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 »
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
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 »
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 »
I believe that journalist Patrick Kelly’s heart was in the right place when he donned a kippah to experience life as a visible Jew here in Malmö, then wrote about it for the on-line magazine that features “Swedish News in English,” The Local.
Kelly wished to understand the experiences of, and to offer support to, our mutual friend Shmuel Goldberg and other kippah-wearing Jews here (especially Rabbi Shneur Kessleman) who have been threatened repeatedly. Unfortunately, however, Kelly’s nuanced article has been cut and spliced by several careless American Jewish writers who, in their rush to paint my adopted hometown—and perhaps the entire country of Sweden, and sometimes all of Scandinavia or even northern Europe as a whole—as dangerously anti-Semitic, do an injustice to Goldberg’s experiences, and to Kelly’s desire to honor rather than exploit them.
A few nights after Kelly’s piece appeared in The Local, I had a long talk with Shmuel. He does not enjoy being stared at, pointed to, or threatened when he walks around Malmö wearing a kippah. At the same time, he thinks that a) the number of people who behave like this is small, compared to the number of immigrants and other minorities in Malmö who also receive unpleasant treatment; that b) more useful than moaning about anti-Semitism in Malmö would be if the community held a “Jewish pride” type cultural festival and that c) if something good can come out of these negative experiences, it might be this:
Sweden is a very secular society; Shmuel and I both know several non-Jews who wear their religion on their head, or around their neck, and are also mistreated or teased. He has spoken with devout Christians and Muslims who do not feel safe declaiming their faith in public. According to Shmuel, the freedom to express one’s religion should, along with the freedom to be out as gay, or the freedom to celebrate one’s ethnicity, be part and parcel of the open society that Sweden aspires to be.
Fortunately, several initiatives that address the many nuanced issues of celebrating diversity in this place that was, until recently, quite homogeneous, are currently under way here. Just last week, Copenhagen’s Middle East Peace Orchestra performed together with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Musicians and audience members included Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahais, and people who do not identify with any religious group. Songs were song and stories told in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Arabic as well as Danish and Swedish. Watch this space for more information on such initiatives and events in the months to come.
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.
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 skills
. More »
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.
“Chain gleaming, switching lanes, two-seater.
Hate him or love him for the same reason.
Can’t leave it; the game needs him.
Plus, the people need someone to believe in.”
–Nas, “Hero” (2008)
In the past couple of days, since Rav Ovadia Yosef died at 93, the Jewish media, both published and social, have been abuzz with tributes about his towering scholarship, bold rabbinic leadership, controversial political and cultural impact, and his frequent episodes of vituperative and hostile verbal violence, especially late in his life. I have also seen comments by progressive Jews expressing surprise that so many progressive friends of theirs were showing the love to Rav Ovadia. As one friend put it: “My FB page is full of love for Ovadia Yosef-from lefty people? I thought he was kind of terrible?”
Good progressive yidn of NYC! Just wanted to let you know that applications are officially open for the AVODAH Fellowship, a selective new program for Jewish early-career professionals currently working to address the causes and effects of poverty in New York City.
The AVODAH Fellowship is a high-impact learning and community-building experience that will enable participants to sharpen their skills and analysis while expanding their personal and professional networks. Based on a curriculum grounded in Jewish thought and learning, the Fellowship will provide training and support to emerging Jewish professionals engaged in the antipoverty field.
Participants in the AVODAH Fellowship will gain from AVODAH’s 15 years of expertise in antipoverty leadership development through:
-A Community of Mentors and Colleagues: Join an intentional Jewish community of experienced social justice leaders who will help you develop your skills, and build a support system that will nourish you personally, professionally, and spiritually.
-Innovative Learning: Participate in regular seminars drawn from AVODAH’s cutting-edge curriculum, and engage in critical analysis about domestic poverty while viewing your work through a Jewish lens.
-Connected for Life: As a member of the Fellowship, you’ll be welcomed into the AVODAH alumni community, a network of hundreds of social justice leaders who will provide community and support throughout your career.
Ideal Applicants for the Fellowship:
-are 1-3 years into a career in antipoverty work, and spend at least part of their time working directly with individuals living in poverty.
-have a demonstrated interest in exploring the intersections of Jewish life and identity and antipoverty work.
-have a commitment to personal growth and an active interest in building community and developing the power of a network.
-have a desire to be part of a group learning environment and intentional network during and after the Fellowship.
Applications will be open until November 12th, so please go to avodah.net/fellowship today for more information or to apply.
(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
The Pew Research survey, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released yesterday, has received a lot of attention in both the Jewish and the mainstream media. I don’t have anything more to add about the results themselves; many pages have already been written in the last 48 hours. But after reading both the data and some of the spin, I have several comments about what we can and can’t conclude from the data.
1) Orthodox Retention
There has been discussion of the retention rates among various age cohorts of Orthodox Jews, i.e. what percentage of Jews raised as Orthodox currently identify as Orthodox. This percentage is significantly higher among the younger age cohorts than among the older cohorts, leading some to conclude that the Orthodox world is more effective at retention at the present time than in the past.
This conclusion is not supported by the data. Let us consider an alternate hypothesis: The attrition rate of Orthodox Jews has remained constant over time. What results would we expect from this hypothesis? The percentage of raised-Orthodox Jews who currently identify as Orthodox should decrease with increasing age (since older people have had more time to leave Orthodoxy), and this is in fact what we see in the data. But we can be more precise in our predictions from this model: The percentage should decay exponentially.
To test this, I fit the numbers to an exponential curve. I made the following assumptions and simplifications (which were quick-and-dirty, but you can try it yourself with different assumptions): I assumed that 100% of Orthodox-raised Jews identified as Orthodox at age 18 (and all attrition occurred after this). I collapsed each age range (e.g. 18-29) to a single data point at the center of the age range. For the highest age group (65+), I assumed it went up to 90.
The result was that the data fit the exponential very closely (R2 = 0.9932), with an attrition rate of about 2.4% per year:
Of course we can’t conclude that there has in fact been a steady rate of attrition either! My point is just that this would be consistent with the data. There are many possibilities – it would also be consistent with the data that everyone who leaves Orthodoxy leaves during their 20s (which would mean that the attrition rate is in fact much lower for the current 20somethings). There’s just no way to determine from these data (which only provide a snapshot of the present time) which model is correct, without data from past generations.
2) Denominational Identification
“Davar Acher” is a classic rabbinic phrase used by the ancient rabbis to posit an additional and alternative opinion. It means literally ‘another thing’, ‘another word’ and ‘the word of the other’. As an expression, “Davar Acher“ is emblematic of the multivocality preserved in rabbinic tradition, where minority and rejected opinions are passed on alongside majority and accepted opinions. Whoever learns Torah is invited to make his or her heart into a “heart of many rooms”, a heart embodying this diversity of opinion within oneself.
The Davar Acher: Leadership Program is comprised of a series of four courses:
- Facilitation Intensive (Applications due October 1, 2013)
- Grounding Your Voice in the Tradition (Applications due December 1, 2013)
- Accessing & Activating Your Voice (Applications due January 13, 2014)
- The Role of Multiple Perspectives in Conflict Transformation (Applications due March 7, 2014)
Click here for a full list of course descriptions, dates and application deadlines.
Encounter is offering a limited number of outstanding applicants the opportunity to participate as paid fellows in the entire Davar Acher: Leadership Program. Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $800 USD for their participation in all four courses, and will be part of an extraordinary cohort of committed leaders. The application deadline for the first course in the series is October 8th, 2013.
Who Should Apply:
Encounter seeks religious, political and ideological diversity in all of our programs. A foundational principle of Encounter’s work is to seed generative discussion in Jewish communal leadership across difference, enabling even those who vociferously disagree with one another, to be in constructive exchange with one another. We welcome and encourage participants of widely varying backgrounds.
1. Those deeply immersed in Jewish life who are currently in or aspiring to positions of leadership within the Jewish community
2. Those who have demonstrated leadership in the Jewish world
3. Those who have demonstrated a commitment to seeding constructive Jewish communal engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Questions are welcome! Please email: email@example.com
- Tel Aviv will build its first holocaust memorial to gay victims in Gan Meir next to Tel Aviv Municipality’s LGBTQ Center. Other cities with one already: Berlin, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Sydney and San Francisco.
- Philip Roth, Nathan Englander and Michael Chabon are among the American Jewish writers who’ve signed a petition opposing the Israeli plan to forcibly relocate Bedouin from their homes in the West Bank. Other signers include Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney (z”l), J.M. Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Orhan Pamuk.
- A pro-Palestinian group in Vermont is campaigning for local creamery Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to stop selling their social good conscious products in the settlements. Interesting that the call isn’t to boycott Israel, just the settlements. Are the BDSers learning a tactical lesson?
- An Israeli court ruled that calling right-wing Israeli group Im Tirtzu “fascists” is a fair description after all and threw out a libel suit against a Facebook group labeling them as such. It’s amazing anyone in Israel dreamed (ha) of outlawing that over-used word.
- Educators should browse through the new multimedia center from JustVision, featuring the best tools, clips and guides from a decade of Israel-Palestine film making. A must-see.
- Achvat Amim (“solidarity of nations”) is a new 5-month volunteer experience in Jerusalem that directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by placing participants in Israeli human rights organizations, sponsored by MASA. (MASA? Whoa.) Coming in January 2013!
- Encounter’s new Davar Acher Leadership Program expands to more people their dialogue training and customized Encounter day trips to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. Limited number of paid fellowships available, deadline October 8.
- Haven’t been to dialogue with Palestinians on Encounter yet? Here are your chances: Oct 24-25, Nov 14-15 (to Areas B & C), Dec 5-6, and Dec 26-27.
Achvat Amim, which means “solidarity of nations” in Hebrew is a new 5-month volunteer experience in Jerusalem that directly engages with the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the core value of self-determination for all peoples.
Achvat Amim is based in Jerusalem, where participants will work with leading Israeli human rights organizations. Participants will also develop leadership and community organizing skills and make connections with people from Israel, Palestine and around the world. The program is beginning this coming January, now is the time to apply!
Everything you need to know including details, background and what you’ll learn and do is on the website: achvatamim.org and any questions you have can directed to the Program Director, Daniel Roth, at firstname.lastname@example.org
*Grants are available.
What can we pray about Syria? As the United States looks to enter the fray of a Syrian civil war, concerned American Jews and Israelis are penning responses in prayer. Shared here are two recent liturgical creations, by very different authors: The first is by Rabbi Barenblat, a Renewal rabbi at of Congregation Beth Israel in Massachusetts and the author of The Velveteen Rabbi. The second is by Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, a leading figure in the religious Zionist movement and head of the Petach Tikvah hesder yeshiva.
Both rabbis ask for both sides to display compassion, mercy, humanity and brotherhood to forestall further loss of innocent life and unnecessary revenge upon the other. That said, the Cherlow prayer leaves me a mite uncomfortable by invoking Number 35:33, that killers be killed. Nevertheless, his draft is reportedly being read by the Bnei Akiva youth movement across the religious-national world. Movement secretary-general Danny Hirshberg said on settler media, “The Israeli public needs to look beyond the screen of hate and enmity to see the pain of those civilians being hurt by the Syrian tyrant.”
Read both below the fold… More »
By no accident does Fill The Void begin in a supermarket. That a religious mother and daughter would spy on a potential suitor in as banal a site as a supermarket is funny precisely because it is banal. But as much as the scene plays with a caricatured image of Haredi women (where else would a housewife be outside the home?), it plays against it. The story begins with a seal of disapproval—not from a rebbe, but rather curiously, from the gaze of a mother and daughter—eying a potential match for the daughter. The young girl’s possibilities might be limited, but she has choice in the matter. Or so it seems. After all, it’s she and her mother who snoop on the Hasidic suitor in question—not the other way around. The viewer is not entering, as framed by the opening scene, a matchmaking marketplace where women can be acquired like a product on an aisle shelf.
Fill The Void is a tale chock full of reversals—of things that lie outside law altogether, in the realm of the extrajudicial. Unsurprisingly, the film begins with the backward temporality of Purim. And as the plot moves forwards, the more it unravels backwards. A young mother dies, leaving her widowed, crestfallen husband with a motherless child—a mirror image of yibum, the Levirite marriage, where one brother dies and the next brother marries his sister-in-law. But the film stages the scenario in reverse. And the reversal is instructive. An unexpected tragedy forces the family to confront what happens when a void, a chasm, a cleavage, opens—when not law, but sticky interpersonal subjectivities, rule supreme. What happens when religious actors in their daily performance of ritual have no script from which to read? When the choreography has-yet-to-be-penciled-in? And, in this space of extrajudiciality, is filled the precarity of feeling. An unmarried, eighteen-year old girl must navigate the vertigo of defining where agency and restriction lie in a space outside the bounds and boundaries of law. As revealed in a most poignant scene, the rebbe asks her:
“[So] what does the daughter feel about the match?”
“This is not a matter of feeling,” she retorts with restraint.
“This is only a matter of feeling,” the Rebbe responds gingerly.
The film captures, with a minimalist aesthetic, the claustrophobia of a family in mourning. Their apartment becomes a feeling organism—radically open at times and frightfully closed at others. It can stretch to accommodate swarms of guests and then retract back into itself, with the touch of a sliding door, into chambers of intimate solitude. Alcohol reveals secrets. Cigarettes calm nerves. And the Karliner niggun, “Kah Echsof,” is sung earnestly as the women stare blankly onto the dishes of a set Shabbos table.
And when she quakes tearfully in a wedding gown with the purest devotion of dveykus to the recitation of Tehillim—beside her mother and aunt—the camera navigates across the ritual geography of the wedding. It glides from the wedding chair—a safe domain of feminine kinship—to the chuppah—a liminal, makeshift home—and ends in the yihud room. Between the seen quivering moments of intimacy (with the divine) and the unseen quivering moments of intimacy (with her husband) is formed a visual dialectic between the concealed and revealed. And as soon as her husband enters the yichud room and places his fur hat on the rack, the camera pans on her face—wan with the terror of the unexpected. The movie ends. Black fills the screen. But so much is filled in the void.
While I deeply love learning Hebrew, ulpan often hurts my heart. I can’t help but bristle at prejudicial Israeli attitudes that go against the anti-oppression work that bring many of us there. Be they prejudices against Arabs, Jewish religion, President Obama or anything else, most of ulpan classmates take on those prejudices without question. Sadly, even enthusiastically.
Truthfully, the successful Hebrew ulpan model began under the need to assimilate huge numbers of immigrants and forge collective identity. Its very purpose was to be doctrinaire. But today, it’s apparent that parts of this model are inappropriate for the needs of some. American Jewry especially has the highest failed emigration rate, due in part to the values and worldview gap between how Israelis and Americans see society. Better dialogue between Israelis and American Jewry is crucial these days, so why would we want to enter a learning environment aimed at assimilation and affinity-building instead of engagement and equal exchange?
That is why this past year a group of American and Canadian learners banded together in Tel Aviv to launch This is Not an Ulpan, the first explicitly lefty Hebrew learning community. More »
By Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Just in time for back-to-school shopping and your first Hebrew school tuition ACH auto-withdrawal, two Jewish websites have let loose their bloggers to take a dump on traditional Jewish education. More »
A guestpost from FoJS, Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
I, like most children of liberal Jewish parents born on the coasts, have long held the first amendment to the constitution to be sacrosanct: just barely below the 10 commandments and slightly higher than a hot pastrami with brown mustard. It is that important. And it was the 1st Amendment ‘Freedom of Speech’ that was always the most cherished of those rights.
But recent events have started to make me question this deep-seated belief. I’ve started to consider whether maybe it’s time we restricted free speech. Let me explain. More »