Filmmaker Alexander Bodin Saphir presents on the rescue of the Danish Jews at OresundsLimmud 2013
On March 5, our almost-a-minyan who comprise the steering team of Limmud Oresund 2013 was holding the penultimate meeting prior to our second annual Limmud day of Jewish learning and culture. Over 160 people had pre-registered, and we were concerned about logistics: Would there be enough space for a Limmud that had doubled in size since last year? Had we ordered enough food for lunches and snacks? Did Folkuniversitet, an adult education school that was again openomg its facility to us free of chage, have a room large enough for all participants to close out the day together with singing, learning, thanking the volunteers, and tasting the cholent made during a morning session?
Credit: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry. Used with permission.
One of my best friends went dark when Hurricane Sandy crashed into the States. I kept her Twitter and Facebook open, vainly hoping for an update. Pushing refresh on her pages. Checking my text messages, voicemail, e-mail. Anything. I couldn’t think of a good prayer. I said the Sh’ma, to reassure myself. To remind myself of holiness even in a very scary, terrible, fearsome time. When she called Wednesday, I cried. She was unharmed during the storm, but had been without power and any way to contact the outside world.
The aftermath of Sandy is everywhere, including the Jewish press. JTA’s been liveblogging Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath. JD Forward’s done some stuff already. Torah scrolls have been damaged, mezuzot retrieved from who knows how many doorways already. And only G-d knows how many have been destroyed or lost in the storm.
Homes were destroyed. Places of worship. New York and New Jersey and Staten Island and Coney Island are just a few of the places that got hit. A part of the places the dead of Hurricane Sandy called home.
I’ve never been to Haiti,Jaimaca, Cuba, the Bahamas. They were hit. Death tolls and damage numbers are things that stretch—and they never seem to go down. Only up.
I know you’re aware of places you can donate money. That you are smart enough to vet relief funds on a basic level so you know your money is going to where the need is.
I know not all of us are on east coast. Or even in the States. But giving aid, comforting the sick and dying, doing right by the people around us. Those are Jewish values. I’m a big believer in prayer, and hope. In doing what you are able to, and to the best of your ability. I expect no one to give more than they can, and if you look at the tradition of charity, we are not to give so much of ourselves, particularly monetarily, as to beggar ourselves. But we live in a modern era.
Money is not the only thing we have to give.
Ask other people to give a shit—and to get together with you to help.
Write an e-mail. Send a text. Pick up a phone. Follow an east coast newspaper on Twitter, or Facebook, and keep up with what is going on right now, on what is going on months from now—and how much or little has changed. Join the conversation and become knowledgeable about the scientific, fiscal, and cultural issues that must be faced.
Do whatever it is you are good at, that you can give of yourself, to help the people left in devastation’s wake. Most importantly, do not harden your heart to this. Don’t just let Hurricane relief become something you let go of, like a trend.
Do one thing, one real thing, to help.
You start in whatever way you can, in the Jewish community, outside of it, whatever place you can take the first step to act with compassion. Ask for donations, cook meals, give blood, find ways to put people with money or resources in touch with the people who need them so much right now.
And after that first step, you don’t stop walking. If you have never been involved with tikkun olam, or if you think it’s dumb to say hurricane relief helps repair the world, I’m asking you to consider something.
When we rebuild a city, we rebuild the spirit and hearts of its inhabitants. If we aid them rebuild, and do not harden our hearts to their voices, we have started to understand what it truly is to repair the world.
Somebody threw heavy stones followed by an explosive device at the Jewish community center in Malmö, Sweden late Thursday night. Contrary to the headlines in the world Jewish press, though, the blast did not “rock” the building. I live on the fifth floor, and my houseguest and my dog both slept through the event. I had been awake, and heard a repetitive pounding followed by single loud bang. “Firecracker” was my first thought. There were no further noises, so I did not investigate it.
By morning, I had forgotten about it. Around 9 AM a friend texted me a one-liner from Stockholm: “Are you OK?” I had no idea what she was referring to; perhaps the Yom Kippur services I had led?
My visitor and I had been schmoozing over a slow breakfast so we had not heard the news yet. Something about that text message still unnerved me, so I asked, “Do you think something happened, maybe even something major, and we just haven’t heard about it yet?”
That is when we learned that someone had set off a very week blast at the front door of the community building, likely preceded by stones thrown at the glass. The Jewish center houses several apartments, the offices of the Jewish community, Chabad House, a Jewish pre-school, and a kosher caterer. Nobody had been hurt. The only real damage was the glass at the front door. By the time we got downstairs, it had been cleaned up, the window sealed with special tape. The pre-school was operating as usual and the ground floor smelled of baking challah, as it does every Friday. Apart from the taped up door, the only evidence of criminal activity were the two police offers stationed in front of the building.
Messages of concern began pouring in, but I had not anticipated the notice from Malmo’s Network for Faith and Understanding. A solidarity vigil was already planned for 6 PM that evening. Rebecka H, the organizer, called to say that she wanted to hold the vigil immediately and on site, but she also wanted to respect Shabbat. She understood many Jewish people might be at home preparing; her intention was to bring the community together to show their support and concern for us.
Indeed they did. About 70 women, men and children gathered in front of the building with large candles. Leaders of several Christian churches, two Muslim groups, and other spiritual and social organizations offered speeches, all brief and moving. Rebecka herself sang a poignant tune, accompanied by musician on a small drum. Journalist Barbro Posner represented the Jewish community. Rebekah invited me to speak, but I had nothing to add to the absolute rightness of the moment.
Rebecka ended the vigil just prior to Shabbat, requesting that the crowd be aware that the Jewish Sabbath was beginning. After many hugs and a few words with the local press, I went upstairs to finish preparing dinner. My friend from London, who doesn’t understand Swedish, was moved to tears.
The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa to publish a Reuter’s photo of the vigil next to an indefensible rant by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness—we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims. Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Gellar, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City busses, borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.” Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.
Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Gellar and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.
Yes, there are hate crimes against Jews here. Yes, the mayor has repeatedly exacerbated this problem with odious speech of his own. It is understandable that some Holocaust survivors and their children have been traumatized and felt the need to leave. A rabbi who has been the victim of countless incidents of verbal and physical attacks to his person and his property feels that he and his family are under siege, and I have great empathy for them. Yet he always encourages me to be “out” as Jewish everywhere, especially among my Arab and Iranian classmates at my Swedish for Immigrants school.
Jewish communal leaders who declare that the municipality and the Swedish government must provide Malmo’s Jews with a more robust security program, including at the building in which I live, are correct.
But Jews should not feel chased out of Malmo. Rather, the Wiesenthal Center should remove the absurd Travel Advisory that it slapped on my adopted hometown, and instead encourage more Jews to visit. Anyone who does will see that Malmö is a diverse city with all of the joys and challenges that this brings.
Two weeks ago, the American-born Israeli journalist, author and commentator Gershom Gorenberg spoke at an event hosted by Mechon Hadar and moderated by Rabbi Shai Held entitled, “How It Broke, How to Fix It: The Crisis of Israeli Democracy.” Gorenberg said, “I’ve seen enough changes happen that weren’t supposed to happen. Politics is not geology. Change happens.” Beside me, a friend whispered, “He is so hopeful.” Gorenberg’s most recent book is The Unmaking of Israel. He is also the author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount, the co-author of The Jerusalem Report’s 1996 biography of Yitzhak Rabin, Shalom Friend, and the editor of Seventy Facets: A Commentary on the Torah from the Pages from the Jerusalem Report. He is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones and in Hebrew for Ha’aretz. He blogs at southjerusalem.com/gershom-gorenberg/ and lives in Jerusalem.
“Israeli school children do not know where their country starts and ends on a map,” Gorenberg said. “You can interpret the facts however you want, but you still have to have the facts. I don’t want to see Israel unraveling…we can’t ignore the rising role of the Right in the army and the power of settlers.” According to Gorenberg, there are three things necessary to restablish Israeli democracy: The separation of synagogue and state, the graduation from being a national liberation movement to one that takes care of its citizens, and an end to the occupation.
“The social justice marches in September have shaken Israeli politics,” said Gorenberg. “I was a bad prophet, I thought it wasn’t possible.” It’s unclear, however, who’s going to come out of this as a leader. “The fact that I can’t name who the next prime minister will be is not a reason to give up hope…Giving up hope is a luxury, only the people who aren’t in the situation every day can afford to give up hope.”
There were some particularly striking moments during Gorenberg’s talk. The first is the story of a night he spent in the settlement of Yitzhar, located in the West Bank south of the city of Nablus, while interviewing folks living there. In the morning, he was faced with the decision of whether to daven in the settlement shul. “People are saying the same words, but it’s not my religion. They’re not going to mean the same thing.” said Gorenberg, who identifies as “a left-wing, skeptical Orthodox Zionist Jew.” Ultimately, he did decide to pray in the shul, because “I’m not going to give them the pleasure of ceasing to be religious because of their twisted interpretation of Judaism.”
The second moment came with an audience question-What can American Jews do for Israel? (The q/a, by the way, was handled extremely well-index cards were passed around the room and the questions were vetted by Held.) Gorenberg cited Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in which he declared, “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany,” which Gorenberg described as “anti Zionist,” in that it portrays Israel as perpetual victim, and dismisses the strength and power it has gained since its inception. “American Jews need to give up idea of a besieged Zionism, but then the question becomes, if we can’t relate to a beleaguered Israel, how do we relate to Israel?” Israel, offered Gorenberg, is suffering from a collective PTSD. “How do you put an entire nation on the couch?” American Jews remind Israelis what it means to actually be living as a minority and what the diaspora experience is. If American Jews want to support Israel, suggests Gorenberg, they should support institutions that work for equal rights for minorities in the country.
Gorenberg also talked about taking part in a recent social justice march in Jerusalem that traveled down Bezalel street through the neighborhood of Nachlaot. “Suddenly, it was 28 years earlier,” he said, recalling another march in 1983 with Peace Now that traveled the same route. During that march, people hurled objects at the marches from the balconies. On the recent march, there was no violence. “Circumstances will force people to change.”
“All the alternatives (to peace) are awful,” concluded Gorenberg, who earlier in the evening said that the words “one state solution” do not go together, “but Israelis don’t have to buy into the Palestinian narrative and vice versa to have a peace agreement.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org …and maybe you can live in “another Zion.”
Above, the Chilean Federation of Jewish Students protests discrimination.
Over at New Voices Magazine (my day job), we launched a new blog this week that Jewschoolers might be interested in. It’s called the Global Jewish Voiceand it’s a way to jump-start a wider conversation that we normally have at New Voices. While New Voices is normally American or Israeli (and occasionally Canadian) in scope, the Global Jewish Voice is a fully international conversation about the lives of Jewish students and young adults.
The blog is staffed by 10 writers reporting on their lives on campus, in the workplace and at home. They are writing in from every corner of the globe, including Israel, the US, Chile, Spain, China, Canada, the UK and–no joke–Serbia. The blog’s student editor is based in Portland, Ore. There’s also an open submission policy.
This could quickly turn to riots – we need to get the hell out of here. We don’t even have bulletproof vests – any jerk in the street can knife me and disappear. I started to walk toward the trucks and my phone blinks again, this time from a Facebook message: “Shlomo gave us grades! I got a 91! I think he is good after all, he probably didn’t even check that well… how much did you get?”
Meanwhile in Chile, sometimes the struggle is more symbolic of living Jewishly in a non-Jewish world. University student Maxamilliano Grass is on the vanguard of Jewish student activism and pro-Israel work in a country with 75,000 Jews—and over 400,000 Palestinians: More »
We’ve alreadywritten 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:
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 twomore 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.
Have a Beautiful Purim with a Righteous Heart from all of your Comrades at Jewschool.
Children in Purim Costume (pictured above), at the S.M. Gurewicz high school in Vilna, 1933. Note the two Native Americans complete with headdress and bow and arrow, two Gypsy girls complete with timbrels and beads and various other ethnographic costumes. Who are you dressing up as?
A good shabbos to you and to all Israel from the Warsaw Maccabee Motorcycle Club. This photo was featured in a 1929 issue of Nasz Przeglad (Our Review), a Polish-language Jewish journal with Zionist leanings. The journal had about 23,000 subscribers in the late 1930s.
Here is the cover image of the May 1932 issue of Der Hammer דער האמער, illustrated by Jewish artist William Gropper Der Hammer, an interwar socialist daily with strong communist leanings, fashioned itself as the magazine of the Jewish Worker. It’s here as a reminder to all those in current struggles for justice and peace, and also to honor the upcoming anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and to honor the struggle of Chinese workers contracted to Apple Computers for a safe and healthy working environment free from chemicals that cause neurological damage.
I’ve got universities on the brain lately as my own Drew has recently intensified our so-far lackluster work on our “Strategic Plan.” So this event caught my eye.
The HC website lists these questions as up for discussion at the event:
How will colleges and universities meet the challenges of the shifting paradigms in higher education?
What should their roles be in developing the next generation of Jewish leadership?
Students who have experienced Birthright Israel are ready for more engagement with Israel and with Jewish life; are we ready for them?
What aspects of higher education should the Jewish community support?
The first, second and fourth questions sound great. The third one is giving me some trouble.
First of all, it acknowledges a premise that I reject: that the Birthright is the source of engaged young Jews in America. It’s part of the clod of notions that spring forth from the idea that young Jews, especially college Jews, are not engaged with Jewish life, and that the only way to engage them is through Israel.
Second of all, and even more narrow-sighted, is this problem: Do any of these college presidents think that the only source of engaged Jewish students at their institutions is Birthright? If they’re focused on “are we ready for them [Birthright alumni]?” how is that going to affect their readiness for Jewish students engaged with Jewish life in some other way? And what does it even mean that they need to be ready?
These questions are not meant as rhetorical, by the way. I’m looking for y’all’s ideas on this. So if anyone goes to this, I’d love to hear how it goes.
To explain the “big-deal-ness” of this to non-Jews: just mention that Vice President Biden spoke, and they raise their eyebrows, as if they are impressed, and then squint, saying, “Is he Jewish?”
To stay awake during a session: count the number of times you hear the word “Delegitimization”–you won’t fall asleep, ever.
To be hypocritical: pretend you are an “older” delegate and don’t directly answer any of the questions that students ask during the sessions or workshop.
To sound like everyone else: use the following catchphrases–”delegitimization,” “conflict,” “framing,” “giving,” “development,” “social media,” “nolaga,” “Israel advocacy,” “Jewish identity,” “generation,” “future.”
Jack Wertheimer and his team of sociologists and researchers have just released an incredibly informative report (PDF) examining the demographics, experiences, and work of young Jewish leaders, stemming from hundreds of interviews and thousands of survey responses. Notably, it avoids characterizing all activities undertaken by such people as necessarily “anti-establishment,” while delving far more deeply into the actual views they hold than any such study or article I’ve seen before. It covers just about every aspect of Jewish life, sorting Jewish organizational endeavors into three categories: protective, progressive, and expressive. The report files most older established organizations (AIPAC, AJC, ADL, etc.) under the “protective” category: they exist to protect some component of Jewishness (or Israel). Progressive organizations are those focused on causes such as environmentalism or social service, and expressive organizations are those specifically oriented toward new methods of Jewish expression.
It’s also notable that the report spends a fair amount of time analyzing how “establishment” organizations have been extremely important in actually creating these leaders: many have gone to day school and Jewish camps, and newer cutting-edge Jewish organizations are to a great extend funded and supported by older ones.
This dynamic receives less attention within the Jewish community than it should, in my view with important consequences. New organizations are often responses to perceived deficiencies in the existing system, not necessarily attempts to reject it out of hand. So even while older Jews and establishment organizations fund the newer ones, Jews at large often perceive the two as diametrically opposed. This isn’t to say “there’s more unity in the Jewish community than you think” (I hate the “we actually all agree” argument – it’s stupid to try to sugarcoat internal divisions), just that young Jews get a bad rap as being uninterested in anything establishment. The flip side, which the report also covers, is that young Jews need to be less reactionary in distancing themselves from the establishment.
Check out the full report for more in-depth analysis of current trends in Jewish organizations and communities.
P.S. I used the word “establishment” six times in this post. Actually, now it’s seven. Anyone have an idea for a better word? I’m a bit tired of it.
Repentance shouldn’t be about wallowing in guilt. In his sermon last night, my rabbi spoke about this at length. It’s something I’ve thought about before, and it really speaks to me.
These days I’m pretty much never at synagogue. Back when I was at school (I’m currently taking a year off), I participated in the Chavurah minyan each week, which I loved. But here, I find that praying congregation-style just doesn’t do it for me. And last night I realized for the first time that one of my personal sources of guilt on Yom Kippur comes from actually being at synagogue, precisely because I’m so rarely there. I feel guilt for not being more a part of the community. Guilt for being so unfamiliar with the liturgy. Guilt that my Hebrew is so bad. Guilt for not truly feeling that the path to repentance involves asking for permission to repent.
So, like last year at Brown, I didn’t go to services today, albeit for slightly different reasons. I’m at home, on my own. Here I can observe Yom Kippur guilt-free, thinking about ways in which I can repent for me, myself, and I. My lack of belief in G()d in the traditional sense of an entity or concept that has at least some manifest control of my life or the world leads me to understand that I repent for my own benefit, and for that of those around me. Repenting helps me become a better person. I take responsibility for my flaws, my problems, my errors, and I ask those around me to understand them, and join with me as I try to grow past them. That growth might involve additional involvement with the community. Or it might not.
This approach to observance is a source of conflict with my family, who feel strongly that going to shul is a family operation. And while I respect the desire to observe the day together, I can’t subvert my feelings on what it means for me to be a Jew to the family’s feelings on what it means to be a Jewish family. The same holds for a congregation. Yom Kippur is too important for me to follow anyone’s patterns of observance but my own. I’m sure that those patterns will continue to change, and as they do, I’ll do my best to understand and remain true to them.
L’kovod the aseres yamey tshuva, I present two interesting writers who converted from Judaism to Christianity. Let’s put it this way: They had to worry about a whole different kind of Tshuva:
Jacobo Fijman (1898-1970)
Poet and Madman. Born in Bessarabia, Fijman lived and died in Argentina. Spent much of his life in a state mental asylum. Surrealist poet, gnostic and anarchist. A taste:
el camino más alto y más desierto.
Oficio de las máscaras absurdas; pero tan humanas.
Roncan los extravíos;
tosen las muecas
y descargan sus golpes
dilatación vidriosa de los ojos
en el camino más alto y más desierto.
Se erizan los cabellos del espanto.
La mucha luz alaba su inocencia…
Nicolae Steinhardt (1912–1989). Theologian and Memoirist. Underground Favorite. Revered in Romania for his Jurnalul fericirii (The Diary of Happiness; 1991), an account of his journey to orthodox Christianity during the years he spent in Communist prisons. A Taste:
Outside a bakery, an old beggar, small, discreet. I give him 3 or 4 lei. He takes off his hat, respectfully, and thanks me for a long while. Why, I don’t know – the memory of my father, the physical resemblance (small and stooping) – his gesture – so polite, the shame of being saluted by an old man for a few lei, the onslaught of images of prison in my memory, revelatory of the human condition’s wretchedness – but I burst out crying in the middle of the street, like a madman.
My rabbi made a bold move during his d’var Torah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah services this year. After a brief word on Park 51 earlier in the service, in which he condemned the bigoted opposition in the strongest terms I could have imagined, I wasn’t expecting too much more fire and brimstone, especially on Israel-Palestine. And he looked sort of nervous to me – who wouldn’t, facing such a large crowd (this is Rosh Hashanah, mind you, so we’re talking every Jew in town) that was by and large far more conservative than you. Yet he called for an end to the Gaza blockade and asked congregants to write a letter to Netanyahu’s office urging him to fully engage in the peace talks and bring home results. Strong stuff.
Nine years after the attacks of 9/11, I want to stop and think about framing. How we frame conflicts, both in our mind and externally, has a lot to do with more concrete things like foreign policy, or the nature of the domestic discourse on an issue. 9/11 was an attack on the core of Americanism, and not only because of the physical spectacle of the WTC being leveled by a bunch of reclusive angry dudes. It represents the clash of two worldviews – an American constitutionalist perspective in which personal freedom is of the highest importance, and a religious fundamentalist one (which religion it is is completely irrelevant) in which those who think wrong, believe wrong, act wrong, are to be punished by those who know better. It’s disgusting no matter who it comes from.
In that bin Laden most likely knew what the U.S.’ response to 9/11 would be (“We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus; and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy’s intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by threatening to burn copies of the Koran,” says Ted Koppel), he made a masterful calculation in goading us into it. But I can’t help but think that he also gave us the greatest opportunity ever to definitively rise above the war-on-terror paradigm. It’s not too late to change course and stop trampling on the mangled remains of the constitutional freedoms (see above links, courtesy of Koppel) bin Laden sought to demonstrate the inferiority of, an effort for which we’ve done far more than he ever could have. This would take a reframing at the national level, something Obama did a bit of in his Cairo speech, but, more importantly, it would also take people of conscience standing up to bigotry at every level. Park 51 is the starkest example we’ve seen so far that this society has yet to move past the paralyzing ethos of American vs. un-American. Or, in simpler terms, a lot of people in this country are still racist.
And so, G()d’s children are still drowning. And until we end the war on terror abroad and the war on Islam at home, and until we, as my rabbi urged, truly walk in the other’s shoes and know their pain as we do our own, the water rises higher. May the memories of the 3000 innocents who died on 9/11, and the thousands more who have died since in Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, and more, not be forgotten.
That was my view in the Carpathians. The capital of hisboydedus.
It’s been exactly one week since my return to California. I was in Warsaw, Krakow and some small villages near Nowy Targ, in the heart of Polish Galicia. It has been a whirlwind of air travel and rugaluch for all three meals. When I sat at a café table here the other day with a friend who moved out of Brooklyn frum aristocracy to northern California, I got an earful. When I spoke of the Polish Jewish communities that welcomed me for Shabbosim, he said “They might as well be dead to me. There is nothing there but antisemites and martyrs in that country.”
at shul eating breakfast never felt so good. there are few veggie or kosher places in Warsaw.
Indeed, the members of the only shul in Warsaw are keenly aware of these types of things. They admit that there is a superstition that basically puports they don’t really exist. “We know that most Jews come here to visit gravestones. American and Israeli Jews have somehow invested in the persecution and genocide that happened here. The byproduct of that is that we’re sometimes ignored.”
The Polish Jewish community is supported by a few foundations you may have heard of: Taube/Koret, Lauder and The Joint. These baaley-chesed are the plaques and the symbols. But the kind of dynamic examples of Jewish creativity in Poland, they are here in full force, operating underneath Zionist assumptions about the very essence of Jewish history. The Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow may seem like a minstrel show, but the few Polish and Western Jews who hang around it are just as troubled as you are about that. In Poland, us Jews can feel like Sitting Bull at a sideshow. You can also meet political and cultural activists wearing tzitzis running out a café for mincha. Of course, this person, raised Catholic, may have ‘discovered’ that their grandfather was a Jew and their going a little overboard with the mitzvos. It’s a special community no doubt, but with all that’s going on in Poyln, and all that’s being fought over in ideological and political battles about the identity of the Jews in Tel Aviv and New York, it is definitely among the most unafraid communities I’ve ever experienced. Shacharis is at 7:15, the hospitality is sweet and the history is pretty damn complex.
More to come, working on gathering some things. AGitShabbuhhhhs.
The Kyrgyz Government has declared that it has lost control of the southern city of Osh to anti-Uzbek rioters. Few Jewish media outlets or humanitarian organizations have reported on the condition of Jewish communities living throughout the country, including in the embattled cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.
Ethnic violence between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the former Soviet, Central Asian republic has flared up before, often under mysterious circumstances. The southern portion of Kyrgyzstan is home to a sizable Uzbek minority with different political sympathies than the Kyrgyz that live alongside them. The conflict seems to concern border disputes between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan rooted in the Soviet Union’s collapse southern ethnic Kyrgyz loyalties to the deposed president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, unlike Uzbeks, who generally support the interim government. With Jews, Meskhetian Turks, Uighurs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kazakhs and Tajik’s all visible minorities throughout the land, the cities seem to be going up in flames, and the United States vying for power in a strategically important crossroads, the current violence is destined to have an impact on the contours of Jewish life in the country.
Today, Kyrgyzstan is home to about 2000 Jews, many of whom are Ashkenazim who settled in Soviet Central Asia after fleeing the Hitlerite fascist onslaught in Eastern Europe. The Joint, Lubavitch and other Jewish organizations are currently operating in the country, but little has emerged from them since violence erupted in Bishkek last April.