Whose Birthright? A Conversation with Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine

Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine

Recently, Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine created, published and distributed a Zine called “Birthright? A Primer” for folks contemplating going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. The primer includes testimonies from previous trip participants, as well as resources for exploring Israel/Palestine after the trip. Tufts SJP organizers Matthew Parsons, Anna Furman and Dani Moscovitch  spoke with Jewschool about the primer, how and why it happened, and what impact they hope it will have.

Jewschool: What was the impetus for creating the primer? What’s the goal?

Anna Furman: The goal of our zine is to equip students who have chosen to go on Birthright with a body of knowledge that they will not find otherwise.  I think the most important section of our zine  may be the section that encourages students to extend their trips and to go with various groups to the West Bank.  If I had a zine like this when I had gone on Birthright 3 years ago, I am pretty certain that my whole understanding of the region and my relation to it would have been very different.
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Some Chanukah Business: Rabbis on E1 Expansion, Hevron, Gaza Youth, Super Power Cameras and More

 

 Shira Abramowitz, student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, illustrated her notes from her visit to Hevron. See more here.

 

 

 

 

Wake the f**k up!



In August, Jewish Council for Education and Research approached author Adam Mansbach (End of the Jews) with an idea for a pro-Obama spoof of his profane book for new parents, Go the f**k to sleep, the video of which had been later narrated by Samuel L. Jackson for audible inc.  It was quite the hit with those whose children would not hit the sack.

The Jewish Council for Education and Research was previously responsible for Sarah Silverman’s “The Great Schlep” and “Scissor Sheldon” videos (did you think she did that all herself?). Rather than give his permission, Mansbach offered to write it himself and as the project developed, reunited with Samuel “Snakes on a Plane” Jackson to narrate and star in the project.  

The result is Wake the f**k up, a new video reminding us to vote (for  Obama) that is getting a lot of attention and play on the youtubes.

I don’t personally feel it any great accomplishment of craft or cleverness, but is noteworthy in that JCER is now officially a Super PAC, has  funding from George Soros and is using its funding to offer campaigns rooted in Jewish culture as a counterpoint to the Adelson cash flooding the election. Its also noteworthy in that it is circulating virally (voluntarily) rather than mass-cast on the airwaves.  Its not Ezekial 25:17, but it has about the same amount of profanity (you have been warned) and is just as entertaining.Watch it here.

Things to do on Yom Kippur

Something to consider when you are doing whatever it is you do on Yom Kippur: on the holiday in September 1907, Emma Goldman held a picnic “for free thinkers and radicals” in Central Park.  Leah Berkenwald wrote last year over at the Jewish Women’s Archive about the way Occupy Wall Street and other activisms  and movements have changed the way we think about prayer and observance and religion, and how Judaism can be a lens to unthink things as much it is to fit them together.

Gmar Tov, folks.

 

 

 

Should we be saying Kaddish for the Jewish Left?

Michael Walzer’s book In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible makes a slightly controversial though eminently plausible argument. The book is an interesting analysis of the politics of the Bible by a political scientist, who is not a biblical scholar, but has written an important book on the uses of the Exodus story by liberation movements (Exodus and Revolution). After all the caveats, Walzer’s central claim is that the Bible writes in the tension between being born into the covenant, and affirming the covenant or taking it on of one’s own free will. This is the central theme of the Bible, and not any specific manner of governance. There is no room, according to Walzer for politics in the Bible, since all authority ultimately rests with God. There is also no call for communal action. The Bible, according to Walzer has an anti-politics. Isaiah, for example, rails against those who would ignore the widows and the poor on their way to the Temple, yet he does not try to organize the poor or lobby the priesthood. Or when Ezekiel castigates Judah for rehearsing the sins of Sodom—the sins of hoarding their riches and not sharing them with poor—he is not looking for a legislative or political remedy—he is channeling God’s rage at injustice.

It is an interesting book, and Walzer recognizes and notes all the difficulties in making specific claims about a text whose interpretation has been contested for centuries. He notes the usefulness of the scholarly and traditional interpretive literature for understanding certain questions, but not others.

Walzer apparently reprised the gist of his argument at a YIVO conference on the demise of the historical partnership between Jews and the left. Some on the right trumpeted Walzer’s presence as a final sign that there is no basis in traditional Judaism for a politics of the left. Walzer, after all, is the long-time editor of Dissent and a social-democrat—and he is claiming that the left-Jewish alliance is as a castle on sand. Check-mate. There is no, nor has there ever been a basis for leftist politics, for social justice advocacy grounded in any traditional Jewish textual framework. The Tablet’s Adam Kirsch and Jewish Ideas Daily‘s Alex Joffe could barely contain themselves.

Something, however, is seriously off here.

(read the rest at Justice in the City then come back here to discuss)

Noa-body puts Noa in a corner

In addition to her own distinguished career, Achinoam Nini (aka Noa) has a history of working on behalf of peace and reconciliation. Notably, she has partnered with Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, a Christian and resident of Haifa, on a concert tour and as the country’s entrants 2009 entrants into the Eurovision contest.  This  creative collaboration brought them wide attention around the world, mostly of the positive sort.

On Yom Hazikaron, the acclaimed international Israeli musical artist performed for a gathering of Combatants for Peace, an organization of former fighters and their families on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This recent performance brought on attention of a much uglier, vile sort from extremist corners in Israeli and North American Jewish corners.

Calling her “Garbage” and “Rat” and far worse.  They’ve taken to facebook calling for a boycott of Noa’s performances, and Noa has responded.

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In Which May Day Resembles Shabbos

I wrote recently about how certain Jewish organizations  need to stop talking shit about Occupy and instead capitalize (you’ll pardon the pun) on the shared history of Jews and revolutions for social and economic justice in order to engage young Jews. Today, certain Jewish organizations, would be another in a long line of excellent opportunities to do that, as thousands of people take the streets for International Workers’  Day.

I’m not going to rehash the history of Jews in the labor movement, or  point out the irony of right wing Jews trying to distance themselves from Occupy in light of that history.  May Day demands that  we  remove ourselves from the daily practice of exploiting of ourselves.s. We won’t work, we won’t use the  bank, we won’t go to school, or at least, we won’t do these things in the way we normally do them, and we’re asking everyone to take the streets, instead of asking others to do what we would not. We’ll  gather together in public space, celebrating the possibility of a different world, while refusing to participate, for at least today, in the one that’s broken. Sound familiar?

Of course, there will be many, many ruckuses, as there should be on the way to fighting back. See you in the streets! More »

From Malmo on Yom haShoah

Malmo Synagogue

Following is a guest post by Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, current resident of Malmo, Sweden.

In early March, when I was asked to write a column about Jewish life in Malmö, I began like this: Google “Jews in Malmö.” Most of the results will be about the rise in anti-Semitism, the hostility between Muslims and Jews, the anti-Semitic rants of the mayor, and the number of Jews who are fleeing Sweden’s third largest city.

Six weeks later, you can skip the Google search. The Jewish media have their eye on Malmö, thanks to the most recent spewing of idiotic, anti-Semitic rants by mayor Ilmar Reepalu. This time, he tried to claim that the Jewish community of Malmö had allowed itself to be infiltrated by the white supremacist Sweden Democrat party in order to attack Muslims. When confronted, Reepalu admitted that his accusation was baseless. Dominos have begun to fall since then. The leader of his Social Democrat party scolded the mayor, and word has it that Reeplu might even be open to hearing from Jewish citizens.  It remains unclear whether there will be any real impact on Reeplalu’s mayorship.

Yet, although Malmö’s Jews do face anti-Semitism from some hateful, even violent neighbors as well as from the mayor, things have changed since 2010, when the Forward published an article titled, “For Jews, Swedish City is a Place to Move Away From.”  In fact, last month I used that title as a foil, declaring Malmö to be a delightful place to move to.  The Jewish community here is undergoing a true renaissance and, on this Yom Hashoah,  many members look toward the future with hope.

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In Memoriam: Adrienne Cooper (1946-2011)

Just over a week ago, the world Yiddish community lost the greatest Yiddish songstress of our time, Adrienne Khane Cooper, who died on December 25, 2011 at the age of 65.   Adrienne was a person of enormous passion and talent who, as both a performer and teacher, molded a whole generation of young Yiddishists and klezmorim.

In her short 65 years on this earth, Adrienne zigzagged the map, both domestically (living in Oakland, Chicago, and New York), and internationally, touring and studying far and wide, bringing with her a love of Yiddish that was contagious as it was deep.  A scholar, a writer, a performer, and an innovator, Adrienne was a trailblazer in demonstrating to the world that the adventure of Yiddish has only begun. Adrienne’s profound love and respect for language, combined with her progressive politics made her the ideal figure for spearheading the contemporary Yiddish renaissance.

 

After working at the YIVO Language, Literature, and Culture summer program in New York City, Adrienne envisioned an intensified Yiddish cultural experience, and so, along with Henry Sapoznik, she created KlezKamp, the renowned annual Klezmer and Yiddish culture gathering in the Catskills, now nearing its 30th year.  These two programs, both of which Adrienne had a significant hand in shaping,  are  responsible for the outpouring of new Yiddish cultural expression—fueled largely by the enthusiasm of their young participants—that has emerged in recent years.

Among the countless Yiddish scholars and artists whom Adrienne mentored are such prominent figures in the Yiddish world as Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler, acclaimed Yiddish singer Lorin Sklamberg, and outstanding Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals. The assembled crowd at the New York memorial service for Ms. Cooper (which packed Ansche Chesed’s main sanctuary on Sunday, January 1st) was a veritable ‘who’s who’ in the Yiddish world, and each person in attendance seemed to have at least one story of how Adrienne had changed her/his life. Each of the twelve speakers who eulogised Adrienne at this memorial service shared thoughts regarding the varied and far-reaching aspects of Adrienne’s life and legacy. Upon exiting Ansche Chesed after the memorial service, I overheard an older man ask his friend, “Did you work with Adrienne?” his friend replied, “Of course. Who didn’t??”

As one  who delights in all things Yiddish and also sees in it a larger social mission, it warmed my heart when I heard dramatist and political activist Jenny Romaine read an excerpt from the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker award, which was presented to Adrienne by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in 2010: “For all of this, and for never working from a place of chosen-ness or nostalgia but from a place of justice, empathy, and complex Yiddish polyphony, JFREJ is deeply honored to present the 2010 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award to Adrienne Cooper. ” Indeed, for Adrienne, Yiddish language and culture was not a quaint novelty trapped in a glass box in a museum,  but rather a living, breathing, and evolving hands-on process which could help create a better world.

Perhaps my favourite memory of Adrienne was a Yiddish song workshop she facilitated at the 2008 YIVO summer program, where both myself and Adrienne’s daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a talented and innovative Yiddish songstress in her own right, were students.  At the aforementioned workshop, I witnessed the special beauty of the bond between Adrienne and Sarah, a bond, spanning the generations, of shared  dedication and love, both for Yiddish language and culture  and for each other.  This special bond was best summarised by the final eulogy delivered at the memorial service last Sunday by Sarah, who stated simply, but most eloquently, “She was my mother.”  All too often, when we speak of great figures, we forget the unique and personal relationships that  are truly the defining aspects of life—the relationships that make us who we are. After hearing eleven people speak beautifully of Adrienne as a legend, Sarah reminded us that she was also a “Yidishe Mame.”

Because of her dedication to helping create a better world, Adrienne served on the Board of Directors of JFREJ, and the family requests that donations in her memory be made to them: www.jfrej.org/Koved ir ondenk.

Mobius is for the #Occupation

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

The enemies of my enemies are my enemies.

As many know, Mobius, activist and founder of this blog, is known for his outspoken views ending on the Occupation and more recently for his leadership in Jewish slice of the the #Occupy movement (among his prodigious other accomplishments).

In a somewhat surreal turn of events, earlier this week as police evicted Sieradski and the rest of #occupy wall street from Zucotti Park, the Electronic Intifada denounced him for  being a tool of the Zionist PR machine. Got that?  They associated him with his twitter and real-life debate partner, William Daroff, who proudly clams that title.  Clearly, having posed together for a photo makes them philosophical bunk mates. Confused yet? It gets better.

Those who believe that Mobius was against the occupation are apparently incorrect, according to Adam Greenhouse and Electronic Intifada.  Huh?

Not only this, but he is, or was, and now is again- FOR the #Occupation.  Of course- and apparently Electronic Intifada is as well. But not THAT occupation.  And  Mobius is not entitled to be thus as he hasn’t been nearly outspoken enough about his views. Which E.I. is against because, well, he’s so clearly in bed with the rightwing Zionists. And Muppets.

Which they’re for- no wait, against.. Okay, I’m confused. Blame the Jews!

Stranger still, Electronic Initifada did this in the context of announcing the delivery of a message of Palestinian solidarity with the #Occupy movement in NYC.  They announce solidarity, denounce Sieradski for being an anarchist statist capitalist communist jew sellout.

And btw, since we’re off the topic, the Muppets also deserve a state of their own too. Who doesn’t anymore (except Kurds, Boriquenas and American Indians)?  Personally, I believe the @Muppets should be free to live everywhere.  As long as its not in my backyard because my 6th cousins are moving in as soon as UNESCO declares their right to return to my #basement.  I also wish to denounce those who would deny them the right to both have the state of #Muppestine and the right to denounce such states on principle!  Really, this totally made sense when explained by the Electric Meyhem.

Somewhere I hear Bill Murray turning to Harold Ramis and saying, “Wait, I thought you said the Occupation was baaaaad.”  DOWN! with the evil #occupiers of the anti-zionist non-entity!  No wait- FREE Palestine! End the #Occupation! Muppets!  No, wait, we support the occupiers just not the #occupation!  Reverse that.  We are with the 6 million!  Wherever we stand, it is in opposition to the opposition of the opposition of the occupation, except when we’re not.  And then we are.

At least the Palestinian Solidarity movement got its support of #occupy straight on one point, and that was… failing to make a clear point. Nice work and way to muddy the waters for the enemies of progress.  Thanks for the giggles!  But not really.

“Other Zions: From Freeland to Yiddishland” Exhibit Ending this Tuesday

If you’re in New York this week, you should check out the “Other Zions” exhibit, currently on display at YIVO. Curated by Krysia Fisher, this absolutely fascinating exhibit showcases the impressive ambitions and efforts of three related Yiddish organisations, all committed to establishing a Jewish homeland within the Diaspora, documenting an oft-neglected chapter in the history of modern Jewish settlement.  The exhibit marks the 70th anniversary of the all-Yiddish publication Afn Shvel, the 30th anniversary of the League for Yiddish, and 75 years since the establishment of the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonization.
In July, YIVO hosted an opening for the exhibit, featuring acclaimed Yiddishists, both young and old. The evening centered on the accomplishments and ideological legacies of prominent figures in the Yiddish-speaking world, such as Abraham Rosin, the first editor of the Yiddish literary-cultural journal Afn Shvel; Dr. Mordekhe Schaechter, Yiddish linguist and third editor of Afn Shvel, and founder of Yugntruf;  I.N. Steinberg, exiled religious, leftist Freeland activist;  and other members of the Freeland movement.  Several of the speakers and performers, children and grandchildren of the aforementioned figures, spoke first-hand about the legacy of their forbearers.

To get a schmeck of the history of the Jewish Freeland League, you can watch “No Land Without Heaven: I.N. Steinberg and the Freeland League,” featuring Dr. Adam Rovner (University of Denver),  here and learn about the little-known history of the Freeland League, which included attempts to establish Yiddish-speaking Jewish settlements in such places as SW Tasmania, Surinam, and NW Australia.  These efforts were ultimately thwarted, most notably by the establishment of the modern state of Israel, and perhaps that is why these stories are seldom related in standard histories of Jewish settlement.

Today, Mordekhe Schaechter’s grandson (and one of the speakers at the “Other Zions” opening this summer), Naftali Ejdelman, is working to achieve his grandfather’s vision with the establishment of Yiddish Farm in Goshen, NY. Naftali spoke of his grandfather’s attempts in the 1950’s to found a Yiddish-speaking colony on farmland in Roosevelt, New Jersey.  Yiddish Farm opened its ‘doors’ to the public this summer with its first annual Golus Festival, an outdoor Jewish culture camping festival with live entertainment. Schaechter’s project unites secular and religious Jews through common love of Yiddish language and agricultural work.  On a more micro level, other Schaechter progeny are discussing the establishment of a Yiddish-speaking Moishe House in New York City. If you are potentially interested either in working on the Yiddish Farm or living in a Yiddish Moishe House in NYC, please feel free to contact Naftali at naftali@yiddishfarm.org …and maybe you can live in “another Zion.”

Occupy the language

Photo credit: Jeffrey H. Campagna

x-posted to Justice in the City

One young man in Zuccoti Park in New York, part of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, holds up a sign which boldly declares: “We’re here, we’re unclear, get used to it.” This tongue in cheek message gets to the heart of what is uncomfortable for many in the media and the chattering class about the Occupy movement (OWS and its many many offshoots in all major American cities and many cities around the world). There is an expected, almost ritual nature to American political discourse. There are critiques, followed by demands, supported by emotional anecdotes and statistics, followed by the suggestion of legislative remedies. The chattering class then gets to work vetting these remedies on two levels. First, and most important, is the “horse race” analysis. The political climate will not allow this or the votes are there but only if the opposing party will compromise on this. And so on and so forth. Somewhere farther down, or on the inside pages, the wonks get to work dissecting the numbers. Within a week at most (usually a news cycle), its all old news. Nothing has changed. Perhaps a catch phrase has been added to the stump speech of this or that candidate.

It is very frustrating when a large group of Americans peacefully assemble to air their grievances without participating in these tried and true rituals. When they do not attempt to position themselves behind a candidate or leverage a powerful constituency, but, rather display their disaffection without feeling the need to issue bullet points which any politician or pundit could easily digest and regurgitate. And then they stick around. For a long time. And they do not feel the pressure of the news cycle to make decisions or appoint telegenic spokespeople. They just put up tents, hold long meetings which need to reach a consensus for a decision, put themselves in danger by reclaiming public space and using non-violence as a trigger and a weapon to reveal the repressive reflexes of the financial and political elites. It is maddening. More »

Jews at OWS: Huge Surprise!

A local here in DC asked me to write a bit about how there came to be Jewish practice at Occupy Wall St, Occupy K St and elsewhere. I wrote a bit and thought it might be interesting to other folks. So, here ’tis:

Since the industrial revolution, and perhaps even before, Jews have figured prominently in the intellectual and practical movements that created capitalism as well as those that opposed it. Jews have always been disproportionately represented on both sides of the inequality debate. In the 1980s Milton Friedman wrote a famous essay on what he viewed as a paradox–if Jews have benefited a great deal from capitalism why do they tend to oppose it. Jews working against inequality and capitalism is not new, it has existed as long as capitalism has (thanks to Brent Chaim Spodek for pointing me towards this essay).

The question of Jews and Occupy Wall St/Occupy K St/etc was never one of whether we would be involved, but when and how. As the high holidays approached, many were split between wanting to focus on the spiritual discipline that comes with this season in the Jewish calendar and the activist fervor that was building. The idea sprung up that we wouldn’t have to chose! We could host services in solidarity with the emerging movement.

This is not just any year. We are in a state of moral crisis as a country. The richest among us continue to live lives of great wealth (perhaps even opulence), while our nation, the richest on earth, sees families go to bed hungry. Many felt that praying in a new and different way was more appropriate on that night and many nights since. Rather than in a big beautiful synagogue, sometimes it’s better to pray in the street.

DC Kol Nidre

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Quick fisk: Commentary’s hack job on Occupy Yom Kippur

We’ve already written about the Kol Nidre service that Jewschool founder Dan Sieradski organized at Occupy Wall Street, as well as the companion services at other Occupy events around the country.  Other media took quite a bit of notice as well, including this rather shoddy Commentary piece:

Last week, a self-described “new media activist” posted a Facebook event page for a Kol Nidre service at the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. The turnout the event generated, as well as the discussion it has so far provoked, are deeply troubling trends that all who care about the Jewish future would do well to take seriously.

Aren’t we usually concerned that the Jews of today don’t care about being Jewish anymore?  Yet when an event comes along that brings together hundreds of Jews on less than a week’s notice, it gets criticized because it’s too effective?

During the years, those whose politics tend toward the right have had to accustom themselves to the unthinking sanctimony of leftists who rage against any semblance of an alliance of religion and right-wing politics…

“Those whose politics tend toward the right” vs. “leftists.”  Notice the difference in language?  It’s an attempt to paint “those whose politics tend towards the right” as inherently more reasonable than those crazy “leftists.”  Liberals are blinded by their rabid ideology, while conservatives hold informed and moderate beliefs.

Furthermore, what we liberals tend to object to is not the “alliance” of religion and politics.  Rather, we object to the use of political power to advance a religious agenda.  Occupy Yom Kippur is the opposite of that: it’s a call for political change based on religious beliefs about morality.  Having religiously-based opinions on political issues is perfectly legitimate: it’s protected by the free exercise clause.  Using political power to influence religious matters is prohibited by the same (or by the establishment cause, depending on the context).

It must be said there is of course justification to be found for specifically economic protests of a leftist variety in the prophets, perhaps most especially Isaiah. But it stretches truth far beyond the breaking point to claim such texts based on conditions in ancient Israel offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day…

Here’s a post on Commentary’s blog that describes Itamar, the settlement where the Fogel family was brutally murdered, as located in “Samaria,” “an area with biblical significance.”  I expect Commentary will quickly correct that language, since it’s “based on conditions in ancient Israel” that don’t “offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day.”

Oh, and I found that post by searching “Samaria” on Commentary’s site.  It was the top hit.  Here are two more recent articles from the first page of results where Commentary uses or expresses support for the biblical name for the territory now known as the West Bank.

Let their successes be few, and the passage of their movement from the American Jewish scene swift.

Seriously, I just can’t get over the pretension implicit in so much of the Jewish mainstream media.  One minute they’re telling us all to stick together in the face of adversity, dire threats to Jewish peoplehood, and (gasp!) anti-Zionism.  The next they’re condemning a Jewish grassroots movement that has a lot of people very excited.  I understand that they disagree with the movement’s goals.  That’s their right.  But the condescension with which they approach it is reminiscent of, well, the rest of the mainstream media.  In other words, they’re not exactly in good company.

Tactics and Strategy

Unsurprisingly, Jewschool and Jewschoolers have been all over the Occupy Wall Street movement. From organizing the widely successful Kol Nidre services to playing hacky sack and even demanding justice for the 99% or whatever they are demanding. However, this Jewschooler (admittedly the most “The Man” of any) is a bit put off by this movement.

I have had conversations about Occupy Wall Street with a number of people from across the spectrum and except for my friends on the far left, most “understand the frustration” but don’t feel like what is going on in Lower Manhattan is good. It is clear to me that this movement has no direction. Simply saying you are against greed is like saying you are for breathing. Who besides Gordon Gekko, who in fact later revised his statement, will say that greed is good?

My major complaint is that this is no “there” there in this movement. The demands are amorphous and without any sort of path to achievement. There is real anger in this country and around the world at the actions of the Financial Industry. This moment provides a huge opportunity to mobilize average, non-political folks—those soccer moms and NASCAR dads—around this issue. But sleeping in a park for a few weeks isn’t fixing anything nor is it bringing more attention to the problem. Rather it is bringing attention to the protestors and their on-the-street interactions with police and the so-called 1%. More »

Occupy Kol Nidrei NY: “The fallacy that gold is God!”

(Photo by David A.M. Wilensky (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0))

My friend Getzel Davis, a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, delivered a tremendous sermon at the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidrei here in New York.

All English during the service had to be shouted in short phrases, then shouted back by the crowd. (This is in keeping with the protesters who also use this method because they have no sound permit.) I vote that all sermons should be delivered in this fashion from here on out. I’ve never been among a congregation paying such rapt attention to a sermon.

Anyway, presented here in its entirety is Getzel’s sermon. Just imagine what it sounded like broken into short bits, shouted out in a call and shouted back in a response.

Getzel Davis about an hour before Occupy Kol Nidrei (Photo by David A.M. Wilensky (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0))

Friends – we are here tonight to celebrate the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur has been misunderstood to be a sad day. But really, an early rabbinic texts calls Yom Kippur one of the two happiest days of the year. What makes this day happy? It is the day of forgiveness. This is what Yom Kippor means “The Day of Forgiveness.”

According to our myth, Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf. What is the golden calf? It is the essence of idol worship. It the fallacy that gold is God. How do we become forgiven for worshiping gold?

I believe that G!d is infinitely forgiving. The harder question is how we forgive ourselves. How can we forgive ourselves for failing to live up to our own ideals? How can we forgive ourselves for failing to recognize others’ humanity? How can we forgive ourselves for remaining silent for so long in the face of injustice?

Forgiveness is important because once we can mourn our mistakes then we are no longer ruled by them. We are free to create things anew.

This is what Kol Nidreh is about. It is releasing ourselves from the oaths that we mistakenly took.

When people think about oaths, they usually think of verbal promises. In Judaism though, most of our oaths are “Chazakas” – or oaths taken through repeated action. By doing things again and again, we make internal promises about how we want to live. Other names for these might be habits, preferences, or addictions. These chazakas rule our lives, making things simpler by allowing us to live on autopilot .

The problem with this is that while chazakas are easy, they are often not skillful. It is easier to not make waves. It is easier to not make eye contact with those suffering. It is easier to trust others to run society. It is easier to sit on our butts.

Tonight, you are offered all the internal freedom that you can imagine. How do you want to live the next moments of
your life? Do you want to love more? Do you want to be more joyous? Do you want to speak your truth? What does
your truth say?

Yom Kippur is the happiest day of the year because it gives us the radical option of being here now. We don’t work. We don’t eat. We don’t drink. We don’t have sex. We dress in white robes.

We do these things because Yom Kippur is a ritual death. It is the way that we allow our old selves to die.

Tomorrow, when we break our fasts, we step into newness. We step into being the people we want to be and not just the people we have been.

You know friends, it is hard not to worship gold, or power, or any of the other idols that our society shoves down our throats. I believe that this is why the Torah tells us that there is something else created in the image of G!d.

Us.

In the first chapter of Genesis the first human was created in the image of G!d If we need something to serve here on earth, we are given humanity. Service to humankind is sacred and a reflection of service of G!d.

“Occupy Wall St.” and the Path of the Righteous

(cross posted to Justice in the City)
After a few persistent weeks of peaceful non-violent protests, the “Occupy Wall Street” folks or the “99 percenters” as they are beginning to call themselves, are appearing on the radar of the mainstream media. After a few days of lazy journalistic descriptions of the protests and protesters as disorganized and unfocussed some reporters and columnists are beginning to ask what these protesters want. One of the more interesting answers to the question was given in an interview conducted by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post with David Graeber who was one of the initial organizers of the protests. His answer was that the protesters, rather than making specific demands of the existing institutions (which created the income inequalities and precipitated the financial meltdown and yet were still in their offices controlling vast amounts of wealth) were attempting to “create a vision of the sort of society you want to have in miniature.” This raises the question: What is the society that we want? What would a just society look like? At this moment, it seems to me, there is no more important question to ask. As it happens, this is precisely the question I seek to answer in my book “Justice in the City” — and since that book is not yet out, I will attempt the short form answer here. More »

Kol Nidrei. Occupy Wall Street. Arthur Waskow. Be there.

Jewschool founder Daniel Sieradski is organizing a Kol Nidrei minyan in at Zuccotti Park, home base of the Occupy Wall Street folks, at 7 p.m. this Friday night.

I don’t believe it’s set in stone yet, but Rabbi Arthur Waskow may be delivering a devar and or leading the service. Sieradski is looking for knowledgeable service leaders. If you can help and you’re interested, get in touch with him on Facebook or twitter.

This will be a service, not to mention a Kol Nidrei, of once-in-a-lifetime coolness. Let me know if you’re coming so I can make sure we say get the chance to wish each other a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.

Check out the Facebook event for details and updates.

Updated, 10/5: Sieradski tell meWaskow is no longer coming for health reasons. Sad times.