Those Cufflinks

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 »

What if JNF’s fundraisers were like their land policies in Israel?

This piece of satire is a guest post by Clark Kempt, a mild-mannered reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper. By day.

Not a parody: The Forward covers JNF land use discrimination - 2005A 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 »

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The Bedouin of Anatevka

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.

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To Cry for You: Remembering Arik Einstein z”l

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.

MK Dr. Ruth Calderon: The Knesset’s Guardian against Bittul Torah

“We all are sinners, won’t you send us to Bible study faster/Your hypocrite-esque reaction a blasphemy”

–Kendrick Lamar,  “Rigamortus”

Get ready for the strangest 45 seconds of your day.  #whatthewhat

This happened today on the floor of the Israeli Knesset.  MK Dr. Ruth Calderon (Yesh Atid) completed a speech with an unhinged, unprompted, upbraiding of young men in ultra-Orthodox (Hareidi) dress for coming and observing Parliamentary sessions from the visitors’ gallery instead of learning Torah.

A few key Hebrew phrases:

*Hillul Hashem — a desecration of God’s name, i.e., terrible public behavior by someone clearly recognized as Jewish, that brings disgrace to the Jewish people and their God

*Talmid(ei) Hakham(im) — Torah scholar(s)

*Bittul Torah — “wasting Torah”; it means slacking off when you could be learning Torah; this is the ultimate insult in the yeshiva world, what overbearing rabbis and sanctimonious veteran students accuse younger students of doing when they have a casual conversation.

*Hareidim — Ultra-Orthodox Jews (literally, “quakers”)

Here’s my translation of the clip:

“The last thing I want to say in the 27 seconds that I have [left] is this daily hillul hashem of people dressed like talmidei hakhamim who sit here, up in the gallery, slacking off, without a book, hour after hour, it drives me out of my mind!  It shames the dress of a talmid hakham, it shames the value of bittul Torah, and I request of you, either bring books, or go to the beit midrash and learn.  Thank you.”

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Action alert: Tell Israel to halt bill to imprison African refugees

I’ll never understand why Israeli leaders — who annually welcome some 150,000+ migrant workers into the country from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe — are continually trying to deport, imprison and make life difficult for a African refugees from genocide.

These Africans are not recognized yet as refugees before any authority, who are seeking that recognition as they flee horrible war in Sudan and nearby countries. They have often been trafficked into Israel, tortured and raped, and owe thousands of dollars to criminal ransomers in the Sinai Peninsula. Instead of granting them the quarter that Jews wanted and did not find in Europe or America in the 1940s, they are refused any status or work permissions, and treated as criminals.

Recently, Israel’s supreme court ruled unconstitutional a law allowing their mass arrest and incarceration. Now, the Knesset is going to pass another law that tries to flout the ruling. Instead of mass arrests and imprisonment without trial with a jail sentence of 3 years, now it will just be 1 year. The prison in the Negev will further cost the Israeli public 440 million shekels and necessary firing 560 public sector jobs.

The alternative is easy — grant them work visas just as Filipinos and Ukrainians are, grant them the same Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process as in other western countries, and work with the international community to repatriate those that Israel cannot handle itself. But until Israel offers a RSD process, no country will allow Israel to flout the international refugee system that the Jewish state itself fought to create in the 1950s.

It’s an ongoing shonde against the Netanyahu government that we would treat survivors of genocide so heartlessly. Action alert [by Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel] beneath the fold.  More »

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Dispatches from the Other Israel Film Festival: “Mom, Dad, I’m Muslim.”

This is a guest post by Chava Shervington. A passionate and committed Jewish diversity advocate, Chava co-founded an organization which created opportunities for Jews of Color to connect in safe spaces across the East Coast.  Currently, Chava is honored to serve as president of the Jewish Multiracial Network, an organizational leader in a movement to make Jewish racial/ethnic diversity fully embraced in American Jewish life.

Anat Tel Medelovich‘s documentary, “Mom, Dad, I’m  Muslim” was featured at this year’s Other Israel Film Festival. It tells  the story of Maor, a  devout Muslim, who was born Jewish, converted to Islam at 18, and at 22 is in search of a Muslim husband.

(click here for official film website)

In recent years there have been a rash of documentaries of Muslim converts (or reverts as they are called in Islam), as there seems to be a particular fascination with white Westerners who decide to take on Islam.  Most of these documentaries focus on the motivation of the convert, the reactions of their families and communities, as well as their adjustment to adopting Muslim law and social customs.  ”Mom, Dad, I’m Muslim” is both a unique story and a missed opportunity.  While there have been many stories of converts to Islam, this one had the potential to explore an entire range of issues besides the usual family tension and personal struggle, but it barely scratches the surface of the story of Maor, a young Jewish woman in Israel who converts to Islam.

While there is definitely focus on Maor’s family (a hodge podge of characters, including an anti-religious brother, a Kahane supporting father, an increasingly observant mother and younger brother, a confused younger sister, and feisty grandmother), we only seem to get half of the story.  Everyone outside of her grandmother seems to be supportive of her religious choice and allows her to exist on the periphery of their traditional Jewish lives.  For the most part they seem to express apathy with her choice, but support her out of love.  Her grandmother is the only one who ever vocalizes strong opposition to Maor’s new religious conviction, although even though her mother vocalizes her support, under the surface their seems to be a genuine hope that this is only a phase. There seems to be a concerted effort not to ostracize her for her conversion.  While her family makes Kiddush and hamotzi for Shabbat dinner, Maor sits silent at the table in her hijab, at a Yom Hazikaron ceremony she stands silently while her family and others proudly sing Hatikvah, she’s obviously strongly connected to her family members, but at the same time completely disconnected from their Jewish identities.

Unfortunately, that disconnection is never truly explored.  Maybe it’s because as with many converts (to any religion) she finds the motivations for her conversion difficult to express.  When asked by her younger sister, the answer is couched in a metaphor of white roses, but essentially boils down to “because that’s what I think G-d wants from me”.  But for us as an audience it feels like we a) came into the story halfway and b) only get half of the story.

As a Jewish watcher I was left with so many questions:  What was Maor’s Jewish background prior to her conversion?; Did she ever explore Judaism further? How are the things that appeal to her about Islam-modesty and interactions between women and men-different from traditional Judaism? How does she relate to her Jewish identity?  Did she experience any emotional conflict with changing her identity? Has her conversion affected her relationship to the state of Israel? We learn of her strong connection with Arab Muslim classmates from an early age, and the death of one in particular seemed to affect her strongly, but because we know so little about her interaction with the Jewish community all we’re left with are questions.

There are so many topics introduced and barely covered, particularly those things that make this such a unique conversion story.  As a Jewish Muslim convert in Israel, Maor, must do more than take the shahada (Islamic creed declaring the oneness of Gd), she must undergo a formal conversion with the government so that she will be allowed to marry a fellow Muslim.  We learn absolutely nothing about what that  involves, how long it takes, or what she must undergo.  When she changes the nationality on her identity card, does she experience  hesitation or only relief?  (Spoiler—she does find a Muslim husband, but we learn absolutely nothing about the process and/or how her unique circumstances factor into her decision.) One minute she’s talking about starting to look for a husband, the next she’s looking at his picture online, two minutes later she refers to him as her fiancée.  It’s a completely unexplored whirlwind.

One thing we do understand throughout this film is how incredibly lonely Maor’s journey is.  When not at home or running an errand with her family, she’s shown walking and sitting alone.  No one in her community speaks to her; she is the constant subject of stares and is questioned by both Arab Muslim and Jewish communities. The story flows from one scene in a restaurant when she’s questioned by Muslim customers and workers: “Is she Arab, is someone in her family Arab, where does she live, is she married” to a Yom Hazikaron ceremony where she faces the same  questions from Jews,  along with assumptions such as that she must have grown up not surrounded by Jews, she must have no connection/relationship with her family, etc. It isn’t until almost three quarters through the film that we meet a friend outside of her family, Lital, another Jewish convert to Islam.

As the film ended, I was left with so many mixed emotions; I could only wish her happiness in her journey, yet feel sadness about her path, and continue to wonder how she got there.  I’m not sure it’s a story I as a committed Jew could ever feel completely comfortable with, but still wish I could appreciate her story and motivations, but this film left so many topics unexplored, I’m not sure we as the audience can get there.

 

Fear-mongering on Iran meets LOLcatz

They say mockery is highest form of flattery, right? A web commentator (who prefers to remain anonymous) forwarded around this graffitied explanation of The Israel Project’s latest infographic. This is the same pro-settler advocacy group that brought you faked hundreds signatures on their last Iran petition and teaches their advocates to accuse Obama of “ethnically cleansing” Jews from Israel while arguing that settlements were necessary for Israeli security. After the Pew study on American Jews’ views of settlements (news flash: we’re not fans), you have to wonder whether this group is still within the mainstream.

But the Israel Project nevertheless wants you to help them undermine President Obama’s current success with Iranian negotiations. You know, only the first President in, oh, 40 years to reopen diplomatic relations with that country, halt several Israeli strikes that would have cost Israeli and American lives, and put a permanent, peaceful solution within reach. So yeah, infographic notwithstanding, I think I’ll support Secretary of State Kerry’s amazing accomplishments in the region.

Beaking Bad


New Thanksgivukah cartoon for American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Kari Hochwald: “Living in Israel on this program allowed me to view it on my own terms, on my own time, and everything that I experienced could only be done from living there.”

Israel Teaching FellowsKari Hochwald is 23 years old  and from Jacksonville, Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2012 with a degree in English. She spent the past year volunteering in Israel through Masa’s Israel Teaching Fellows program in Rehovot. After a few months back at home, Kari has decided to return to Israel to live and work in Tel Aviv.

Jewschool: Say some things about your Jewish background and your previous experience(s) in Israel.

Kari Hochwald: My Jewish background is.. Conservaform? I guess? ( My family switched from a Conservative to Reform temple when I was 11). I really only stayed involved up through my Bat Mitzvah and a couple of years of volunteering at the temple. I was very uninvolved in high school and didn’t really find a Jewish outlet until the end of my Junior year in college when I went on a Taglit Birthright trip with the University of Florida Hillel, visiting Israel for the first time. Jacksonville doesn’t have a huge thriving Jewish community so I never had that many Jewish friends, and it’s hard to get involved on the college level when you don’t know many people at Hillel/Chabad (it’s a bit clique-y). Now my Judaism is more Israel centered and I would identify more with the “secular” movement. I was very involved with Hillel during my senior year of college, as a Masa intern and Zionist Gators group founder.

My experience in Israel this year was, of course, amazing, and so different from what you think you are seeing on Birthright. I felt a connection to Israel during that brief ten days,  but being able to live there for ten months and attempt to understand the language, culture, controversies, and diverse land were things I could never have experienced otherwise. The highlight was partaking in all of the Jewish holidays in Israel, when no one questioned why I was missing class on Yom Kippur, and Chanukah was the main December event. My Hebrew didn’t improve immensely, but from teaching in a middle school I had a much better understanding of English grammar (ever heard of stative verbs?).

JS: Why Israel Teaching Fellows? More »

Occupy Wording: On the refusal of some to face the reality of the occupation

An earlier version appeared with photos from the occupation at allthesedays.org

I hesitated before writing this. I didn’t want to even engage with the silly idea that “there is no occupation.” Unfortunately, that idea is finding more and more traction in main stream forums.

The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly (GA) is set to begin in a week. It will be taking place in West Jerusalem at the national convention center. It is a place that sits just a few minutes’ drive from the occupation.

The Forward has already reported on the fact that the GA will not have any discussion on the occupation despite it purporting to be the place that inspires and engages current and emerging Jewish leaders” in order to tackle “the most critical issues of the day”. The Forward explains that Jerry Silverman, President and CEO of the JFNA, emphasized the GA’s focus will be on “’dialogue’ and ‘questions,’ particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred”.

This may seem like a positive step for the established Jewish community, so often seen as deterring analysis and open dialogue. Unfortunately it’s simply more of the same.

Apparently Silverman doesn’t want the occupation included in the content of the GA, because he doesn’t want to “get into the political arena”, but as The Forward reports, the GA has already entered that arena. There is a long list of events on political issues from Israel advocacy in the Diaspora to the separation of Synagogue and State in Israel. One speaker at the GA will be Knesset Minister Naftali Bennett who has said thoughtful things such as “When you were still climbing trees… we had here a Jewish state” and “I will do everything in my power to make sure that they [the Palestinians] don’t get a state.” A wide array of Israeli politicians will be there.

So much for staying out of politics.

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Voting in the Streets

Photo Courtesy of A. Daniel Roth, Tel Aviv (Copyright 2013)

Just over a week ago I voted for the first time in an Israeli election. If you didn’t know there were elections just over a week ago in Israel, you’re not alone.

Certainly, most people on earth were unaware. Probably most people from around the world who pay attention to Israeli politics were unaware. Actually, the majority of eligible voters were unaware. Maybe they weren’t unaware, maybe folks just weren’t interested. However, if you, like me, are into building a world of justice and peace, and the end of oppression it’s fairly important to be vocal about it.

It could be the fact that these were only municipal elections that made them so uninteresting. After all, these are the people who deal with the unimportant stuff such as water, health and safety, roads and public transportation, and (lack of) caring for refugees.

Unfortunately, just 42% of eligible voters took the time to vote for local leadership, though I have to wonder how many repeat voters that number includes. In Tel Aviv that number hit just over the 30% mark. Apparently, more people went to the Rihanna concert than voted for the runner-up in Tel Aviv.

The result is that most things stayed the same, for example a lot more women ran for office in these elections than in previous ones, but a great deal lost their races.

While the predominately Palestinian municipality of Sakhnin saw somewhere between 87 and 90% turnout,Jerusalem was a different story.

In Jerusalem the push by Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which is occupied under international law, who have the status of residents but not citizens, to boycott the election apparently led to less than 1% voter turnout, while fewer than 38% of the city went to vote.

In contrast to the local elections, nearly 70% of eligible voters cast ballots in the national elections that took place in January. Mind you, those same East Jerusalem Palestinians are not eligible to vote in national elections, nor are millions of others living under Israeli occupation and therefore Israeli control since 1967.

To be clear, I don’t think one must vote in elections. However, if one is opting out of electoral politics one must opt into revolutionary action, education, and/or advocacy. One who takes zero responsibility by doing neither is, in fact, at best supporting the misrepresentation (and often corruption) in the halls of power, but more probable is that inaction passively supports a plethora of oppression(s).

If we aren’t “voting in the streets” and we don’t vote in elections, we wind up voting for corrupt leadership with no responsibility to neither manage nor better the city (or country). Unfortunately, the “only democracy in theMiddle East” doesn’t seem to care too much about it.

 

A. Daniel Roth 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 learner/organizer with This is Not an Ulpan. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and @adanielroth.

 

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A Palestinian, and Israeli, and a German Walk into a Malmö Theatre….

So a small group of Palestinians, Israelis, and Germans –all in their 30s–are having drinks in Malmö, Sweden with a bunch of Jews, Muslims, Christians and other people of all ages who don’t identify with any religion.

That is not a joke. It happened a few days ago. I was there.

The group was the ensemble cast of Third Generation: “work in progress,” a brilliant performance piece conceived by Israeli playwright and director Yael Ronen (who was also there) and developed as a joint project of Berlin’s Schaubuhne and the Habimah National Theatre of Israel.

At the start of the show, Niels Bormann appears alone in front of the curtain; dressed in grey sweatpants, a red t-shirt emblazoned with 3G in large black letters, and a kefiya.  He introduces the play with one apology after another: He is sorry that the costumes are not more sophisticated, but the show was developed in the Middle East, not Europe. He is sorry for making that politically incorrect statement. He is especially sorry for the role that Germany played in the murder of so many diverse groups of people. He polls the audience;

“Are there any Jews here?” Many hands go up. He apologizes.  More »

Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron, City of Refuge, where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat, Jews the world over read Parashat Hayei Sarah (Bereishit 23:1-25:18), opening with the detailed narration of Sarah’s death and Avraham’s negotiated purchase of the Cave of Machpela from local Hittites as a burial ground.  Thousands of Jews will converge upon the contemporary city of Hebron, for a sort of annual, National-Religious Woodstock packing in with the several hundred Israeli citizens who have maintained a settlement there since the first few refused government orders to leave after Pesach of 1968.  This festival takes place annually on this parashah, which is seen by the organizers as the proof of the sole and eternal Jewish ownership over Hebron. The basic thrust of the Torah at the heart of the claim is something like this:  Avraham bought this land for a lot of money before lots of witnesses and the Torah is the contract to it.  Therefore, it’s ours, always.  Others who may reside here — ie the Palestinians — are trespassers.  This argument justifies the violence to which the 177,000 Palestinian Hebronites are regularly subjected.

I think that this Torah argument is pretty peculiar:  even if the Torah is accepted as a legally-actionable historical record of contract law, it’s entirely unclear why it would preclude any future contract transactions in the area; or why the purchase of the Cave environs would be taken to cover a whole, much larger, metropolitan area 3500 years later; or why all future descendants of the purchaser would be equal and exclusive inheritors to that plot; and by “all future descendants” we mean the descendants of one of his sons, Isaac, and not the other son, Ishmael.  I would like to explore a richer and fuller picture of the legacy of the city of Hebron as we have learned it from the Tanakh and our Sages.  This piece should be viewed as a part of a larger effort called Project Hayei Sarah — a several-years-old initiative of a number of Torah educators disturbed by the disgrace done in the name of Torah that is today’s Hebron — to teach a more responsible and truthful Torah about this historically rich city.

The 35th chapter of Bemidbar legislates that six cities be appointed as cities of refuge, three cities on the east side of the Jordan River and three on the west side of the Jordan.  Open to Israelites as well as for resident aliens, these six cities were to be a refuge for anyone who kills someone accidentally, so they could to flee there and be safe from vengeful relatives of the victim. More »

Book Review: What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

Book Review:  What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?  A Memoir, by David Harris-Gershon

What do you buy the children of the terrorist who tried to kill your wife?

This is not a question that many of us have ever asked, or even thought about thinking about figuring out how to ask.  Or why, or whether, or how such a question could even exist.  But this is what David Harris-Gershon found himself asking in a Toys-R-Us in Jerusalem one Friday afternoon, as it was preparing to close.  This is the question that encapsulates the absurdity, desperation, and emotional daring in his mission to meet the jailed terrorist who planted the bomb at Hebrew University that killed nine people, including his friends Marla and Ben, and injured 100, including his wife, Jamie, who was eating lunch with them when the bomb detonated.

Harris-Gershon, a schoolteacher, dad, columnist for Tikkun and the Daily Kos, Moth Grandslam Storytelling champion, first-time author, and lover of words and dictionaries, learns a few things along the way, starting with language:  More »

Zionism is Over

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.

On October 20th, the American Zionist Movement, the regional affiliate of the World Zionist Organization convened a conference entitled Zionism: From Ideology to Action. The conference agenda featured speakers such as Ambassador Ido Aharoni (the Consul General of Israel in New York), Professor Gil Troy, Yossi Klein Halevi, several WZO/AZM officials, and more.

The conference was billed as “exploring” the “centrality of Israel in jewish life,” “loving and criticizing Israel,” and “telling Israel’s story our way.” Conference sessions are entitled Next Year In Jerusalem, Making Zionism Relevant Today, Zionist Theater, and more. Each of the sessions could be done by any pro-Israel organization (save for Zionist Theater – whatever that is), from the David Project to the Hasbara Fellowship there were a number of cutting edge organizations bringing Israel to the public. To understand the motivation of the somewhat obscure AZM, one need only look at the heading of the first email they sent promoting the event, “I’m Pro-Israel – Why the hell do you call me a Zionist?”  More »

Filed under Israel, Zionism

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NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowships

About the Social Justice Fellowships

The NIF/SHATIL Social Justice Fellowships enable a cadre of post-college Jewish young adults to spend 10 months immersed in the movement for social change in Israel.

The Experience

These Fellowships, which include a modest stipend, place young Jewish activists in Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for a year of in-depth contribution and learning. Additionally, Fellows engage in monthly enrichment programs and periodic site visits to further develop their understanding of Israel, Israeli activism, and their role as activists both in Israel and at home. Fellows spend the year with an organization working in one of the following areas:

  • Safeguarding civil and human rights
  • Pursuing environmental justice
  • Promoting Jewish-Arab equality
  • Advancing the status of women
  • Fostering tolerance and religious pluralism
  • Bridging social and economic gaps
Additionally, Fellows engage in monthly enrichment programs and periodic site visits to further develop their understanding of Israel, Israeli activism, and their role as activists both in Israel and at home. Fellows also receive training in leadership and community development. Because Fellows intern full time in an Israeli NGO, successful applicants must have either excellent Hebrew language skills, or good Hebrew with excellent Arabic skillsMore »

Will Israel make it to the World Cup?

On a lighter note, as a diversion from all the more serious news in the world, today Israel’s national soccer (or “football”) team faces off against Portugal in a qualifying game for the 2014 World Cup. You may be wondering: Does Israel have any chance of advancing to the World Cup?

Short answer: Yes, but the odds are slim.

Long answer: The last (and first) time Israel went to the World Cup was 1970, when it lost one game and tied two. Even though Israel is in the Middle East (aka “West Asia”), for soccer purposes it competes as part of the Union of European Football Associations.

With two games left to play in the current round of the qualification, Israel is in third place in its group, behind Russia and Portugal. At the end of the day, the first-place team in each group automatically goes to the World Cup, and the second-place team has a chance to fight over a limited number of additional spots against the other second-place teams. Third prize is you’re fired.

What would it take for Israel to jump into first or second place? At minimum, Israel has to win today against Portugal, and win its final game next week against Northern Ireland.

But that’s not enough – it depends what happens in Portugal’s last game (against Luxembourg), and Russia’s two games (against Luxembourg and Azerbaijan).

  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia loses both its games: Israel is tied for 1st with Russia. Ties are broken by the total goal difference for all games, and Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, so Israel needs to score high to make it into 1st. Otherwise Israel ends up in 2nd, and still has a chance.
  • If Portugal loses to Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel finishes in 2nd.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: There is a 3-way tie for 1st, settled by total goal difference. Israel is currently behind Russia by 6, and behind Portugal by 3.
  • If Portugal ties with Luxembourg, and Russia wins or ties either game: Israel is tied for 2nd with Portugal.
  • If Portugal beats Luxembourg, and Russia loses both games: Israel is tied for 2nd with Russia.
  • If anything else happens: Goodbye, Israel. Better luck in 2018.

Israel’s neighbors Jordan and Egypt are also still in the running (to represent Asia and Africa, respectively), so if everything aligns, it could end up being a block party. But one thing is certain: next week, Israelis across the political spectrum will be cheering for Luxembourg.