A Snapshot of the New Jerusalem Activism: Notes from the Schusterman-ROI Mata-Maala Conference

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in some places, re-jiggering of traditional demarcations of affiliation; for many, secular/religious, for example, has been replaced by pluralist/non-pluralist or other imperfect ways of capturing the shared interests of this population.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 »

How much does it cost to be Jewish?

I grew up thinking Jews should work in social change,
but only investment bankers can afford a Jewish life
-Jewish Women Watching

I was at the Blue Ribbon food store on Ave. J in Brooklyn the night before Rosh Hashana.

“Store closing! Store closing!”

blue_ribbonI wandered around, people rushing past me. Yogurt? Should I buy yogurt? Cheese? Tuna fish? There were no prices on anything. I had been putting off food shopping until the last minute, and I was paying for it. Blue Ribbon was the last place open that late erev Rosh Hashana.

I had to think pretty quickly. This particular year, I was going to have three days to fill with food. Imagine coming up with a 3-day menu for one on a budget…when there are no prices on anything. And I had to buy something.

I hastily went over to my safe zone–the challah rack–and picked up a round challah and a pack of six rolls, deciding which would be a better buy. Could the round one really be cut into six equally substantial pieces? People were pushing up against me while the “Store closing!” character kept bellowing somewhere in the depths of the store.

I picked the rolls. They’d last me about two days. A $4 choice, cash only.

The fact that there were no prices said to me that I was the only one worrying about the cost of things. Figuratively, though, everything has a price tag. Who knew that Jewish living could have so many material trappings?

On Yom Kippur, I heard enough pledges to the shul in the amount of $613  (or “eighteen times three,” very clever, guys) to last me a lifetime.

And Sukkos made completely transparent what had been perhaps inadvertently hidden. My street was lined with people selling esrogim and tinsel and bird cages. There was a sukkah store competing with another sukkah store across the street. And of course Eichler’s was right there, too. You got the sense that if you wanted to participate, really participate, in Jewish life, you had to be ready to shell out a whole lot of money for the requisite commodities.

The 2001 NJPS study shows that the median income of Jewish families was about $54,000 (compared to the $42,000 national average), with over one-third of households having an income of over $75,000. I can’t be certain, but I think my own family’s income growing up probably hovered around $25,000. The basic line is that “the Jewish working class has all but disappeared,” but that’s not true. Unfortunately, the Jewish community seems to be set up as if it is. Of course there is aid available; yeshiva stipends and gemachs and the like. But being the recipient of such aid, just like in secular society, puts you in the periphery of Jewish life. In other words, if you’re constantly eating in someone else’s sukkah, you’ll never have a sukkah to call your own!

Most of the discussion has centered around the costs of synagogue membership and day school. Indeed, the required costs of day school etc. for a family with children is estimated to be about $30,000 a year. But the costs go well beyond this into everyday life–particularly where it can. You can wear a hair covering or you can wear a $2,000 sheitel. You can buy your clothes at department stores or you can buy them at the special fancy $30-per-one shell store. I’m sure there is community pressure, at least I sensed it by living off Avenue J and trying to walk down to the subway with my ripped denim skirt from Goodwill when everyone else got their nice new clothes from Tznius Princess or who knows where.

Same with food: I could buy it at Blue Ribbon aka No Listed Prices R Us, or I could go all the way down to the secular store in Union Square instead. Oftentimes, a regular, national brand would be missing from the kosher store in favor of its more expensive Israeli counterpart.  I can’t afford a $16 lasagna just because it has a special hechsher from Israel. I can’t afford to be selective with hechshers! If that’s not some kind of community pressure I don’t know what is.

But I knew if I had wanted to participate, really participate, I’d be buying those Israeli brands, not going to Union Square.

So how much does it cost to be Jewish?* Here’s an answer:

Another dimension to be measured is the cost of Jewish living as a percentage of total income. The members of the Orthodox Jewish community, which comprises about 10 percent of the total Jewish population, have on average accumulated less wealth and earn less money than other Jews. Nevertheless, they remain steadfast in their commitment to day school education, trips to Israel far beyond the frequency of other Jews, and, to a lesser extent, Jewish camping experiences. At the same time, they have more children per household than other Jews, keep kosher with its concomitant higher costs, buy special clothing free of shatnes, and, for the Ultra-Orthodox, purchase wigs for women’s hair covering. Given all these additional expenses, the Orthodox or traditional practitioners spend 25 to 35 percent of their available income for Jewish living, often at a sacrifice of more adequate housing, a more comfortable lifestyle, and the acquisition of savings.

-”The Costs of Jewish Living,” 2008

The community sets the standards.

American Sociological Association: United Jewish Communities. 2003. National Jewish Population Survey, 2000-01. New York, NY: United Jewish Communities [producer]. Storrs, CT: North American Jewish Data Bank [distributor].

Bayme, Steven. Bubis, Gerald B. The Costs of Jewish Living: Revisiting Jewish Involvement and Barriers. American Jewish Committee (AJC). 2008: www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=322

*I know, “How Much Does It Cost to be Orthodox” is more accurate, but it doesn’t sound as good.

The Global Jewish Voice: Home of the international Jewish student conversation

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 Voice and 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.

A few highlights so far:

Reporting from the West Bank, Liran Shamriz describes the constant dilemma of being an army soldier and same-time sociology student:

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 »

Austin gets its own jewblog: Git Nu

My first post at Jewschool was about being a Jew from Texas. Finally–now that I’ve lived in New Jersey for nearly four years and I’m getting ready to graduate and move somewhere other than my hometown of Austin–it seems that Jewish life in Austin is beginning to diversify.

I started thinking about this when I got an email from Mike Wachs, founder of Austin’s very own, brand-spanking-new local jewblog, Git Nu. It’s got a pretty daring design. Each post has an image. Mouse-over and of the images and the text of the post displays, and click on the image and you go through to the post.

Git Nu, Austins new jewblog

So far, there aren’t so many posts. With the help of a grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin, Mike is just getting Git Nu off the ground. Here’s part of what he said in his email:

I’ve started a small, alternative outlet for Jewish Culture in Austin and just wanted to say hi. The site is called Git Nu and while there have only been a few outside contributions so far, the initial response seems to be one of excitement.

If you have any advice on soliciting content, building community, leading the discussion–in a general sense–or any other topics, any help would be much appreciated.

According to my mom’s boyfriend–he’s on the board of the Austin fed–Austin is the fastest-growing city in American for 20- and 30-somethings. He says that’s not a percentage, but in sheer numbers. So more people means more Jews. And more young Jews means more diverse offerings in the Jewish community in Austin.

At least, in theory. I haven’t seen a whole of evidence of it yet, but Git Nu looks like an indicator.

Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle. More liturgical minutiae from the first meeting of Shir Chadash here.

We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan. I called KFJ to ask for details. He didn’t have many. He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed. (He didn’t even know if my ballpoint would be allowed–luckily, no one seemed to mind.)

For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3. For a long time, folks have been talking about starting a new traditional egalitarian minyan for the area.

Finally, last week, after a lot of talk, one guy–Brian Immerman, a fourth-year Reform rabbinical student and a former teacher of mine–decided to just go for it. He e-mailed some people and by the middle of Lecha Dodi, about 20 Jews were in his living room to daven.

My notes on the first meeting of Shir Chadash: More »


jewish_arab_coexistence_2Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Gavriel Meir-Levi who has served in the IDF and is active in American politics. He is currently involved in creating social media for a State Senate campaign and completing his forthcoming memoir OBAMADOX about working on the Obama Campaign. He loves iPhone Apps.

Today, as many Jews in Israel and around the world celebrate the (conquest) reunification of (East) Jerusalem, it might seem ironic to look at the current situation in East Jerusalem as an opportunity for peace. Many esteemed figures such as Elie Wiesel have proposed that the issue of East Jerusalem should be pushed off in to the future as far as possible, while on the other end of the spectrum Ed Koch offers us his recent comparison of Jerusalem to a New York City with East Jerusalem as its “Arab Borough.” I leave it to you the reader to figure out if he means Queens or Staten Island.

The above notwithstanding, I believe the idea of looking at East Jerusalem with a fresh pair of eyes has a lot of merit. Rather than forcing the East Jerusalem Arabs to pick sides in which at least some would opt to stick with Israel, why not grant them citizenship in BOTH the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority? In stead of being at the center of a tug-of-war they could be a magnificent bridge between East and West.
More »

Sheikh Jarrah is really happening

Flyer for Sheikh Jarrah protest this coming Friday - bring a friend who hasn't been

One of the folks on the J Street mission said to me “if it isn’t in the New York Times, it didn’t happen.” Apparently, the Sheikh Jarrah protests are real, now.

An exceprt from Kai Bird’s April 30 op-ed:

Today East Jerusalem exudes the palpable feel of a city occupied by a foreign power. And it is, to an extent — although much of the world doesn’t recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to halt the construction of new housing units for Jewish Israelis in the Arab neighborhoods. “Jerusalem is not a settlement,” he recently told an audience in Washington.

Not all Israelis agree with this policy. For over a year, hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Israelis and Palestinians have been gathering in Sheik Jarrah on Fridays to protest the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. Israeli courts have deemed these nonviolent demonstrations to be legal, but this has not stopped the police from arresting protesters.

In a cruel historical twist, nearly all of the Palestinians evicted from their homes in Sheik Jarrah in the last year-and-a-half were originally expelled in 1948 from their homes in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Talbieh. In the wake of the Six-Day War, Israeli courts ruled that some of the houses these Palestinian refugees have lived in since 1948 are actually legally owned by Jewish Israelis, who have claims dating from before Israel’s founding.

Full story here.

I’ll be out of town this weekend, but if you’re in J-town, you should go.

Snow Shabbat

The DC area and other parts of the Mid-Atlantic region were hit on Friday and Saturday with significant amounts of snow. Many areas are still without electrical power (ours came back on around 5:30 pm on Saturday), many institutions are closed (some school districts have already preemptively closed through Tuesday), and only the underground parts of the Metro system are operating.

Because the snowstorm was over Shabbat, some Jewish congregations canceled their services, while others went on as usual. At Segulah, we went on with the show (thanks to our host, Tifereth Israel, which never closes on Shabbat), and I’m glad we did. We got a respectable showing of 20 people or so. The missing demographic was young children and their parents, who quite understandably stayed home, but all other ages were represented from 14 to 70s. We also had the earliest average arrival time ever: at least half of the people who showed up were there at the very beginning or right after, and almost no one arrived after the Torah service began. This is probably because on a day like that, you’re either going to do it or you’re not; it’s not worth trekking through a foot of snow (the streets and sidewalks hadn’t really been plowed/shoveled yet) just to show up for the last half hour. We continued with a potluck lunch in an apartment that was powerless and electrically heated, but well-insulated and naturally lit. Everything else may remain shut down for a while, but nothing stops Shabbat!

If you’re in the affected area, and your power is on (or you can access the Internet with your phone), how was (or wasn’t) your Shabbat affected by the snow? Share your stories in the comments!

Homer Simpson, Brooklyn Jews, Shabbat & TuBishvat

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post from Marc Katz, the Revson Rabbinical Intern at Congregation Beth Elohim. He blogs at reformdafyomi.blogspot.com.

brooklynjewslogoEach week, over Shabbat dinner we engage in an experiment in mindfulness. Moving through the Shabbat table liturgy we are forced to think about two things: how does our wine and challah taste and where did then come from?

During the weekday, I eat akin to Homer Simpson, eating too much and beginning each bite before finishing the one before. On Shabbat, we are forced to take a step back. First we remember through blessing the wine and challah that food is a gift, and it is from God. (Of course it’s a law to bless our food on the weekdays as well even the most pious Jew would argue that there is something different and special about Shabbat blessings.)

In addition, the Shabbat liturgy forces us to follow an order. I’ll admit that I’m a fork loader. The more I can taste in a given bite the happier I am. But on Shabbat, we don’t mix. First we taste the wine. Then we taste the challah. Only then do we get to eat everything else. Shabbat is our chance to pause, taste our foods, and enjoy the difference in taste at each step in our ritual.

For this reason, it couldn’t be any more perfect that Tu Bishvat, the holiday where we usually celebrate the unique tastes of nature and look closely at how we relate to God’s world, falls on Shabbat. It is during this holiday that we are encouraged to go above and beyond what we do every week, to be mindful of our food in all aspects. This coming Saturday, at Congregation Beth Elohim when the clocks strike 6PM we will combine the best of Shabbat and Tu Bishvat.

Taste of Tu Bishvat will be an experiment in mindfulness. Like the Shabbat table liturgy we’ll take the time to really taste our food (through meditative practice) and to study and discuss where our food comes from by looking at issues of sustainability and eating. The night will end with a havdallah service as we say goodbye to Shabbat and Tu Bishvat. Cost is $18. To register click here.
Taste of Tu Bishvat is a program of Brooklyn Jews and the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn. It is co-sponsored by the AJWS-ADODAH partnership.

Srugim Debut at the JCC in Manhattan, with Jewschool after party

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Dvora Meyers. She usually blogs at Unorthodox Gymnastics.

I saw Srugim for the first time over the summer. Ever since then I’ve been hooked on the Israeli television show that follows the romantic travails of four Modern Orthodox singles in Katamon, Jerusalem’s equivalent of the Upper West Side, as they search for partners and meals on Shabbat.

Since the program does not air on any channel in the U.S., I was forced to download it illegally on the Internet thus opening my computer up to a whole host of viral threats. But it was definitely worth it.

Apparently, I am not alone in my fandom. The [spoil alert]Jewish Week has just run this cover story about the show’s popularity stateside. The show has just begun its second season in Israel (and on my computer in Brooklyn). If you’d like to watch it without endangering your hard drive, the JCC in Manhattan (in conjunction with Jewschool) will be screening the first season (two episodes a week) starting Wednesday, Feb. 3 at 7:30pm.

In addition to being entertained, it’s the perfect opportunity to sharpen your Hebrew comprehension skills. Or if you are seated next to a particularly cute man/woman, you can pretend to not understand what’s transpiring on-screen and ask for help. I’m sure that the show’s characters would approve. Or you can tally the number of halachic inaccuracies you can find throughout the two episodes. Sounds like a good idea for a drinking game to me… Though I suppose the alcohol part will have to wait ’til afterwards, when the Jewschool crew heads next door to Amsterdam Alehouse. Join us! Bloggers and readers alike will be toasting pints and sipping cocktails in the back party room.

SRUGIM COCKTAIL CONTEST: We’re taking suggestions for drink specials in the comments field of this post. The only rule is that you must include the name of the drink, its ingredients, and, of course, the name of the drink must be related to a character, place or theme of the show. The top three favorites will be served at the Jewschool after party on Wed. Feb. 3 – and those three lucky winners will suck down their first drink on Jewschool. RSVP on Facebook now!

Ride the Purple Line this Shabbat!

Purple Line

The short version: Segulah! DC’s newest independent minyan, with “full-liturgy, energizing, songful, and participant-led egalitarian davening in a warm and welcoming neighborhood community”. Shabbat morning services this week, January 2, 2010, 9:30 am, Shabbat Vayechi, Reamer Chapel at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 16th & Juniper St (7701 16th St NW; enter off Juniper), Washington DC, two-table potluck to follow at a nearby home. All ages are welcome. RSVP to segulahminyan at gmail or on Facebook, and/or join the email list.

The longer version:
DC Boundary Stone

All the way in the northernmost reaches of our nation’s capital, in the very last alphabet, is the neighborhood of Shepherd Park, and just over the Maryland line is the unincorporated urban area of downtown Silver Spring (home of NOAA, the American Film Institute, and the Discovery Channel). (The picture at right shows the north boundary stone marking the border between DC and Maryland.) This multistate (or one state and one something else) neighborhood is more affordable than central DC but more walking- and transit-friendly than the burbs, and therefore it’s no surprise that it contains one of the most diverse and fastest-growing Jewish scenes in the Washington area.

The Jewish epicenter of the neighborhood is upper 16th Street, or “Sheish Esrei Elyon”, where a single two-block stretch contains three congregations that are exceptional in different ways: Fabrangen is a historic first-wave havurah that started in 1971, born out of the activism of that time, and continues to this day. Ohev Sholom is an Orthodox synagogue that has reached out to the LGBT community. Tifereth Israel is home to JuggleK, a kashrut certification that certifies both conventional kashrut standards and ethical standards, whose first and only client is a vegan soup subscription service. Other Jewish highlights of the neighborhood include Moishe House Silver Spring, the offices of KOL Foods, and the former synagogue building that is now the Ethiopian Evangelical Church.

Segulah is the latest addition to this constellation, and meets in various locations on both sides of the state line. In addition to its other meanings, “Segulah” means “purple”, a reference to the Purple Line (pictured above) that will one day link Silver Spring to the other loose ends of the Washington Metro (and which Jews United For Justice is working on making fair). Attention New York: we challenge the Second Avenue Subway to a race!

In addition to being purple, Segulah is also a treasure! And we’ll be meeting this Shabbat to complete the book of Genesis, share song-filled prayer, and eat lunch. Details are at the top of this post. See you there!

Down to Earth

With all the recent posts about J Street and the politics of politics, I wanted to just take a moment and bring our attention back down to the ground, where the key questions are not about intermarried Jews or how many states it takes to make a solution, but about the basics of shelter and dignity. Just warms your heart, don’t it? As always, I’m so proud of the little Jewish state that could.

On Slavery

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the public lynching of Reb John Brown z”l, I thought I would post a wonderful column I read over at the new home of Zeek Magazine. The article is about the Florentin quarter in Tel Aviv, a place of sharp contrasts and more fresh evidence of the bonds of slavery, both spiritual and physical, that leave our brethren, daughters and land in the clutch of Edom.

A gitn shabbos oyf aykh un oyf kol yisroel.

Open Mic, New York 10013

elisa albert There’s a whole post on how much I love Elisa Albert, the featured reader at the 92Y Tribeca Open Mic tonight — alongside with the wondrous Sway Machinery — but here, let me just rant a bit about how excited I am that it’s happening in the first place. Yes, the name is a bit of a mystery — I mean, it’s nowhere near 92nd Street — but that’s New York for you.

But here’s what it is: A fast-paced (3 minutes, or 1 sheet of paper), exciting open stage where people can come to do poetry, stories, songs, or anything they want that inspires them. I spent most of my life trying to get to this city, and now that I’m here — and I’m surrounded by a hundred of my favorite writers and artists — I kind of want to get everyone together, not just to do their hit single, but to drop any piece that they’re in the mood to read. Last week, I got to talk to Dara Horn, one of my favorite novelists, and she told me this idea she had for a new book — and it was half an hour of me sitting in a cafe with my jaw steadily progressing lower and lower toward the ground.

It was that kind of moment — the kind where she’s pumped with creative energy and I’m pumped with oh-WOW-wtf energy and we both recognize that a bona fide creative moment happened. So, if you have anything to share — or just want to hear a bunch of really cool people do really cool things — stop by tonight. It’s free. Oh, and there’s a bar attached, so things will just get interestinger and interestinger.

Internal Eruv hatred?

Haaretz and the NYT report on a local controversy regarding resistance to Westhampton beach Orthodox Jews wanting to put up an eruv.

You would think that wanting to tie some string to a few telephone poles would pretty much be ignored by the rest of the world, but it turns out that putting up an eruv has become a rather problematic venture over the past few years. A number of towns have begun to organize resistance to putting up an eruv.

The strangest part is that the resistance comes from both non-Jews living in the area… and non-Orthodox Jews, including, sometimes, Conservative Jews. It’s not as simple as anti-semiitism. Partly this stems from regions in New York where a few towns have gone from having few to having many Orthodox Jews, and in the process of becoming popular, sometimes the Orthodox community has made itself unpleasant by forcing some non-Jewish businesses out of business. Some of it is ignorance of what an eruv is by the non-Jews. But… you can’t say none of it is anti-semitism. For every five towns area where the Orthodox community has come in and refused to patronize non-shomer Shabbat businesses, are plenty of perfectly nice, normal Orthodox people who are just going about their business.

Ultimately the issue has become that people are protesting having a substantial Orthodox community in their area. The weirdest part for me is having liberal Jews mixed up in this. Okay, I can understand Reform Jews protesting eruvs in their neighborhood: some Reform Jews will stand on principal against any halacha if they are touched by it. (I’ve certainly had to occasionally work in situations where a Reform and Conservative shul will put on a joint program which, for logistical reasons, has to be in a Reform shul. And they will, as a matter of principal, refuse to provide kosher food. (BTW claiming that this is the majority of Reform shuls is as silly as claiming that all Orthodox communities are going to go around closing businesses that aren’t Orthodox owned) It isn’t the usual thing, but at least it isn’t peculiar.) In the case of any Conservative Jews involved in this, it’s downright peculiar, since Conservative Jews need eruvs as much as the Orthodox do: the prohibition against carrying on Shabbat has not been lifted, my Conservative chevre.

But the real story here is that the Orthodox are not always crazy when they start yelling about being picked on. In this case, it’s perfectly true, and in fact, the refusal of townships to put up eruvs because they don’t want the Orthodox to move in is not simple anti-semitism, but is also a form of internalized anti-semitism (I generally detest the use of that term, but it is, very occasionally, warranted). Friends, we need to start getting along better within the Jewish community. Granted, this is not all on one side. The Orthodox need to start working harder to not antagonize liberal Jews over their practices… and ought to be speaking up about Israeli refusal to separate synagogue and state. They could also work to make themselves better neighbors in a more public way. But in most places Orthodox Jews make fine neighbors, and finding ways to keep them out is just wrong, and bad for Am Yisrael, even if the Orthodox can’t meet the non-Orthodox halfway.

Blogging the Omer, Day 17: The Environment and the Bedouin

Week Three, Day three:
Tiferet of Tiferet

I originally was going to blog this as a “wow, some good news for a change” post, but as I realized exactly where this all was taking place, that pretty quickly slid away. Ynet reports about a new green(er) energy production site for Jerusalem. Using methane produced by a local garbage dump, electricity will be produced for Jerusalem municipality. And this is good news, of course; it’s a far greener process than coal produced electricity.
But I can’t help but sigh over the whole thing anyway. The Abu Dis dump is actually one of the first places where i was involved with Israeli activism because of the Jahalin Bedouin living there.
Why, you may ask are the Jahalin living in a garbage dump?
As one can read at the Bustan website, “The Jahalin were settled by the Israeli government on lands of Abu Dis, after their dispossession from the Negev in the 1950s. This land was later declared ‘state land,’ and in 1975, the Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank was founded on the expropriated Palestinian lands of Abu Dis, Azzariya, Issawiya, A-tur and Anata.”

Although it was due to government forcible relocation that the Bedouin were living in Abu Dis to begin with, it took many years of a court case to get the government to even being to live up to its responsibilities. Well, all right, at least to recognize them, even if not to follow through. YOu know, little things, like providing water and electricity.
In the meantime, Maale Adumim continues to expand so that the Bedouin can see just over the hill beautiful houses with great city services, clean streets, and the other accoutrements of Jewish life in Israel.
I can’t begin to say how sad it was for me to see people living in shipping containers and struggling to maintain their way of life and their dignity under some very trying circumstances.

Due to the encroachment of Ma’ale Adumim, the Jahalin were forcefully evicted from their homes a second time. In addition to losing their homes, they lost their land, their animals, and their ability to farm or graze the lands. Subsequently the Jahalin were uprooted from their traditional sustenance and forced to find work without benefits as day laborers in low-income fields, often in one of the neighboring Jewish settlements. They are living in corrugated tin shacks without basic amenities, without health care, without electricity.

Ma’ale Adumim begins on the neighboring hill, replete with beautiful villas to house 35,000 settlers that receive tax breaks and other government subsidies to live there. There are new educational and cultural institutions; widely paved, fine-landscaped roads and traffic lights in and around the settlement; public gardens; swimming pools, restaurants; shops; and even a Meretz chapter. Juxtaposed with this suburban expanse, the Jahalin have been transplanted into a cramped corner of Azzariya, sandwiched between settlements and living next to Jerusalem’s municipal waste dump.

Well, I’m just so glad the residents of Jerusalem can be greener in their use of electricity. Maybe they can share some of it with the Bedouin now.

Movement of the people

On April 6, the OU is putting on an event at the Grand Hyatt in New York – the Emerging Jewish Communities Showcase.

Your next community is coming to visit you!

Pursue your dream of a professionally enriching, religiously and personally rewarding life in a community with affordable homes in a friendly, supportive neighborhood, where you can be a key person, helping to bolster the Torah environment.

The cities involved are Indianapolis, New Orleans, Edmonton, Charleston, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Memphis, Oakland, San Francisco, Omaha, San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver. This looks like a fascinating study in what it takes to build community – for any little population – as well as how small communities market themselves. I know that our local OU rabbi is busting his butt trying to revive his old shul and this sort of event is a great chance for him to make his case to young couples who are tired of paying New York rents. (Not that they’ll do much better in San Francisco…)

Of course price-fueled moves don’t just happen on the big, inter-city level. It happens all the time on the intracity level when communities send off little offshoots of folks who can’t or won’t choose to afford overpriced homes in traditional neighborhoods. I have watched in the last five years as a new observant community has sprung up on the edges of the Mission in San Francisco – previously it was the western neighborhoods or bust.

What other cities that you live in have witnessed offshoots recently? How long does it take for one community to splinter into two, into four? And if you’re trying to attract new young families to your smaller city, what kind of lures do you need for them?

The Forward: High Cost of Living Leads Orthodox To Look Beyond Borders of New York