a race. Arguments can, and have, been made for Jews as ethnicity, as culture, and certainly as religion, but as a racial group? No. So some people are writing in “Jewish” next to “other” in race. But is that accurate? And does the government need to know, or should it know, how many Jews live within its borders anyway?
By contrast, Canada does the census differently when it comes to Jews. First, it should be noted that the Canadian census does have a section on religion, unlike the US census. Canada’s census asks folks to check off their religion, with a dozen options, then a fill in the blank for others. Years ago, Jews (rabbis, academics, the establishment) were consulted on how to count the Jews. It was decided that Jewish would appear twice: under “religion” and under “ethnicity.” (You can choose more than one ethnicity, I believe.) You’re considered Jewish, according to the census, and with the agreement of the above-mentioned experts who were consulted, if you: check Jewish for religion but not for ethnicity; Jewish for religion and ethnicity; Jewish for ethnicity but don’t put a religion; Jewish for ethnicity and put a religion that one doesn’t have to convert to to follow (like Buddhism). You would not be counted as Jewish if, say, you checked Jewish for ethnicity but put Catholic for religion. The Canadian census does not ask for race. As noted, we’re asked about ethnicity. But it’s not left with one question. Instead of “race,” there are two questions, I believe (it’s been 9 years – cut me some slack!): “ethnicity of origin,” from which you can check from a list or add in an “other”; and then a separate question on if you consider yourself a “visible minority,” with various options to check for that, along with a fill in the blank “other.” The Canadian census happens in years ending in 1 (with a smaller census, fewer questions, happening in years ending in 6). So we’ll see what it yields next year.
Both countries have separation of religion and state. So why does one ask explicitly about religion (including Jews) while the other doesn’t? I’m guessing that, in part, it has to do with Canadians trusting that the religion information is being collected to see how diverse we are, and not to be used for some Evil Reason. Which is the same reason we’re asked about ethnicity or income or number of people in a family or household. It’s just another measure of diversity. But it’s also helpful for provinces like Quebec, where Jewish (and other religious) day schools are subsidized by the province. Or for those provinces that accept rulings from a beis din (or from Islamic sharia councils) for certain legal matters. Yes, these are still both within the Canadian definition of “separation of church and state,” because all religions are weighed equally. Catholic schools in Quebec are subsidized alongside Jewish and Muslim. Acknowledging that most Western law is heavily Christian-centric, the government allows for Jewish and Muslim legal systems to hold weight as well. Separate from state while allowing for religious pluralism. By contrast, my sense of “separation of church and state” in the US is that Christians need the reminder, and that other religious groups aren’t really considered at all by the state. The two outlooks yield very different results, and different reasons for separation.
I don’t think it’s a problem to ask about religion or ethnicity. I don’t think it’s a problem to fill out those answers either. (I also support the right of individuals to leave questions blank on a census.) But I’m curious: what do other countries do? Does your country count the Jews?
Awhile back, I was introduced to a really great online resource for Jews by choice aptly named JewsByChoice.org. It was certainly a great website and I imagine a good resource for those who encountered it. For one reason or another the project was put on hold, now it’s back and better than ever.
Incorporating aspects of community blogs and social networking, JewsByChoice.org is an incredibly useful and dynamic website which provides a space for an online community dedicated to Jews by choice to network and share experiences, in addition to providing a vibrant potential for online learning and the sharing of knowledge and information. Regular visitors and contributors to the site come from a very large spectrum of Jewish observance and familiarity.
The website intends to target a trans-denominational audience, and while it is also intended for those in our community who are Jews by choice, it also has an active, and can only assume passive, readership from those of us who are Jews by birth.
In its own words…
JewsByChoice.org is a Trans-denominational grassroots, peer run, blog and online resource, providing Jews by choice (as well as other interested parties) with opportunities for exploring, discussing and engaging with Jewish Identity, Tradition, Culture and Religious Observance.
Our core mission activities include:
Technology: Harnessing the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies in order to provide Jews by choice with improved online opportunities for: social networking, community building and learning; as a means of facilitating greater Jewish literacy and engagement.
Discussion: Providing a forum for dialogue and discussion where Jews by choice from across the denominational spectrum can (respectfully) discuss and exchange ideas with one another on a variety of Jewish topics.
Engagement: Creating opportunities for Jews by choice to deepen their understanding, connection and commitment to Jewish religion, culture and community.
Advocacy: Empowering Jews by choice to better identify and address issues which act as barriers to their engagement and integration into Jewish life and Community.
In my opinion, the most productive way to encourage inclusiveness and acceptance on a genuine and integral level for all denominations and flavors of Jewish lifestyle, belief, practice, observance and thought involves striving to understand the perspectives and experiences of individual people who walk in all of these different forms of Jewish identity. The type of online community which JewsByChoice.org is creating provides the opportunity for people to connect as individuals and share information and knowledge by utilizing technology and relying upon the motivation of any person who chooses to join the community for their contribution.
I highly recommend jumping over to the site, registering with them and surfing around, start a blog, join some groups and share your thoughts. It’s really a fabulous resource that I hope continues to be utilized and continues to grow.
I learned of Arnold Foster by reading his obituary, which arrived through the wire about a day ago.
The JTA reports:
Arnold Foster, an attorney who had a nearly 60-year career at the Anti-Defamation League, has died.
Foster fought against anti-Semitism and extremism, and advocated for civil rights and the State of Israel. He was 97 when he died Sunday night.
In 1938 he organized a team of lawyers to serve as the volunteer legal arm of the Anti-Defamation League. He joined the staff of ADL in 1940, and as associate national director was primarily responsible for building ADL’s law department and civil rights program. In January 1946 he was appointed general counsel, a position he held until 2003, though he retired from the ADL in 1979.
I don’t know anything about Arnold Foster. I don’t know whether he was on the right or the left, whether he was a shomer mitzvos, an atheist, or both. What I do know is that the ADL of 1938 was a very different organization than it is today, and working for it would have been a step towards fully participating in global politics and identity formation. In Foster’s universe, Jews were being gassed in Poland, demoralized in Algiers and rapidly assimilating into the white American mainstream. Reading this obituary, I wonder to myself about the wisdom of a man like this and the opinions he took to the grave. Would I have agreed with them? Would he have been able to articulate how his experiences informed his work?
What we do learn from Foster’s obituary is the origin of his name:
Born Arnold Fastenberg in Brooklyn, Foster was a graduate of St. John’s University in Queens and its law school. He changed his name at the suggestion of a director when acting at a local playhouse during law school.
“May the Almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Today, Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall, wrote an impassioned op-ed in the Jerusalem Post calling for calm and unity amidst the furor over the arrest of women for praying at the Kotel.
Reading it I was encouraged, sympathetic even. I wish more Orthodox Rabbis, especially Haredim and especially Israeli Haredim, gave as much thought and voice to such sentiments. I wish more of our progressive friends did likewise in the other direction.
The Western Wall, like the Jewish nation, has both visible and hidden dimensions. It seems like a public and open place, but in reality – as anyone who has touched its stones will attest – it is a place of intimacy: intimacy between a Jew and his past, intimacy between man and his God. This intimacy is created during the wondrous moment when a man leans his head on the cool stones of the Western Wall and feels in the depths of his heart that he has returned home.
There’s just one problem here; women sadly appear to be forgotten or omitted. That’s a shame since that attitude is precisely what got us to this point. Thus what is clearly a heartfelt plea against Sinat Chinam and for inclusiveness from the Orthodox, even if it doesn’t mention the non-Orthodox outright, misses the point.
Yes, Rabbi, more unites us than divides us. Except when what unites us is the Western Wall and what divides at it are a mechitza and equal treatment.
We indeed are all brothers- except our sisters, who continue to receive insulting treatment at the Wall for exercising precisely what you describe as an ideal.
It is a place of intimacy: not just intimacy between a Jew and his past, but and Jew and hers as well. It is a place of intimacy between men AND women and our God.
Rabbi, I laud your words and pray that all Jews can come to the Wall and experience this intimacy at Har HaBayit. Until all men AND women can lean their heads on those cool shamir-carved stones and freely pour out their souls to Hashem, it will not feel like a home to far too many of our sisters, wives and mothers than either you or I desire.
And unless those who advocate otherwise heed your words, “ein m’nachem lah.”