I recently enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a two-day conference of Jerusalem activists and found a lot to be hopeful about, and some points of concern.
Jerusalem’s population can be divided and classified along many different axes. A conventional approach of late views the most meaningful socio-political breakdown of Jerusalem’s population as follows: about 1/3, clustered in East Jerusalem, is Arab; about 1/3, clustered mostly in the north (but expanding), is ultra-Orthodox; and about 1/3, mostly clustered in the south and central parts of the city and some northwestern hubs, is everyone else. Over the last 5-7 years or so, this “everyone else” population has seen an interesting process of organization, collaboration, and, in some places, re-jiggering of traditional demarcations of affiliation; for many, secular/religious, for example, has been replaced by pluralist/non-pluralist or other imperfect ways of capturing the shared interests of this population. Dozens of new projects, organizations, and social movements have sprouted, changing the cultural and physical landscape of Jerusalem, and altering the political map, particularly 36-year old, religious feminist, Vice-Mayor Rachel Azaria’s Yerushalmim party and 30-year old, secular, Vice-Mayor Ofer Berkowitz’s Hitorerut party, both of which grew out of social change organizations that still thrive.
Against this backdrop, and with intent to harness and organize this energy for maximal effectiveness toward in an inclusive and attractive future of the city, some local organizers brought together about 70 local activists for the Mata-Maala conference, with the support of the Schusterman Foundation-ROI Community. I was there representing Yeshivat Talpiot, a nascent, Jerusalem egalitarian yeshiva (sort of like a younger cousin of Mechon Hadar), and its affiliate Takum social justice beit midrash. More »
This is the shortened version of the written discussion in which Avigail Shaham details her community, movement, and vision. The full version is up here at allthesedays.org and the Spanish version (translated by Kevin Ary Levin) is up here.
What do you do? Why do you find yourself identifying as a “Shomeret” (member of the movement)? What is the appeal for you?
My name is Avigail, I was born and raised in Jerusalem, surrounded by good and inspiring people. Among many other activities in my childhood and adolescence, I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement – a 100 year old Socialist and Zionist movement which created some of the most inspiring foundations, structures and culture of cooperative society in Israel. When I graduated high school, I volunteered for a service year in the movement, in which my friends and I worked as educators in centers of the youth movement around the country, and created for other young people the unique experience of the movement – the experience of an autonomous, creative and liberating youth community in which one shapes their character in light of great ideas and through social discussions and mutual contemplation. As we were doing this, we realized we were Shomrim and Shomrot [truly identifying with the movement’s ideals] in character. We realized that the movement’s ideology and culture was a central compass for us in evaluating our actions and behavior and in choosing our role and path in the world. We wanted to continue being Shomrim and Shomrot, and create a path of life which expresses the essence of the movement.
Photo by A. Daniel Roth
Today, almost 12 years later, I live in a communal group [known as a "Kvutza", which means "group" in Hebrew] in Givat Haviva, with many of the people who I started this path with back then. We are educators and social activists, working in various arenas of Israeli society to encourage social justice, cooperation, peace and humanism, and to offer alternatives to the existing social structures and paradigms.
I work as a lawyer, specializing in labor law and working towards workers collective rights as well as equality for women in the workplace. I participate in different initiatives in the movement, such as political action and development of grass-roots unionizing projects, and in the internal processes of shaping the adult “Shomeric” [reflecting the values of the Hashomer Hatzair movement] society.
Maybe you’ve heard of the Awesome Foundation. Maybe not. It is, at the end of the day, awesome. You should know about awesome things.
It’s simple: People get together to form “giving circles” and look over very short proposals (it takes 10-20 minutes to fill it out) from individuals with projects ideas, teams working on an experiment, and NGO’s with a little something extra in mind. Then they pick one every month or two and give them $1000 (ish).
If you’re in Israel and/or Palestine, there is something called Keren Ba’ktana (Small Fund). In particular, I am a part of the Keren Ba’ktana SOUTH, which focuses on projects related to the following areas:
- Ending racism
- Resisting the Occupation
- Asylum seekers and refugees
- Minimizing inequality
- Developing South Tel Aviv
Every two months 15 to 20 of us look over the VERY SHORT proposals and decide on one to give 3000 ₪ (NIS). During the “off” months we meet activists, teachers, and others to learn about issues, movements, and projects. The application form is micro-sized. Seriously, check it out. Then spread it around and remember to let people know to note that they are applying for Keren Ba’Ktana SOUTH.
Last month we gave to System Ali and we are looking for other radical people and projects to connect with. Spread the word. While this is no substitute for education and communication, advocacy and legal change, or direct action in the struggle for a just – not simply charitable – world, it can help here and now. This is fairly awesome.
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.
This post originally appeared on allthesedays.org
Around the world, there is a growing willingness to boycott Israeli companies that operate and provide services to the West Bank Settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Last year the European Union set a ban on funds going to projects operating in the settlements and there has also been a recent wave of boycott and divestment announcements from European companies. Danske, Denmark’s largest bank announced that it will begin boycotting Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, and news soon followed that a key Swedish Bank may follow suit.
This just in: the Israeli government has been financing the political institutions of the settler movement. Shocking, I know. That it was secret? Shocking, I know. That the overseer of those funds was a now-central minister of government? Shocking, I know. That the original use was called a “security grant” but actually paid settlement municipalities as compensation for property taxes not collected on illegal houses not built yet? Mind boggling…and yet totally unsurprising.
At least Finance Minister Yair Lapid ordered all public monies to the settlements frozen, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni called for an investigation. We have long known that the Greater Israel movement entrenched itself in the halls of Israeli governance. And yet the settler movement has failed abysmally in one very important respect: the settlements, SodaStream kerfuffle aside, are still totally dependent on taxpayer funds for economic sustainability. According to Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, the think tank that broke the fund funneling scandal, 90% of settlement residents work within Israel proper or are employed as settlement staff. Without the flow of public funds, they would dry up and wither on the vine.
The Israeli TV report below in full:
Now enrolling for classes in Tel Aviv. Register here.
The Open Hillel campaign has continued to garner headlines as it continues to raise questions of whether political exclusion. Here’s a summary of our contributors’ commentary to date:
Stay tuned for more discussion.
Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away this Shabbat, still under the coma that took him in 2006. He leaves behind a deeply mixed legacy, both beloved and reviled by many, and perplexing in his final years. I am not ambivalent about Sharon’s legacy. He goes down in history as a reluctant late-comer to peace and, unfortunately, as a military commander condemned by his own country for permitting the massacre of innocent civilians in Qibya and in Sabra and Shatila. His legacy upon Israeli history is less honorable than I prefer for a leader of the Jewish people.
As a young minister, he satisfied the settlement movement’s horrible appetite by unearthing the bygone Turkish-era law that allowed the seizure of Palestinian land. Defeated at first by the Israeli High Court from building openly on privately-owned land, a Sharon confidant recounts in the documentary The Law in These Parts, Sharon discovered he could appropriate property if he could prevent the owners from farming it for a year. That legal gimmick, aided by a snaking security barrier and countless checkpoints, would dispossess thousands of Palestinians of land upon which today sit the red tile roofs of Israeli settlements. More »
This is a guest post by Alexander Germanacos, a San Francisco native, graduate student for family therapy at California Institute of Integral Studies, and volunteer for New Israel Fund’s New Generations.
You know you have been there: your heart starts beating a bit faster, the voice in your head is shouting “Are you kidding me!?!” and you write off the person you are talking to as being a lost cause. We all remember having that difficult conversation on Israel.
I have certainly had my fair share of frustrating and unproductive word battles with people of all ages and backgrounds on the topic. As a graduate student in Family Therapy, I like to think I am equipped to engage a host of thorny issues. But even with my graduate training, the topic of Israel still challenged me. So, last year, I applied to New Israel Fund’s Facilitation Fellowship in San Francisco, to engage with people about Israel in ways that are productive. I wanted to answer the question that has been running through my head: “How do we get to a discussion around Israel that is not polemical?” I was about to find out. More »
Just in case you’re keeping a scrap book of everything being said about the whole Open Hillel controversy, or you’re just interested in the broader issues about American Jews’ relationship to Israel and the place of dissent in the organized community, check out this smart piece in Tikkun by David Harris-Gershon. (Of course, if you’re like me, you may shake your head wondering how we got to a place where a writer as talented and thoughtful as David actually has to spend so much time on Planet Obvious. It’s embarrassing.)
Avid Jewschoolians may recall my October review of Harris-Gershon’s book, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? A Memoir, which narrates the events surrounding his wife’s injury in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, healing, grief, and emotional breakdown leading to an obsessive pursuit of the apparently remorseful attacker and culminating with meeting his family. Not surprisingly, this book has led Harris-Gershon, a journalist with The Daily Kos and Tikkun, on a speaking circuit in Jewish communities. Recently, Santa Barbara Hillel invited him to speak, then discovered that Harris-Gershon, a two-state advocate, had written sympathetically about economic boycott as legitimate, non-violent protest, and consequently threatened to revoke his invitation and bar his entry into the Hillel building unless he made a public statement clarifying his positions on BDS. This is probably too much build-up already; just read what he has to say about the episode here.
Three good fellowships for young people interested in social justice in Israel (or broaching those issues here at home), two in Israel and one in the Bay Area:
New Israel Fund’s Facilitation Fellowship is proud to invite Bay Area Jews in their 20s and 30s to apply for its second year. The Fellowship will train a cohort of 8-10 leaders to foster meaningful, direct conversations on Israel and social justice for the Bay Area’s Jewish community. Israel remains one of the most polarizing issues in the American Jewish community, and NIF’s New Generations aims to address the need for meaningful dialogue and deliberation by cultivating safe spaces throughout the Bay Area’s young Jewish community where honest and inclusive public conversation on Israel is not only welcome, but celebrated. Applications are due on January 12 by 5 pm.
New Israel Fund/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowships send 6-8 post‐college Jewish young adults to spend 10 months immersed in the movement for social change in Israel. Fellows receive a modest stipend and work for a year in Israeli NGO. Additionally, the fellowship includes monthly enrichment programs, professional development and site visits to further develop their understanding of Israeli activism and their role as activists both in Israel and at home. Successful applicants must have excellent Hebrew language skills, or good Hebrew with strong Arabic skills. Deadline: January 20, 2014.
The Abe and Gert Nutkis Scholarship seeks to enable high-school graduates and other young adults to study full-time for an entire academic year in Israel. Recipients will receive up to $5,000 for study in a co-educational institution committed to Zionist engagement while volunteering a minimum of four hours a week with ATZUM or an organization approved by ATZUM. Priority will be given to applicants with financial need and those who have little or no previous experience in Israel. The application deadline is March 15, 2014.
After Swarthmore Hillel’s decision to break from Hillel’s rules regarding conversation about Israel, I sent a letter to Hillel’s President and CEO, Eric Fingerhut by clicking send on a message as part of Open Hillel’s campaign to open Hillel. The response was swift, cordial, perhaps prepackaged , and it suggested I take a look at Hillel’s Israel Guidelines page.
So I did and I came across this wonderfully written paragraph:
Hillel welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss matters of interest and/or concern about Israel and the Jewish people in a civil manner. We encourage students’ inquiry as they explore their relationship with Israel. We object to labeling, excluding or harassing any students for their beliefs and expressions thereof. As an indispensible partner to the university, Hillel seeks to facilitate civil discourse about Israel in a safe and supportive college environment that is fertile for dialogue and learning.
It sounds as though they want to create some sort of inclusive, pluralistic space for students to discuss matters of interest and concern surrounding Israel. Great.
But the next section entitled “Standards of Partnership” seems to disagree with the previous section:
Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups, and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:
First of all they won’t let anyone talk who will “Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.” Which seems reasonable at first, right? But of course this means that a speaker such as Israel’s Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett cannot be hosted by Hillel or Hillel’s partners as Minister Bennett does not support Israeli democracy. As well, the continuation of the occupation is quite possibly the policy that puts Israel’s security and borders at the most risk, so this list of banned speakers now must include a plethora of current and past Israeli government officials, ministers, members of Knesset, and a swath of authors, professors and other public voices that support continuation of the occupation.
And of course, anyone who would try to “Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel” need not apply. I (honestly) wonder if Hillel’s version of ‘demonizing’ is meant to give Hillel staff space to put a stop to portrayals of Israel as the root of all evil in the world, or if it just a handy “d” word, so bereft of meaning that it can be applied to any, even much needed, negative talk about Israel. And I wonder if there is such a threat of delegitimization that it needs to be one of the “d’s” on this list. A recent report posits that its not such a big deal in the world today. Either way, I suppose this means that Alan Dershowitz can’t speak at Hillel events anymore since he has gone on record with the truly golden double standard that Israel should disregard international law.
The list continues with the denial of space to anyone who would “Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.” Shouldn’t Hillel stick to censoring people based on the content of their speeches and the aims of their tactics? Has Hillel thought about what it means to ban people for supporting a set of tactics? I mean, some of these are tactics that are supported by the North American Jewish establishment when aimed at others. So it’s not the tactics themselves that bother Hillel, otherwise JFNA CEO, Jerry Silverman would be on the list of banned speakers. It seems that Hillel has set up one standard for discussing sanctions on Israel and another for discussing sanctions on Iran. Perhaps someone should coin a term for when you have one standard for one thing and another for another. I wonder, does this rule include those who support a boycott of Israel’s policies? If so, then Hillel can kiss Peter Beinart goodbye. Does this include Israeli academics? Wouldn’t that be ironic given the hullabaloo over the ASA boycott decision.
The last point bans partnering with those that “Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” I guess they mean people who shout at speakers and stuff like that, but I can’t help but think of the pattern of disruption that Hillel itself has displayed when dealing with hosting productive dialogue on Israel, the occupation, BDS and other issues that quite obviously are “matters of interest and/or concern” for a great many of us.
If Hillel is serious about these rules they should be sure not invite speakers like Naftali Bennett, Binyamin Netanyahu, Alan Dershowitz and others that hurt Israel with their anti-democratic, pro-occupation, double standards. My guess is that these types of speakers will keep getting invites though. So why not open the space up to other types of speakers who are also not so guided by Hillel’s lines?
A civil atmosphere from an educational community space demands open dialogue. These guidelines are imprecise and leave room for abuse. This list makes it easy to exclude and to label. It ensures that Hillel will be closed off to many who come looking for open ideas, a tradition of debate, and an emphasis on justice, peace and the finest of Jewish thought in the discourse on Israel.
A. Daniel Roth, 2006 Winner of Hillel of Greater Toronto’s Sydney Mendick Memorial Award for Building Pluralism and Diversity, is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. He was born and raised in Toronto and lived in a commune of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in New York City. Daniel is a member of the All That’s Left collective and a learner/organizer with This is Not an Ulpan. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.
This is a guest post by Avi Goldblatt, an old school Hebrew stuck in a relatively young man’s body. He is a classical liberal (ie Conservative Republican) which makes him about as popular as transfats in a NYC restaurant and as rare in the Jewish community as women’s suffrage in Dar al-Islam. He can be reached here.
In a piece published on ejewishphilanthropy, Joshua Einstein claims that Zionism is “multifaceted, multilayered and multi-streamed” regarding Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Many subscribe to this notion of Zionism as big tent coalition. They are wrong.
While the Zionist movement had many internal trends and streams they were all united by the central notions of aliyah and ending anti-Semitism. Whether it was the top down bourgeois methodology of the Herzlian’s (the Political Zionists), the utopian-socialist world vision of AD Gordan, Ben Gurion, or the utopian-messianism of both Rav Kook’s – all believed anti-Semitism would abate after the creation of the Jewish State.
Mr. Einstein is also wrong in asserting that “the miracle of the Zionist endeavor” was “a living and breathing Jewish State after over two thousand years without one…” A Jewish state was never the goal of the Zionist movement. Rather the Jewish national home was a means to an end – it would serve to assimilate the Jew on a national level where the Haskalah (enlightenment) had failed to on an individual level. More »
Open Hillel is a student-led campaign to change Hillel’s policies to better reflect our community’s values of pluralism and inclusivity. The statement below is a response to “Working Together to Expand Support for Israel on Campus,” written byHillel’s President and CEO Eric Fingerhut AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director. The article announces a new partnership between Hillel and AIPAC.
Open Hillel Responds to AIPAC and Hillel’s new Partnership
Hillel has consistently demonstrated an admirable commitment to religious pluralism, welcoming students who span the full spectrum of Jewish religious practices and beliefs and encouraging students to connect with Judaism in ways that are meaningful to them. We are worried that this pluralistic spirit, so beneficial to Hillel and the Jewish community, is lacking in the political arena. In particular, we are deeply troubled by Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut and AIPAC Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler’s recent declaration that Hillel and AIPAC “are working together to strategically and proactively empower, train and prepare American Jewish students to be effective pro-Israel activists on and beyond the campus.” We fear that this new partnership will alienate Jewish students whose views do not align with those of AIPAC, stifle discussion and debate on issues concerning Israel-Palestine, and undermine Hillel’s commitment to creating an inclusive community.
AIPAC’s policy positions are highly controversial among Jewish college students and the American Jewish community at large. Thus, if Hillel operates with AIPAC’s definition of “pro-Israel” as the benchmark for what is and is not acceptable within the Jewish community on campus, it will alienate many Jewish students. For instance, Point 6 of AIPAC’s 2012 Action Plan calls for “the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital.” However, since Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital, many students believe that Jerusalem should be divided or shared. Indeed, 82% of American Jews support a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in exchange for full diplomatic recognition of Israel by the surrounding countries. Similarly, AIPAC’s national council voted down (by a large majority) a measure calling on Israel to dismantle “illegal settlement outposts,” the small minority of settlements that are illegal under Israeli law – not to mention, of course, that it tacitly supports the rest of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, all of which are illegal under international law. In contrast, nearly three times as many U.S. Jews believe that settlement construction hurts Israel’s security as do believe that it helps. Hillel is an umbrella organization serving all Jewish students, as its vision and mission statements express. AIPAC supporters can and must have a voice in Hillel. But that voice is just one voice; it is not and cannot be THE voice.
In their article, Fingerhut and Kessler describe the AIPAC-Hillel partnership as strategically necessary to combat “anti-Israel” activity on campus. However, in order for Jewish students to truly engage with Israel in a thoughtful manner, we should have the opportunity to hear a wide range of perspectives on Israel-Palestine — including voices that speak to Israel’s shortcomings and criticize its policies. For instance, in pointing to “anti-Israel organizing” at Stanford University, we assume that Fingerhut and Kessler refer to a national conference held at Stanford by Students for Justice in Palestine. Though SJP takes controversial positions, it raises important questions about the Occupation and human rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories. Many Jewish students (and American Jews in general) from across the political spectrum care deeply about these issues; indeed, many American Jews oppose and protest the Occupation. While some seek to write off conferences and events like these as malevolent and silence their efforts, we believe that Hillel, the campus center for all Jewish students, should provide a space for discussion and debate so that students can better understand the complexity of the situation in Israel-Palestine. As one Jewish student at Stanford explained last spring, when the Jewish community refuses to talk about controversial issues, it creates an image of unity but actually divides the community and alienates students who hold ‘dissident’ views or who simply are looking for honest and open discussion.
We also are saddened that AIPAC, in Fingerhut and Kessler’s piece, implied that the success of Hillel at Stanford’s Shabbat Across Differences somehow justifies this new AIPAC-Hillel partnership. Part of what made that Shabbat event so wonderful was that it was not run by AIPAC or any other one Israel/Palestine-related advocacy group. Students of all different political persuasions, as well as Hillel staff, worked together to create that Shabbat — and we believe that that is a model for other schools to follow. The picture that the article painted, of Hillel needing AIPAC to rally more students on campus in support of their form of pro-Israel advocacy, was not the reality and it should not be in the future.
AIPAC deserves a place within Hillel, as one of many voices on Israel-Palestine. However, given AIPAC’s specific and narrow policy agenda, it should not define what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Even more fundamentally, no political advocacy organization should set the boundaries of what is encouraged, acceptable, and forbidden within the Jewish community on campus; and we worry that this partnership means that AIPAC will be asked to do so. Just as, at Shabbat dinner, students of all denominations come together, share their experiences, and learn from one another; Hillel should encourage students with different political views to come together and discuss relevant issues for the sake of dialogue and mutual understanding. Ultimately, a strong community is one that acknowledges and embraces its own diversity.
Last year a friend who had just finished participating in a Birthright program was telling me of his harrowing journey and mentioned that they had gone to the City of David. I said something along the lines of, “Right, Silwan. The tour through people’s backyards” in a tone that implied that I thought my friend, a fellow politically active organizer, would know what I was talking about. But, instead, he said something like, “Wait, that was Silwan?”
It became clear at that moment that the JNF’s aim via subsidiary support for ELAD to dispossess Palestinians of their homes in Silwan and replace them with settlers and a tourist site at the City of David was working. The process is barely noticeable to those who don’t know to look, which is most people. More »
This piece of satire is a guest post by Clark Kempt, a mild-mannered reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper. By day.
A Toronto fundraising dinner set to be the largest of its kind ever held in Canada was thrown into turmoil Thursday when local organizers found themselves in caught between their donors and the cause they hoped to support.
The fundraiser aimed to raise money in support of the Jewish National Fund, a 112-year-old trust established to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the JNF held large swaths of land and used the flow of donations to maintain much of it for public parks, recreation, and bird sanctuaries.
But controversy erupted in Toronto when the Canadian chapter of the JNF accidentally broke one of the Fund’s core principles in its effort to raise money to plant trees in Israel.
The Canadian chapter hoped to sell sell eight-person dinner tables to donors, aiming to bring 4,000 people together in support of Israel. However, the local chapter may have promoted the event too widely, and sold tables to not just within the Jewish community but to Torontonians at large, including to several city law firms, local real estate developers, city councillors, and other officials.
But someone failed to notify local JNF volunteers the Fund has a strict policy to not sell tables to non-Jews. Senior executives quickly learned of this oversight and informed the local chapter that the sale of tables to non-Jews violated the founding charter of the institution. But it was too late. More »
This is a guest post by Jesse Paikin. Jesse is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, where he has also received a Graduate Certificate in Jewish Education. Before attending HUC-JIR, he worked for a Jewish nonprofit, running educational youth travel programs around the world. He currently lives in Jerusalem and also blogs at jessepaikin.wordpress.com and The Times of Israel. Follow him at @jessepaikin.
Unrecognized Bedouin Village, Negev Desert, October 2013
Israel’s Negev Desert is not a hospitable place. Vast, dusty, and scorching hot, it takes a great deal of effort to live on this land. Yet it was out of this very land that the Jewish people emerged, and from which the modern State of Israel was birthed. Anyone who has walked its canyons can attest to the feeling of ancient history pulsing out of the stones. Anyone who has laid their head down on the rocky bed and gazed up at the bowl of stars has felt the awe-inspiring power that emanates here. This is the place of the still, small voice.
David Ben-Gurion said that it is in the Negev that the creativity, vigor, and spirit of Israel will be tested. He prophesied that it would be there that the standing of Israel in the history of humankind would be determined (“The Significance of the Negev,” 1955)
Perhaps he was more correct than he knew. Today, close to 60 years after Ben-Gurion presciently spoke of the relevance of the desert, Israel faces a monumental test in this place. Israel’s treatment of its Negev Bedouin population is a trial that has the potential to unravel the dream Ben-Gurion envisioned over half a century ago. The Negev is not only the place where the creativity, vigor, and spirit of Israel are tested; it is the place where the conscience, values, and social values of Israel are being tested today.
The death of Arik Einstein z”l highlights the jagged seam line where Israeli and Diaspora Jews meet. Or don’t meet. JJ Goldberg comments on this in the Forward and Liel Leibowitz rips the seam wide open in Tablet Magazine. Initially I laughed through my tears at Leibowitz’s in-your-face comments: I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a prick, but you wouldn’t get it…But then he went in an altogether different direction to where my own heart was headed.
So I will try to say something to you about Arik Einstein, as many were just recently commenting about what the loss of Lou Reed means to them personally. I never listened much to Lou Reed, but Arik Einstein’s music changed my life.
An Israeli friend from my Hashomer Hatzair group gave me Einstein’s 1971 album, Badeshe Etzel Avigdor (vinyl) in 1974 That album introduced many to the anthem of my generation – Ani Ve Ata. . Members of Hashomer Hatzair were singing it years before it became the go-to song for American Jewish tikkun olam projects. But other tracks on that album touched me more deeply in unexpected ways. The song about his own experiences in Hashomer Hatzair, HASHRIKA SHEL HATNUA placed people like my friends and me at the center of a rock star’s view of the world.
I was one of those marginalized, radical, intellectual but “bad” kids born too late to be part of the Jewish Catalogue crowd of DIY Jews but too early to belong to the Gen X reimagining of alternative Jewish community. In the mid-1970s, our idea of a good time was watching Arik Einstein’s comedy Lool in tandem with Monty Python. How better to understand the absurdity in being Ber Borochov quoting socialist Zionist Jewish kids in mid-1970s north America?
Fast forward to November, 1995. Right after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Einstein released “Zeh Pitom Nafal ָAleha” זה פתאום נפל עליה -. a public outpouring of sorrow and compassion for Rabin’s widow Leah. I imagine there are those who wish there had been such a song for Jackie when JFK was assassinated.
Arik Einstein seemed to create the soundtrack to which many of us living away from Israel healed from the restach (assassination) from miles away. An Israeli friend sent me Shalom Chaver, the 2 CD live recording of the Rabin memorial concert and, had it been on vinyl, I would have worn down the grooves. All of Israel’s great musical artists offered moving tributes to the slain Prime Minister at that long, poignant gathering. But, as the first disc opens with Einstein’s rendition of Aviv Geffen’s iconic lament, Livkot Lekha–(I am going to cry for you) and closes with his classic Uf gozal-(the little bird flies away) , his iconic baritone voice was like a comforting embrace, enclosing the rest of the music.
Of course, Einstein induced laughter at least as often as tears. My friend Rabbi Leila Berner captured this in an e-mail, writing that “sometimes I cried so much when I listened to his songs…and sometimes I laughed so hard when he realized that (as Reinhold Niebuhr once said), “laughter is a no man’s land between faith and despair.” Arik gave us laughter when we couldn’t find our faith and when despair was an all too frequent visitor.”
Fast forward to Limmud Conference in the UK, 2008:
I invite a new Israeli friend to join me at a late night sing-along, but he was afraid it would be mostly English tunes he didn’t know. He want on tell me that it was the eve of Arik Einstein’s 70th birthday and he was afraid nobody in the room would understand. He was going to call it a night. I began to sing one of Arik’s silly songs, אני אוהב לישון-Ani ohav lishon (I love to sleep). My friend decided to come along. And many people there did get where he was coming from. Arik Einstein’s songs turned a random group of people, who ranged in age from around 16 to over 60 and who came from places as far flung as Stockholm and Cape Town, into a community celebrating the birthday of a cultural hero.
The beauty of it was that the songs surely meant something different to each singer. For me, it was much more than simple nostalgia. It spoke directly to the piece of me that feels alienated almost everywhere these days, as I feel that most of the Diaspora Jewish world seems to have split into two groups, neither to which I belong: the one for non- and anti Zionists, the other for center to right-wing Zionists. That night, Arik’s music brought me home for a short while.
My friend, the musician Stuart Rosenberg, remembers Einstein’s music like this: In 1971 I was 15 years old, away from home for six-month exchange program, living in an Israeli boarding school while studying Hebrew and working in the fields. That was the summer of Arik Einstein’s hit song Ani V’Atah…. Lying awake at night… with the aroma of night blooming jasmine in the air and the sound of Arik Einstein playing beneath my pillow, I was as far as I could be from my own bed, yet listening to those words I knew I was home. I eventually returned to the states, but forever after that summer that song and those words have been at my core, and, like the aroma of night blooming jasmine, it only takes a few notes to transport me back to those moments when I truly became who I am.
Another friend told me that she watched the memorial ceremony in Rabin Square. In my mind I immediately heard Arik Einstein singing about the night Rabin was assassinated, so I listend to Shalom Haver – .Then I played Einstein’s cover of the Geffen song, from the Shalom Haver album:
When we are sad, we go to the sea. / That’s why it’s salty. And it’s sad —That we can return borrowed equipment But it’s not possible to give back this longing…
Shalom, haver. Let’s take it slow. Se le’at. – סע לאט.