I have a high emotional tolerance for disturbing stories of Israel’s shortcomings. But few topics so abjectly horrified me as this detailed report about Israel’s treatment of African asylum seekers. Racism against non-Jews in Israel has long angered me and politicians’ stoking it into recent violence did shock me. But this report broke my battle-hardened heart open again. Since the Tel Aviv riots, conservative hasbaraists and politicians have tried to portray Israel as a country willing to accept a reasonable number of refugees but drowning in illegal entrants. The truth is painfully to the contrary.
Israeli NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers produced this analysis earlier this year of the Interior Ministry’s department for refugee protection. The report, Until Our Hearts Are Completely Hardened, details in clinical dispassion how the Interior Ministry has corrupted a process intended to protect refugees’ lives and runs it like an interrogation. It created a system that bulk rejects even the most dire cases — all but eight of 4,178 asylum applicants since it began operating the past two years.
In the report’s own words, Israel’s process is “worrying,” “patently unreasonable,” and a “manufacturing of contradictions.” It’s staff are engaged in “unprofessional and problematic work,” “absurd,” a “failure in deduction powers,” and “inappropriate.” It creates a situation that is “bleak,” “biased,” and “unfair and degrading.” The report concludes:
When comparing this data with data in other countries, we cannot but reach the conclusion that something has gone terribly wrong with the Israeli asylum system, and that it is not qualified to identify those people who face the threat of persecution in their countries of origin…Without these [recommended changes], Israel’s asylum system will continue to send people back to their death.
What emerges is a picture of a purposefully biased, cruel, and farcical system that rejects asylum seekers at a rate higher than 99.9% — the worst in the Western world. More »
Michael Walzer’s book In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible makes a slightly controversial though eminently plausible argument. The book is an interesting analysis of the politics of the Bible by a political scientist, who is not a biblical scholar, but has written an important book on the uses of the Exodus story by liberation movements (Exodus and Revolution). After all the caveats, Walzer’s central claim is that the Bible writes in the tension between being born into the covenant, and affirming the covenant or taking it on of one’s own free will. This is the central theme of the Bible, and not any specific manner of governance. There is no room, according to Walzer for politics in the Bible, since all authority ultimately rests with God. There is also no call for communal action. The Bible, according to Walzer has an anti-politics. Isaiah, for example, rails against those who would ignore the widows and the poor on their way to the Temple, yet he does not try to organize the poor or lobby the priesthood. Or when Ezekiel castigates Judah for rehearsing the sins of Sodom—the sins of hoarding their riches and not sharing them with poor—he is not looking for a legislative or political remedy—he is channeling God’s rage at injustice.
It is an interesting book, and Walzer recognizes and notes all the difficulties in making specific claims about a text whose interpretation has been contested for centuries. He notes the usefulness of the scholarly and traditional interpretive literature for understanding certain questions, but not others.
Walzer apparently reprised the gist of his argument at a YIVO conference on the demise of the historical partnership between Jews and the left. Some on the right trumpeted Walzer’s presence as a final sign that there is no basis in traditional Judaism for a politics of the left. Walzer, after all, is the long-time editor of Dissent and a social-democrat—and he is claiming that the left-Jewish alliance is as a castle on sand. Check-mate. There is no, nor has there ever been a basis for leftist politics, for social justice advocacy grounded in any traditional Jewish textual framework. The Tablet’sAdam Kirsch and Jewish Ideas Daily‘s Alex Joffe could barely contain themselves.
The Jewish social justice sector continues to expand and grow. Let that not be mistaken in today’s news that Pursue: Action for a Just World, a flagship initiative of our community, is disbanding in late 2012. And both organizations’ new initiatives reflect an exciting new stage of maturity for this movement, for the better.
When first constituted in 2006 as the partnership young adults program of American Jewish World Service and Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps, Pursue was an initiative neither organization could support alone. Each possessed budding communities of alumni from year-long and alternative break service learning, but little more. It hired capable, inspired staff and produced innovative programs that integrated the Jewish community into the wider social justice movement and vice versa. More »
From our friends at Bend the Arc, the organization(s) formerly known as Jewish Funds for Justice-Progressive Jewish Alliance-Shefa Fund, the Community Organizing Residency is accepting applications — and nominations. The application deadline for COR has been extended to June 15th and we have created an online form for you to nominate applicants. You can nominate them here.
Where else can you find a Muslim organizer trained by a Jewish organization to work with a coalition comprised mostly of Christian churches? Nowhere but Bend the Arc’s Community Organizing Residency, as covered recently in the NY Times. More »
Now that the election season is heating up, once again the question will be asked, what does the Jewish community want? How will they vote? What will they base their choice on? If you listen to the polls, the pundits and the politicians (and many of the putative spokespeople for the Jewish community) the answer is simple: Israel. However, the question needs to be asked: is this the right answer? What should Jews care about, as Jews?
If by being Jewish one means connecting oneself to the wisdom of the Jewish tradition one would find that Jews who put social and economic justice at the heart of their concerns are tapping a deep vein. When God informs Abraham that God is going to destroy Sodom, Abraham challenges God: “Will the judge of all the world not do justice?” Speaking of Sodom, the prophet Ezekiel understood their sin as “She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility; yet she did not support the poor and the needy.” Jeremiah channels God saying: “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” from which Maimonides, the great 12th century Spanish Jewish philosopher and jurist, understood that the true goal of the religious and philosophical path—beyond even knowing whatever it is that one can know about God—is to practice love and righteousness and justice in the world. More »
Crossposted from Pursue. Jewschool is a co sponsor of Inside the Activists’ Studio.
On Sunday, May 20, Pursue NYC, together with New Israel Fund-New Generations and the Young Leaders of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), presents Inside the Activists’ Studio: Finding Your Voice in a Global Movement. The event will feature an incredible array of local Jewish change-makers speaking on a panel, presenting workshops, or performing. As a sneak peek, Pursue chatted with workshop presenter Sarah From of Do Your Best Work about how she found her own voice:
What inspired you to work on issues of personal ecology with activists?
Over a decade of work in nonprofits, I saw how lack of sleep, email overload, unmindful leadership, and inadequate personal organization could hinder the work. As I began to experiment with different strategies and tools to manage my own workload, I became more interested in the bigger picture. That is, how does the way we work for social change reflect the values we are fighting for? And what’s the cost if we’re changing our communities and the world but running ourselves into the ground in the process? The work I do now is to help social change leaders and organizations identify new ways of working that promote sustainability, productivity, and alignment with purpose and values.
How does your Jewish identity relate to what you do?
Four years ago, I was working on criminal justice reform and on the verge of burnout when I attended a Selah leadership retreat. There, I learned how personal sustainability could be rooted in Jewish tradition. The big “a-ha” for me was that as a Jew, I am obligated to work for justice and I am obligated to rest. Too many Jewish social justice activists take the first obligation seriously and ignore the second.
What are you most excited about for Inside the Activists’ Studio?
I’m excited to provide space for activists to identify new and more sustainable ways of working. I love helping people who are both incredibly passionate and incredibly overwhelmed to find more spaciousness in their work and non-work lives.
Why should folks come to your IAS workshop?
Our movements are only as vibrant as the quality of the energy we are able to bring to them. By attending to your own sustainability, you can better use your time, energy and attention in service to the world you want to create.
It won’t come as any surprise that the mission of repairing the world takes on many forms, including that of advocacy for the social rights of various groups. We have historically seen Jews and Jewish organizations at the forefront of rights based campaigns. In the 50s and 60s it was in the civil rights movement. More recently, we have been active in support of Darfur in opposition to a 21st Century genocide.
A century ago, we’d be talking about the Jewish role in the fights for labor rights, the 8-hour working day and workplace safety. But rather unlike today, those fights were not for some other oppressed group, but by and for Jewish workers, as part of the American labor movement.
In recent years, a thriving social justice movement has emerged that includes service-oriented Jewish organizations. These include Avodah and Bend the Arc, who joined previously established groups like the Workmen’s Circle, Jewish Labor Committee, and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Recent campaigns that received support from Jewish organizations include the fight for a domestic workers’ bill of rights and for agricultural workers raising tomatoes in Florida. More »
This is a guest post by Naomi Paiss, Communications Director for the New Israel Fund.
Today, a full-page advertisement supporting the New Israel Fund will appear in the New York Times. Paid for by a generous donor who is launching a matching-gift campaign, the ad features a news photo of an actual billboard in Jerusalem, with a poster of a woman’s face that has been clawed and defaced by ultra-Orthodox extremists. The ad specifically references the troubling growth of gender segregation and the exclusion of women in Israel, a phenomenon now in the public eye but not yet defeated.
In his defense of Israeli democracy last week, Ambassador Michael Oren wrote that “gender equality, not prejudice, remains an Israeli hallmark,” and cited the numerous women serving in the Knesset and in other leadership roles. Stipulated and granted. And it was heartening to see, after Secretary of State Clinton criticized gender-segregated buses and other evidence of a troubling turn towards repression of women, that so many Israeli leaders stepped forward to defend women’s equality as intrinsic to Israeli society.
But words and deeds differ. The Israel Broadcasting Authority just permitted Kol Barama, the haredi radio station, to reduce the number of hours of women on the air from six to four – weekly. Groups of ultra-Orthodox men are approaching female passengers on El-Al, requesting to switch seats. Israeli women still earn only 66% of men’s wages, and women with higher education degrees earn 77% of the wages earned by their male counterparts. And a special report commissioned by Cabinet Minister Limor Livnat and an inter-ministerial committee on the subject of exclusion of women is filled with high-sounding declarations, but very little in the way of policy change or budget.
In this atmosphere, the organizations supported by the New Israel Fund are more important than ever. Long responsible for various aspects of feminist social change, these organizations find that their strategies must now take the growth of religious extremism into account. Organizations focused on women’s education are responding to the increase in single-gender schools in the religious sector, or schools that attempt to exclude Mizrachi or Ethiopian students. The Israel Religious Action Center, the activist arm of the Reform movement in Israel, researched and published an exhaustive report on gender segregation. Kolech, the feminist Orthodox organization, staffed a hotline for Orthodox women to report involuntary segregation on buses and other public spaces, and led the successful attempt to persuade the Israeli Medical Association to boycott a conference on women’s fertility issues in which women were barred from speaking.
The new pluralism group Yisroel Hofshit (Be Free Israel) has established local activist groups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Haifa and Ra’anana, and is working closely with NIF to restore the sight and sound of women to the public sphere in Israel. Yerushalmim (“Jerusalemites”), a vibrant coalition of secular and pluralistic Jerusalem residents, ran a public campaign to restore images of women and girls to the streets of the city, hanging pictures of women from balconies in the city. (One of these defaced campaign posters is the centerpiece of the New York Times ad.) This campaign was later expanded by New Israel Fund supporters overseas who sent their photos for a “Woman Should Be Seen and Heard” campaign, resulting in another 50 posters of women’s images appearing in Jerusalem.
With the current governing coalition heavily dependent on ultra-Orthodox support, it appears that official measures against gender segregation will be cut to fit political reality. Since many ultra-Orthodox commentators have claimed that the new push to exclude women is a fringe phenomenon, NIF and its civil society groups hope to find ways to work with the mainstream Orthodox community on gender issues in ways that are respectful of the community’s traditions. In the meantime, we continue to monitor, respond to and publicize the continuing and disturbing trend of gender segregation and exclusion in Israel.
Its 48 hours before Pesach, and having read ”The Year of Living Biblically”, I’m preparing a lamb to meet its end so that I can smear its blood on the lintel of my door… What’s that? I don’t have to do that? Okay, the neighbors will be so relieved…
I will still have to rid myself of my chametz, however, as I can not possess or own any during Pesach. Before I engage in Bedikas Chametz, the search for chametz, I simply open my pantry- BAM! Bits of cereal at the bottom of the box. Legumes of all shapes and sizes, pasta and so on and so forth. On to the fridge. I half-eaten kugel from last week. Some fruit salad. Cheese slices. Egg Beaters.
Anyone else find themselves snarfing down whatever odds and ends remain the week before Pesach? Some people hate Passover cuisine. After a week of leftover crumbs, I’m ready to tear into Matzah. Whatever is sealed, I sell through a duly appointed process involving a Rabbi, pretzel logic and a certain number of he-goats and zuzim.
Those who do not avail themselves of the Rabbinic end-around of selling it on contract for a week with an option to an agreeable gentile have three options. 1. Keep your chametz and incur the wrath of the almighty and the sneers of neighbors. 2. BURN IT!
WOO HOO! Let’s burn everything in sight! It’s like Black Rock but with Bread! Its PAN-demonium! After all, we wont have another huge bonfire for 40 days when its Lag B’omer so let’s have a Biscuit Inferno! Cue the Music!
But wait, isn’t burning things bad, like crossing streams in ghostbusters? And can’t we do something with that stuff? There may be some excellent items sitting around. A bag of flour. A whole cake. A loaf of bread. Peanut Butter. Perfectly good food. Option 3: Donate.
In the Hagaddah we’re instructed Kol Difcheen- let all who are hungry come and eat. So how about it then? Donate your Chametz. You wont miss it. Fine, keep that bottle of Blanton’s, but the rest? Drop it at your local food pantry. Many congregations have a system set up for this. And in Israel, Modi’in’s Biur Hametz Project is coordinating the distribution of hametz to needy African refugees and migrant workers. That sounds so much more sensible.
It could be given to other as well. In Morocco, it was apparently the custom to give Hametz to one’s Arab or Berber neighbors. The Muslim neighbors would then repay the favor by supplying the pastries for the Mimouna festival at the end of Pesach. Such a healthy symbiotic way to coexist. Maybe that’s fantasy and maybe there’s a broader lesson. But in the interim, donate your your Hametz. To paraphrase Monty Python, BRING OUT YOUR BREAD! (to which the matza replies, I’m not quite bread yet…)
This is a guest post by Joshua Schwartz, editor-in-chief for Uri L’Tzedek’s “Ve-Nahafoch Hu: Making Your Way Through an Upside-Down World.”
It with great pride and attendant humility that I announce the release of Ve-Nahafoch Hu: Making Your Way Through an Upside-Down World, a collection of essays, reflections and calls-to-action on the theme of Purim, published by Uri L’Tzedek. I was privileged to serve as the editor-in-chief on this publication, and I am deeply grateful for all of the amazing work my teammates and fellow contributors donated to its production.
“…these days, on which the Jews had rest from their oppressors, this month in which sorrow was turned to joy, mourning to festivity, to make them days of feasting and celebration, sending gifts to friends and giving to the poor.” (Esther 9:22)
Would it be so weird to take Purim seriously?
After all, Purim is that most confusing of conflations. On one hand, Purim is the craziest day of the Jewish year, a day on which we are encouraged to indulge ourselves. But on the other hand, Purim is the only holiday in which giving to others is a central practice. What does it mean when the day on which we let ourselves go is the very day on which we are commanded to provide for others?
I am very happy to announce that my book Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism is out and available at Academic Studies Press and Amazon.com.
You can now download and read the introduction of the book here (just click on the cover image).
I hope that this will whet your appetite or stimulate your curiosity or at least disturb in a productive way, and hopefully you will buy the book and incorporate it in your discussions about how to make our part of the world a more just place.
Just over a week ago, the world Yiddish community lost the greatest Yiddish songstress of our time, Adrienne Khane Cooper, who died on December 25, 2011 at the age of 65. Adrienne was a person of enormous passion and talent who, as both a performer and teacher, molded a whole generation of young Yiddishists and klezmorim.
In her short 65 years on this earth, Adrienne zigzagged the map, both domestically (living in Oakland, Chicago, and New York), and internationally, touring and studying far and wide, bringing with her a love of Yiddish that was contagious as it was deep. A scholar, a writer, a performer, and an innovator, Adrienne was a trailblazer in demonstrating to the world that the adventure of Yiddish has only begun. Adrienne’s profound love and respect for language, combined with her progressive politics made her the ideal figure for spearheading the contemporary Yiddish renaissance.
After working at the YIVO Language, Literature, and Culture summer program in New York City, Adrienne envisioned an intensified Yiddish cultural experience, and so, along with Henry Sapoznik, she created KlezKamp, the renowned annual Klezmer and Yiddish culture gathering in the Catskills, now nearing its 30th year. These two programs, both of which Adrienne had a significant hand in shaping, are responsible for the outpouring of new Yiddish cultural expression—fueled largely by the enthusiasm of their young participants—that has emerged in recent years.
Among the countless Yiddish scholars and artists whom Adrienne mentored are such prominent figures in the Yiddish world as Yiddish scholar Jeffrey Shandler, acclaimed Yiddish singer Lorin Sklamberg, and outstanding Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals. The assembled crowd at the New York memorial service for Ms. Cooper (which packed Ansche Chesed’s main sanctuary on Sunday, January 1st) was a veritable ‘who’s who’ in the Yiddish world, and each person in attendance seemed to have at least one story of how Adrienne had changed her/his life. Each of the twelve speakers who eulogised Adrienne at this memorial service shared thoughts regarding the varied and far-reaching aspects of Adrienne’s life and legacy. Upon exiting Ansche Chesed after the memorial service, I overheard an older man ask his friend, “Did you work with Adrienne?” his friend replied, “Of course. Who didn’t??”
As one who delights in all things Yiddish and also sees in it a larger social mission, it warmed my heart when I heard dramatist and political activist Jenny Romaine read an excerpt from the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker award, which was presented to Adrienne by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in 2010: “For all of this, and for never working from a place of chosen-ness or nostalgia but from a place of justice, empathy, and complex Yiddish polyphony, JFREJ is deeply honored to present the 2010 Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award to Adrienne Cooper. ” Indeed, for Adrienne, Yiddish language and culture was not a quaint novelty trapped in a glass box in a museum, but rather a living, breathing, and evolving hands-on process which could help create a better world.
Perhaps my favourite memory of Adrienne was a Yiddish song workshop she facilitated at the 2008 YIVO summer program, where both myself and Adrienne’s daughter, Sarah Gordon, who is a talented and innovative Yiddish songstress in her own right, were students. At the aforementioned workshop, I witnessed the special beauty of the bond between Adrienne and Sarah, a bond, spanning the generations, of shared dedication and love, both for Yiddish language and culture and for each other. This special bond was best summarised by the final eulogy delivered at the memorial service last Sunday by Sarah, who stated simply, but most eloquently, “She was my mother.” All too often, when we speak of great figures, we forget the unique and personal relationships that are truly the defining aspects of life—the relationships that make us who we are. After hearing eleven people speak beautifully of Adrienne as a legend, Sarah reminded us that she was also a “Yidishe Mame.”
Because of her dedication to helping create a better world, Adrienne served on the Board of Directors of JFREJ, and the family requests that donations in her memory be made to them: www.jfrej.org/. Koved ir ondenk.
There was once a healthy and interesting conversation in this country about the relationship between religion and democracy. Not the specious bombast of the Rick Perryesque “America is a Christian country so we should be able to hate anybody we want and celebrate Christmas” kind of conversation. Rather a conversation about the roots of democracy and the relationship of democracy to the authoritarian reigns—political or religious, monarchic or ecclesiastic, and usually an admixture of the two—which preceded democracy. The move to democratic politics, according to many thinkers, retained the theological structures, if not the faith of their predecessors. In a way, democracy is a kind of secular mysticism. It is grounded in the belief that, according to the ancient maxim, vox populi vox dei, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” That is, authority is grounded in the decisions of the people as a whole, which carries an authority beyond that of any individual, and does not rest in any token, singular, individual whether king or cleric. More »
Here’s another great job opportunity in the Washington DC area! Jews United For Justice (JUFJ), DC’s local Jewish social justice organization, is hiring a Community Organizer (and yes, the position has actual responsibilities). JUFJ mobilizes the DC-area Jewish community to stand with our allies in other communities to work for social change that makes the region better for everyone. (You read about JUFJ in these pages a few months ago, when it ran a successful campaign to make the DC income tax more progressive, led by upper income earners saying “Please tax me!”)
The new full-time community organizer’s first project will be to lead a social justice campaign in Montgomery County, Maryland, along with a team of volunteer leaders. The full job description is after the jump. More »
The Jewish Organizing Fellowship is recruiting emerging social justice leaders for our year-long, paid community organizing training program in Boston. The Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for Jewish young adults (ages 21-30) who are currently working as organizers or who are looking for jobs in the field. If not already employed, Fellows are placed in full-time paid jobs that address a wide range of issues including: the environment, civil rights, health care, and interfaith cooperation. We seek Fellows who are eager to learn the theory and practice of community organizing and explore the connections between Judaism and social justice.
Early Selection Deadline: January 30, 2012
Regular Selection Deadline: May 7, 2012
Please join us for an informational conference call on Wednesday January 11th from 5:00pm-6:00pm EST, featuring the Fellowship Director and current and former Fellows, who will share information about the Fellowship and answer any questions. Register now to receive the dial-in information.
On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning the City of Los Angeles deployed 1400 officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in a military style operation in order to evict 200-300 nonviolent protesters who had been camping out on the lawn around City Hall as part of Occupy LA. Beginning at around 3AM when the mayor when down to survey all that he had done (it was the first time he had come to the encampment) the official narrative took over. The Mayor and the Police Chief have declared themselves proud of the operation and satisfied at its execution. Nobody was hurt and the LAPD was given all the credit. The truth is, of course far more complicated. Nobody was taken to the hospital, but that does not mean that the LAPD was not violent. The operation was a “shock and awe” mission intended to terrorize the folks on the lawn and convince them that leaving was better than the alternative. And yet, the real story is that the Occupiers remain steadfastly nonviolent. They are the real heroes of the long night.
Discordant voices of truth tellers are emerging. Here are some of them.
Dear LA Times,
Speaking as a person who was arrested Wednesday morning at City Hall for the crime of peacefully, respectfully protesting the wholesale fraud perpetrated by our nation’s financial sector, I just want to
I’m not mad that an LAPD officer slammed me face-first into the pavement.
I’m not mad that my personal property was forcibly stolen, destroyed and disposed of by the LAPD.
I’m not mad that my arms were painfully zipcuffed behind my back for 7 consecutive hours.
I’m not mad that the LAPD zipcuffs cut off circulation at my wrists, causing evident nerve damage to my right hand.
I’m not mad that the LAPD spent the entire day refusing to accept all bail postings for nonviolent Occupy LA protesters like myself, while at the same time dutifully bonding and releasing countless violent
arrestees back onto L.A.’s streets.
I’m not mad that the LAPD denied me access to a lawyer for the entire duration of my jail stay.
What I’m mad about is that none of the above has been done to even one of the Wall Street criminals who committed the most egregious act of larceny in American history, trashing the lives and futures of millions of Angelenos and hundreds of millions of American citizens.
4174 Higuera St.
Culver City, CA 90232
A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting discussing an upcoming ballot initiative which would eliminate the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Everybody in the room was opposed to the death penalty. The discussion was about the strategy that should be employed to convince voters to make the proposition law. The campaign’s tactic was to argue that the death penalty was more expensive than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole (LWOP). This is, of course, true. As the LA Times reported:
[An] examination of state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimated that the additional costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for the condemned adds $184 million to the budget each year.
However, sitting in that room, engaging in that conversation, I suddenly got very depressed. I realized how we had all been impacted by the culture of greed that has overwhelmed our country.
I want to make clear that I think that we urgently need to stop our country’s machinery of death and to begin the hard work of justice—reforming our prisons, making victims and/or their families whole, allowing for transgressors to repent and atone (as I argue here). I think that replacing the death penalty with LWOP is a good and important step on the way to accomplishing this. I was reacting to the fact that the parameters of the debate (cheaper is better) are not ones that I agree with and are destructive to the moral fabric of our country and society. Let me explain. More »