As the new year begins, here at Jewschool we put together an entirely unscientific, completely biased view of some of the best and worst of 2011.
2011 was simultaneously one of the most inspiring and dispiriting years I can think of. From the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords way back at the beginning of the year, to the passing of important greats like Debbie Friedman, to Occupy Judaism’s prominent place in the Occupy Everything movement. Israel has been a roller coaster, between the hopefulness of the J-14 protests to their quiet whimpering away, new settler attacks, undemocratic legislation, and fights over gender segregation. However, it was a mostly great year for the arts, despite JDub Records’ closing. Here’s to a new year with more distillants, and less despirits.
Update: videos are now embedded in the post. Enjoy!
As I mentioned in my brief first-day J Street conference round up post, I secured interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative (best known for the Ground Zero Mosque, which is neither at Ground Zero nor a mosque), and Mona Eltahawy, the Egyptian journalist and activist who rocked the socks off the J Street conference. Those videos are now online; the YouTube playlist is here. There are three videos – Mona Eltahawy on social media in the Jasmine Revolution and its potential in the future of the Arab and Muslim world, my question for Imam Rauf on the religious justification for his work, and footage of a few other press-folk asking him questions. Check them out!
Mona did a superb job of addressing the straw man argument made by most of the prominent critics of the social-media-as-organizing-tool theory (Malcolm Gladwell, Evgeny Morozov, etc.). That is, she made a strong case for how Twitter and Facebook were essential in helping garner support for a mass meeting and demonstration of a kind that was quite rare under Mubarak. Notably, she doesn’t claim that it was Twitter or Facebook that toppled the regime. No, that distinction belongs to the brave Egyptians who risked their lives to claim their basic human rights of freedom of speech and assembly. But if you look closely, most of us arguing for social media’s importance in democratic movements aren’t saying that it’s the Internet itself that overthrows regimes, just that it’s a tool for those who desire to do so. The key to any organized resistance movement, especially one that aspires to nonviolence, is organization. Today, the Internet is often one of the last places where free exchange of ideas can take place. Its fast pace and adaptability mean that dedicated users can often stay one step ahead of those trying to shut down the flow of information. This is what makes it important and in some ways game-changing.
Imam Rauf, who’s been one of my personal heroes for a long time, spoke beautifully about the religious underpinnings of his peace work. I hadn’t planned to ask him about this – the question came about as a result of a topic of discussion on the panel on Jewish-Muslim community relations on which he’d just spoken. One Jewish community leader explained a program called “Iftar in the Sukkah,” in which local Muslims and Jews gathered at an Orthodox shul to share the evening break-fast meal during Ramadan, which for the past few years has overlapped with Sukkot. The image of Muslims and Jews taking part in this ritual together was, for me, amazing, and reminded me of the phrase “ufros aleinu sukkat shlomecha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.” This is pretty much one of my favorite liturgical lines ever, and I felt that I just had to ask Imam Rauf about it. So I mentioned that connection, and asked him what scriptural or Islamic theological justification he found for his work. His answer, that it’s rooted in the very word “Islam,” coming from “Salaam,” was completely in line with his messages of peace and mutual understanding.
I continue to be inspired by the work that both of these courageous activists do every day. Mona Eltahawy speaks truth to power, and Imam Rauf (and the Park 51 project overall) has handled himself with incredible grace in the face of one of the worst smear campaigns I’ve ever seen, and more generally in a climate of increasing American Islamophobia. May they both continue their work and dedication, and may their efforts be rewarded.
If you’ve got an opinion on Israel or the not-Ground-Zero not-mosque, head over to The Forward / Berman Jewish Policy Archive survey Facebook page and make it known! As these types of polls go, it’s actually quite good (although not, as one of our contributors lamented on an email thread, illustrated by Eli Valley. Next year in Jerusalem, maybe).
I personally am particularly interested to see how the opinions on Park51 fall among Jews, especially those who describe themselves on the survey as having “followed the issue closely.” We’ll see…
(This can be confusing though. It’s called the Ground Zero Mosque by people using it as en election wedge issue and by those who buy into their rhetoric. The institution itself, once its built will be called Cordoba House. Park 51 refers to the projects future address and refers to the organization that is raising the funds for construction Cordoba House.)
After their twitter, @Park51, was mentioned in a big article, they’ve been doing quite a lot of back-and-forth with fairly hostile Twitter users. And they’re kicking ass. So here’s a roundup of some of my favorites.
annahandzlik: But Imam Rauf wants more Sharia compliance in the US. He has been open about that. Who are you? #whereisthesharia?
stoning in Iran (regularly), gays executed (Iran & Saudi Arabia), blasphemy law (Pakistan & Muslim world), genocide (Sudan). #mmmk
Park51: we can’t answer for all Muslims or other countries or practice of law overseas
annahandzlik: if u can’t speak for entire world, then what is your version of Sharia law? If we’re supposed to be compliant we need to see it.
Park51: Insults aside, I asked you for clarification on your blanket statements several times. Waiting………..
JordanSekulow (works for the American Center for Law and Justice, which is suing to stop the project): I encourage you to read the lawsuit, here’s the direct link bit.ly/afME66 (can’t make it any easier for you)
Park51: Oy vey, for the fifth time we read it. In 140 char and from you, why are you doing it?
Park51′s twitter has also been kindly informing people who @reply them, but won’t return Park51′s responses that “twitter is about conversations.” And on one occasion, they told one antagonist to get a real profile pic because they look like a bot without one.
Foxmanides on Twitter begs some consistency from the man purportedly voicing anti-bigotted conscience. Top tweets:
Ceding our perennial demand that Palestinians remove anti-Semitism from their school textbooks. Their anguish entitles them to bigotry.
@BernieMadoff Need a Presidential pardon? DM me your price. Over a mil and we’ll throw in a benefit dinner. Fish or steak?
@OliverStone I want a worldwide telecast w/you on your knees screaming “JEWS HAVE NO POWER” or no dice. And I want you dressed as a chicken.
Oh wait, Israel’s friends with Turkey again? Armenian geno-wha?
The joke’s on Abe because he’s shocked at the blowback. He and his are losing moral authority, especially among the younger folks. I’m sure he has little clue that his reticence against consistently fighting bigotry (instead of selectively) is entrenching the ADL’s reputation as prejudiced by omission if not commission. We would be hard pressed to justify anti-Semitism if it were delivered in a “nuanced” press release trumpeting “sensitivity.” Oh wait, that was just done.
Let us rewrite the ADL’s anti-mosque statement with “the Jewish right to self-determination in their historic homeland” instead of “Islamic center” and “colonization of the Middle East” as “9/11″. Let it culminate as theirs did in the final paragraph: “It’s not about rights, it’s about what is right.” Meaning, the Jews have a right to build their state, but not in the Middle East, where sensitivities are raw. I doubt Foxman would reply to such with nuance.
Regardless, Foxmanides has been unleashed. Even The Onion knows no safety now:
When people die we often add Zichrono Livracha after their names–may their memory be blessed/for a blessing. This speaks to the way that people impact the arc of history even after they themselves are no more. What lessons do those living learn from those who have departed? If we think about the beautiful lessons to learn from other lives lived and act upon them, those memories are for a blessing.
Most of us are aware by now of the heinous attack on a mosque in the West Bank. Many leaders have expressed sympathy and empathy. Ari Hart noted such a visit earlier today. The one that struck me the most was of the Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, who said:
“I came here to expression [sic] my revulsion at this wretched act of burning a place holy to the Muslim people.” Agence France-Presse reported that that he drew an explicit comparison to Kristallnacht, the November 1938 attacks on Jewish synagogues and businesses in Nazi Germany. “Seventy years ago,” Rabbi Metzger said, “the Holocaust, the biggest tragedy of our history, began with the torchings of synagogues during Kristallnacht.”
Much of my family is from Germany. They lived there for many hundred years. Their shul, like many others, in Augsburg was defaced (destroyed, I think) on Kristallnacht. Every time Kristallnacht is invoked to critique terror, xenophobia, other-ing, and narrow-mindedness, the memory of my family’s synagogue in Southern Germany is for a blessing. The memory of siddurim and volumes of Talmud being hurled into the street and burned, as windows were broken and lives shattered, is a traumatic one. Though that memory still burns, it is for a blessing when used to fight the surviving racism today, the very sort that led to that terrible night 71 years ago.
As Chanukkah candles burn and we think of brightening a dark world and a dark time, I hope the memory of the fires that burnt those prayer books help guide us to a more beautiful brighter future.
Wearing their kippot, Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, and Rabbi Yair Silverman, formerly of Beth Israel of Berkley CA and now rabbi of Moed in the Zichron Yaakov community in Israel, told a crowd outside the mosque: “We come in peace to express deep pain for what occurred. We condemn it with all our hearts and souls. As a people that has experienced such desecration, we come to reach out to you in the spirit of brotherhood.”
The visit was conducted without press or military escort. “Just this morning, I looked in the papers and said, ‘Wow, [the vandalism] was unacceptable,’ and I felt it was very critical to reach out, human to human” said Rabbi Weiss. “There needs to be a strong voice of Torah protest against this.”
Thanks to the Magnes Zionist on this one, we have a copy of Judge Richard Goldstone’s letter to the US Congress fisking the inaccuracies and misrepresentations out of House Resolution 867. The resolution condemns the Goldstone report. Full fisk below the fold. More »
When I heard the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts was hosting an event featuring Rabbi Capers Funnye, I wondered how they would frame the program. Would the Council see this as an opportunity to foster discussion, encourage member synagogues to engage with diversity in the Jewish community? I hoped that the event would be a starting point, a chance to reflect on how we can better include Jews of all colours in our community, then start discussing what actions to take. At worst, I feared this evening would be purely congratulatory, a pat on the back that, just by inviting Rabbi Funnye to talk, our synagogues are obviously inclusive and welcoming!
Luckily, the introductory remarks by members of the Synagogue Council executive set the right tone: Representing 120 synagogues across Massachusetts, the Council encourages learning and dialogue, embraces diversity, and promotes pluralism. Officially, their website notes that they “nurture a respect for diversity within our Jewish community.”
And then we launched into the main event. Rabbi Funnye was there to talk about his journey to, with, Judaism. In telling it, he suggested that his story could actually be that of many African-American Jewish converts. And that story started with a cruise. A “free cruise,” organized by a “travel agent,” with too many people in too small a space (and the food wasn’t good either). At the conclusion of the trip, they were given new names, and introduced to a new G-d who, coincidentally, looked a lot like their new captors. Within the span of three minutes, Funnye wove his personal journey in with over 100 years of African-American history. Ending in the 1960’s, Funnye talked about how reading up on civil rights led to re-reading the bible with an understanding that these stories weren’t just happening to an abstract people, but was the history of a people with whom he felt a connection, an understanding.
Throughout, his talk was punctuated with humour. At first, these jokes were met with silence. Slowly, the audience started chuckling quietly. It was as if the audience, mostly white folks in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, were afraid to laugh. But Funnye was funny. And, slowly, the audience realised that they could relax and enjoy his message while also learning from it.
Funnye had the great ability to weave a story that included not only a version of his own personal journey, but also that of Jews in Africa today. Through his work with Be’chol Lashon, he’s travelled to many countries in Africa to work with the local Jewish populations. Explaining the differences between American and African Jews, he told a story of a woman who was her village’s mohel (the person who performs the bris milah – circumcision). This particular Nigerian community was described as being somewhere within the realm of Orthodoxy by American standards, and yet a woman was the mohel. When Funnye asked her about that, she explained that as a woman she couldn’t read the Torah, she couldn’t sit with the men in synagogue, she was not required to perform as many commandments as the men, but it said in the Torah that she was to circumcise the men. Her proof? Tziporah, Moses’ wife, a Cushite woman, was in charge of circumcising their youngest son.
So what was the point of these stories? Throughout the talk, Funnye repeated his message of the need for inclusion, acceptance, and a better understanding of how a diverse Jewish population can learn from each other. He gave examples of how African-American Jews can help build bridges between synagogues and churches and mosques. He spoke to the importance of welcoming all Jewish souls and hearts to Judaism, and the reasons why we need to have more welcoming, while still halakhic, conversion processes. And he spoke to the Jewish establishment needing to see and serve the full range of colours that Jews come in. (As an example of the shortcomings of Jewish institutions, Funnye talked about his small rabbinical school in Queens, NY that serves the African-American Jewish community. It was started when an African-American Jew, who had two degrees from Yeshiva University, was denied entry to their rabbinical school because of his skin colour).
I have no doubt that the audience was moved by his talk. I just hope that conversations continue, individual members of the Jewish community, congregations, and the Council alike all put plans in place for ensuring that our community is actually as welcoming as the audience was last night.
I should apologize for the crap quality of the video. Arriving 15 minutes early, I found a seat at the back and on the far left side of the sanctuary. And using this Flip camcorder for the first time, I didn’t know how poor the sound quality would be. (Crank up your volume.) That said, what a fun gadget! Once I rig up a tripod for it, it’ll be much more useful.
Ta’anit Tzedek has just uploaded a transcipt of its recent rabbical conference call with Judge Richard Goldstone. As I wrote in my last post, you need to read it. Goldstone addresses a variety of critical issues, including how his mission conducted its investigation, the report’s suggestion that there were intentional IDF attacks on Gazan civilian targets, whether or not he’s backing away from its findings, how he felt about his experience as a Zionist and a South African, and much more.
Click below for a cleaned up, very slightly edited version. You can also listen to an audio file of the entire interview here.
Full text of Obama’s speech to the Muslim world below the jump, here is the clip about Israel and Palestine. (Note how “Palestine” and not “the future state of Palestine” is used conclusively.) Mr. President, we applaud you.
Below the speech is a letter from Hamas to Obama on the occasion of his visit, delivered via Medea Benjamin of the US-based CODEPINK.
I didn’t celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut yesterday. I don’t think I can celebrate this holiday any more.
That doesn’t mean I’m not acknowledging the anniversary of Israel’s independence – only that I can no longer view this milestone as a day for celebration. I’ve come to believe that for Jews, Yom Ha’atzmaut is more appropriately observed as an occasion for reckoning and honest soul searching.
As a Jew, as someone who has identified with Israel for his entire life, it is profoundly painful to me to admit the honest truth of this day: that Israel’s founding is inextricably bound up with its dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants of the land. In the end, Yom Ha’atzmaut and what the Palestinian people refer to as the Nakhba are two inseparable sides of the same coin. And I simply cannot separate these two realities any more.
I wonder: if we Jews are ready to honestly face down this “dual reality” how can we possibly view this day as a day of unmitigated celebration? But we do – and not only in Israel. Indeed, there is no greater civil Jewish holiday in the American Jewish community than Yom Ha’atzmaut. It has become the day we pull out all the stops – the go-to day upon which Jewish Federations throughout the country hold their major communal Jewish parades, celebrations and gatherings. I wonder: how must it feel to be a Palestinian watching the Jewish community celebrate this day year after year on the anniversary that is the living embodiment of their collective tragedy?
I can’t yet say what specific form my new observance of Yom Ha’atzmaut will take. I only know that it can’t be divorced from the Palestinian reality – or from the Palestinian people themselves. Many of us in the co-existence community speak of “dual narratives” – and how critical it is for each side to be open to hearing the other’s “story.” I think this pedagogy is important as far as it goes, but I now believe that it’s not nearly enough. It’s not enough for us to be open to the narrative of the Nakhba and all it represents for Palestinians. In the end, we must also be willing to own our role in this narrative. Until we do this, it seems to me, the very concept of coexistence will be nothing but a hollow cliche.
Toward a new understanding of Yom Ha’atzmaut, I commend to you this article by Amaya Galili which was published yesterday in Yediot Achronot. Galili is affiliated with Zochrot – the courageous Israeli org that works tirelessly to raise their fellow citizens’ awareness about the Nakhba.
The Israeli collective memory emphasizes the Jewish-national history of the country, and mostly denies its Palestinian past. We, as a society and as individuals, are unwilling to accept responsibility for the injustice done to the Palestinians, which allows us to continue living here. But who decided that’s the only way we can live here? The society we’re creating is saturated with violence and racism. Is this the society in which we want to live? What good does it do to avoid responsibility? What does that prevent us from doing?
Learning about the nakba gives me back a central part of my being, one that has been erased from Israeli identity, from our surroundings, from Israeli education and memory. Learning about the nakba allows me to live here with open eyes, and develop a different set of future relationships in the country, a future of mutual recognition and reconciliation between all those connected to this place.
Accepting responsibility for the nakba and its ongoing consequences obligates me to ask hard questions about the establishment of Israeli society, particularly about how we live today. I want to accept responsibility, to correct this reality, to change it. Not say, “There’s no choice. This is how we’ve survived for 61 years, and that’s how we’ll keep surviving.” It’s not enough for me just to “survive.” I want to live in a society that is aware of its past, and uses it to build a future that can include all the inhabitants of the country and all its refugees.
Click here to read the article in the original Hebrew. Click below to read the entire English version. (H/T to my friend Mark Braverman for sending it along.)
Haaretz has a disturbing story on the moral erosion in the fashion of young soldiers and delves into the psychology that inspires such imagery.
A particular quote that I feel sums up the complexity of the matter, especially considering many of these young people are barely adults making life and death decisions, was this:
“As a sniper, you get a lot of extreme situations. You suddenly see a small boy who picks up a weapon and it’s up to you to decide whether to shoot. These shirts are half-facetious, bordering on the truth, and they reflect the extreme situations you might encounter. The one who-honest-to-God sees the target with his own eyes – that’s the sniper.”
Now I’ve never been a soldier, and I do not desire to be. So I do not know what decision making like that entails, but I’ll tell you what I do know… slogans like “We came, we saw, we destroyed!” – alongside images of weapons, an angry soldier and a Palestinian village with a ruined mosque in the center or like “If you believe it can be fixed, then believe it can be destroyed!” well, I know those are just plain gross.
I understand that these things are “half-facetious” but they’re still half serious! Serious or not, humor like this says something quite loud about the culture that produces it. This reflects belligerence and racism in the worst regard. I do not know Israel well enough to know if this is truly indicative of its culture, but I do know Judaism, and to the Jewish culture that I know this just doesn’t seem okay.
“You call the mosque ‘the cross-less church’?”
“What do you call a synagogue?”
“Synagogue. I don’t want to offend anybody.”
Not just one of my favourite shows on television, Little Mosque on The Prairie is a sitcom about the fictional town of Mercy, Saskatchewan and its residents, including the small but vibrant Muslim community. Since the pilot episode, it’s been clear that there are Jewish parallels. There was a great episode where the imam goes homes to Toronto and is interrogated by his parents about what he’s doing with his life, why he hasn’t married yet, and why he has to be so Muslim. Watching the episode with a bunch of MOT during Sukkos, we all felt they could have been Jewish.
If you’re in Canada, it airs on CBC. If you’re in the US or elsewhere, there are websites that let you watch online. And stay tuned: Fox bought the rights to the show and will be remaking it (something about how Americans wouldn’t watch a show set in Saskatchewan; even though it shows in the original version in Dubai, Finland, Turkey, Israel, France, and Switzerland).
The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress is currently collecting sermons and orations delivered this week about the inauguration of Barack Obama. They’re asking for audio or video recordings, and are accepting transcripts and associated materials (such as printed programs) for the archive, which will join the library’s other collections of “everyday citizens’ reactions to major historic events in our collective American experience.”
I’ve always had a special place in my heart for libraries — I’m what you might call a “heavy user” and have been for as long as I can remember. And the LOC holds an even more special place for me, not in the least because they have in their collection Stephen Sondheim’s personal record collection (over 8500 LPs!). But in reading up on this new initiative, I had one of those “proud of my government” moments that I’m hoping to have more and more of in the coming administration. In particular, I was thrilled to see the following included right up in the first paragraph of the Sermons and Orations Project home page:
It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The American Folklife Center is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible.
I wonder if anyone told George Bush that his government is recognizing humanist congregations alongside places of worship.
Anyway, if you can’t wait for the LOC to make this collection available for your own perusement (that’s my portmanteau for when you peruse amusing things), Michael Paulson, religion writer for The Boston Globe has asked Boston-area clergy and the like to also submit their sermons to his blog, Articles of Faith. He’s posting them as they come in, and you can go directly to the inauguration sermons here.
The BBC reports on Human Rights Watch and B’tselem accounting of Israel targeting a university, schools, mosques, government buildings, and other civilian cites. The article also outlines some of the thorny issue around the question of who is a civilian:
The bloodied children are clearly civilians; men killed as they launch rockets are undisputedly not. But what about the 40 or so young Hamas police recruits on parade who died in the first wave of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza?
And weapons caches are clearly military sites – but what about the interior ministry, hit in a strike that killed two medical workers; or the money changer’s office, destroyed last week injuring a boy living on the floor above?
As the death toll mounts in Gaza, the thorny question is arising of who and what can be considered a legitimate military target in a territory effectively governed by a group that many in the international community consider a terrorist organisation.
This is also the group that won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and a year later consolidated its control by force.
So while it was behind a campaign of suicide attacks in Israel and fires rockets indiscriminately over the border, it is also in charge of schools, hospitals, sewage works and power plants in Gaza.
“Our definition is that anyone who is involved with terrorism within Hamas is a valid target. This ranges from the strictly military institutions and includes the political institutions that provide the logistical funding and human resources for the terrorist arm.”
-Benjamin Rutland, IDF spokesman
“To claim that all of those offices are legitimate targets, just because they are affiliated with Hamas, is legally flawed and extremely problematic.”
-B’Tselem director Jessica Montell
During our final night in Iran, I was interviewed at length by two reporters from a Tehran newspaper. I mentioned to them that during my High Holiday sermon to my congregation, I noted that Americans (and especially American Jews) chronically misunderstand Iran. I told the reporters that ironically enough, I learned on this trip that I really hadn’t understood Iran nearly as well I as I had thought myself. More »