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 »
Yes, here it is, the announcement that you have all been waiting for. After sifting through the… uhhh… hmmm… one entry to decide what cookie will represent Jewschool at NewGround’s evening Spotlight: The Space Between, the winner is Kung Fu Jew’s entry: spicy (jalapeno chocolate) hamantashen. His reasoning: “A classic Jewish cookie celebrating victory over Haman, with a new reminder that the exercise of power can be sharp on those who wield it too,” will accompany every cookie. The spicy hamantashen will be played by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, cause, ya know…November…Purim…whatever.
In any event, if you are in L.A. on Saturday night come to Spotlight. (It sells out so get your tickets now. Link on the FB event page.)
Editor’s Note: Following yesterday’s post by Sarra Alpert, here is another piece about the Rosh HaShana Torah readings, re-visited as we read those passages again this coming Shabbat. This piece was given by Mary Otts as a derasha at the Mishkan Chicago community. –aryehbernstein
by Mary Otts
As a child, I spent lots of time on my knees, glass rosary beads floating over my fingertips, staring at paintings of saints on the walls of holy buildings. Prayer smelled like the incense wafting through the cathedral and sounded like the reverberation of the kneelers being dropped onto the tile floor. While my mouth moved—still moves—effortlessly around the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” this Mary was distracted by a clumsy inadequacy around what it was I was really supposed to be doing in these moments.
Many years later, I’ve found G!d in the hum of the Bet Midrash, in the gentle correction of my chevruta, in the letters of the Gemara, in every single time someone who thought they couldn’t learn Talmud is empowered into finding their place in our Tradition. I find joy in P’sukei d’Zimra, community when we stand together during the Amidah, and revelation in the melody of Eitz Chayim Hi, but prayer—that magical thing that is supposed to happen in between the lines of liturgy—prayer is hard for me still. And, yet, particularly this past summer, I have needed to pray. More »
I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which facebook and other online discourse can be constructive or destructive. I try to engage people with diverse opinions in thinking through vitally important issues – in the hopes (as grandiose as this might sound) of moving all of us, in some small way, toward a better future. As opinionated as I might be, I hope and believe I’ve remained open to changing my opinions based on other peoples’ respectful, well-thought-out responses and alternative views, and that I make that clear in the way I engage others. And I know I’ve learned a lot and grown tremendously from dialogue with people who disagree with me.
But then I end up on a facebook friend’s thread on how to respond to Palestinian stone-throwing where real live people make comments like this: “penalty should be public stoning. tie them to a post and allow the local populace 30 minutes of free stone throwing. or they could choose option B which is a public caning by a female IDF officer (10 should suffice) while standing in a bucket of pigs blood.” How does one even begin to respond to such a statement? I took a friend’s advice to report the comment as hate speech, but hearing things like that from a person who is only a couple degrees removed from me shakes me up, probably more than it should. It makes me hesitant to engage in further discussion, and I find it also makes me respond less rationally and thoughtfully to other topics. The experience (and others like it) is making me wonder how much to open myself up to hearing from people who strongly disagree with me, versus how much to maintain a smaller circle of people with whom I am open to conversation on these issues.
This experience affected me especially harshly since it came on the heels of a recent decision to relax my usually stringent criteria for accepting facebook friend requests: the “friend” on whose wall this was posted is not someone I know in real life. But he sent me a friend request and I decided to accept because, although our opinions in general seem to be very different, I had been impressed by his thoughtful and respectful mode of discourse on a number of facebook threads. And then this.
I would love to hear suggestions of constructive and positive ways to respond to such vitriol, beyond defriending people, ignoring, or anonymously reporting hate-filled posts. Is it worth it to respond when people make such emotional and vile comments? In what ways, and whom, does it help?
Try reading out loud.
Sometimes I feel like there are all these peace agreements for sale and no one’s buying. We’ve got two states, one state, unions, federations, long term, short term and more. Get ‘em while their hot! Bibi’s not buying and Hamas sure ain’t interested. Abbas is like a man at a mall minutes before closing with credit card in hand – no idea which product can fit in his station wagon; the proprietor eyeing him to leave. People keep asking what the alternative is to violence, “we have to kill and die, there’s no other choice!” Humanity knows when that is the case and when it sure isn’t. Those filled with love and pain – commitment to their people and in solidarity with all other peoples – tend to reluctantly make it clear that it may be a time when fighting may be necessary.
Over at the Forward, I have a piece suggesting that the Israeli center left ought to oppose Gaza escalations. I argue that these regular “mowing the lawn” operations makes Lapid and Herzog’s hectoring Bibi to negotiate with Abbas during times of peace absurd. The escalations ensure there will be no negotiations, and they cement a policy of armed security—rather than the peace process.
This piece is differs from much—though not all—of the anti-escalation writing I’ve been reading recently. The Jewish left is good at drawing attention to Palestinian suffering, even in the face of an intensive campaign by the right to delegitimize and distract from that suffering. That’s commendable, and I think it effectively helps many people—even those from outside our base—start to question. Certainly, anything that opens our hearts to Gazans, who are in a horrendous situation (for which, obvious, there’s plenty of blame to spread around), probably makes us more empathetic and compassionate observers of the conflict.
But we’re less good at the dispassionate game of political analysis. We tend to take for granted that our case is fundamentally about an immediate moral vision. That’s energizing, but it makes it hard to appeal to people who don’t think in terms of immediate suffering, or for whom Palestinian suffering just isn’t a compelling argument. I try to articulate a case against the airstrikes and ground invasion that holds up even if you think they’re 100% morally okay. I appeal just to Israel’s strategic interests—admittedly, through the prism of a basically liberal belief in a negotiated, two-state deal. I think that’s important for people who (like me) a) tend to be mistrustful of emotional reactions to suffering as direct grounds for political choices b) want not just opposition and critique, but a clearly articulated strategic plan from the left and c) are inherently suspicious of any analysis that doesn’t place at its center Israeli interests and needs. The left needs those people too, at least as fellow travelers.
I’d be curious what people think about the piece, but also about the distinction I’m drawing between “detached strategizing” and “moral-emotional appeals,” and the broader questions here of what types of arguments the left should be putting forward right now.
As increased attention is being paid to the problematic incarceration complex in the United States, especially in light of Michelle Alexander’s sobering book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, policy makers, social service providers, educators, and law enforcement officials are also considering the vertical effects of criminal stigmatization on the children of the incarcerated. Last year, Sesame Street even saw fit to release a segment on its web site about children with incarcerated parents, which aroused ire from some observers appalled that this normalized criminality. Though it is unclear that children of incarcerated parents engage in any higher levels of criminality than their peers, stigmas often cling to such children from the outside. In that context, it is instructive to consider a brief, four-word aside in this week’s Torah portion. In the context of a census taken after two brutal acts of Divine carnage, the Torah matter-of-factly claims (Numbers 26:11), ”And the children of Korach did not die. וּבְנֵי קֹרַח לֹא מֵתוּ. Why didn’t they die, why might that surprise us, and why does the Torah bother to mention it? More »
Shaul Magid, who has studied and written about Reb Zalman’s teachings and impact, wrote this obituary for the Forward.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, one of the important Jewish innovators in postwar America, inspiration to a generation and ecumenical spiritualist, died on July 3 aged 89.
A tireless organizer and spiritual architect, Schachter-Shalomi single-handedly created a new form of Jewish practice and spirituality known as Jewish Renewal, founded on the idea of Gaia consciousness: the notion that the earth is a living organism and that human civilization needs to construct religion to frame its responsibility to the planet. He developed a theory of eco-kashrut that incorporates environmentalism and animal rights as an integral part of Jewish dietary practice.
At times he found himself at the nexus of influence and at times he put himself there, but Schachter-Shalomi used his friendship with two Lubavitcher rabbis, a number of Sufi sheikhs, the leaders of the 1960s counter-culture and a clutch of colleagues in university professorships to bring the intensity and passion of the fervently religious, the insights of spirituality and the openness of the counter-culture to the practice of progressive religion.
Continue reading here, then come back and comment or add your memories, reminiscences, appreciations…
Jews Standing With the South
Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer
“Step-by-step, day-by-day, and community-by-community we are working to build a new economy that will transform Jackson and the South. This transformation will be rooted in creating an economy based on worker ownership, worker self-management, and worker democracy in the form of cooperative enterprise. Together these are the foundations for creating economic democracy, which is the next step in the long march to create a just society based on human rights, human dignity, social equality, and economic equity. We encourage everyone who believes in these social aims to stand with us in creating a national network to support Cooperation Jackson, the Southern Grassroots Economies Project and the movement for economic democracy.” — Cooperation Jackson
In Jackson, the rest of Mississippi, and throughout the South, those most marginalized in our present economy are at the forefront of a grassroots movement to build the next economy. This is part of a larger global vision to create financial mechanisms that do not profit off of inflicting harm upon oppressed communities, but instead explicitly serve their interests.
Cooperation Jackson and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project are two organizations modeling this vision. Their efforts are grounded in a tradition of Black collective action built on aspirations to challenge racism and build community power. This practice spans from mutual aid societies to the Underground Railroad, from desegregation efforts to rural agricultural cooperatives, from legal challenges to nonviolent direct action. More »
This is a guest post by Sarah Imhoff, Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.
In a whirlwind day of traveling this week, I’ve been in the United States, Turkey, and Israel. On the train in New Jersey, I noticed one house where American flags sprouted on the porch like rows of overgrown plants fighting for the sun. In Turkey, I got stuck walking on the sidewalk behind this vendor:
Turkish flag vendor
And because of the snail’s pace line for passport control at Ben Gurion airport, I stared at up an enormous wall painting of an Israeli flag for two hours. While there is plenty to say about the comparative politics of patriotism, I thought about social interactions of church and state. As a scholar of religion, I seem to see it everywhere.
These three nations—the US, Turkey, and Israel—have three very different articulations of the relationship between “church” and state. The United States has constitutional commitment to freedom of religious expression, and simultaneously refusal of federal establishment of religion. Turkey has a different sort of separation: its laicite, a style of secularism most frequently associated with France, excludes religious practice and discourse from the space of government. And Israel is a Jewish state. And each of these arrangements turns out to be far more complicated and contested than a single sentence about it can suggest.
As this month’s SCOTUS ruling on Town of Greece v. Galloway. reminded us, there is a long tradition of legislative prayer practice in the United States. Were the people of the town of Greece, NY allowed to start their meetings with a prayer, as long as they didn’t intentionally exclude any religions? The court ruled 5-4 that the town wasn’t violating the constitution with its prayer, but the justices on both sides of the issue offered locally based reasoning in their decisions. The most affecting moment of Elana Kagan’s dissent was her hypothetical story about a Muslim woman coming to the town council to ask for a building permit. Wouldn’t she feel coerced into municipally-sanctioned Christianity when the chaplain opened the meeting and said “Let us pray”? In his opinion holding for Greece, Clarence Thomas explained that he thinks the establishment clause pertains only to the federal government, and so wouldn’t necessarily or automatically apply to states, or a town such as Greece. Both justices, despite their vastly different takes, appealed to local context to explain their legal reasoning about religion.
In Turkey, unlike the United States or the town of Greece, religious expression in government spaces is disallowed. For instance, police, judges, and members of the armed forces aren’t allowed to wear headscarves, even though the country is nearly 99% Muslim. Laicite means individual religious practice and signs are excluded from government representation. Last October in Turkey, four women Members of Parliament began to wear headscarves in Parliament for the first time in nearly 15 years—and even in 1999, Merve Kavakci, the MP who wore the headscarf, was booed out of the chamber. The political changes that allowed the headscarves last year turned heads of those committed to the story of a secular Turkey. Supporters of Turkey’s laicite would have balked at seeing the Town of Greece ruling. They would have seen it as entirely too permissive of the mixing of religious practice and government. But in the central spot of Istanbul tourism, I stood between two historic and iconic religious buildings Blue Mosque (the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and the cathedral-turned-mosque-turned-museum Hagia Sofia, where I listened to the Friday afternoon call to prayer as it alternated between two loudspeakers.
In Israel, I heard very little. This, too, was a religiously inflected noise: it was Shabbat. Though I was in Tel Aviv, a city not known for its religious piety, most of the neighborhood shops were quiet. Here you might notice that it was a state with many Jews, but you might not know it is a Jewish state. Prayers intermingle with speeches in the Knesset, most recently and powerfully exemplified in MK Ruth Calderon’s first Knesset speech last year—and she is a member of a very progressive political party. The Knesset has 120 members because Jewish tradition holds that the “men of the great assembly” numbered 120. The Knesset routinely legislates about matters of religious practice, contains men and women who dress and behave according to religious norms, and hears religiously based arguments.
National church-state arrangements and the sorts of religion expressed and allowed in legislative bodies clearly structure religious lives in the nation. But the two nations with ostensibly secular governments–the US and Turkey–have much higher percentages of religious believers than Israel, a country with an official religion. So knowing what these political arrangements of religion are at the national level isn’t nearly enough for us to predict what expressions of religion look like in the streets. Today, I wonder, if all politics is local, maybe all religion is too.
Working for Resetting the Table: Open Conversations on Israel the past month has reinforced something I’ve suspected for a while, but have been timid in confronting. Too many American Jews are afraid to talk about the Israel/Palestinian conflict outside their immediate social circles and I’d really like to understand why. Are we so entrenched in our positions that it is simply too painful to hear another perspective? Most of the pulpit rabbis I know won’t talk about Israel in their own shul because of how it polarizes the community. These rabbis refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as the ‘third rail’ meaning if you touch it, you will get electrocuted. Disagreeing without demonizing has become surprisingly difficult. How did a conversation about Israeli politics become so taboo? If you are interested in supporting a project to help young Jews reclaim the ability to talk constructively through differences on this vital topic, please join the conversation at Resetting the Table’s Town Square this Sunday April 6th at the @Brooklynlyceum in Park Slope (227 4th Ave) 4-7pm. Specifically for Jews in their 20′s and 30′s. Tickets can be purchased here for $10. For a discounted rate or more info email firstname.lastname@example.org Catered by Brookly’s own Mason and Mug
Most attention paid to Parashat Shemini focuses on the divine fire that consumed Nadav and Avihu when they tried to offer a strange fire on the brand new altar at its triumphant moment of inauguration (VaYikra 10:1-2). No fewer than twelve explanations are offered in Rabbinic literature to explain why God took their lives.
However, it seems worthwhile to me to focus more on the aftermath of this shocking event. After Moshe’s bizarre poetic eulogy (v. 3), after the immediate removal of the corpses (vv. 4-5), after Moshe’s rapid-fire, sober instructions to the kohanim for the immediacy and for the generations (vv. 6-15), Moshe returns to check in on the other business of the day: what is the state of the goat that had already been offered as the national sin ? The mood may have gone haywire after Aharon’s sons were killed in the line of duty, but Moshe played it cool, unswayed by his nephews’ death, mind still on the urgent business of the day of managing God’s housewarming party. Let’s take a look:
x-posted to Justice in the City
The question, twenty years after Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Palestinians at prayer, wounding tens more, is this: How can we celebrate Purim? Goldstein, heard the reading of the Megillah on Purim night, heard (for the fortieth time?) that the Jews took vengeance on their enemies, slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children. Twice. Goldstein, a medical doctor, then rose early in the morning, went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot his M16 until he was overpowered and killed, having killed or wounded tens of praying innocents. How do we read this tale of revenge when we know that that revenge, the Purim revenge, the revenge of “the Jews got their enemies in their power” (Esther 9:1) has been wreaked?
For centuries we were safe from the bloodletting that we fantasized about, because we were powerless on the whole, and our blood was being let. The fantasy of turning the tables—on the very day that the decree was to be carried out “the opposite happened”—was a fantasy of comfort. Someday our oppression will end.
Now, however, our oppression has—in most parts of the world—ended. The State of Israel is powerful, armed, mighty. Yet, we continue to read and celebrate the fantasies of revenge. On Yom Yerushalayim, yeshivah students dance through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem singing ki lashem hamluchah umoshel bagoyim/״for kingship is the Lord’s and He rules the nations״ (Psalms 22:29) while banging on the shutters of the closed Palestinian shops. (Meticulously not repeating the name of God, but rather singing hashem over and over again, according to the precepts of the pious, while striking fear and humiliation in the hearts of other human beings.)
The Sages of the Talmud, especially the fourth century Babylonian Rava, were neither so simplistic nor were they naïve. It is to Rava that we owe the free flow of alchoholic drink on Purim. Rava says: “A person is obligated to become intoxicated on Purim, until he cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed is Haman,’ and ‘Blessed is Mordecai.’” The statement is immediately followed by a story:
Rabbah and Rav Zeirah made a Purim feast together.
They got drunk, Rabbah rose, slaughtered Rav Zeirah.
On the morrow, when the wine had left him,
he [Rabbah] asked for mercy on him [Rav Zeira], and he revived him.
A year later, he said to him, “the gentleman should come and we will do the Purim feast [together].”
He said to him, not in every hour does a miracle happen.
Why does Rava choose, as his criterion of drunkenness, not being able to distinguish between Mordecai and Haman? That is not being buzzed, nor even inebriated. That is being fall on the floor, passed out drunk. Rava’s Purim drinking does not bespeak the comradery of friends around the Shabbes table, or at the pub. Rava’s Purim goes much darker. Then, the editor of the Talmud follows it up with the disturbing story of Rabbah and Rav Zeira who did get that drunk, whereupon Rabbah killed Rav Zeira. This story is illustrative, not dispositive. It is as if the editor was saying: “Yes. This drunk.”
If we read the megillah carefully we are left unsettled. In the beginning of the story (after the King kills Vashti and takes Esther in her stead) he gives Haman his ring and tells him that, yes, he can “destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day.” After we are led through the intricate paths and byways of the royal intrigue for the next six chapters, Haman is found out and killed. The King then takes the ring from Haman’s cold, dead hands and gives it to Mordecai. He grants Mordecai and Esther permission to “destroy, massacre, and exterminate its armed force together with women and children, and plunder their possessions—on a single day.” For good measure, the Jews of Shushan repeat this on the morrow.
The question we are left with is this: In the next scene, the scene after the end of the megillah, who will get the ring then? If Ahaseurus the King is still in charge, and his rule is based on whim (and the last person who paid him) and not justice, we suspect that another Haman will get the ring, then another Mordecai, forever. Mordecai and Esther’s victory is not redemption. As Rava says further on: “We are still slaves of Ahaseurus.” The point of getting drunk on Purim is not celebratory. It is to look into the darkness of the unredeemed world.
It is not coincidental that in that unredeemed world Rabbah slaughtered Rav Zeira. The point of the story is just that. It is a miracle in an unredeemed world that people don’t kill each other. Not being able to tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai means living in a world of constant enmity where there is no solid ground to stand on.
If we “celebrate” Purim this year, and any year, it can only be as a way of looking into the darkness of the unredeemed soul of the world. That is the place where we will stay—the place of Haman slaughtering then Mordecai slaughtering, Palestinians slaughtering then Jews slaughtering—until we all move to solid ground, when we get rid of Ahaseurus and throw away the ring—when we create political structures, states and societies, which support justice rather than fomenting injustice and fantasies of revenge.
This past Sunday, I MC’ed a Sermon Slam in Jerusalem, on the theme of Amalek. Here is one of my favorite pieces from the evening, by Charlie Buckholtz, a Jerusalem-based writer whose writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Tablet, and the Daily Beast, and who blogs at badrabbi.tumblr.com. His book Are You Not a Man of God? Devotion, Betrayal, and Social Criticism in Jewish Tradition, co-authored with Tova Hartman, was recently published by Oxford University Press. You can watch video of this performance here and listen to it in podcast form, along with another excellent one by Candace Mittel, a Pardes student, here. To find out more about Sermon Slam, visit its Kickstarter page. –aryehbernstein
A Malcontented Beheading
By Charlie Buckholtz
Back seat, BMW SUV.
Back streets of Queens careening by me, through me
in the window, as I wonder how it is I ended up here:
mid-day, mid-life, mid-week, on a visit to sit with the family of a dead guy I’ll never meet.
Taking lessons from a driver who knows he’s in the driver’s seat.
It’s this kid’s car, he’s 15 years my junior; pops just gave it to him the day before the
funeral; now they’re schmoozing pros and cons of the on-board computer.
Apparently it was between this one and a Mercury–next the conversation turns to pee-pee, naturally.
“So abba, how you pishing these days?”
Gotta love the Jews, right? They never quite fail to amaze.
Anyways, pops is obviously completely unfazed, no hesitation—
such a detailed explanation, it left me slightly dazed.
Pops you see is my boss, the shul president.
Pretend that we’re friends — maybe we are — but it’s as irrelevant
as the rain that was falling all around us that day, pounding like a dozer, hounding me like a moser,
making everything feel even smaller, closer…
No sir! I have a sudden violent urge to say
I am neither an impostor nor a dissident…okay?
Still I guess I’ll keep the rain in the event:
never know what details the future reveals to set new precedents.
Can’t say I remember what the thread was…guess I lost it in the dissonance.
by Rokhl, at the Rootless Cosmopolitan blog, where you can find it cross-posted, along with much more stimulating writing about Yiddish, American Judaism and its discontents, and other Dynamic Yiddishkayt for the New Millennium. –aryehbernstein
The Washington Post brings us an interesting chart from the Pew Research Center. The chart tracks language presence in the United States from 1980 to today. Because Yiddish had the most stark decline between then and now (from #11 in 1980 to dead last today) the Pew chart is labeled The decline of Yiddish, the rise of Tagalog. Which, ok, is pretty accurate. The Washington Post’s headline, however, is How We Stopped Speaking Yiddish. Which isn’t just bizarrely non-descriptive of this charticle (the ‘How’ never comes up), it also speaks to the media’s love of a good ‘Yiddish in decline’ narrative.
For comparison, Greek was at #8 in 1980 with 401,000 speakers. Today it’s at #14 with 307,000 speakers. In 1980 Yiddish had 315,000 speakers and today around155,000. (By the way, I’m pretty sure this is an underestimate given the population explosion in the Hasidic world and how that explosion does not show up in official records.) Between 1980 and today both Greek and Yiddish dropped six positions.
So, why no tears for the dramatic decline of Greek? Italian? Polish?
While the Washington Post leads with the disappearance of Yiddish, Salon reprints Ross Perlin’s Jewish Currents piece on Yiddish on the Internet. Perlin, a Yiddishist living in New York, finds a thriving Yiddish world on line.
The Washington Post may have stopped speaking Yiddish, but there’s a whole lot of folks typing, texting and publishing in it online. But you have to be interested in finding them.
This article also appears at allthesedays.org
Coverage in the media of mounting economic inequality around the world has become commonplace over the past few months. In many ways this coverage is late to the game as growing movements for equity and justice have left a wake in their paths. Perhaps there are lessons to be found in the ideas, crises, and visions of the Kibbutz movement.
Passover at Kibbutz Mishmar Ha'emek, 2012
The century old Socialist experiment known as the Kibbutz elicits images of Jewish pioneers pitching tents, farmers tilling fields, and folks living in rural utopia. The reality today is, as with most things, much more complicated than collective memory can often allow.
In the late 1970s the utopian dream began to deteriorate. Israel’s first non-labour government came into power and the status of the Kibbutz shifted as the country began to look towards the privatization of once national institutions.
Former Secretary-General of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet and current Director of Givat Haviva Educational Institution, Yaniv Sagee sees the story of the Kibbutz as intertwined with that of the country. “The Kibbutz was seen as a public investment for building the state of Israel… Until 1977, and it served as a base for confidence for the Kibbutz members because they knew they can give to the Kibbutz everything that they have and they get from the Kibbutz everything they need. And they were sure it was going to happen because they didn’t only have to rely on the kibbutz. If it wasn’t successful the movement would help and if the movement needed support then there was the government,” he said.
For many Kibbutz communities, it was the beginning of the end.
This is the shortened version of the written discussion in which Avigail Shaham details her community, movement, and vision. The full version is up here at allthesedays.org and the Spanish version (translated by Kevin Ary Levin) is up here.
What do you do? Why do you find yourself identifying as a “Shomeret” (member of the movement)? What is the appeal for you?
My name is Avigail, I was born and raised in Jerusalem, surrounded by good and inspiring people. Among many other activities in my childhood and adolescence, I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement – a 100 year old Socialist and Zionist movement which created some of the most inspiring foundations, structures and culture of cooperative society in Israel. When I graduated high school, I volunteered for a service year in the movement, in which my friends and I worked as educators in centers of the youth movement around the country, and created for other young people the unique experience of the movement – the experience of an autonomous, creative and liberating youth community in which one shapes their character in light of great ideas and through social discussions and mutual contemplation. As we were doing this, we realized we were Shomrim and Shomrot [truly identifying with the movement’s ideals] in character. We realized that the movement’s ideology and culture was a central compass for us in evaluating our actions and behavior and in choosing our role and path in the world. We wanted to continue being Shomrim and Shomrot, and create a path of life which expresses the essence of the movement.
Photo by A. Daniel Roth
Today, almost 12 years later, I live in a communal group [known as a "Kvutza", which means "group" in Hebrew] in Givat Haviva, with many of the people who I started this path with back then. We are educators and social activists, working in various arenas of Israeli society to encourage social justice, cooperation, peace and humanism, and to offer alternatives to the existing social structures and paradigms.
I work as a lawyer, specializing in labor law and working towards workers collective rights as well as equality for women in the workplace. I participate in different initiatives in the movement, such as political action and development of grass-roots unionizing projects, and in the internal processes of shaping the adult “Shomeric” [reflecting the values of the Hashomer Hatzair movement] society.
After Swarthmore Hillel’s decision to break from Hillel’s rules regarding conversation about Israel, I sent a letter to Hillel’s President and CEO, Eric Fingerhut by clicking send on a message as part of Open Hillel’s campaign to open Hillel. The response was swift, cordial, perhaps prepackaged , and it suggested I take a look at Hillel’s Israel Guidelines page.
So I did and I came across this wonderfully written paragraph:
Hillel welcomes a diversity of student perspectives on Israel and strives to create an inclusive, pluralistic community where students can discuss matters of interest and/or concern about Israel and the Jewish people in a civil manner. We encourage students’ inquiry as they explore their relationship with Israel. We object to labeling, excluding or harassing any students for their beliefs and expressions thereof. As an indispensible partner to the university, Hillel seeks to facilitate civil discourse about Israel in a safe and supportive college environment that is fertile for dialogue and learning.
It sounds as though they want to create some sort of inclusive, pluralistic space for students to discuss matters of interest and concern surrounding Israel. Great.
But the next section entitled “Standards of Partnership” seems to disagree with the previous section:
Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups, and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Hillel will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice:
First of all they won’t let anyone talk who will “Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.” Which seems reasonable at first, right? But of course this means that a speaker such as Israel’s Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett cannot be hosted by Hillel or Hillel’s partners as Minister Bennett does not support Israeli democracy. As well, the continuation of the occupation is quite possibly the policy that puts Israel’s security and borders at the most risk, so this list of banned speakers now must include a plethora of current and past Israeli government officials, ministers, members of Knesset, and a swath of authors, professors and other public voices that support continuation of the occupation.
And of course, anyone who would try to “Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel” need not apply. I (honestly) wonder if Hillel’s version of ‘demonizing’ is meant to give Hillel staff space to put a stop to portrayals of Israel as the root of all evil in the world, or if it just a handy “d” word, so bereft of meaning that it can be applied to any, even much needed, negative talk about Israel. And I wonder if there is such a threat of delegitimization that it needs to be one of the “d’s” on this list. A recent report posits that its not such a big deal in the world today. Either way, I suppose this means that Alan Dershowitz can’t speak at Hillel events anymore since he has gone on record with the truly golden double standard that Israel should disregard international law.
The list continues with the denial of space to anyone who would “Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.” Shouldn’t Hillel stick to censoring people based on the content of their speeches and the aims of their tactics? Has Hillel thought about what it means to ban people for supporting a set of tactics? I mean, some of these are tactics that are supported by the North American Jewish establishment when aimed at others. So it’s not the tactics themselves that bother Hillel, otherwise JFNA CEO, Jerry Silverman would be on the list of banned speakers. It seems that Hillel has set up one standard for discussing sanctions on Israel and another for discussing sanctions on Iran. Perhaps someone should coin a term for when you have one standard for one thing and another for another. I wonder, does this rule include those who support a boycott of Israel’s policies? If so, then Hillel can kiss Peter Beinart goodbye. Does this include Israeli academics? Wouldn’t that be ironic given the hullabaloo over the ASA boycott decision.
The last point bans partnering with those that “Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.” I guess they mean people who shout at speakers and stuff like that, but I can’t help but think of the pattern of disruption that Hillel itself has displayed when dealing with hosting productive dialogue on Israel, the occupation, BDS and other issues that quite obviously are “matters of interest and/or concern” for a great many of us.
If Hillel is serious about these rules they should be sure not invite speakers like Naftali Bennett, Binyamin Netanyahu, Alan Dershowitz and others that hurt Israel with their anti-democratic, pro-occupation, double standards. My guess is that these types of speakers will keep getting invites though. So why not open the space up to other types of speakers who are also not so guided by Hillel’s lines?
A civil atmosphere from an educational community space demands open dialogue. These guidelines are imprecise and leave room for abuse. This list makes it easy to exclude and to label. It ensures that Hillel will be closed off to many who come looking for open ideas, a tradition of debate, and an emphasis on justice, peace and the finest of Jewish thought in the discourse on Israel.
A. Daniel Roth, 2006 Winner of Hillel of Greater Toronto’s Sydney Mendick Memorial Award for Building Pluralism and Diversity, is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. He was born and raised in Toronto and lived in a commune of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in New York City. Daniel is a member of the All That’s Left collective and a learner/organizer with This is Not an Ulpan. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.