Pinchas and “Connected Criticism”

by Raphael Magarik

Raphael Magarik is a graduate student in English at the University of California, Berkeley.

This week we read Parshat Pinchas, which opens with God’s approval of Pinchas’s vigilante killing of Zimri, an Israelite prince, who is sleeping with Cosbi, a Midianite princess (Numbers, 21:1-15). Liberal Jews are used to being alienated from Pinchas or condemning him, but this week, some of us uncomfortably find ourselves in Pinchas’s position.

The people of Israel have sinned. The blood of Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the innocent Palestinian teenager brutally killed by Israeli Jews, is on our hands, and we know it. Our centrist and right-wing friends are sending letters to the parents and posting outraged Facebook statuses. As the Torah says, Zimri was sinning, “while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting.”

And we lefties find ourselves with the unwelcome, and frankly despicable task of reminding everyone that, if you have been paying attention, you know the occupation regularly takes Palestinian lives. That the latest futile escalation with Hamas will not bring safety to the besieged South, but it has killed eighty Palestinians, including children, and it will kill more (though to be sure, much of that blood is on Hamas’s hands). That Prime Minister Netanyahu has cynically resurrected house demolition—an immoral, failed deterrence policy discarded by the Israeli military, and that his cabinet will use recent calamities to build more settlements. More »

Losing Our Grip on Our Humanity

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

My eight year old came home from camp today and told me his best friend said we should kill all the Arabs if that’s what we need to do to protect ourselves.

A friend of a friend was arguing on facebook that the children of terrorists are not innocent because they are happy that their fathers have killed Jews and therefore it’s legitimate to destroy their homes. She wasn’t even talking about a specific “guilty” child – she made clear that ALL Palestinian children are happy when Jews are killed, and therefore it’s simply wrong to treat them as innocent.

How did we come to this?! Why are so many of us convinced that we really are more human than they are, more deserving of life and liberty and happiness?  More »

A Still, Small Voice for Suicide Prevention: Elijah’s Journey

by Gabe Kretzmer Seed

Gabe Kretzmer Seed is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and graduate fellow at Elijah’s Journey.

I’ve had the honor of serving as the inaugural graduate fellow for Elijah’s Journey, a wonderful organization which helps to serve as a voice regarding suicide awareness and prevention in the Jewish community.  This Shabbat we will read the haftarah (prophetic portion) from which the organization gets its name.  Though read rarely, due to quirks in the Jewish calendar related to 17th of Tammuz fast day, it is considered the “regular” addition to Parashat Pinchas.

There, in I Kings 18:46-19:20, Elijah has just performed a miracle and proved God’s power over the prophets of Baal. Yet he is pursued by the evil, idolatrous Queen Jezebel, and dejected, asks God to take his life. God instructs Elijah to eat and drink and take a 40 day journey in order to re-assess the situation. Elijah eventually hears God’s voice in a still, small voice, and decides to continue his calling and mission. Elijah’s desire to stop living, lonely period of reconsideration, and reception of a line of hope from a barely audible source, can strike a strong chord with those who have considered ending their lives.  In the United States alone, over one million contemplate suicide each year and over 40,000 do take their own lives. We can all walk in God’s ways and serve as a listening ear and source of encouragement for those around of us who may feel down, dejected or unsupported. More »

Honoring God, Who Gives Life to All Flesh

by Rabbi Ari Hart

Rabbi Ari Hart is a founder of the Jewish-Muslim Volunteer Alliance and of Uri L’Tzedek.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), God is called “Elohei haruchot l’chol basar,” the one who gives spirit to all flesh (Numbers 27:16).

In that spirit of a God who gives life to all beings, I ask that those who, like me, support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’s civilian targeted missiles, stop and read the names below of the children who have died in Gaza since the fighting began. Know that the same God that breathed spirit into you breathed spirit into them.

Seraj Ayad Abed al-A’al, 8
Mohammed Ayman Ashour, 15
Hussein Yousef Kawareh, 13
Bassim Salim Kawareh, 10
Mousa Habib, 16
Ahmad Na’el Mehdi, 16
Dunia Mehdi Hamad, 16
Amir Areef, 13
Mohammed Malkiyeh, 1½ years old
Ibrahim Masri, 14
Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra, 4
Nidal Khalaf al-Nawasra, unreported age
Ranim Jawde Abdel Ghafour, a young girl

Though I hold Hamas responsible for this war and for the tremendous suffering they have inflicted on innocent Israelis and Palestinians, I also acknowledge that no matter how precise Israel’s strikes are, innocents will be killed as a result. Including children. Children who have the same goofy smiles, the same dreams, and the same fears as our children. Israel’s right to self defense is not free. It comes with a profound human cost that we, as a people who strive for moral grandeur, must face.

What does it feel like to be a Jew in America?

What does it feel like
To be a Jew in America
Hearing the news of the Israeli army’s assaults on Gaza

Like a cancer, one part of my body attacking another
The cells do not listen to my cries:
You’ve got it all wrong
This body is one organism
Why can’t I cease this inside of my own skin?

Friends, colleagues, newspapers describe how “we” are attacking “them”
Since when am I this “we” you speak of?
Is it because I face occupied Jerusalem when I pray?
Because I say blessings over my food in the language of the oppressor?

I yearn to protect my edges
I long to strike a balance
How to stay safe while remaining open?
It’s actually a question I ask myself every day

And today, as a Jew in America, my voice is muffled
My opportunity to question is denied
Prayers for peace are welcome
And yet
Calls for justice
Perhaps equal access
…to electricity
…to medicine
…to healing

I ask my body again
It pauses for a moment
As if it somehow remembers that it is one body
And then returns to its task
Destroying the cells one by one

Shamir writes poetry in the Berkshire mountains and also on trains

7 Tammuz, 5774

 
Simplicity
Violence is bad.
Racism is always wrong.
Israel, wake up.

 
Strange
Thrown in a car. Burned.
Occupation and vengeance.
Strangers in strange land.

 
The Name
Not any design,
this profitable power.
Flags and flames throughout.

 

 

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth 

Reb Zalman zt”l

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…

 

Personal Grief, National Mourning, and “Keeping Politics out of it”

by Leah Solomon

Leah Solomon, an L.A. native who has lived in Jerusalem for 15 years, has worked since 1997 in the field of experiential and pluralistic Jewish education, most recently at the Nesiya Institute.  She has studied at Harvard, the Conservative Yeshiva, and Pardes, and is the editor and publisher of the Anim Zemirot bencher. 

These thoughts grew in response to Facebook posts encouraging us just to grieve the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel, but to keep politics out of it, and not use them for ideology advancement:

Here’s what I’m struggling with (and have struggled with after every terrorist attack since I’ve lived here): The death of these boys is horrifying and heartbreaking. I cry when I imagine (as every Israeli parent has, over and over the past two weeks) experiencing what their parents have gone through. I cannot begin to comprehend their pain or the pain and fear of these children in the final moments of their lives.

But. The death of these three boys is no more awful or final or tragic than the deaths of the thousands of Jewish Israeli children lost every year to illness or in car accidents. Their parents’ grief is just as devastating. And those thousands of children are no less “ours” than Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Yet we don’t mourn them, or come together as a “unified” people when they die. Thousands do not attend their funerals. For all that they are equally part of our Jewish family, and their lives just as senselessly cut short, we do not enter into a state of national mourning. Their deaths are a personal tragedy, not a national one. More »

A People Without a Land

The new doc by frequent Jewschool guest blogger Eli Ungar-Sargon is premiering on July 3. If you are in New York go see it. The film is by turns saddening, angering, depressing, and hopeful. What more can you ask?

Details:
July 3rd at 3pm at the Quad Cinema 34 W 13th St. NY.
Tickets here.

Some Thoughts on Chosenness: Toward a Non-Exclusivist, but Non-Colonizing, Particularism

Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook asking for thoughts on the concept of being a/the Chosen People.   Some respondents affirmed chosenness as a call to duty, others commented on the problematic exclusive nature of Chosenness, the superiority in it, others asserted that many peoples are chosen and one simply posted the alternative, emended language of the blessing over Torah, “Praised are You…Who chose us WITH all the nations” (“אשר בחר בנו עם כל העמים”), instead of the traditional “Who chose us FROM all the nations (“אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים”).  The whole chain is on Rabbi Elie Kaunfer’s Facebook wall.  My comments might interest Jewschoolers, so in the spirit of The Jeffersons, I’m spinning them off here.

“ברוך…אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו.”
Praised are You…Who chose us from all the nations by giving us Your Torah.  (The traditional blessing over Torah study and for receiving an aliyah at public Torah reading)

[Background premise: I do not believe that, on the whole, most people do the most good through universal humanism. For the most part, people live in stories and those stories shape their ability to do specific good. John Lennon's song "Imagine" is a dystopic nightmare to my ears.] More »

Jews for Jackson — Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer

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 »

Something Happening Here – News Brief from the Levant

Explosions

Currently, Israel is engaged in a Gaza-Southern Israel back and forth of rockets and airstrikes. A teen was killed in a Golan Heights explosion originating from Syria and Israeli Forces are responding with fire on pro-Assad fighters.

Goals

Israel still hasn’t found the 3 teenagers who are presumed kidnapped since they went missing on June 12th (though they have found other young people). Neither has anyone presented any evidence that it was, in fact, Hamas as the government claims.

Israel has arrested around 350-400 Palestinians and killed 5, including a 15 year old and two in their 20’s. Israel has been raiding places from the North to the South of the West Bank, including Area A, which is supposed to be under Palestinian security. According to the Israel government the mission has one goal: Find the teenagers and weaken Hamas.

Wait, that’s two goals. Why do they keep calling it one goal?

“Diplomacy”

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry of Israel is threatening to kick out the top UN official in Jerusalem who was accused of passing funds from Qatar to the Hamas government in Gaza.

PA president Abbas has condemned the kidnapping and is cooperating on security in helping to search for the missing teens, and called on Netanyahu to send condolences back for the Palestinians killed in Operation Brother’s Keeper. So far, Netanyahu has not reciprocated.

Asylum 

And 2300 African asylum seekers remain held in Holot Desert Prison, but not quietly.

Update

It was rightly pointed out that the the destruction of Bedouin communities such as Al Arakib ought to be thought of as part of the “same wave of violence”.

 

A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth 

Tamar Fox: Talking in Shul

Tamar Fox is one third of the team that brings you  “Talking in Shul,” along with Mimi Lewis and Zahava Stadler. Tamar is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She has worked at MyJewishLearning.comHaggadot.comShma.com, and Jewcy.com, among others. Her writing has been published in the Washington Post, the Jerusalem Post, and Tablet Magazine. Tamar’s first book, No Baths at Camp, was published in 2013, and is a PJ Library selection.

Jewschool: Tell us about Talking in Shul and how it got started. 

Tamar Fox: Talking in Shul is a roundtable podcast featuring Zahava Stadler, Mimi Lewis, and me, talking about various Jewish political and cultural topics. It’s one of several podcasts in the Open Quorum family of podcasts–the other big one is SermonSlam, but there are many more forthcoming. David Zvi Kalman, who came up with the idea for OpenQuorum approached me about creating a podcast and I’m a total podcast fiend, so I was on board right away. I really love podcasts where a group of people bat around an idea for 10-30 minutes, so that’s the kind of podcast I wanted to create and we set about looking for other people to join the table, as it were.

Jewschool:  What do you think each of you brings to the podcast, in terms of background and perspective?

Tamar Fox: Zahava is pretty solidly modern Orthodox. Mimi comes from a Reform background, and I grew up going to Conservative and Orthodox day schools, and going to a non-denominational minyan, so between us I think we speak to a wide scope of Jewish experiences.

Jewschool:  How do you decide what to talk about?

Tamar Fox: We have a Google doc where we brainstorm ideas, and we sometimes come up with ideas for future tapings while we’re recording episodes. We also try to be at least a little newsy, and think about whatever stories are big in the Jewish news world.

Jewschool:  What do you think is unique about this podcast? Why should we listen to it?

Tamar Fox:  I didn’t set out to have it be only women, but I think it’s really wonderful that we are featuring women’s voices, and that’s not something that you see a lot in Jewish podcasts. Also, I think we’re really a fun, interesting crew, and it’s nice to have a Jewish news/culture discussion podcast. That’s not something that really exists otherwise, to my knowledge.

Jewschool: How can people find Talking in Shul? 

Tamar Fox: You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or you can list on the Open Quorum website.  Sermonslam is basically a poetry slam for sermons, where sermons are very loosely defined as “short performances on a preset theme.” They are similar to the Moth storytelling events, with winners chosen at the end, but we record all performances, and you can listen to them on the Open Quorum podcast stream.

Jewschool: Finally, what are you  excited about for  the future of the podcast? 
Tamar Fox: I don’t know for sure when we’re going to talk about it, but we’re thinking about doing a segment on Jewish social justice, and how sometimes Jews want to frame an issue as particularly Jewish, when really, it’s just a moral imperative, and maybe that’s Torah based and maybe not, but we should still act on it.

 

(P.S.  If you do a Google search for “Talking in Shul,” this comes up. Which apparently is the inspiration for the song “Don’t Talk, Just Daven,” by the Miami Boys Choir. When I did a search on You Tube for that song, I found this.)

Speak up for asylum seekers in Israel on World Refugee Day

Join Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel on today, World Refugee Day, as they campaign for the simple rights of refugees in Israel. They’re fighting against the Israeli government’s decision to imprison them in the Negev by the thousands. Instead, a Jewish nation built by Jewish refugees should permit them to live and work without fear of being deported back to war and persecution in their home countries.

Join the campaign, take a picture of yourself, and post it on their Facebook page.

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Throw Back Thursday: Doing Better Edition

Tonight at the JCC in Manhattan, the Jewish Multiracial Network will co sponsor a panel called Mixed Multitudes: Race and Ethnicity in the Jewish Community in which panelists Erika Davis, Yitz “Y-Love” Jordan, Eric Greene, Tamara Fish, and Deborah Vishnevsky will discuss their  experiences being a Jew of Color in light of communal issues, such as  continuity and identity.

Here’s our 2012 interview with Erika Davis, about racism, real diversity, and the hard work of making change. 

 

Q: Tell us what we can find at Black, Gay and Jewish.

ED: I started to write Black, Gay and Jewish when I realized that converting to Judaism and talking about Jewish things was taking up a lot of space on my now defunct blog about lesbian  dating in NYC (I’d just come out). I started writing it as a sort of personal journal through the process of converting to Judaism and also because there was only one other blog penned by a black, gay and Jewish woman. (This isn’t to say that there weren’t awesome blogs out there about conversion; there are so many that it  boggles the mind. A few are written by gay Jews and by Jews of Color, but rarely did I find anything on the web that had all three.)  More »

The Fallacy of Limited Compassion

This is a guest post by Eli Ungar-SargonEli Ungar-Sargon is an LA-based independent filmmaker. His second feature-length film, A People Without a Land, has its world premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival on July 3rd

When news hit that three Israeli teenagers had gone missing in the West Bank, the response from the Jewish world was immediate and intense. The assumption that Eyal Yiftach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel were kidnapped by Palestinians seems now to have been confirmed, but the details are sparse and the story is still developing. The abduction of children is an inexcusable offense. There is no moral justification for such an act. I am not writing to give excuses for this crime and I sincerely hope that these boys are found and returned to their families safely. But I do think that it’s instructive and important to take a step back and examine our responses to such tragedies.

A few short weeks ago, we learned that two Palestinian teenagers, Nadem Syam Nawara and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh were shot and killed by the IDF during a protest. Despite the fact that there were three angles of video footage, independent eyewitness testimony, and hospital reports, my Facebook Wall filled with comments from Jewish friends insisting that we don’t know what really happened. For all we know, they argued, Nawara and Odeh might have been killed by Palestinians in an effort to make the IDF look bad. Some went as far as to claim that the boys might still be alive. Why is it that with far less information, none of my Jewish friends are spinning fantastic theories around the kidnapping of Yiftach, Shaar, and Frenkel? More »

Skirts in Context

This is a guest post by Avigayil Halpern.

One of my most vivid memories from elementary school is obstacle courses in gym class. Riding on small, flat, scooters and propelling ourselves with our hands we would wind our way through a series of foam pads and balance beams in relay races, an activity that I found more fun than the usual sports activities. I don’t remember these races for the fun, however. On a regular basis, my skirt would catch in the wheels of the scooters as I raced my peers through the obstacles, and this is what sticks in my head.

I’ve worn skirts to school every day since first grade. The skirts/school connection is so strong in my mind that I have had nightmares about accidentally showing up at school in a pair of jeans, the Orthodox day school girl equivalent of the showing-up-at-school-in-your-underwear dream. It has been such a part of the natural order of my world that back when my skirt got caught in the scooter wheels, I shrugged and pulled it out again, calmly, accepting that the dress code would make me fall a little behind the boy racing me from the other team.  More »

Insensitivity to the future victims of today’s violence

It’s worth repeating that we should all be working and/or (at the very least) hoping for the safe return of three teenagers who were kidnapped days ago in the occupied territories. Now the question has been asked: Is it insensitive to talk about building a just peace based on self-determination for all peoples right now?

It is insensitive to all of the past, present, and future victims of aggression here to avoid talking about the context of this kidnapping as well as the ensuing rise in violence. It is insensitive to steer clear of the conversation on how to stop violence and end the occupation. It is insensitive at a time like this – while saying loud and clear that those three students must be returned safe, sound, and soon – to pretend that all of this is happening in a vacuum, because that is a game that leads to more hate and violence.

As some steer clear of talk about the broader context, crass politicians like the Prime Minister dictate the dominant discourse. His story is focused on blaming instead of searching, and that is somehow acceptable, while looking for real answers is not? As he works to deepen divides, criticism is aimed at those working toward critical understanding of the situation, and perhaps a just peace. It matters that there is an occupation and that in the West Bank one set of people are protected by democratic rights while another lives under martial law with barriers, checkpoints, and soldiers running their lives, and no, acknowledging that fact does not make you somehow care less about the safe return of those kidnapped teenagers. More »