Aryeh Bernstein is a fifth-generation Chicago South Sider who works as the Director of Avodah’s Justice Fellowship in Chicago, where he is also Founding Director of the Hyde Park Teen Beit Midrash, Educational Consultant for the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and teaches Mishkan Chicago’s Social Justice Beit Midrash. Previously he was Mechon Hadar’s first Director of Alumni Affairs and Recruitment and has taught at Drisha, Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, TAKUM, and campuses, communities, and organizations around the U.S. and Israel. He lived in Israel for 14 years, studied for seven years in Yeshivat Ma’ale Gilboa’s advanced kollel, and translated and edited for the Koren English edition of the Steinsaltz Talmud. He is a resident animal welfare educator for Farm Forward’s Jewish Initiative for Animals, and is a Senior Editor of Jewschool.com. In 2011, he independently released a hip-hop album entitled, “A Roomful of Ottomans”.
These two texts challenge us to pay close attention to the power dynamics involved in a hegemonic body adopting cultural products of a subordinate group. Sometimes erasure comes through restricting the minority practice of its own culture, as in Antiochus's later persecution, which we marked on Chanukah. But sometimes erasure comes through cultural appropriation, depending on a subordinate group to create culture, and then taking it and turning it from culture to artifact, from lifeline to epitaph.
In 2008 the Conservative Movement directed Jewish institutions to hire union labor. But the Jewish Theological Seminary is breaking its own teshuva.
While I appreciate the Senate's gesture and statement, I am also distrustful. Throughout history, the main way anti-Semitism has functioned has been for people in true positions of power to pick off the Jews to use as their scapegoats, fig leaves and shields to protect them from opposition from the main targets of their exploitation and oppression. They want to divide us Jews from other, oppressed, minority communities, making us unsympathetic of their correct claims of abuse by the power structures, until such a point that minority communities direct their rage at the more accessible Jews, rather than at the true, deep sources of their oppression. This has happened for centuries, and it's happening right now. We Jews have to resist being played as pawns in this way and maintain our solidarity with all oppressed communities, even as we take responsible measures to protect ourselves.
Making instruments takes time. That means that during Egyptian captivity, before seeing the shocking slaying of the first born or the wondrous parting of the sea, during the dark hour of oppression, these women played the long game, banked on liberation, believed that it was coming, and prepared for it painstakingly. Victory does not come just through playing defense against crisis, but, even in hours much darker than ours, playing a long game to win.
I would like to try to understand the essence of this day by way of one of Judaism’s oldest, most resilient, most beloved and most reviled prayers: U'Netanah Tokef, the early-Musaf journey into fear and trembling, human powerlessness, and the most desperate plea for Divine mercy.
"Division Ave." is a film-in-progress about a young Mexican woman and her Hasidic client and their unexpected connection that leads to a fight for justice.
As we prepare for Tisha B'Av, thinking of all the ways people continue to see their cities ravaged by bloodshed and dislocation, it may be helpful to round up some poignant Tisha B'Av pieces from years past on this site.
For the love of God, the 5-foot Minnesotan symbol of American depravity has cut to the essence of the problem of sin: It is loneliness. When I sin against U, I am ruptured & alienated from U; from the suppressed, best, true version of myself; from humanity; & from God, the 1 Who always sees me in my potential goodness, no matter how far and how persistently I stray. This is the deepest loneliness. Dealing with guilt and brokenness is at its core about treating our alienation and restoring solidarity, about reviving the truth that we are 1 with our fellow humans and with our best potential.
Well, that was awkward. Just a few days after announcing that it had hired Simone Zimmerman to be its national Jewish outreach coordinator, the Bernie Sanders campaign suspended her position yesterday, in reaction to loud, right-wing criticism of her positions, activism, and language in opposing the Israeli occupation and its enablers. I had planned yesterday to take on her chorus of critics for their ethically compromised and sometimes farcical gotcha-combing of Zimmerman’s very public and proud paper trail. Now, I must add some serious, head-shaking, profound disappointment in the Sanders campaign for what really looks like management amateur hour.