Throwback Thursday: Ending Torture, the CIA, and the Obama Administration

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee finally released its report on torture as practiced by the CIA on terrorism suspects in the post-9/11 years, opening and re-opening much national debate about the controversial interrogation practices, such as waterboarding.  During the years when revelation of these practices first came to light, Jewschool writers posted and organized passionately against these practices.  For today’s Throwback Thursday, we are re-running this 2008 guest post by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of T’ruah (then RHR-NA), urging President-Elect Obama to stand by his campaign promise to ban and end torture.  Her question whether people would oppose torture on moral grounds even if it were found to be effective (which it generally is not) is particularly poignant in this week’s debates.  Read the post here.

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

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

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

Why I Urge You to Reconsider Your Vote on BDS at Berkeley: A Response to Raphael Magarik

Dear Raphael Magarik (and other students at Berkeley participating in the vote today),
Thank you for bringing attention to the debate going on at your campus. I would like to respond to a few assertions that you make in the article, and urge you to reconsider your vote against BDS at Berkeley. I am not a student at Berkeley, but I am a graduate student elsewhere,* and have also been thinking through my own participation in a BDS movement, should it ever arise on my campus.When you say that “BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists,” I can’t help but question it’s ever a good idea to condition intervention on the possibility that someone doing something wrong will throw a temper tantrum in response. BDS aims to non-violently de-fang a national military industrial complex of what is already a country that has proven time after time that “asking nicely,” even when done by its most acquiescent and milquetoast of political allies, doesn’t work. More »

Fearless Judaism: on affirmative Jewish unity

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe the technical term for this is #sorrynotsorry

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

 

 

We’ve Been Waiting 60 Years For Things to Calm Down: Conversation with a Friend From Silwan

I spent ten minutes today speaking with an acquaintance who is Arab and lives in Silwan, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem just south of the Old City. I’ve known him for several years, and we’ve always had a friendly relationship, but I’ve never asked him about his life before. Today I decided to ask how he’s doing. I asked whether he lives in an area where things are really bad, and he told me “everyone lives in an area where it’s really bad.” Then he told me that a couple days ago he drove past the house in Silwan that they demolished this week: “You should have seen what happened – pieces flew everywhere, large chunks of the house, and all of the houses and cars nearby were damaged. It’s never been like that before. I’ve seen houses demolished before, and it was always contained to that house. But this time it was like they didn’t even care what else got damaged. They weren’t even trying to be careful. They didn’t bother cleaning anything up. I don’t know why they did it like that this time.” Thankfully his house is far enough away that it wasn’t affected. (Thankful, really, that I don’t have another person to feel too worried about, at least for today.)

More »

Suspicion in our Eyes and Terror in our Hearts: “They Are All the Same”

I haven’t told my children that their cousins’ cousin was brutally murdered last week by a knife-wielding terrorist. And I haven’t told them about the five men murdered yesterday in the midst of prayer, one of whom was the son of one of my favorite professors in college. About the mother who had to bury her beautiful daughter and the 24 children from the same street who were orphaned in one terrible moment. I can’t bring myself to share such horrendous, inhuman acts with them.

It’s different than with the rockets last summer. The rockets were terrible, but they felt somehow less personal, the people shooting them (though also horrible and murderous) a tiny bit less cold-blooded. I could talk about nameless, amorphous bad guys with my kids, though it was difficult and scary. But to tell my children about men who violated a house of worship with axes and a meat cleaver and shot people at close range during their silent prayer? About the man who picked up a knife and slashed the throat of an unarmed, kind-hearted young woman? I just can’t shatter their innocence that way. Not when they’re so young.

Nothing can justify such acts. Absolutely nothing.

Yet as much as part of me is being pulled constantly inward toward focusing only on my own Jewish family ever since this new wave of terror began, I have not been able to stop thinking about these powerful words:

More »

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

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

Interfaith and Israel

This is a guestpost by Liya Rechtman.

My family’s Passover Seder this year marked two firsts for my boyfriend: his first time meeting my dad and his first time eating homemade gefilte fish. As we read the haggadah around the table, I felt myself tensing up: ‘oh no, what if he gets that passage about Hillel and Shamai and he can’t pronounce the weird Hebrew town names?’ and ‘Worse! What if he winds up with “Tell me morano, my brother” and he has no idea what it’s about?’ When a reading did finally fall on him, and my boyfriend started on with “I am a Jew because…” I sort of giggled, loudly. My mom, tactful as always, told him that perhaps they would let someone else read the passage and come back to him. The first minor, awkward, interfaith hurdle had been managed gracefully by all parties involved.

The Seder moved on that night, and for several months to come the disparity between my Jewish tradition and his ex-Muslim atheism were significant parts of our identity, but not prohibitively so in the context of our relationship. Our faith/non-faith perspectives consistently yielded to thoughtful, extended discussion and debate about God, materialism, and meaning, among other things. That is, until three boys were declared dead in Israel and I stayed up all night crying. More »

#TBT: On 9/11 and Tisha B’Av

Last night, guest blogger Ben Greenfield posted a provocative piece on memory and ritual and how we can and do relate to 9/11 and Tisha B’Av.  This is not the first time the blog has addressed that connection.  For Throwback Thursday today, we’re re-running zt‘s short post from around Tisha B’Av five years ago, highlighting Irwin Kula’s reading in Eikha (Lamentations) trope of last phone messages from 9/11 victims.  Revisit it here.  You can read Rabbi Kula’s own explanation of the recording here, including a better link to his actual recorded chanting.

 

Echad Asar b’September, OR A 9/11 of the Jews

By Ben Greenfield, a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York City.

Its my second 9/11 in two months. Today its the Towers – last month, our Temples. Today, an utter hate explodes into senseless loss – in August, it was “senseless hate” bringing out utter catastrophe.  The ninth month’s eleventh day, 9/11, becomes Tisha B’av – the ninth day of the eleventh Hebrew month.  Maybe its just an exile Jewish thing.  We have two days of everything.

The dark similarities run deep and tragic.  Consider how both holidays are constructed around architecture.  Yes, the loss is truly about the lives destroyed and political trauma inspired, but in our imagery and imagination, its about two buildings razed to the earth.  Beautiful buildings; buildings conceived as a “world center”; buildings whose wreckage casts a shadow over the entire calamity.  Indeed, shadows which stretch farther and more permanent, now that the buildings are gone forever.

There was a First Temple and a Second Temple; a Tower 1 and a Tower 2.  And now, there are only memories.  More »

Making Sense of Our Sons’ Deaths

My two year old is starting preschool tomorrow. In his 27 months of sweet and innocent life, he has spent less than 27 hours apart from me. Tonight I went to our first parents’ meeting with butterflies in my stomach, anxious for both of us about this emotional milestone.

This is how it began: “Hi, I’m Ruchama, the head teacher. The first thing I want to tell you is that my son Moshe, my Moshiko, served in Gaza this summer. On the twenty-second day of the war, he was killed. He would have been 21 this summer.”

Ruchama went on to tell us that this has (understandably) been a very difficult summer for her, and that she was sure it would continue to be a hard year, but that when her son left for the war he left behind an early birthday card in which he urged her to “watch over the children” – our sweet children. And she told us that “ילדים זה שמחה - children are happiness”, and that she hopes and believes caring for our children will make the coming year, with its heartbreaking difficulty, a little bit brighter and more joyful for her.

As she shared her story, Ruchama was not crying. She smiled gently throughout. I pictured her crying so much this past month that she simply had no tears left.

Aside from hers, though, there were very few dry eyes in the room.

More »

Someday I Will Transcend the Fear

I am afraid.

I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.

I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.

I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.

More »

We Will Never Reach Peace Without Intimate Empathy

When my kids fight with each other, and especially when my eldest intentionally hurts one of his little brothers, my default is sadly to lash out in anger: to yell at him, banish him to his room, force him to stop. It never helps. He is still little enough that I can physically restrain him, though that won’t last long. But my anger has never stopped his anger.

What does help is empathy. When I manage to control my anger long enough to listen to him, understand why he felt wronged, and empathize with him, he softens, as do I. His yells turn to tears. He is able to let go of his anger and resentment, to apologize and forgive, to reconcile.

I have written a lot lately about empathy: that I think it’s critical for Israel’s future that we foster empathy and compassion and devote ourselves to recognizing the humanity of our Palestinian neighbors.

When I say this, it triggers many people’s defense mechanisms: “Do you really think you on the left have a monopoly on empathy? We do have empathy! We, Israel, the Jewish people, are so devoted to empathizing with our enemy, to valuing their lives more than they do themselves, that we risk our own soldiers, at tremendous cost. We can’t stand the loss of innocent life in Gaza! Our hearts ache at the thought of so many children dead. But we simply have no choice. Israel must defend herself. It’s us or them.”

Regardless of whether this is true (and I know at least some of it is), it is not the kind of empathy I’m talking about.

I’ve been searching for ways to describe the difference between the kind of empathy most of us seem to have in this situation, and the kind I feel we so desperately need. The best I can come up with is “intellectual empathy” versus “intimate empathy”.

More »

If Not Now: A Personal Political Reflection

This is a guest post by Becky Havivi, a Brooklyn-based community-builder and activist. This is not written on behalf of or in the name of If Not Now.

On the Friday night before Tisha B’Av, traditionally the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, 300 American Jews joined together in Washington Square Park to mourn the deaths of over 1500 Palestinians and Israelis in the most recent armed conflict in the region. This was the fourth public event over a period of two weeks organized by If Not Now, a new movement that emerged in response to the latest crisis in Israel/Palestine, the sense of urgency growing as violence escalated, and the sense of disconnection from what mainstream Jewish institutions were expressing.

In this charged moment overflowing with noise, If Not Now has managed to effectively strike the right chord, as evidenced by the large numbers of young Jews that have turned out to actions and events over the last few weeks, in New York City and in cities across the country. If Not Now has successfully given voice and media attention to liberal young American Jews, a constituency who, for the most part, feels alienated by the conversations happening in broader Jewish institutional arenas.

Though I helped plan the program for If Not Now’s Shabbat service and rally, my own involvement in the group was not a no-brainer. As an engaged and connected American Jew I have struggled to find my footing and stake a claim within the broader Israel/Palestine discourse that has felt authentic to the rest of my progressive lefty values. The articles I see posted on my Facebook newsfeed and the arguments that I hear repeatedly spouted on both sides make me want to flee. And for a pretty long time I have done just that. More »

The Heroes We Won’t Hear

Max Socol is a Jewish educator and political activist in Raleigh, NC.

With so many remembrances of the Freedom Summer published in the Jewish press over the last month, it seems strange to say that something was missed. But it’s true, there is more to this story, as I learned at the 50th Anniversary Conference in Jackson, MS. To my surprise, the event was a “who’s who” of Jewish political activists who have been quietly shunned from our community because of their unorthodox views on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
More »

“It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.””

“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”

(More here.)

“Let Justice Rise Up”: On Prayer and Times of Crisis

by Danya Lagos

The first two chapters of the Book of Amos warn its reader that the Gaza and Jerusalem of that time might ultimately end up sharing the same shitty, terrible, catastrophic fate under the same sky that they uncomfortably share with each other. Because of certain injustices that have been allowed to continue, or be unatoned for, it is said that fire will be sent down from the sky and destroy them both (Amos 1:7, Amos 2:5). The wording in the original curses is exactly the same for both places – all you need to do is switch the names, and it becomes clear that the standards and are quite parallel: “I will send a fire upon (INSERT HERE) and it shall devour the palaces of (INSERT HERE).” There are other cities also cursed in these chapters for whom the same formula is applied (Damascus, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Basra, etc.), but the point that Amos is making is that when it comes to practical matters of justice and oppression, the Jewish people are not judged any differently or given any lesser punishment for non-compliance than their neighbors. More »