FASHION ALERT: In U.S., SS Guard uniforms “aus;” in Israel, KKK “glory suits” “in”

You may have seen the controversial photos released this past week: patrons of a German restaurant in Minnesota decked out in SS Guard uniforms; Harel High School students in Mevasseret Tzion parading in Klansmen “glorysuits” before an Ethiopian absorption center.

"Nazi Party" at Gasthof zur Gemütlichkeit (photo credit: City Pages)

Whereas the local city council did nothing official to condemn the high school students who on Purim masqueraded as members of the KKK for such an egregious display of racism, a group of local Minnesotans banded together to express their disappointment and hurt at the Minneapolis restaurant’s shocking display of insensitivity in hosting the now-notorious annual “Nazi Party.”
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A Long Story Short: On the Radical Mandela, my Radical Parents and a Shoe Museum

This originally appeared at allthesedays.org on December 6th, 2013. 

I’ve been reading an array of obituaries and reflections on Mandela and his legacy since late Thursday night when I heard that he had died. When I had a chance to reflect on the news as I traveled from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv last night my thoughts turned to my parents and a shoe museum in Toronto, where I grew up. I also thought about why I came here in the first place.

When I was 13 years old, freshly Bar Mitzvah’d with an older teenaged brother spending weekends looking for fights with neo-Nazis, I first became aware that my mom was (and on some fronts still is) a politically active human being. She was a New York Jew of the baby boom generation, a Woodstock attendee, and she had, in those turbulent years of which I have no first hand knowledge, gotten involved in struggles for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and toward a feminist future.

Having recently gotten into the Dead, Snoop, and other musical accompaniments for my newly found enchantment with weed (which became the central destination for much of the bounty of my Bar Mitzvah gifts), I would proudly proclaim that my mom had been a “hippy” to my friends. When she was around to defend herself though, she would explain, slightly annoyed, “I was a radical, not a hippy”.

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Action alert: Eritrean asylum seekers to be deported

From the young activists in Israel with Amnesty International, an urgent appeal to Diaspora Jews who remember the times when we were refugees:

STOP THE DEPORTATION OF 25 ERITREAN ASLYUM SEEKERS FROM ISRAEL TO ERITREA OR UGANDA

“Your Only Way Out of the Israeli Prison is to Uganda or Eritrea” — Immigration Authorities to Eritrean Asylum Seekers detained in Saharonim Prison

25 Eritrean asylum seekers are in imminent danger of being deported back to Eritrea from Saharonim detention center in Israel. Israeli authorities in the facility told the asylum seekers that the only way they would ever get of the Israeli prison would be to go to Eritrea or Uganda. These individuals are currently being held under the Anti-Infiltration Law which mandates their automatic detention for a minimum of three years without trial.

Being released as an asylum seeker or refugee is impossible as prisoners lack access to the forms the Ministry of Interior requires to begin the RSD process. Therefore, after months of detention, many individuals have signed forms saying they want to go to Uganda and a very few have signed saying they want to go to Eritrea.

News reaching human rights groups over the last few days make it seem that even individuals who had signed to go to Uganda are now in the process of being deported to Eritrea. We are unsure exactly when/if the deportations will take place, but we do fear that it could happen over the next week. More »

Historical Amnesia

About a year ago I was watching a young Israeli physician examine an Eritrean boy at the Physicians for Human Rights clinic. The boy sat looking at the ground as his cousin explained that he wasn’t sleeping at night, often waking up sweating in terror. He said the boy was wetting the bed and that he couldn’t keep his food down. When he was asked to get up and walk to the examination table, he wrapped both his hands around his thin right thigh and lifted- left, lift, right, left, lift, right. Only 13, he was thin and weak because of his trek across the Sinai desert. Along the way he was kidnapped and held captive for three months by a Bedouin criminal organization where he was tortured, deprived of food and water and forced to wait as his family in Eritrea was extorted of thousands of dollars. That day in the clinic, wearing donated clothes that hung off his frame, was his second day in Tel Aviv.
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Bring out your Bread!

Bring out your bread
Its 48 hours before Pesach, and having read  ”The Year of Living Biblically”, I’m preparing a lamb to meet its end so that I can smear its blood on the lintel of my door… What’s that? I don’t have to do that? Okay, the neighbors will be so relieved…

I will still have to rid myself of my chametz, however, as I can not possess or own any during Pesach.  Before I engage in Bedikas Chametz, the search for chametz, I simply open my pantry- BAM! Bits of cereal at the bottom of the box. Legumes of all shapes and sizes, pasta and so on and so forth. On to the fridge. I half-eaten kugel from last week.  Some fruit salad. Cheese slices. Egg Beaters.

Anyone else find themselves snarfing down whatever odds and ends remain the week before Pesach?  Some people hate Passover cuisine.  After a week of leftover crumbs, I’m ready to tear into Matzah.   Whatever is sealed, I sell through a duly appointed process involving a Rabbi, pretzel logic and a certain number of he-goats and zuzim.

Those who do not avail themselves of the Rabbinic end-around of selling it on contract for a week with an option to an agreeable gentile have three options.  1. Keep your chametz and incur the wrath of the almighty and the sneers of neighbors.  2. BURN IT!

WOO HOO! Let’s burn everything in sight! It’s like Black Rock but with Bread! Its PAN-demonium!  After all, we wont have another huge bonfire for 40 days when its Lag B’omer so let’s have a Biscuit Inferno! Cue the Music!

But wait, isn’t burning things bad, like crossing streams in ghostbusters?  And can’t we do something with that stuff?  There may be some excellent items sitting around. A bag of flour. A whole cake. A loaf of bread. Peanut Butter. Perfectly good food.  Option 3: Donate.

In the Hagaddah we’re instructed Kol Difcheen- let all who are hungry come and eat. So how about it then? Donate your Chametz. You wont miss it.  Fine, keep that bottle of Blanton’s, but the rest?  Drop it at your local food pantry. Many congregations have a system set up for this.  And in Israel, Modi’in’s Biur Hametz Project is coordinating the distribution of hametz to needy African refugees and migrant workers.   That sounds so much more sensible.

It could be given to other as well.  In Morocco, it was apparently the custom to give Hametz to one’s Arab or Berber neighbors.  The Muslim neighbors would then repay the favor by supplying the pastries for the Mimouna festival at the end of Pesach.  Such a healthy symbiotic way to coexist. Maybe that’s fantasy and maybe there’s a broader lesson. But in the interim, donate your your Hametz. To paraphrase Monty Python, BRING OUT YOUR BREAD! (to which the matza replies, I’m not quite bread yet…)

New Music Review: Chana Rothman’s Beautiful Land: A Labour of Love

In today’s popular American culture, expecting celebrities often recede from the limelight while pregnant. In her new EP, Beautiful Land, singer/songwriter Chana Rothman actively embraces the opportunity to channel her creative energy into an unforgettable musical journey, specifically during her pregnancy. The result is a celebration of life, brimming with heartfelt empathy, mesmerising grooves, and earthy splendor.

 

Photo by Elise Warshavsky

In just six tracks, Rothman creates a universe, transporting the listener to a different realm, one in which emotional honesty and whimsical funkiness reign supreme. Rothman’s music resides somewhere between the intersection of pop, folk, and ethnic, but she transcends all of them. As Rothman’s music demonstrates, we live in a thoroughly cosmopolitan, interconnected time, when such designations are essentially irrelevant labels.

The opening track, Shine, offers a life-affirming message to young people, with its light, breezy groove.  The title track, Beautiful Land, showcases Rothman’s impressive stylistic and thematic versatility. Inspired by her travels in Jamaica, Rothman wrote this loving, polyrhythmic reggae-infused piece as a tribute to its people. Accented with hints of a West African groove, Beautiful Land conjures up distant times and lands, while insisting on a temporal and spatial immediacy with its hypnotic rhythms and gentle melody.

 

Of all the pieces on this EP, Inadequate packs in the most nerve and verve, with its brutally honest lyrics, reflecting on body image. Other reviewers likened Rothman’s lyrically-driven Inadequate to Ani DiFranco—and this was my initial association.  One could also compare this track to India Arie’s I’m Not My Hair, but Rothman’s upbeat and bluesy piece has much more flavor, political punch, and lyrical colour.

In Come on Home, Rothman shifts gears again, this time offering a poignantly understated elegiac ballad. A modern-day Psalm of sorts, this piece never names the subject of its mourning, but rather evokes a flood of feeling and taps the core of the experience of loss.  The following track again radically departs into an entirely different feeling and space.  Listening to Baby Do That Dance for Me, one almost expects Django Reinhardt to surface magically and rip into one of his legendary hot jazz guitar solos.  This joyful and jazzily ambient piece certainly makes you want to rise to your feet and dance along.

Remember Your Name, the other ballad on this EP, is the final track and mourns the loss of Michael Jackson, while also reflecting on his legacy and memory. Enlisting Soulfarm guitarist C Lanzbom’s help on the slide guitar, this track serves as an apt coda to an album which amply attests to the restorative power of music. Beautiful Land, which is available  in stores starting today (and will be available digitally beginning Thursday, December 8), would make a gloriously soulful Hanukkah gift for the music lovers on your list.

'Beautiful Land' cover art: Graphic design by Michelle Nichols; Artwork by Michele Kishita

Interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Mona Eltahawy

Update: videos are now embedded in the post.  Enjoy!

As I mentioned in my brief first-day J Street conference round up post, I secured interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative (best known for the Ground Zero Mosque, which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque), and Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian journalist and activist who rocked the socks off the J Street conference.  Those videos are now online; the YouTube playlist is here.  There are three videos – Mona Eltahawy on social media in the Jasmine Revolution and its potential in the future of the Arab and Muslim world, my question for Imam Rauf on the religious justification for his work, and footage of a few other press-folk asking him questions.  Check them out!

Mona did a superb job of addressing the straw man argument made by most of the prominent critics of the social-media-as-organizing-tool theory (Malcolm Gladwell, Evgeny Morozov, etc.).  That is, she made a strong case for how Twitter and Facebook were essential in helping garner support for a mass meeting and demonstration of a kind that was quite rare under Mubarak.  Notably, she doesn’t claim that it was Twitter or Facebook that toppled the regime.  No, that distinction belongs to the brave Egyptians who risked their lives to claim their basic human rights of freedom of speech and assembly.  But if you look closely, most of us arguing for social media’s importance in democratic movements aren’t saying that it’s the Internet itself that overthrows regimes, just that it’s a tool for those who desire to do so.  The key to any organized resistance movement, especially one that aspires to nonviolence, is organization.  Today, the Internet is often one of the last places where free exchange of ideas can take place.  Its fast pace and adaptability mean that dedicated users can often stay one step ahead of those trying to shut down the flow of information.  This is what makes it important and in some ways game-changing.

Imam Rauf, who’s been one of my personal heroes for a long time, spoke beautifully about the religious underpinnings of his peace work.  I hadn’t planned to ask him about this – the question came about as a result of a topic of discussion on the panel on Jewish-Muslim community relations on which he’d just spoken.  One Jewish community leader explained a program called “Iftar in the Sukkah,” in which local Muslims and Jews gathered at an Orthodox shul to share the evening break-fast meal during Ramadan, which for the past few years has overlapped with Sukkot.  The image of Muslims and Jews taking part in this ritual together was, for me, amazing, and reminded me of the phrase “ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.”  This is pretty much one of my favorite liturgical lines ever, and I felt that I just had to ask Imam Rauf about it.  So I mentioned that connection, and asked him what scriptural or Islamic theological justification he found for his work.  His answer, that it’s rooted in the very word “Islam,” coming from “Salaam,” was completely in line with his messages of peace and mutual understanding.

I continue to be inspired by the work that both of these courageous activists do every day.  Mona Eltahawy speaks truth to power, and Imam Rauf (and the Park 51 project overall) has handled himself with incredible grace in the face of one of the worst smear campaigns I’ve ever seen, and more generally in a climate of increasing American Islamophobia.  May they both continue their work and dedication, and may their efforts be rewarded.

And let us say, Amen.

“Jews should not rely on Pharaohs.”

Leon Wieseltier’s piece over at TNR is really really good!

So with our eyes wide open, it is important to assert that Israel’s vision of its future cannot be premised upon an eternity of Arab authoritarianism and an eternity of Palestinian statelessness. Such a vision is wrong, and it will not work. It is painful, for someone who admires the Jewish state for its democratic character, to see it emerge as an enemy of democratization. Jews should not rely on Pharaohs.

One interesting side effect of the situation in Egypt has been to force defenders of Israel (I use this to mean anyone who doesn’t solely blame Israel for the perpetuation of the conflict) to decide where their sympathies lie: with people struggling for democracy against their own Pharoah, or with Netanyahu’s initial position of support for the Mubarak regime, which he’s since walked back (like the US).  Israel is now coming into the phase of its nationhood where it has to grapple with the real issues that calling yourself a democracy brings – namely, supporting democracy in other places (something that modern democracies have in general been pretty bad at).  This is to say nothing of the profoundly undemocratic nature of the occupation, but the situation in Egypt is a lot more visible, and poses more immediate diplomatic questions to the Israeli leadership.

New Hope for Ethiopiolim

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.

Richard Goldstone and family pressured to be absent from grandson’s bar mitzvah service

A shonde of infinite proportions. I was in disbelief when I heard of this and sure enough it’s factual and true. Richard Goldstone, the author of the ‘Goldstone Report’ on the war in Gaza has been pressured by South African Zionist organizations to not attend his own grandson’s bar mitzvah service because they have threatened to protest.

JTA reports: (I found a link here, but I’m sure there’s more)

Jewish groups, including the South African Zionist Federation, had planned to organize a protest outside the synagogue if Goldstone was in attendance, according to reports.

Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, who heads the South African Beth Din, or religious court, said he was not involved in the negotiations, but he lauded the outcome. “People have got feelings about it, they believe he put Israel in danger and they wouldn’t like him to be getting honor,” he said.

Reached in Washington, where he is now based, Goldstone was reluctant to comment, but did say that “In the interests of my grandson, I’ve decided not to attend the ceremony at the synagogue.”

Arthur Chaskalson, a retired chief justice of South Africa, said it was “disgraceful” to put pressure on a grandfather not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah.

“If it is correct that this has the blessing of the leadership of the Jewish community in South Africa, it reflects on them rather than Judge Goldstone,” Chaskalson said. “They should hang their heads in shame.”

Seriously. What a shonde. They should hang their head in shame, and it’s equally shameful that the rabbi didn’t say as much. When a rabbi agrees that a person should not be in attendance at their grandchild’s bat/bar mitzvah and all because of politics, well, from here it seems that sinat hinam is reaching dangerous levels. Shame on them.

Kippot for Hope – Passover in Uganda

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.

logo-kippot-for-hope

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 »

Interfaith Jamming in the Desert!

Just learned that the great alt-Jewish band The Sway Machinery recently played at “Le Festival au Désert” – an amazing international music festival held annually in the Sahara desert near Timbuktu, Mali. Apparently, SM played before a largely Muslim audience and performed with several local African musicians as well.

Afro-pop Worldwide:

Koudede was followed by Sway Machinery’s own set. They were strong and energetic. They brought the audience into their groove within seconds. While (band leader Jeremiah) Lockwood sang singing in Hebrew, the Muslim crowd respected the music and showed its appreciation by dancing along. Haira Arby joined the group for their final song and showed once again her mastery of music. She was immediately in the groove and brought her own authenticity to the number.

The Sway Machinery website reports:

In an unprecedented act of intercultural exchange, underground rock cult favorites and iconoclastic champions of historic Jewish music traditions, The Sway Machinery, have been invited to perform at The Festival of the Desert in Esekane, Mali, in the depths of the Sahara Desert this January. The Sway Machinery will bring its unique vision of Jewish Spiritual Music traditions to the heart of Islamic Africa, performing for an audience of thousands!

While in Mali, The Sway Machinery will record a new album, featuring collaborations with stars of the Malian music world. A documentary film about this journey is also in the making!

“The Sway Machinery Pilgrimage, as they have entitled their Africa project, is a beautiful example for the world of the great role artists can play in building bridges of love and understanding between cultures. This project is of clear importance in establishing new and positive images of Jews and Muslims engaging with each other” (Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman, Cordoba Initiative).

I wish I could find a clip from the set at the Festival. In the meantime, click above and check out their recent performance at the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival. (First one to recognize the Jewish liturgical lyrics gets the door prize…)

Rabbi Funnye’s Message of Inclusivity

When I heard the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts was hosting an event featuring Rabbi Capers Funnye, I wondered how they would frame the program. Would the Council see this as an opportunity to foster discussion, encourage member synagogues to engage with diversity in the Jewish community? I hoped that the event would be a starting point, a chance to reflect on how we can better include Jews of all colours in our community, then start discussing what actions to take. At worst, I feared this evening would be purely congratulatory, a pat on the back that, just by inviting Rabbi Funnye to talk, our synagogues are obviously inclusive and welcoming!

Luckily, the introductory remarks by members of the Synagogue Council executive set the right tone: Representing 120 synagogues across Massachusetts, the Council encourages learning and dialogue, embraces diversity, and promotes pluralism. Officially, their website notes that they “nurture a respect for diversity within our Jewish community.”

And then we launched into the main event. Rabbi Funnye was there to talk about his journey to, with, Judaism. In telling it, he suggested that his story could actually be that of many African-American Jewish converts. And that story started with a cruise. A “free cruise,” organized by a “travel agent,” with too many people in too small a space (and the food wasn’t good either). At the conclusion of the trip, they were given new names, and introduced to a new G-d who, coincidentally, looked a lot like their new captors. Within the span of three minutes, Funnye wove his personal journey in with over 100 years of African-American history. Ending in the 1960’s, Funnye talked about how reading up on civil rights led to re-reading the bible with an understanding that these stories weren’t just happening to an abstract people, but was the history of a people with whom he felt a connection, an understanding.

Throughout, his talk was punctuated with humour. At first, these jokes were met with silence. Slowly, the audience started chuckling quietly. It was as if the audience, mostly white folks in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, were afraid to laugh. But Funnye was funny. And, slowly, the audience realised that they could relax and enjoy his message while also learning from it.

Funnye had the great ability to weave a story that included not only a version of his own personal journey, but also that of Jews in Africa today. Through his work with Be’chol Lashon, he’s travelled to many countries in Africa to work with the local Jewish populations. Explaining the differences between American and African Jews, he told a story of a woman who was her village’s mohel (the person who performs the bris milah – circumcision). This particular Nigerian community was described as being somewhere within the realm of Orthodoxy by American standards, and yet a woman was the mohel. When Funnye asked her about that, she explained that as a woman she couldn’t read the Torah, she couldn’t sit with the men in synagogue, she was not required to perform as many commandments as the men, but it said in the Torah that she was to circumcise the men. Her proof? Tziporah, Moses’ wife, a Cushite woman, was in charge of circumcising their youngest son.

So what was the point of these stories? Throughout the talk, Funnye repeated his message of the need for inclusion, acceptance, and a better understanding of how a diverse Jewish population can learn from each other. He gave examples of how African-American Jews can help build bridges between synagogues and churches and mosques. He spoke to the importance of welcoming all Jewish souls and hearts to Judaism, and the reasons why we need to have more welcoming, while still halakhic, conversion processes. And he spoke to the Jewish establishment needing to see and serve the full range of colours that Jews come in. (As an example of the shortcomings of Jewish institutions, Funnye talked about his small rabbinical school in Queens, NY that serves the African-American Jewish community. It was started when an African-American Jew, who had two degrees from Yeshiva University, was denied entry to their rabbinical school because of his skin colour).

I have no doubt that the audience was moved by his talk. I just hope that conversations continue, individual members of the Jewish community, congregations, and the Council alike all put plans in place for ensuring that our community is actually as welcoming as the audience was last night.

I should apologize for the crap quality of the video. Arriving 15 minutes early, I found a seat at the back and on the far left side of the sanctuary. And using this Flip camcorder for the first time, I didn’t know how poor the sound quality would be. (Crank up your volume.) That said, what a fun gadget! Once I rig up a tripod for it, it’ll be much more useful.

Abayudaya Jews Helping With Famine Relief

It’s good to get inspired by a little hesed now and again.

JTA reports,

ACEGEREKINEI VILLAGE, Uganda (JTA) — After four hours of driving on ever tinier roads this morning, our food truck becomes stuck in the sand and we have to push it out. We are following the packed pickup in Rabbi Gershom Sizomu’s SUV — four members of his Abayudaya Jewish congregation, two Ugandan TV reporters and me, a semi-retired Canadian journalist volunteering with the Abayudaya.

Just then we see thatch-roofed mud huts in the distance under a bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. We see people gathered under a large tree. The high-pitched trill of ululation greets our arrival at last in Acegerekinei, a remote village in northeastern Uganda.

We begin unloading the 2,420 pounds of food relief we have donated to hungry families among the estimated 3 million Ugandans facing starvation in a worsening famine. I was happy to have contributed 220 pounds of corn flour.

The Ugandan government says there are food shortages in 52 districts in the north and east brought on by drought and other factors. Nearly 40 people have died of hunger-related complications in the East African nation of about 32 million.

Rabbi Sizomu says he wants to act before the numbers grow worse, before a high death count is needed to trigger a response.

Full story.

War Crime Dictator: Jew Edition

I know we’re a progressive Jewish blog, and have made arguments in favour of welcoming Jews of different flavours before. But there’s got to be a limit, right? This is that limit.

Charles TaylorThe headline is slightly misleading (“Charles Taylor converts to Judaism“), but Charles Taylor, the former dictator of Liberia currently being held in prison, awaiting trial, in the Hague on charges of war crimes, has told his wife he is now a Jew.

He’s still a Christian, but he’s a Jew too. Because of that whole Jesus thing…

Q. So he’s now a practicing Jew?

A. He’s now a Jew. He’s practicing Judaism.

Q. Tells us about that? What led him to that?

A. Because of the difficulties, he always wanted to know God in a very different and special way. From a very small boy — because we talk about his childhood a whole lot — he asked himself questions about Christianity. Too many questions about why certain things happened. And why, this one and that one. Just too many question in Christianity and the whole thing about Christ because he does believe in Christ. When he got to the Hague, he got to know that he really, really wanted to be a Jew. Wanted to convert to Judaism. And that…

Q. Does that mean he has rejected Christianity then? Because that’s quite a radical departure.

A. No, no, no he hasn’t rejected Christianity. He has always been a Christian. He just decided to become a Jew. He wants to follow the two religions.

Transcript of the BBC radio interview courtesy of Joshua Keating at the Foreign Policy blog.

As Joshua writes, “Madonna [becoming a "Jew"] was bad enough, but this is really beyond the pale.” Seriously. What’s with celebrities taking on Judaism (or, faux Judaism – as in the case of Madonna)? Madonna’s version of Kabbalah is not what Jews study; Taylor’s version of Judaism isn’t Judaism. What part of his history as a mass murderer – ethnic cleansing style – made him think, “You know, my ethics and practices align with Christianity so well, I should also embrace Judaism?” You’d think after he failed at many of the ten commandments he would have quit there…

Has Mugabe Raided the Lost Ark?

This article suggests that Mugabe has stolen the Aron Habrit from it’s spot resting in a museum.

The decayed wooden object ­lying neglected on a shelf in a museum storeroom didn’t look like anything too exciting. But Tudor Parfitt, Professor of Jewish Studies at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies… was convinced that the object, which resembled a damaged, ancient African drum, was in fact the lost Ark of the Covenant.

One of the most holy objects in ­existence, the Ark, thought to have dated back to around 1200 BC, is ­described in the Bible as a form of container that once held the tablets on which were inscribed God’s Ten Commandments.

This is wild stuff. The theory rests on a few assumptions.
1) The Lemba of South Africa and Zimbabwer descend from the Ancient Israelites.
This claim has been largely accepted once the evidence came to light that their priestly caste, the Buba, carry the genetic Cohen marker sometimes called the Cohen Modal Haplotype.
2) Rashi and other were correct that there were two Arks, one wooden, and one gilded.
This is very hard to demonstrate but has decent backing in the mythology.
3) The wood object is of the correct age to be the first of the arks.
It has been carbon dated to 1350, when the Lemba say it was rebuilt. This is not conclusive for or against.

There is lots more. Definitely read this article examining the claims and intrigue surrounding the ark and Mugabe.

We’re From the Government and We’re Here to Help You….

Seems there’s no level too low to which certain groups can sink. Ynet reports that certain rabbis Hadana and Tsadok are scamming Ethiopian couples by finding their conversions problematic, at the last minute so that they can’t get married, offering to do a “fake” wedding for them since they can’t cancel at the last minute… of course, not forgetting to charge them an arm and a leg for the favor… and then after the “fake” wedding and the “proper” conversion are over, Hadana will then do a “real” wedding for them in his office… for another fee, of course.

A Yedioth Ahronoth reporter approached Rabbi Shalom Tsadok with a “similar case,” in a bid to verify the couples’ complaints.

“Rabbi Shilo is introduced when it’s necessary and conducts the wedding; he is popular but must be paid what he asks for,” Rabbi Shalom Tsadok told him, adding he was “not involved with setting the price.”

When asked by the reporter whether he could ask Rabbi Hadana about Rabbi Shilo, or tell him that the wedding was not a real one, Rabbi Tsadok said: “You can, but no one should know it was make-believe… Rabbi Hadana probably knows everything…it’s for your own good.”

The Rabbinate, added Rabbi Tsadok, will not recognize the marriage. “It’s not binding. It’s just a little ceremony.”

The reporter than asked the rabbi whether NIS 3,000 ($900) would be enough. “He will only want cash,” said Rabbi Tsadok. “When you get to the wedding hall, you meet him before you go in, give it to him personally and then enter the hall with him.”

The wedding, explained the rabbi, is invalid: “It doesn’t count, just a make-believe… It’s artistry. There will be a wedding and everything, a ring too.”

Unsurprisingly, the couples mentioned in the article decided not to continue the conversion process, and did not get legally married. SO: in sum: chillul hashem, in making these people – who opted to go jump through every hareidi hoop so that they could be married, had someone deliberately screw them over for money (I wonder whether in fact there really was a problem with their conversion, given that halachically, it doesn’t actually take much to convert someone and have it stick) offer to fix it for more money, and then try to get – what, yes more money out of them… and they don’t want to consider continuing their journey towards joining the Jewish people? Astonishing.

FOlks, just go to the Masorti movement, already. They’ll do a proper conversion, they’ll marry you, and they won’t try to con you because you’re brown.

Alarm Bell for the Collective Conscience

As perfect a 21st century Jewish mission statement as you are going to find – here’s a taste from a recent Ha’aretz editorial on the plight of Darfurian refugees who are currently seeking asylum in Israel:

Too soon we have forgotten the suffering that is the lot of the persecuted. Perhaps we have grown accustomed to concern ourselves only with our own plight after absorbing Jewish refugees since the founding of the state. Today, when we are more prosperous, when the reservoir of Jewish refugees has dried up, there is fortunately no reason to scan the globe for people who could be considered Jewish and coax them to come here. And there is no reason to remain indifferent to the suffering of non-Jews who could contribute to the State of Israel as much as any Jew.

Darfur and its refugees are like an alarm bell for the collective conscience, and that bell is supposed to ring also when non-Jews are suffering.

Another great take (again in Ha’aretz) comes from the venerable Israeli Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer.