Politics and the White House Hanukkah Party

I’m feeling conflicted about the lighting of the White House hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) by two students from Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school. I think the school is wonderful, and I’m so glad it’s getting attention from the President of the U.S. His comments were beautiful, and giving publicity and support to such groundbreaking organizations is good for Israel and the Jews.

But I also feel like there’s a time and place to make political statements about Israel – which is unarguably the effect when you have students from an Israeli Jewish-Arab school light the President’s Hanukkah candles (including one student who is not Jewish), with a hanukkiah made by Jewish and Arab Israeli students.

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Jews Affirm That #BlackLivesMatter at #ChanukahAction in Brookline, MA

Editor’s Note: This post is the eighth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
#BlackLivesMatter #ChanukahActionI spent the first night of Chanukah this year at Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA. This was the Boston-area location for the multi-city #ChanukahAction: A Jewish Day of Action to End Police Violence event. I had a number of anxieties in advance, but it proved to be a powerful evening with moments of hope and inspiration.

My concerns began with a Facebook event wall littered with infighting that I feared would travel offline to the actual event. Could we focus on one issue, and keep the focus away from ourselves? Could we raise awareness in our own community without silencing and ignoring those who have already been marginalized? I had been to a protest organized by Black Lives Matter Boston in November, organized and led by people of color. I recognized why Jews needed to rally around the cause, but it was unclear how. Frankly, could we do this without damaging the larger movement?

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“Walk Like an Egyptian” Re-Tooled as a Chanukah Song by its Very Jewish Singer

Experiencing your annual frustration that all Chanukah songs suck?  Well, here’s a sweet surprise.  Check out Susanna Hoffs, pop star and former member of The Bangles, re-tool their 1985 mega-hit “Walk Like an Egyptian“, to “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” , a song all about Chanukah, here in performance with the great Aimee Mann* and Ted Leo. It’s not just that Hoffs is Jewish, by the way; she has yichus. She is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Ralph Simon, who served Congregation Rodfei Zedek, in Chicago’s South Side Hyde Park neighborhood from 1943-87, was President of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), and was a leading founder of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and, therefore, the entire Ramah camping movement. He was a larger-than-life community rabbi for his historical moment of big house Judaism, and inspired countless people. See him here, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoffs’s uncle and cousin, Rabbis Matthew and Joshua Simon, were also prominent rabbisMore »

Moses was a murderer.

Editor’s Note: This post is the fifth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

Max Socol is an organizer and educator in North Carolina.

Moses was a murderer. How infrequently we speak of him that way. In its enormity, the decision to take the life of another person seems character-defining, yet the episode in Shemot when Moses, acting to defend an Israelite slave, kills an Egyptian slavedriver rarely comes to mind when I think of Israel’s greatest prophet.

As the turmoil over unchecked police brutality in American cities grows, I find myself confronting the raw edge of political nonviolence and political violence. I know I’m not alone. Even within the Jewish community, where so many of us (but not all of us, not by a long shot) are insulated from daily police harassment, those of us who are searching for a meaningful, moral role as allies in the struggle against racist oppression are met with competing demands that feel impossible to reconcile.

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Going my Way?

Part of our Fearless Judaism series.

 

We live in a moment of transition. It is not the first, of course: the Temple is destroyed, the era of the sages has gone, the vast and varied Jewish life spread throughout Europe and the Middle East was decimated by the holocaust and other historical events, and today, the day of the great movements, these movements are fading. Many people are frightened by this – what will happen? And not without some reasonable cause.

Our numbers are shrinking, and many people who identify as Jewish treat Judaism as an ethnicity -like being Italian, or a hobby – something to be done when there is time and it is convenient.

But the “ever-dying people” will once again find a new wave to ride, and will continue.

 

And what will it look like?

Many religious speak of “the way” – and Judaism, too, has a “way,” – Halacha. But maybe instead of thinking of it as “the” way, maybe we should speak of it as “the Going,” or better yet “A way” or “A going.” More »

Jew Attacked in Prayer in Brooklyn; NYPD Kills Assailant: First Reactions

The New York Daily News is reporting that at around 1:45am today, a man named Calvin Peters entered a synagogue at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and, yelling, “I want to kill the Jew”, stabbed Israeli student Levi Rosenviat, while the latter was praying.  NYPD officers surrounded him, got him to put down the knife, and when he then picked it up again, an officer shot him in the stomach, which proved fatal. This stand-off and killing were recorded on video.

I’m just  reading this story; it’s too fresh to process and there’s a lot we don’t know.  Initial reactions and questions: More »

Open Hillel’s Open Letter to Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut

Standards of Partnership turn Hillels from gateways to Jewish identity into discriminatory gatekeepers

Dear Mr. Fingerhut,

    In recent weeks, events at Hillel affiliates across the country have highlighted the inherent flaws of Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership (the “Standards”). The Standards, which you recently assured the Knesset are enforced “rigorously,” have been deployed to silence Jewish students and communities that oppose Israel’s occupation. Recent events at Princeton University and University of Michigan Ann Arbor demonstrate that the exclusionary Standards will not stop us, as Jewish students, from exercising our right to create politically pluralistic Jewish communities.  Recent events have shown that the “Standards” are not standards at all, but rather are deployed arbitrarily by Hillel staff to discriminate against and exclude Jewish students based on political ideology. More »

“Ad Matay?”

Editor’s Note: This post is the third in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

MaNishtana is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, author of “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe” and “Fine, thanks. How are YOU, Jewish?”. He blogs at www.manishtana.net.

Before I get into the topics of Michael Brown or Eric Garner which have been dominating the news cycle these past couple of weeks, I’d like to discuss something entirely different first.

As the recent massacre in Yerushalayim two weeks ago have shown us, the world is experiencing an unprecedented spike in anti-Semitism, and I’d like to direct you to just some of the alarming amounts of incidents involving the mishandling of justice when it comes to Jews.

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December Without Drama

Happy Challadays cardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.”  More »

Hanukah Hookup Caption Contest

Just because its Hanukah, it don’t mean we can’t have a bit of good natured fun. Give us your best caption for this picture of… we’re not sure what… Editorial Board will award the author of the funniest caption a CD, the height of music technology.

Yesh Bereyrah–There Is A Choice: An Affirmative Judaism

This guestpost is by Jonah Rank and is part of our Fearless Judaism series.  Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Jonah is the student rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel (in Amsterdam, NY) and the rabbinic intern at the United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) for the 2014-2015 year. Since 2006, thon has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).

 

Grounded in a life of learning, my affirmative Judaism centers on tikkun olam—building a universe of peace once shattered by our limited capacity to transmit chesed, loving-kindness. In order to build further the universe our Divinity only started to build, we must steep ourselves in the values of the Jewish tradition. In this affirmation of Jewish tradition, the altruism of humanity must act as a conduit for the Divine Flow that seeks to inundate the world with sacred love.

When guided by Jewish wisdom, the affirmative Jew must accept that affirmation is a process of borer—picking and choosing. For as long as there have been Jews, there have been disagreements between Jews. This requires us to learn from all teachings of the Jewish tradition and to acknowledge at least three categories of Jewish teachings. More »

Fearless Judaism: on affirmative Jewish unity

In response to Naomi Adland’s incisive piece Fear, Fearlessness, and Forward Movement, we have started a series in which different writers articulate their visions for affirmative Judaisms.  We very much welcome your voice to the mix and invite you to submit entries to editor@jewschool.com

Fear. It’s what stops us from imagining and building a better world.  The deficit model of Judaism can no longer sustain itself.  Too long we have been comfortable articulating what we seek to avoid and escape, but the time has come to embrace a Judaism with the vision and audacity to be about something worth believing and embodying.

As we know all too well from the devastating events of last week in Ferguson, fear fuels a viciously unjust legal system which perpetuates the subjugation and silencing of countless Americans.  The subject of Ferguson merits its own treatment, and I look forward to hearing more progressive Jewish voices speak out against the systemic injustice and inequality.

Especially in light of the current news, part of me feels like writing about a fearless Judaism right now veers uncomfortably to the parochial. But upon further reflection, I am realizing that refining our own self-definition and collective visions will enable us both to grow internally and also to help others break from the shackles of their own limiting, stultifying, and potentially dangerous fears. For me, an affirmative Judaism has the drive and confidence to be proud and rooted in its particularism while also embracing vibrant difference and growth.

I was at the GA which Naomi describes in her post.  One talk which felt a bit different than the others was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ keynote plenary address. In it, Rabbi Sacks emphasized the imperative of Jewish unity and accountability for each other. What struck me about his language was the refreshing optimism and opportunity for forward movement which he offered.  I was especially excited because much of the  vision of Jewish unity he advocated resonated deeply with what I wrote for the Yom Kippur sermon I delivered at Anshei Chesed of Cape Cod this past season. Below, I will share an excerpt from my sermon:
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Monday – waiting for the Ferguson decision

Editor’s Note: With this post, Jewschool begins a series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

This is a guest post by Janaki Kuruppu, a practicing physician in Baltimore, MD. She and her husband are raising two boys, who were born in Ethiopia, and who joined their family 5 years ago. They are active members of Tikvat Israel, a Conservative congregation in Rockville, MD.

Last Monday morning, like most mornings, my commute was in the company of NPR, which, like all the news outlets, was describing the preparations in Ferguson, MO, anticipating the announcement of the Grand Jury decision.

My last patient of the day was a man I have taken care of for some time, but this appointment would be his last visit, as the infection we’d been treating for so long, was finally resolved. After giving him the good news, we got to talking, as we always have done, about current affairs. He is a well-educated black man, retired from a middle-management career. He described, laughingly, being mistaken for an underling, and asked on job sites to be taken to his supervisor, when he was actually the boss on the site. He would play along, and go get one of his staff, always a white employee, who the client had expected to be in charge. My patient seemed to delight in the subsequent discomfort of the client on being shown the error of his assumption. More »

#sorrynotsorry: Pruzansky “Apologizes”…that the JTA Didn’t Like His Post

I believe the technical term for this is #sorrynotsorry

“’Everything I wrote was entirely reasonable, but they didn’t report that,’ he said of the JTA report.”  Guess why they didn’t report that it was entirely reasonable, Mr. Pruzansky?  Because they didn’t think that it was.

 

 

Rabbi Pruzansky and the Jewish Media’s Failure

Of late, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky has been roundly and justly criticized by the Jewish media. Within the last few weeks, the rabbi of the 800-member-family Teaneck, NJ, Bnai Jeshurun Orthodox synagogue has been written about in prominent Jewish newspapers; first, he stepped down from heading a Beit Din for conversions in protest of the Rabbinical Council of America’s reevaluation of its conversion standards. In a post on his blog where he announced the resignation, he claimed that if new standards for oversight were to be established by the RCA’s new mixed-gender committee, he had “no interest in living as a suspect,” and lamented that “we are living in a toxic environment for rabbis…The distrust is embarrassing and unbecoming.” This change from the RCA was in response to the Rabbi Barry Freundel mikvah voyeurism scandal; Pruzansky’s deliberate and offensive blindness to the circumstances that allowed Freundel to act as he did and the appropriateness and necessity of the RCA’s response were reported on by the New York Jewish Week, and not favorably.

This could have been the end of the rabbi/blogger’s interaction with that newspaper, had he not been angered by their coverage. Taking to his blog again, he compared the paper to Nazi propaganda newspaper Der Sturmer, a move which garnered a scorching response in the Jewish Week’s editorial pages. More »

The Vampires

Note: This is next in our series of posts on visions of fearless Jewish future, inspired by Naomi Adland’s dispatch from the GA, which we ran last week. We’ll be running one every week, and we want to hear from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at editor@jewschool.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. 

 

Just now (it’s 6 am in Brooklyn), I woke abruptly from a dream that my MFA program was requiring us all to take a workshop in which we read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As soon as one of the workshop members started reading from the novel, the faces of everyone in the room became ghoulish, sharp toothed, black eyed. Terrified, I ran out the door of the building and into the street, but as I ran, I thought, you’ll go back, you have to go back. And I did. I turned around and went back into the building, which I think was a church, and as it turned out, there was a small group of people gathered in the lobby who had also decided they could not be in the room with the vampires.

I have a history of anxiety dreams, and of solving problems, literary ones of my own making, in my sleep. I might have been worrying about writing this piece for this series when I dreamt about the vampires, because in the awake version of myself, it’s obvious what the dream was about.  It’s so obvious, it’s laughable: You are afraid, but you’ll go back. The vampires (self hate inflicted anti-Semitic imagery or result of watching too many horror movie trailers?) might be in the same building, but we can be in another room. They can’t have the whole structure. There are more of us than of them. We’ll get it all in the end. Maybe.

Here is where my painfully obvious dream parallels end.  Judaism, particularly the observant part of it, and I are not on the best of terms right now, we have not been for a while. I could not build an organizational strategic plan based on my vision of a fearless Jewish community, but I am one hundred percent on the fact that it includes an active ingathering of those who scare us. Those who pose those questions that we can’t and/or don’t want to answer, they get a big space at whatever the table of the future is. Let everyone in, without a political or religious litmus test, if we say we want to be there, even if we’re not sure where exactly “there” is, even if we’re not sure if we can figure it out together, but that’s fine. Certainty is not a need any longer.

The future table isn’t convened by Islamophobia, or racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, or people who have spent all their time sharpening one relentlessly narrow vision of a Jew. Men who claim to have beautiful politics but can neither listen nor hear simply don’t get space anymore, because it turns out, we don’t owe it to them. In the fearless future, that shit is over, because we are calling people out, and we don’t have to worry about what that calling out will do to our livelihood. Risk, intellectual and political, will be a value, but maybe even more important than risk will be accountability and challenge and, maybe here’s the center of it all : not running away, and not becoming a room or an organization or a  building or a country full of panicked ghouls, powered by fear.

Fear, Fearlessness and Forward Movement: A Guest Post by Naomi Adland

Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at editor@jewschool.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week! 

This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.

In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.

I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.

Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”

Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.

Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.

Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?

#TBT Parashat Hayei Sarah: Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die

This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah.  In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of  aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians.  In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.