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 »
This is a guest post by Eli Ungar-Sargon. Eli 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 »
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 »
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 »
Hey, Jewschoolers. Check out my piece in Sh’ma Journal considering the consequences for community building and relationship nurturing of social media and virtual life. I’ll tease it here, and you can click on the link to read the rest on Sh’ma.
People are more mobile than ever; communities and jobs are more fluid, and relationships are taking on new shapes. While we are more globally connected, we are feeling ever more alienated and desperate for rootedness, connection, and community. For those of us in the expanding Zeitgeist of virtual communities, a number of questions require consideration:
- How do people retain both their deep connections and the casual ones that enable the migration of ideas?
- How do virtual communities affect our humanity and relationships?
- Is commitment to physical place important?
- What do we gain and what do we lose through so much mobility?
For the rest of this article, click here and check out
Just about a year ago, the first class of Maharats graduated. For those of you who haven’t been following the various stories over the last year or so, the term Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, translated as one who is teacher of Jewish law and spirituality. In other words, an Orthodox Jewish female rabbi. But, you know, without the title of rabbi. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a webinar hosted by JOFA entitled “The Maharats’ First Year: A Retrospective,” where three Maharats and one soon-be-ordained Maharat spoke about their experiences thus far. Part of me was hoping for anger: these women are basically rabbis, don’t they deserve the respect of earning the same title for the same job that men do? Even though I was hoping for angry women ready to lead the way for change in their fields, I’m also relieved that this was not the case. Instead, Maharats Ruth Balinsky Friedman, Abby Brown Scheir, Rachel Kohl Finegold, and Rori Picker Neiss were enthusiastic, calm, and not bitter in the slightest.
Each woman spoke of the supportive nature her respective congregation and fellow clergy people. While there were minor displays of negativity, for the most part each Maharat was warmly welcomed into her community. Communities that for so long have denied women the opportunities to become leaders in their shuls. Now, these communities can see the full potential the women members of their synagogue have to offer. Maharat Abby spoke of how excited her community was to have her, and how interest in bat mitzvahs have increased since she began her position. More »
A group of young, Jewish, Toronto-based leaders who are active in building dynamic Jewish programming for young adults expected to get support from Moishe House for the work they do, but were surprised instead when they were turned down to be Toronto’s first Moishe House.
The Toronto folks are looking to inspire more people to speak out and convince Moishe House to help them organize for the Toronto community, which was home to nearly 200,000 Jews as of 2011.
Here’s their letter:
The Toronto Folks on Howland
This week’s parashah (Shelach-Lekha; Bemidbar 13-15) focuses on the second of the Israelites’ two most devastating moments of collective failure in the desert — the mass rebellion and breakdown after the scouts overstepped their jurisdiction for reconnaissance by insisting that the land was unconquerable. Before everything goes haywire, the Torah introduces the scouts by name and tribe, and describing them, saying that “they were all people, leaders of the children of Israel”– “כֻּלָּם אֲנָשִׁים רָאשֵׁי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה”. Why this extraneous clause, “they were all people/kulam anashim“? The Torah could have just said that “they were all leaders of the children of Israel/כלם ראשי בני ישראל”. The Zohar records a fascinating midrash teasing out what might be hinted at in this emphasized clause:
“‘They were all people’: All of them were worthy and were leaders of Israel, but they took bad council for themselves. Why did they take this council? They reasoned, ‘If Israel will be brought up to the land, we will be removed from leadership and Moshe will appoint other leaders, for we are worthy in the desert to be leaders, but in the land, we will not be worthy’. Because they took this bad council for themselves, they died, along with everyone who took their word. (Zohar III (Bemidbar, Shlach-Lekha, 156b) More »
This guest post by Stuart Tochner is a response to Aryeh Cohen’s piece on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay “The Case for Reparations.” Cohen’s post can be found here. Coate’s essay is here.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on reparations is one of the most stunning social arguments I have read in years. It’s remarkable because it’s not simply a case for mass payments to an entire people in compensation for past wrongs. It is a call for national reckoning. It is plea to come to terms with the centrality of slavery and its progeny upon the creation of what we call the American Dream, and to wrestle with what those implications are for our society. It is, in a sense, a plea to look within ourselves, and our story, and to admit how we became what we became, and if there are demons within that narrative, to confront them.
In that narrow sense, Aryeh Cohen is absolutely correct to draw an analogy with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, that national reckoning has been going on now—or has at least started—for years now. With the publication over the last fifteen years or so of books from the so called “New Historians”—and from Benny Morris in particular– Israelis have been fed a steady diet of meticulously researched and documented hard truths about the birth of the State of Israel. Difficult decisions were made in the years surrounding 1948, and ugly actions were taken. Some Palestinians suffered greatly as a result of the miracle of Zionism, and that’s a truth that can’t be ignored. Increasingly, those truths are being wrestled with, and they need to be appropriately reconciled with the Jewish values to which we aspire.
But it is important to note that the analogy abruptly ends there. Slavery was a conscious decision by white colonists in the Americas to forcibly kidnap and enslave African human beings, haul them across an ocean in unimaginable conditions, and create an entire economy built upon the backs of the labor of those individuals and their descendants. Slave owners had nothing to fear from the Africans they kidnapped, they had no issue or problem with them; they had no dispute that divided them. They simply held persons with black skin in contempt, as persons with rights inferior to them, and therefore entirely free to plunder. Coates goes on to describe persuasively how that plunder has continued right up to this day, in the form of Jim Crow laws, housing policies, and loan practices,.
Indeed, the word “plunder” appears throughout Coates’ essay. It really is the theme of his argument. More »
The book of Bemidbar chronicles the difficulties of freedom, the always-looming hangover of redemption’s intoxicating inauguration. Miriam and Aharon grumble about Moshe’s wife and power; the people rebel, demanding meat; Moshe starts to crack under the burdens of leadership, begging for help; the scouts stir up the masses to insist that entering the land is impossible; remorseful zealots, regretful at God’s decree that they won’t possess the land, try to conquer it without God’s sanction, and get routed; a brazen stick-gatherer publicly flaunts Shabbat violation; Korach, Datan, and Aviram join forces to stage an uprising against Moshe and Aharon; Moshe loses his grip, reacting aggressively to the people’s panicked cries for water; the masses succumb to temptation to a pagan orgy at Ba‘al Pe‘or.
This theme of breakdown of the social order stands in stark contrast to the beginning chapters of the book, which can read as almost mind-numbingly banal, if such a thing can be said, in their perfectly structured, utopian ordering of the camp and its leadership structure. So, how did we get from point A to point B, from perfect structure to chaos? Literarily, the turning point is the Israelites’ departure from their resting place near Sinai to march toward Canaan, so it is worthwhile paying close attention to what transpired in that transition. Crucially, the Israelites’ departure is framed by the personal parting of ways of Moshe’s father-in-law, Hovav (aka Yitro), from the Israelites, suggesting that it was his absence or the process of his departure that led to communal breakdown. What’s more, the depiction of this parting of ways is itself marked by halting, unclear communication and lack of closure, as if to suggest that it was communication failure itself that made the parting of ways, and the consequential breakdown, fait accompli. More »
Ha’aretz reported today that Israeli housing minister, Uri Ariel supported the government’s decision to announce the green light for 1500 new settlement homes in occupied territories in response to the formation of a Palestinian unity government. Apparently he called the decision “the proper Zionist response”.
Actually, the proper Zionist response would have been to remember that if Zionism is truly a movement for Jewish liberation and self-determination, then it must be in solidarity with all other peoples right to liberation and self-determination. If Zionism is truly for a safe and secure home, proper members of the Zionist movement would work to make that a reality for the Palestinian people who call this place home as well. A proper Zionist response would have been to openly and cautiously look for moments in which to break the conflict through dialogue and mutual responsibility. A real Zionist response would be to end the occupation, which has torn a hole in the national aspirations of the Jewish people.
A proper Zionist would look at the last century with immense pride for the accomplishments (drip irrigation and the revival of Hebrew to name two) of the collective project, and deep shame as well as the will to take responsibility for the terrible things (the ongoing occupation and the Nakba to name two) that this movement has created.
Zionism, a movement built on a vision in which the Jewish people have the right to collective self-determination, is a word that the Israeli government (indeed, a great many these days) uses to connote patriot to the government’s policies, expansion at all costs, and millions living under martial law.
No, the proper Zionist response to a Palestinian unity government would be to find the opportunity to build a just peace.
Nothing the Israeli government has done with regard to the Palestinian people has been within the bounds of a proper response. Period.
*Update from Ha’aretz: ”Netanyahu has decided to unfreeze planning processes for 1,800 [additional] housing units in the settlements that have been frozen the last three months.”
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.
This is a Guest Post by Edan Nissen, a graduate of Hashomer Hatzair Australia, now living in Israel. Edan has a BA from Monash University, Majoring in Politics and History of the Middle East with a Minor in Conflict Resolution.
A teacher stops a history classroom in the middle, the students are learning about the various tragedies of history. “Could all the students please stand up, we are going to have a minute of silence for the victims of the Nakba”. Most of the students stand is silence, thinking of the relatives that were affected, their homes destroyed and families that were forced to flee. Others had relatives that were killed. Two Students stand to the side, and during the silence they begin chatting. Their classmates are openly outraged, jaws are dropped but most students stand silently in their outrage. For these two students, it’s not that they don’t respect the loss of life, it’s that the tragedy of the Nakba is not relevant to them. They aren’t of Palestinian descent; they have their own national tragedies.
Shocked, aren’t you? This is a true story, well almost. The differences between this scenario and what actually happened are relatively minor. Swap the Nakba for the Holocaust, and the two boys for Israeli Palestinians and this scene has been played out several times, over several years and in several different locations. Yom Ha’Shoa, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust, was about a month ago and this happened again. I received a call from a friend who was in shock as two Arab students in her course spoke to each other while the nation- wide siren marking Yom Ha’Shoa rang out. The act was a mark of incredible disrespect for the loss of life, and destruction.
Israel’s equivalent of the ACLU, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has just released a 10-minute documentary explaining life in East Jerusalem for Palestinians struggling for basic services from the Jerusalem municipality.
3 Houses was filmed in Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada, Jerusalem neighborhoods that were cut off from the rest of the city when the Separation Barrier was built in 2002. Since then, these neighborhoods and the tens of thousands of people who live there have been utterly neglected by the Jerusalem municipality. In 2013, the desperate situation in this no-man’s-land was even further exacerbated when the municipality announced its intent to demolish the homes of thousands of residents.
Learn more about the film, screenings, and ACRI’s advocacy for equal public services in East Jerusalem on their site.
This is a guest post by Rabbi Oren J. Hayon, the Greenstein Family Executive Director at the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life at the University of Washington.
In his biography of Pyrrhus of Epirus, Plutarch recounts the details of the ancient Greek general’s costly victory against Rome at Asculum in 279 BCE. According to Plutarch’s account, shortly after the battle, Pyrrhus considered the devastating losses to his Macedonian troops and made the dark but prescient reflection: “If we were to be victorious in one more battle against the Romans, it would utterly destroy us.” [Life of Pyrrhus, 21:9]
The story of that long-ago battle comes to remind us that some victories produce a sense of exhilaration so intoxicating that they prevent us from realizing that we are actually marching unwittingly toward defeat. I write these lines in the immediate aftermath of a period in the life of our organization which looks unmistakably like a time of triumph. Nevertheless, as I write, I am keenly aware of how we have been diminished by the events of this year. I find myself surprised and concerned about how much we have lost, and about how much more we stand to lose in the future. More »
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland.
I started working at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America in January as a graduate intern, tasked with helping the Jewish social justice world have meaningful conversations about Israel – a project that, at the time, sounded deceptively simple to me. I leapt at the chance to work with an organization I have long admired, with people who are smart, dedicated, and passionate about Judaism and the Jewish community, because I share the vision that Hartman outlined:
We believe that a state that is going to live up to its aspiration to be Jewish and democratic needs a base of American Jewish supporters committed to both of those values and eager to help Israel get there, and that the loss of the social justice community from the ranks of Zionist leaders will have profound ripple effects on the health of Israeli society.
The project seemed like the perfect fit for me, because the Venn diagram between organizations I have worked with or volunteered for and organizations that make up the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable is almost a perfect circle. I fight domestic poverty as a member of the AVODAH alumni community, and global injustices as a part of the AJWS community. I have worked to reform the Farm Bill and raise awareness about alternative transportation with Hazon, and as a teenager, the Religious Action Center helped me lobby Congress for the first time, setting me on a path that recently resulted in my graduation from the Wagner School of Public Service at NYU.
It’s possible that because of my connections with these organizations, I underestimated the challenge ahead of me. More »
Ta-Nehisi Coates has powerfully opened a conversation about reparations. Though not a new topic, it remains an explosive topic. Race is not a subject that is ignored in American discourse. As John McWhorter points out at the Daily Beast, race has not been absent from the stage of American cultural conversation. Think of Trayvon Martin, Paula Deen, Cliven Bundy, and Donald Sterling. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow—a book which made the argument that the justice system (sentencing laws, incarceration, and the aftermath) has developed into a new system of control of black men—was on the New York Times bestseller list for more than a year. Americans have not been ignoring race.
However, what is importantly disturbing about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ argument, what will continue to be disturbing, is that Americans are still talking, or screaming about race as a passing phenomenon, a problem that will be solved. The Supreme Court almost said as much as it gutted the Voting Rights Act and declared affirmative action unconstitutional. Coates’ argument is that reparations is not just about slavery, and the economic and psychological impacts of slavery, and the economic legacy of slavery in the guise of the housing scams in Chicago. Coates’ is not advocating a wholesale payout on the order of German reparations for the Holocaust. What Coates’ is arguing for is that we must come to terms with the fact that the United States was built on slavery. Slavery was the wealth—both the bodies of the slaves and the slaves as means of production—that enabled this country to come into being. Furthermore, the history of the United States after the Civil War continued to be inextricably tied to the oppression of African-Americans. We cannot tell the story of this country without telling it within a narrative of slavery. The colonists, the founding fathers, the writers of the Constitution, and the writer of the Gettysburg address, all lived in a slave culture. FDR’s New Deal made way for compromises with the South on farmworkers and domestic workers so as to protect the “Southern way of life.”
This is what truly upsets those who are upset. What is truly upsetting, angering, is that the “peculiar institution,” as slavery was euphemistically called, was not an anomaly like, perhaps, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, or the House Unamerican Activities Committee under Joe McCarthy, from which the United States recovered, returning to its better angels. Slavery was, and will continue to be part of the warp and woof of this country’s story. This is the conversation that we must have. Until we have that conversation, the unfinished business of the peculiar institution will return in the guise of a “war on drugs” or disparities in educational allocations, or the criminalization of every day life for young black men.
There is a clear case made for reparations for American Slavery laid out in the recent Atlantic feature authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a powerful story, a dangerous history, and a gateway to talk about the most complicated issues facing the United States. Once you read this very long piece (very long but read it) and nod to the facts and shake your head at the horrific racism at all levels most likely, most probably, you will think:
- But my family didn’t live in the U.S. when it engaged in slavery.
- But we never lived in the Jim Crow South.
- But I don’t engage in predatory lending schemes.
- But no one I know sold on contract in Chicago.
But that doesn’t matter. Anyone living in the United States benefits from the economic realities built on slavery. Every white person has been enriched by the segregation of neighborhoods, schools, and Federally insured lending practices. This goes well beyond being afraid anytime the police stop you or having people cross to the other side of the street when you pass at night.
There is no way money is the remedy for the past but it is time to talk about this issue seriously. So now after you actually read the piece and not my quick intro you should consider addressing those “buts” again. Now ask, how do you feel about your families and friends receiving reparations from Germany?
Personally, I feel pretty damn good about it.
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.