Short of a J-Street conference or a Limmud event, you’d be hard-pressed to find an annual gathering that attracts as many Jewschool writers as the National Havurah’s Summer Institute. This, my friends, should be reason enough to register right this moment.
But a little context always helps, so here is some more description to further entice you:
Now in its 35th year of empowering local do-it-yourself, community-based Judaism, the National
Havurah Committee is gearing up for what promises to be an incredible Summer Institute. With
over two dozen courses, a social justice fellow, two extraordinary artists-in-residents, and
dozens of local havurah communities represented, the National Havurah Summer Institute guarantees you an unparalleled experience which is equal parts spiritually, intellectually, and culturally fulfilling.
Whether you enjoy midnight walks in the woods, guided meditations, heated (but respectful!)
theological debates, hands-on crafts, in-depth chevruta text study, late-night sing-alongs and
spontaneous jam sessions, alternative prayer experiences, early-morning hikes, community
discussions about social justice, or just meeting some of the most thoughtful and creative
individuals you will ever meet–all against the idyllic backdrop of breathtaking rolling green mountains and a sparkling lake in Southern New Hampshire–the National Havurah Committee’s Summer Institute promises to deliver an experience that will both uplift and inspire.
As if this alone were not exciting enough—there’s more!
If you are a college student, we invite you to participate in our special college program, where
you will work together with your peers, guided by two talented facilitators, to cultivate new
leadership skills. The College Leadership Program is specially designed to empower current college students to build and sustain Jewish communities on their campuses.
For recent college graduates between the ages of 22 and 32, the National Havurah Summer Institute offers the NHC Fellows Program (formerly, the Everett Program). This program offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with fellow young Jewish leaders in order to share and build your skills together. All NHC fellows will receive free tuition and room-and-board and will participate in additional programming geared particularly to the specific interests and needs of participants in this group.
As a former participant in the Fellows Program, I can personally attest to the extraordinary impact that it has had on my life. In addition to introducing me to a cohort of wonderful new friends, the then-Everett Program helped me think critically and creatively about building vibrant, relevant local Jewish community and inspired me to return home (then Minneapolis) to start a new Havurah. Incidentally, one of this year’s institute’s planners met her now-fiancée when she was an Everett Fellow. So apply now, and who knows where this simple act may lead you??
The deadline for the NHC fellows is May 1, so if any of the above speaks to you, apply right away! General registration can be found here.
A few years ago (or something) I wrote a piece about how I couldn’t deal with keeping Passover and someone commented that “giving up is not the answer.” I think about this comment a lot, especially now that Passover starts tomorrow night and Facebook is filling up with the obligatory freak outs about cleaning and cooking and seders and I’m staying here with J and the cat until Wednesday, with no intention of doing anything Passover related.
Three years ago, I would have obsessed about Passover, and taken some joy in spreading aluminum foil all over things and crouching down like a psycho to burn hametz on the street. Last year I went to some seders, and then proceeded to eat sandwiches, which no one really had to know about, except that I told them. I don’t know if what I’m doing is so much giving up, but if it is giving up, I don’t think I care? What does it even mean to give up? Not observing Passover is not the same as deciding I don’t want to be Jewish, because seriously, as far as I’m concerned, there is no getting out of that, at least not for me.
Maybe it’s the drama that’s left over inside of me from having gone from one hundred (or maybe seventy five) to zero- how quickly everything stopped making sense for me, how I stopped having this desire to observe, how impatient I got in trying to make it make sense, how I decided to put my energy elsewhere.
Obviously, my need to document this hints at something. That thing is not guilt, I don’t actually feel accountable to anyone around it, but there is some strangeness around the absence of people saying to me, “You have to do this.” There’s nothing at stake for me, and I don’t actually know what that means.
On Tuesday, March 12th, Jewish Voices Together organized “Wake Up for Religious Tolerance,” a Rosh Hodesh minyan solidarity action in support Women of the Wall. Hundreds crowed into Town and Village Synagogue, the rain space. (You can read Sigal Samuel’s coverage of the event at Open Zion Daily here.)
One of the folks in attendance at the action was Ruth Kleinman, who blogged about her experiences with Women of the Wall while in Israel in November and December of 2010. Jewschool asked her to reflect on the March 12th event.
Jewschool:Why did you decide to attend the action?
RK: I decided to go because when I heard about the rally/prayer service, I was reminded of the times I had attended Women of the Wall Rosh Chodesh services in Jerusalem, living there for 6 months about 2 years ago. When I found out that there was this group, battling this injustice, I wanted to be a part of it. I am not an observant Jew; I am not even a spiritual one. But living in Jerusalem was a hard place to live in sometimes as a woman, because of the discrimination toward us from the ultra-Orthodox population. By supporting the Women of the Wall, I felt I was a part of a movement toward justice. Supporting the Women of the Wall in NYC at this rally/prayer service only made sense for me. As a staff member at a synagogue which advertised the event to its membership, it was only natural for me to attend.
Jewschool: What did the experience mean to you?
RK: The experience meant a solidarity, of sorts, to me. It was actually the largest gathering of a Women of the Wall group I had attended, and the first where men and women prayed together. As was mentioned by some of the speakers, Torah readers, and rally leaders, this was a coming together of many different Jews, from different Jewish denominations and styles of prayer and connection to Judaism and Israel, and that is what struck me the most – the diversity coming together despite the fact that we live in such an otherwise fractured Jewish world.
Jewschool:What was your experience with WOW before? Did the action make you want to do more?
RK: Prior to Tuesday’s rally/prayer service, my experience with Women of the Wall was solely in Jerusalem as an attendee of Rosh Chodesh services at the Kotel. I was very proud to be a part of the event in NYC but I think the strongest way to participate in the Women of the Wall movement is to show up for Rosh Chodesh and be a physical part of the group in Jerusalem. On my next trip back to Jerusalem, I hope to attend another service with the Women of the Wall. Until then, I will continue to advocate through the various Jewish channels in NYC that allow us to have and raise a voice to support this cause.
This is an interview with Emily Unger, a Harvard senior majoring in biology, and the former chair of the Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance, the student group organizing a protest against Hillel’s ban on partnerships with groups back boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Jewschool: Give us some background about your experience with this issue at Harvard.
Emily Unger: I’ve been involved in the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) since the beginning of my first year at college, and this entire time, we’ve prided ourselves on working together with both Harvard Students for Israel and the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and co-sponsoring events with both groups. Last semester, we planned to co-sponsor an event with PSC called “Jewish Voices Against the Occupation”, which brought two speakers, an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, to talk about their experiences doing non-violent activism against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories (protesting home demolitions in the West Bank, etc.) and how this related to their Jewish identity. We wanted to hold the event in the Hillel building, since it was a Jewish event and we thought it would appeal to Jewish students.
Today two Jewschool contributors got together over irritation at this article, and both of us agreed on one thing: the article should have started at the end.
XK: I’m disappointed. I hold Jane Eisner to this weird higher standard, because she’s usually
such a bad ass. She’s called out the Jewish community for awful gender and class stuff so many times, I’m surprised that she’d take on something so retro and do it in this way where she sounds like such a yenta. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a yenta. More »
(this guestpost is from a political organizer friend of the blog. –mgt)
Dear Rabbi Pesner,
Greetings! You don’t know me, but my facebook feed has lit up about you in the last couple hours. And so I wanted to say congratulations! It appears there is a trial balloon on whether or not you will run for Senator John Kerry’s seat shortly. Whether it is coming from your camp or from folks who want you to run, that the article is out is a good sign for your nascent campaign. I don’t know you, and so I don’t have an educated opinion on whether or not you should run, but I want to offer you a small piece of advice, one progressive yid to another. Looking at our friends in common on facebook, I have a feeling this is advice you’ve already heard, but I feel compelled to offer it nonetheless, free of charge.
If you’re going to do it, do it. Be like Nachshon. Take the plunge and run like you mean it. More »
For the last couple of weeks, as the fallout from Newtown continues, as the NRA displays its absolute contempt for anyone who finds anything other than guns of value, Jews have also been participating in the conversation about gun control in the US.
While Jews tend toward the liberal positions about guns, Judaism does not, in reality, always correspond with American 21st century liberal politics. Does Judaism have a position on gun control? Rabbi Aaron Alexander of AJU’s Ziegler school, writes a commentary in HuffPo that, although it focuses on one aspect and one commentator that gets at the crux of the Jewish view.
There is simply no rational way of escaping the fact – not opinion- that gun ownership raises risks of death and injury for everyone in the house where the gun is owned. Nor is there any credible evidence that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress. Jewishly, significantly increasing safety risks to oneself without showing a significant benefit to offset it would require a ban on gun ownership.
Secondarily, hunting for sport, as Rabbi Landau says (the commentator that Alexander is writing about) is considered negatively by Jewish sources. Taking pleasure in something that causes pain is contrary to Jewish values. Even when we eat meat, we are required by Jewish law to slaughter it in a way that causes no pain to the animal (that is why an animal whose slaughter is performed with a knife that has even a single nick in it is considered treif). Arguments aside about whether or not such a death is truly painless (and there are certainly those who advocated vegetarianism – such as the gadol hador – the great one of his generation, Rabbi Soloveitchik), the value is clear: Jews are not supposed to engage in such behavior, except if there is no other option – in other words, one may stave off starvation by hunting, but it’s not something Jews should do if there are other sources of food.
Finally, it is worth knowing that the ban on Jewish hunting is not merely a halachic matter (matter of Jewish law) custom too has long viewed the hunter as a negative character. Those who make their living by killing are considered the very height of what my mother would have called “a goyishe kop” (please excuse, non-Jewish friends). If one looks through old haggadot, the wicked son, the rasha is often portrayed as a soldier or a hunter.
Sport hunting is not a value. Hunting for food – outside of a starvation case- is not a value. Safety for one’s family is a value, and the evidence is that having guns in the home not only does not protect one from intruders, but increases risks of accidental shootings, suicide deaths, and deliberate shootings, particularly in cases of domestic violence. Societally, then, there is one last case to be made. Many people argue that the case for owning guns is that the second amendment is determined to let us protect ourselves from a tyrannous government. God knows the Jews know from tyrannous governments.
To consider this rationally: does the possibility that a bunch of neighbors with assault weapons might gather together to fend off the United States government when it comes for us to send us to the camps balance out the overwhelming numbers of American gun deaths, and the evidence that very tight gun control, or even banning guns would reduce (not eliminate, of course, but reduce) gun deaths. That leaves us two questions actually. First, would those assault weapons stave off tanks, rockets and the very latest in military technology? Not likely. Second. If by some miracle there was a chance that it did, would it be worth it? I suppose that is a calculus that in general society could be argued, but Jewishly, I would say that the decisive view is no. The risks are too clear, and the protection far, far too little – if there is indeed any at all.
Recently, Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine created, published and distributed a Zine called “Birthright? A Primer” for folks contemplating going on a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip. The primer includes testimonies from previous trip participants, as well as resources for exploring Israel/Palestine after the trip. Tufts SJP organizers Matthew Parsons, Anna Furman and Dani Moscovitch spoke with Jewschool about the primer, how and why it happened, and what impact they hope it will have.
Jewschool: What was the impetus for creating the primer? What’s the goal?
Anna Furman: The goal of our zine is to equip students who have chosen to go on Birthright with a body of knowledge that they will not find otherwise. I think the most important section of our zine may be the section that encourages students to extend their trips and to go with various groups to the West Bank. If I had a zine like this when I had gone on Birthright 3 years ago, I am pretty certain that my whole understanding of the region and my relation to it would have been very different. More »
This is a guest post by Sam Shuman. Sam is a Sociocultural Anthropology student at Columbia University and a Jewish Women and Gender Studies student at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He hails originally from a small community near the Amish in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sam enjoys living in a Bundist-style collective, running a Jewish LGBT club, investigating the history of the industrial shlishkes machine, engaging in direct actions and loitering around Ukrainian Hasidic gravesites.
In 2012, Sam spent Rosh Hashanah in Uman, where he investigated “things beneath the surface.” You can listen to his unconventional lecture/performance piece here. Sam presented his observations and extrapolations at Chulent, the informal weekly gathering in New York City for Orthodox Jews looking to question, celebrate and build community. Sam shared his reflections on Chulent with Jewschool.
Chulent: A Surreal Post-Surrealist Manifesto
With regard to a false interpretation of our enterprise, stupidly circulated among the public, I declare as follows to the entire braying literary, dramatic, philosophical, exegetical and even theological body of contemporary criticism:
1. An in-gathering of Diasporic bodies wandering through the urban frontier of New York City—in contradistinction to independent Jewish spaces which inevitably become co-opted by Jewish corporate sponsorship, re- assimilated back into the machine.
2. A shape-shifting organism—far too amorphous an organism to ever become institutionalized.
3. A space that cannot be located on maps, an underworld that cannot be charted onto longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates.
4. An organism in constant motion. A collective that occupies spaces only to abandon them (leaving silent breadcrumbs of disruption to mark its path if it ever decides to return).
5. A salon for Hasidim, Neo-Hasidim, ex-Hasidim, intellectuals, pseudo-intellectuals, and anti-intellectuals.
6. A Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) to which Hakim Bey would flee if he ever decided to disavow his Sufi anarchism and convert to Judaism.
7. A salon that S. An-sky would record in his ethnographic expeditions, the type of space that Warsaw yiddishists of the pre-war era.
8. An embodiment of what Sander Gilman refers to as the Jewish Frontier—a post-structural landscape that challenges the center-periphery model of Jewish historiography.
9. What the biblical Ir Miklat (City of Refuge) looks like in galus.
10. A home for the possessed and dispossessed.
11. A never-ending niggun drunk on cheap vodka.
12. A spectacle aware of its spectacularity—à la Guy Debord.
13. A primitive tribe supported by a cigarette gift-giving economy.
14. A meeting ground for Burning Man Burners and Rainbow Gathering Gatherers.
15. An opening for Hasidim fleeing from Hasidic communities.
16. A spot for ecstatic clapping, stomping, and singing—to retrieve the lost sparks hidden in Uman, Berdychiv, Medzybush, and Breslau and capture the anti-nomian traces of the Baal Shem Tov’s spirit.
17. An experimental playground—akin to sanctuaries constructed by Radical Faerie.
The curriculum looks at the history of Jews in the labor movement via a series of 8 lessons, on topics such as agriculture, housewives and consumer organizing, radicalism and the Red Scare, and Jewish labor campaigns. I spoke with Judith Rosenbaum, feminist historian and the Director of Public Projects at the Jewish Women’s Archive, about the curriculum in more detail.
Q: Give us a glimpse into this particular curriculum and what it contains.
Judith Rosenbaum (JR): Two years ago, we released the curriculum on the Civil Rights movement. In it, we wanted to go beyond the often congratulatory manner of Jewish conversations about social justice and look more closely at the challenges regarding race and Jewish identity in the movement. The Labor curriculum is also primary source based, and adaptable for a variety of educational situations. It crosses different time periods and narratives and includes 14 biographies of labor leaders, as well as women’s stories in the labor movement, which are often excluded.
Q: What do you hope that folks will take from the curriculum? What conversations do you hope people will have as a result of it?
JR: In the United States, the conversation around labor has fallen apart. I hope this curriculum will help folks see parallels and create alliances, and start a different level of dialogue about dignity, identity, human rights, ethical treatment of workers; beyond the questions of whether or not unions are good or bad. We see things as a question of laborers v. professionals, or allies v. members, when actually, we’re all involved in the labor relationship, but most of us feel alienated from it, because we have a particular idea of what a worker is. Let’s reframe the issue around fair employment and create a fuller picture: What does it mean to be a worker? What are worker’s rights? What are my responsibilities to the labor relationships in which I am involved? Where does dignity fit in to our notions of what work is about?
Q: What do you think the contribution of Jewish communities and women has been to the labor movement? What do you think it can be?
JR: Jewish involvement in the labor movement in the first half of the 20th century helped shaped American Jewish identity. In the workplace, we became observers of American language and culture, we gained strength from experiences with others, from experiencing injustice together. We learned language for talking about social change from different positions within systems; we can and have brought strength, resiliency and challenge to the labor movement. At the same time, social justice and activism became a secular Jewish practice.
In the contemporary Jewish community, there’s no consensus around labor issues. We may be nostalgic about the history of Jewish labor activism, but we talk about the Jewish community today as if there are no working class Jews, as if we are not implicated in current unfair labor practices. One reason we created this project was to open a conversation that would draw connections between our activist past and our current realities and responsibilities as American Jews.
Q: What piece of the curriculum is your favorite?
JR: There’s a document in the Jewish Radicalism and the Red Scare section, it’s an advertisement for the “Free Thinkers and Radicals Picnic” on Yom Kippur in Central Park in 1907, put together by Emma Goldman and her friends. I like it because it’s complicated: you can’t make assumptions about what’s Jewish and not Jewish, or about what kinds of actions are political. A Yom Kippur picnic is clearly a rejection of traditional Jewish practice, but it’s also a kind of secular Jewish practice.
Nobody attends a Women of the Wall service without knowing that being arrested for wearing a tallit or praying aloud is a distinct possibility. At the group’s monthly Rosh Chodesh services, some women choose to save their voices and their prayer shawls for the Torah service that takes place at a nearby location. Others take the risk. Regular participants advise first-timers regarding how to avoid arrest.
It stands to reason, then, that the Hadassah leaders who were building up anticipation for the joint Women of the Wall/Hadassah prayer service on Tuesday evening were prepared for possible police action against the group of 200 women. One might also imagine that they were set to offer a statement in the event that such action occurred. As of now, however, Hadassah has declined to take a public stand on this issue. Their website and Twitter feed (@Haddashorg) refer the public to JTA articles and Women of the Kotel statements. Hadassah leaders remain silent on the violent detainment of Nashot Hakotel leader Anat Hoffman, or the general mistreatment of women who pray at the Kotel.***
Meanwhile, Hadassah plans to present PM Netanyahu with an award named for Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.
What would Henrietta Szold do in such a case?
Given that she struggled to be admitted to the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and was finally allowed to matriculate together with rabbinical students under the condition that she never ask to be ordained, in all likelihood she would have been at the Kotel, determined to find a way for women to pray there.
At the very least, no doubt Anat Hoffman is correct when she says that the Women of the Wall organization is more deserving of the prize than Bibi is. The vision of Henrietta Szold, whose unique brand of leadership encompassosed the social feminist movement of her day as well as an inclusive, diverse vision of Jewish peoplehood, was much more akin to the work of Women of the Wall than to any aspect of the current Israeli government’s leadership. In any case, the women’s Zionist organization should not be silent now regarding this violation of the rights of women in Zion.
*** Update: Hadassah has published a one-sentence resolution regarding this:
In Jerusalem, at the National Business Meeting of the Centennial Convention of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, delegates unanimously approved a resolution reaffirming its commitment to and support for freedom of worship for women at the Western Wall.
It is worth following the replies to this by Hadassah members, which have a little more bite: