I spent ten minutes today speaking with an acquaintance who is Arab and lives in Silwan, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem just south of the Old City. I’ve known him for several years, and we’ve always had a friendly relationship, but I’ve never asked him about his life before. Today I decided to ask how he’s doing. I asked whether he lives in an area where things are really bad, and he told me “everyone lives in an area where it’s really bad.” Then he told me that a couple days ago he drove past the house in Silwan that they demolished this week: “You should have seen what happened – pieces flew everywhere, large chunks of the house, and all of the houses and cars nearby were damaged. It’s never been like that before. I’ve seen houses demolished before, and it was always contained to that house. But this time it was like they didn’t even care what else got damaged. They weren’t even trying to be careful. They didn’t bother cleaning anything up. I don’t know why they did it like that this time.” Thankfully his house is far enough away that it wasn’t affected. (Thankful, really, that I don’t have another person to feel too worried about, at least for today.)
I haven’t told my children that their cousins’ cousin was brutally murdered last week by a knife-wielding terrorist. And I haven’t told them about the five men murdered yesterday in the midst of prayer, one of whom was the son of one of my favorite professors in college. About the mother who had to bury her beautiful daughter and the 24 children from the same street who were orphaned in one terrible moment. I can’t bring myself to share such horrendous, inhuman acts with them.
It’s different than with the rockets last summer. The rockets were terrible, but they felt somehow less personal, the people shooting them (though also horrible and murderous) a tiny bit less cold-blooded. I could talk about nameless, amorphous bad guys with my kids, though it was difficult and scary. But to tell my children about men who violated a house of worship with axes and a meat cleaver and shot people at close range during their silent prayer? About the man who picked up a knife and slashed the throat of an unarmed, kind-hearted young woman? I just can’t shatter their innocence that way. Not when they’re so young.
Nothing can justify such acts. Absolutely nothing.
Yet as much as part of me is being pulled constantly inward toward focusing only on my own Jewish family ever since this new wave of terror began, I have not been able to stop thinking about these powerful words:
Note: This is next in our series of posts on visions of fearless Jewish future, inspired by Naomi Adland’s dispatch from the GA, which we ran last week. We’ll be running one every week, and we want to hear from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at email@example.com with “Guest post” in the subject line.
Just now (it’s 6 am in Brooklyn), I woke abruptly from a dream that my MFA program was requiring us all to take a workshop in which we read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As soon as one of the workshop members started reading from the novel, the faces of everyone in the room became ghoulish, sharp toothed, black eyed. Terrified, I ran out the door of the building and into the street, but as I ran, I thought, you’ll go back, you have to go back. And I did. I turned around and went back into the building, which I think was a church, and as it turned out, there was a small group of people gathered in the lobby who had also decided they could not be in the room with the vampires.
I have a history of anxiety dreams, and of solving problems, literary ones of my own making, in my sleep. I might have been worrying about writing this piece for this series when I dreamt about the vampires, because in the awake version of myself, it’s obvious what the dream was about. It’s so obvious, it’s laughable: You are afraid, but you’ll go back. The vampires (self hate inflicted anti-Semitic imagery or result of watching too many horror movie trailers?) might be in the same building, but we can be in another room. They can’t have the whole structure. There are more of us than of them. We’ll get it all in the end. Maybe.
Here is where my painfully obvious dream parallels end. Judaism, particularly the observant part of it, and I are not on the best of terms right now, we have not been for a while. I could not build an organizational strategic plan based on my vision of a fearless Jewish community, but I am one hundred percent on the fact that it includes an active ingathering of those who scare us. Those who pose those questions that we can’t and/or don’t want to answer, they get a big space at whatever the table of the future is. Let everyone in, without a political or religious litmus test, if we say we want to be there, even if we’re not sure where exactly “there” is, even if we’re not sure if we can figure it out together, but that’s fine. Certainty is not a need any longer.
The future table isn’t convened by Islamophobia, or racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, or people who have spent all their time sharpening one relentlessly narrow vision of a Jew. Men who claim to have beautiful politics but can neither listen nor hear simply don’t get space anymore, because it turns out, we don’t owe it to them. In the fearless future, that shit is over, because we are calling people out, and we don’t have to worry about what that calling out will do to our livelihood. Risk, intellectual and political, will be a value, but maybe even more important than risk will be accountability and challenge and, maybe here’s the center of it all : not running away, and not becoming a room or an organization or a building or a country full of panicked ghouls, powered by fear.
Sarah Stern is originally from Washington D.C. and currently works at the Mossawa Center in Haifa.
This summer, as I considered from far-away in Haifa what it would be like to live in Gaza or Southern Israel, many of my American Jewish friends on the East Coast were considering what it would be like to live in Ferguson. My friends in America and I were both watching each other’s dramas, with many Jews very emotionally invested from overseas in what was happening in Israel. For young Jews like me who began forming opinions on Israel/Palestine during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, we were frustrated that in our short adult memory, we could vividly recall three all-too similar wars in the past six years. More »
Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, is promoting his new film Rosewater and seems to feel comfortable with a dust up over his long-running lampooning of pro-Israel dogma. After being silent on Israel except in the scope of carefully-crafted skits on the show, it’s notable to see him finally let loose a little on the ridiculous way the Jewish community treats criticism of Israel. Read the whole interview here, the juicy bits excerpted below:
How does that make you feel? Is [Iran's calling you a Mossad agent] humorous to you?
Of course. Because it’s ridiculous. It’s humorous to me in the same way that a lot of what happens in the movie is humorous to me. There is an absurdity in dogma and rigidity and even that question has dogma, but on the other side. It’s so interesting to me that people want to define who is a Jew and who is not. And normally that was done by people who weren’t Jewish but apparently now it’s done by people who are, and I find that very interesting. It’s more than nationalism.
You can’t criticize Israel, right?
No. And you can’t observe (Judaism) in the way you want to observe. And I never thought that that would be coming from brethren. I find it really sad, to be honest.
I know the feeling.
Yeah, and you see it and it is pretty vicious. And how are you lesser? How are you lesser? It’s fascistic. And the idea that they can tell you what a Jew is. How dare they? That they only know the word of God and are the ones who are able to disseminate it. It’s not right. And it’s something that they’re going to have to reckon with.
And it will only improve The State if they do.
You’re absolutely right. I always want to say to people when they come at me like that: “I would like Israel to be a safe and secure state. What’s your goal?” So basically we disagree on how to accomplish that but boy do they, I mean, you would not believe the sh-t. You have guys on television saying I’m a Jew like the Jews in the Nazi camps who helped bring the other Jews to ovens. I have people that I lost in the Holocaust and I just … go f-ck yourself. How dare you?
Stewart’s albeit comedic treatment of Israel and Palestine with equanimity has been a breath of fresh air for so many of us younger Jews. As the Pew research study told us, the majority of American Jews and especially young Jews are with you, Jon. Keep it up. And thank you!
Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week!
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY.
Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.
In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.
I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.
Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”
Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.
Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.
Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?
This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah. In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians. In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.
by William Friedman
“This was the sin of your sister Sodom . . .”
If you’re familiar with the way the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used in America nowadays, you’d probably complete this sentence by saying “homosexuality.” But the story, which we read this week in Parashat Vayera(Genesis 18:16-19:38), never clearly spells this out. Last week, when we read about Lot’s decision to live in Sedom (Hebrew for Sodom), the story was foreshadowed: “The people of Sedom did evil things and sinned greatly against the LORD” (Gen. 13:13). And this week we read: “The scream of Sedom and Amorah [Hebrew for Gomorrah] was great, and their sin extremely severe” (Gen. 18:20). But the Torah is pretty sparing with the details of their evil and the severity about their sins. More »
Brought to you by Ilana Sumka and other experienced leaders in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, comes this delegation overcoming the divides between Jew and Palestinian:
In February 2015, join The Center for Jewish Nonviolence and T’ruah for a tree replanting delegation to the Tent of Nations in the West Bank. The Center for Jewish Nonviolence is a new project committed to developing a culture and practice of Jewish Nonviolence in North America and the EU, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Led by long-time educator and activist Ilana Sumka, the Center will train and mobilize members of the international Jewish community to join Israeli and Palestinian nonviolent activists seeking to secure human and civil rights. To watch the promo video or help plant a tree, click here. The deadline to apply is November 14. To apply now, click here.
More details on their Facebook page.
Editor’s Note: Following yesterday’s post by Sarra Alpert, here is another piece about the Rosh HaShana Torah readings, re-visited as we read those passages again this coming Shabbat. This piece was given by Mary Otts as a derasha at the Mishkan Chicago community. –aryehbernstein
by Mary Otts
As a child, I spent lots of time on my knees, glass rosary beads floating over my fingertips, staring at paintings of saints on the walls of holy buildings. Prayer smelled like the incense wafting through the cathedral and sounded like the reverberation of the kneelers being dropped onto the tile floor. While my mouth moved—still moves—effortlessly around the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” this Mary was distracted by a clumsy inadequacy around what it was I was really supposed to be doing in these moments.
Many years later, I’ve found G!d in the hum of the Bet Midrash, in the gentle correction of my chevruta, in the letters of the Gemara, in every single time someone who thought they couldn’t learn Talmud is empowered into finding their place in our Tradition. I find joy in P’sukei d’Zimra, community when we stand together during the Amidah, and revelation in the melody of Eitz Chayim Hi, but prayer—that magical thing that is supposed to happen in between the lines of liturgy—prayer is hard for me still. And, yet, particularly this past summer, I have needed to pray. More »
I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which facebook and other online discourse can be constructive or destructive. I try to engage people with diverse opinions in thinking through vitally important issues – in the hopes (as grandiose as this might sound) of moving all of us, in some small way, toward a better future. As opinionated as I might be, I hope and believe I’ve remained open to changing my opinions based on other peoples’ respectful, well-thought-out responses and alternative views, and that I make that clear in the way I engage others. And I know I’ve learned a lot and grown tremendously from dialogue with people who disagree with me.
But then I end up on a facebook friend’s thread on how to respond to Palestinian stone-throwing where real live people make comments like this: “penalty should be public stoning. tie them to a post and allow the local populace 30 minutes of free stone throwing. or they could choose option B which is a public caning by a female IDF officer (10 should suffice) while standing in a bucket of pigs blood.” How does one even begin to respond to such a statement? I took a friend’s advice to report the comment as hate speech, but hearing things like that from a person who is only a couple degrees removed from me shakes me up, probably more than it should. It makes me hesitant to engage in further discussion, and I find it also makes me respond less rationally and thoughtfully to other topics. The experience (and others like it) is making me wonder how much to open myself up to hearing from people who strongly disagree with me, versus how much to maintain a smaller circle of people with whom I am open to conversation on these issues.
This experience affected me especially harshly since it came on the heels of a recent decision to relax my usually stringent criteria for accepting facebook friend requests: the “friend” on whose wall this was posted is not someone I know in real life. But he sent me a friend request and I decided to accept because, although our opinions in general seem to be very different, I had been impressed by his thoughtful and respectful mode of discourse on a number of facebook threads. And then this.
I would love to hear suggestions of constructive and positive ways to respond to such vitriol, beyond defriending people, ignoring, or anonymously reporting hate-filled posts. Is it worth it to respond when people make such emotional and vile comments? In what ways, and whom, does it help?
We don’t notice it here in the quiet neighborhood of Katamon. If it weren’t for my newsfeed and the sounds of firework-like explosions and helicopters I hear each night, I might not know anything out of the ordinary was happening in Jerusalem. I can’t honestly say I wish this were different. I invested so much emotional energy this summer in trying vainly to protect my children’s innocence as sirens wailed and rockets were mercifully blasted out of the sky. Now that Jerusalem is quiet, I’m incredibly grateful that my children have returned to their routines, their biggest anxieties caused by the mean girl in class and the upcoming math quiz. The last thing I want is for their blissful ignorance to be shattered again by violence. I get why so many people here just want to enjoy the renewed calm.
Except that things are not calm. Ever since the horrific killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir last June, the rioting throughout East Jerusalem has been nearly constant – so much so that it has become the background noise that many of us simply tune out. Until the internal violence explodes into our West Jerusalem world, we feel like it’s just not our problem.
But this is not just “their” problem. It is ours, and not only when “our” innocents are killed.
I’m sure Hamas and other groups bear much of the responsibility for inciting the current violence. I’m upset and angry about this, but there is little we can do to wipe out that influence at its source. What we can and must do is take responsibility for our own part in creating and perpetuating the increasingly bleak atmosphere of frustration, despair and hopelessness which has served as the breeding ground for the current unrest:
This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns). The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.
A few weeks ago I posted this story on Facebook:
“Waiting in line in an extremely crowded supermarket. The woman in front of me, watching the register, realizes that she has only 100 shekels and her bill has gone over. She asks the cashier to cancel a few items. The cashier, who clearly knows her as a regular shopper, refuses: “It’s only a little bit. I’ll pay the remainder. It’s in honor of shabbat – you need nice food for shabbat.” The woman argues: “no, no… I can’t let you do that” but the cashier is adamant, and also refuses offers to eventually be paid back. The woman, finally relenting, dissolves into tears, and the cashier comes around to the end of the counter and gives her hug.”
The post went mildly viral, accumulating comments and introductory words as people shared it with their friends. By far the most common, shared over and over, was the proud statement: “Only in Israel!”
“We are different,” these words seemed to say. “We Jews take care of each other in a way that no other nation ever has or will. For all our brusque Israeli straightforwardness, we have a commitment to each other that is absolute. We care deeply for the strangers among our people.”
As I watched this string of comments develop I became startled, then upset, and then really sad.
Suzie and I are hosting the big Keshet and JP Shabbat Sukkot potluck again this year! (You should come!)
Boston is a great place to be queer and Jewish, so I really just have one wish for our fabulous local LGBTQ Jewish community this year: flirting.
Why bother having separate LGBTQ community events when many Jewish institutions have become more and more inclusive of LGBTQ Jews?
Imagine you are a young queer Jew looking for a date. You’re bored with OkCupid and JDate, so you try going to a singles night sponsored by your local synagogue. You get all gussied up, maybe you drag along a friend as a wingman, and you head in to the venue. What do you see? A whole bunch of straight people. (Regardless of how inclusive the shul is, this is a numbers game. There are more straight people than gay people.)
Okay, so let’s say you’re not instantly discouraged by the fact that most of the people in the room are a) not what you’re looking for and b) not looking for you. Let’s say you don’t feel super weird about either feeling invisible or feeling like you stand out in the wrong ways. You’re resilient! You can do this! So you look around the room for other LGBTQ people. Hey there’s one! But that person is not a gender you’re interested in. Oh, there’s someone who might be the right gender for you! But that person seems significantly too old/young for you. Or perhaps you just don’t find them attractive. HEY! Over there! There’s someone cute, of an appropriate gender, the right age–and they turn out to be your ex. And now you’ve exhausted your supply of LGBTQ people in the room. Dang.
This is where the LGBTQ Jewish community comes in! After feeling like there is a dearth of romantic options available for you in your shul, wouldn’t it be nice to go to an event where everyone is Jewish and LGBTQ? So many more possibilities! You could date EVERYBODY! (Okay, well, at least a significant portion of attendees.) It’s like Jewish summer camp! Yayyyy!
This is why you should come to my house if you happen to be LGBTQ and in the Boston area on October 10th. (If you’re old and married like me, you should still come, because you’ll help introduce the single people to each other. It’ll make things less awkward, and we’ll all have a good time.)
This is why you should host an event like this if you’re LGBTQ and not in the Boston area on October 10th.
This is why Jewish LGBTQ organizations should still care about hosting local events for members once in a while.
This is why Jewish institutions who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members should continue to help support Jewish LGBTQ organizations do their own things sometimes.
Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av. This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection. For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims. Revisit it here. You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.
By Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.
Its my second 9/11 in two months. Today its the Towers – last month, our Temples. Today, an utter hate explodes into senseless loss – in August, it was “senseless hate” bringing out utter catastrophe. The ninth month’s eleventh day, 9/11, becomes Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the eleventh Hebrew month. Maybe its just an exile Jewish thing. We have two days of everything.
The dark similarities run deep and tragic. Consider how both holidays are constructed around architecture. Yes, the loss is truly about the lives destroyed and political trauma inspired, but in our imagery and imagination, its about two buildings razed to the earth. Beautiful buildings; buildings conceived as a “world center”; buildings whose wreckage casts a shadow over the entire calamity. Indeed, shadows which stretch farther and more permanent, now that the buildings are gone forever.
There was a First Temple and a Second Temple; a Tower 1 and a Tower 2. And now, there are only memories. More »
Here is my photo essay from a day of activist/volunteer work in Hebron.
“In the H2 section of Hebron movement is restricted, street by street, for tens of thousands of Palestinians as settlers slowly take over more land.”
A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.