It Must Be Purim, Because The World's Been Turned Upside Down

Ariel Beery has a knack for standing reality on its head. In a recent post on Blogs of Zion, he claims that the mentality of Jewschoolers is precisely that which prevented the greater Jewish community from mobilizing against the Nazis in the 1930s, while it was, in fact, both ideologically and physically Zionism which did so:
Ideologically, Zionism affirmed the Nazi belief that Jews were an alien race that could never be fully accepted and welcomed into European society. This was contrary to the Bundist attempt at Jewish emancipation and normalization, which proclaimed Jews full-fledged members of the nations in which they lived, and ergo, fully entitled to the same rights as all other citizens of those nations. This is very much the ideology underpinning the American Jewish experience: That we are fully American and not strangers in someone else’s house. The Zionists were all too eager to concur with Hitler that the Jews simply did not belong. (Interestingly, when Avraham Avienu declared, “I dwell among you but I am an alien,” he did not then conclude “And therefore I do not belong among you and should leave and form my own state.” He intentionally went to where he would be seen as alien so that he could employ his identity as an outsider to foster cultural criticism and provide a light unto the nations.)
Physically, while Jews and non-Jews alike in North America, Europe and The Middle East had, together, launched a full-scale boycott against Germany that would have toppled the Hilter regime in its first year, Zionists and Zionist organizations, in particular Mapai (the predecessor of the Israeli Labor Party), actively worked to break the international boycott against Nazi Germany in exchange for moving 50,000 able bodied German Jews to Palestine along with $100,000,000 in German Jewish assets, so that they could build the Jewish state. (This secret pact between the Zionists and the Nazis is well-documented in The Tranfer Agreement by Edwin Black, a book which has been endorsed by Yad Vashem for its honesty and sensitivity in handling the subject.)
It is amusing that Beery’s remarks should come within days of Donald Rumsfeld’s portrayal of his critics as appeasers of Hitler, which Jacob Hornberger and Keith Olbermann have both addressed in a manner more articulate than one to which I could aspire. In that, like Rumsfeld, Beery is perpetuating the fear of our imminent destruction and painting his ideological opponents — in this case, me — as proponents of that destruction, in order to invert the definition of morality so as to put himself on the side of justice.
In a recent op-ed in the Jerusalem Post (cited by Kelsey below), Beery has crafted for himself a straw man that is neither representative of who we, the organizers of the Acharei Hamilchama concert are, nor of our generation and its priorities. Beery portrays me, Amy Kaplan and Stuart Siegel (Orthodox yeshiva students who have nothing at all to do with Jewschool, Heeb, JDub Records, Jews in the Woods, or any of the “New Jewish” cultural institutions with which I am affiliated) as emissaries of “the ‘New Jewish’ generation,” as though our fundraiser was somehow exemplary of a wider, dominant Jewish paradigm. That I am aware of no more than three other individuals attempting to organize Jewish relief for Lebanon, and that they are facing uphill battles no different from that which Amy, Stuart and I endured — while there have been literally dozens of fundraising efforts for Israel and likewise, well over a dozen solidarity missions by young American Jews to Israel’s north — bespeaks neither a universalist movement nor having shared priorities with our generation. In fact, it evidences quite the opposite.
But no matter for Beery, who tilts at this fictional windmill nonetheless, portraying himself (a former IDF spokesperson, past fellow at the right-leaning Shalem Center, and a pro-Israel campus activist involved in the production of “Columbia Unbecoming”) as a rebel opposing the status quo. Nevermind that he’s representative of the actual status quo. In an email response to one of my co-organizer’s complaints about feeling misrepresented by Beery in his op-ed, Beery purports to be expressing dissent against the priorities of the “‘New Jewish’ generation,” which he feels engages in “justice without regard to nationality or peoplehood” — a notion which (particularly in light of his negative portrayal of the American Jewish World Service’s action on Darfur) denies that religious/ethnic discrimination and genocide are issues of grave importance to the Jewish community itself. “Dissent should be encouraged,” Beery wrote, “not squashed for fear of ‘breaking the ranks.'” That our act was one of dissent against an all-pervasive Jewish particularism (rooted in the fear for our own survival) that frequently translates into transgressions of our highest ideals and therefore jeopardizes the very culture we seek to protect from eradication (like the Bush administration’s suspension of civil liberties for the sake of protecting “our freedoms”), and that I view Beery’s op-ed as an attempt at squashing that dissent, is a matter of extraordinary irony far from lost on me.
I will digress to question, what precisely, in the preservation of our people, are we seeking to keep alive? Merely ourselves? What is the value of our survival as a people if that which gives us peoplehood — our faith and its ideals — are the first casualties in the battle for our survival, or — perhaps a more apropos metaphor — the first cargo tossed overboard the sinking ship of Jewish peoplehood?
The Chafetz Chayyim taught:

Man was put on earth with a difficult mission — to emulate G-d. “To walk in His ways and to cleave to Him” (Devarim 11:22), the Torah commands. Upon no other creature in Creation does this grand expectation rest. Only man must strive for G-dliness, because he alone is equipped to do so. Only man was created in the image of Hashem. The challenge each person faces in his life is to seek out this element of G-dliness in himself and strengthen it by emulating Hashem’s ways. Acts of chesed are the means to that end.
To emulate Hashem, a person must comprehend His nature. Man’s knowledge of Hashem is limited to what he sees of Him in this world; He is the Creator, the Healer, the Protector, the Comforter, the Giver, the Sustainer of all life. “He gives bread to all flesh,” says Tehillim 136:25. Every being in Creation is sustained by Hashem’s giving hand; there is a form of nourishment and shelter provided for everything from the amoeba to the elephant. Therefore, the most effective way for a person to emulate Hashem is for him to give to and care for others. The more he expresses his desire to do kindness, the more precisely he reflects the image of Hashem.
Someone who deludes himself into believing that chesed is an “extra,” something to be avoided if possible, obscures Hashem’s image in himself. He takes himself down from the pedestal upon which Hashem placed mankind — the only creation made in His own image — and sets himself instead among the masses of creatures that roam the earth. Not only does he lose sight of Hashem’s image in himself, he fails to see it in others as well. One who sees other people as a reflection of Hashem naturally feels love and respect for them, and this, in turn, naturally expresses itself in a desire to help others. The person who loves chesed is the person who understands the true greatness of Man and the Source from which this greatness flows.

This sentiment — “junk-food” as Beery calls it — has also been echoed by The Baal Shem Tov, The Maharal of Prague, Moshe Cordovero, Abraham Isaac Kook, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Joseph Telushkin and even Hillel the Elder — hardly the Lefty, liberal, secular universalists that we, in keeping with this tradition, have been portrayed as by Beery.
I can only wonder, what — when this aspiration is lost, when this impulse is gone from our people — we have left to offer the world. What is the value in our preservation, other than physical self-perpetuation? Hundreds of nations and civilizations have come and gone from this earth. What makes our’s worthy of survival? Sheer physical force?
Returning from my digression, perhaps an even greater irony inherent in Beery’s attack is the condemnation of our universalism when the intent of our effort was undoubtedly particularistic. Putting our own halakhic obligation to have compassion for all human beings — our first priority in this effort — aside, we have been assailed for our failure to support Israel in its hour of need, when our message actually intended to validate Israel’s supposed reasons for war. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has stated repeatedly that this was not a war against Lebanon or the Lebanese, but a war against Hizballah. Yet many Jews have been quick to lump Lebanese civilian casualties in with Hizballah, proclaiming them supporters of terrorism desiring the eradication of Israel, and thus wholly deserving of their fate. This attitude completely undercuts Olmert’s assertions, whereas our expression of compassion for Lebanese civilians affirms them. As was stated in our event’s press release and in nearly every article covering the event, if Israel and the Jewish community fail to involve themselves in post-war relief efforts in Lebanon, Hizballah will be the leading option the Lebanese have for post-war relief, thus further indebting the Lebanese to Hizballah and delivering them a post-war victory. We are, effectively, acting to save Israel and the Jewish community from a self-imposed disaster. If anything, we should be accused of shilling for Israel and trying to help the Jewish people out of a jam. Instead, Beery explicity states that we are raising money for Hizballah supporters, claiming that our efforts “will probably do little more than help fix the wall of a Lebanese home, perhaps enabling the return of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s portrait to its former place.” We have gone from supporting Israel to supporting terrorism, as our intent is distorted through the prism of Beery’s apparently narrow, nationalistic, and ethnocentric worldview — a view that appears to be incongruous with our heritage.
All of this, of course, ignores the fact that, amidst our efforts on behalf of Lebanese civilians, we also raised money for Israel — an act for which none of our detractors have commended us.
I wonder how much relief Ariel Beery has organized for people in northern Israel.
Would you be surprised if the answer is none?

31 thoughts on “It Must Be Purim, Because The World's Been Turned Upside Down

  1. Beery’s comments are shameful. And wasn’t he part of Ameinu or something pretending to be progressive? (correct me if I’m wrong…)
    This incident teaches me the value of honest debate and soul searching, which Mobius engages, in, vs. slander and the twisting of facts, which Beery does.
    I prefer Judaism as a religion than as a nation. And I’m willing to compete with Beery’s ethnic-supremacist vision to make it so….

  2. I am at a loss of words that people like Beery are given such a podium so easily. I posted the following response on jpost.com, only touching on the question of tribalism vs. universalism.
    We know Hillel’s quote. “If I am not for myself.. I am only for myself… If not now, when?” I can hardly imagine an event that more realizes that essential Jewish teaching that this concert.
    Mr. Beery has presented a false dichotomy: American Jews should not be forced to choose between narrow tribalism (Israel right-or-wrong) and “universalistic social justice” that abandons the notion of Jewish peoplehood. We can have both.
    The reason many “New Jews” have moved on to social justice projects outside of Israel is because they are fed up with most pro-Israel organizations that force them to support everything Israel does or be labeled “anti-Israel.” Can you really blame them for not wanting to deal with Israel altogether and moving to less controversial issues like Darfur or AIDS?
    There are organizations out there that are finding a voice that can be both supportive of the Jewish state AND human rights and independence for Palestinians. Sadly, these groups are so often trumped by the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd that the “New Jews” take their enthusiasm and energy elsewhere. That is a true shame for the Jewish people.

  3. “Mr. Beery has presented a false dichotomy: American Jews should not be forced to choose between narrow tribalism (Israel right-or-wrong) and “universalistic social justice” that abandons the notion of Jewish peoplehood. We can have both.”
    To the contrary, 100+ years of Jewish involvement in the socialist, communist and other radical leftist movements proves we are always forced to make this choice when the sh*t hits the fan. Actually, the choice is made for us. No matter how much we try and be universalists the reality of being a Jew always comes first. Witness the treatment of Jews in the USSR, Cuba, and every other socialist workers paradise.
    Olbermann fits the time-honored leftist role of “useful idiot” to a t. President Bush, whatever his faults, is no Neville Chamberlain. That role is being played by the isolationist/pacifist left and the isolationist/libertarian right.
    Olbermann’s comments are deplorable and emblematic of the worst elements of the authoritarian left–International ANSWER, the ISO, etc–in not so subtly referring to the “fascism” of the Bush administration. Instead of this intellectually flabby and historically inaccurate drivel, I encourage you to read (or reread) Orwell’s comments on pacificism in the face of totalitarianism. They are quite prescient today.

  4. when you say who would blame the “new-jews” for moving away from controversial issues, I would have to say that I would blame them.
    If you don’t want the world to think that Jews support Israel whether its right or wrong, you shouldn’t run from the fight because it frustrates you. People that leave controversial issues, and go deal with things that most people agree with, don’t make a difference in the world. It’s the hard fights, that people should take on, not the easy ones….
    That said, I agree with Israel when they are right and even most of the time when they are wrong. There is something to be said for sticking up for your family even when they do something bad. Because to truly love someone/something and support them, means that you do in fact support them. When you truly love and support Israel, you look into the reasons why they did whatever bad thing, and you realize that it is a complicated situation. So you say look, “I still support you”, but you can still say, “you probably shouldn’t do that again, it doesn’t look/or isn’t, good.” But then even if they do it again, you still support them, because you know why. that’s true love and support. if it makes any sense the way I wrote it…
    And in fact that would be the left wing/liberal approach. The right wing approach would be to lie about it and sweep it under the carpet, while spouting off all the reasons you do support Israel. The left is more of a relationship where you acknowledge the wrongs, and work to fix them. The ignore your own people and go save Darfur approach is the weak approach. By all means save Darfur, but why run from a tough fight that you WANT to fight?

  5. To the contrary, 100+ years of Jewish involvement in the socialist, communist and other radical leftist movements proves we are always forced to make this choice when the sh*t hits the fan. Actually, the choice is made for us. No matter how much we try and be universalists the reality of being a Jew always comes first.
    nonsense. with the exception of the bund, jewish communists and socialists wholly renounced their jewish identity. they were assimilationists that advocated the eradication of jewish identity and peoplehood and who eagerly engaged in the demonization and persecution of jews who held to their jewish personage, feeding outright into antisemitism. that is not universalism.
    rather, universalism advocates tolerance for all ethnic and religious groups and the celebration of cultural diversity. only the bund truly emphasized this value, and for that they were attacked by both jewish assimilations (communists) and jewish nationalists (zionists).
    Olbermann fits the time-honored leftist role of “useful idiot” to a t. President Bush, whatever his faults, is no Neville Chamberlain.
    i’ll say — chamberlain could actually speak eloquently and coherently.
    Instead of this intellectually flabby and historically inaccurate drivel, I encourage you to read (or reread) Orwell’s comments on pacificism in the face of totalitarianism. They are quite prescient today.
    i agree — in their spinelessness, the american people have rolled over for the totalitarians and allowed them to take control of the u.s. government. we should have long ago rushed capitol hill with torches and pitchforks and hung these bastards on the washington mall.

  6. actually, shortly after initial publication i changed it to say “Hizballah will be the leading option.” i’ll check akismet for your comments…

  7. I spent the entire time I read this post nodding my head. I agree, and as an observant liberal, I’m so tired of being told that caring about innocent members of communities with whom I have a disagreement is akin to supporting Nazis. Lebanese civilians are exactly the people we need to convince to be our allies. If we alienate them any more, we can’t be surprised when they support Hizbullah.

  8. the transfer agreement doesnt seem to have been endorsed by yad vashem as an organization, but rather by Yoav gelber who was on some committees at yad vashem, according to the professor’s online bio (http://israel-stu.haifa.ac.il/staff/ygelber.htm)….at least thats all i can find using google…maybe im wrong
    come on mobius, i agree with a lot of what u wrote but you get so damn reactionary that you dont do your homework fully and you come off sounding more angry than smart…comparing so called “jewish particularism” and its effects on our ideals and values to bush’s contradictory stance on suspending some liberties to protect others is just unnecessary to make your point. its clear that “jewish particularism” might be a contradiction without you mentioning bush. actually, it makes me wonder if you are trying to put down beery’s point of view or bash all right leaning people in one article…choose your battle and your point and stick to it. proove him wrong by sticking to the point. i hate reading when u just start raving and thats why most people i know have started reading jewschool less (not just you, but everyone here-my comments included- is prone to raving and not thinking things through)
    nevertheless, you make many excellent points and beery’s article sucks and ignores the fact that we all struggle naturally with the line between helping ourselves and our families and helping others. that is a human thing and to put yourself on either side of that line is not a sin, just a personal choice…
    in the end, i believe jewish universalism and using our talents and good fortune to benefit others will bring the ultimate fulfillment of zionism as envisioned by herzl…of course we must also help ourselves and our people and i often wonder which cause deserves more or how to distribute my personal resources between these two sides.
    (btw, just wondering, where does beery insult AJWS actions on darfur as you mentioned?)

  9. Thanks Mobius. I’ve been sitting for the past week reading Beery’s comments (on his blog and then in the Jerusalem Post) and feeling at an absolute loss. I didn’t even know where to begin in response. Thank you for taking the lead with a thorough statement.

  10. ten minutes in NY, and you see what becomes possible to think and express?
    God bless Ahm-Raika! Love live free press!
    The transfer Agreement should be taught in every Jewish school in the world, that we not forget what Israel costs, and at what price land control comes.
    Anti-zionist Zionists of the world unite!

  11. Mobius — Labeling the American people “spineless,” the Republicans “totalitarians,” and calling for a torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob to hang elected officials are all pretty stupid things to say.

  12. “Nonsense. with the exception of the bund, jewish communists and socialists wholly renounced their jewish identity. they were assimilationists…”
    I think you missed my point. Leftist universalism going back to Marx–if not prior–has just about always required Jewish assimilation and the abandonment of Jewish identity. Yet, even when the Jewish communists made this attempt to adandon their identity they still, in the final analysis, were viewed as Jews before being fellow proletarian brothers. My point is that universalism is a dead end–figuratively and literally–for Jews. And everyone for that matter. It’s a nice dream but it never works when put into actual practice.
    “we should have long ago rushed capitol hill with torches and pitchforks and hung these bastards on the washington mall.”
    Yes, I’m sure that would have fostered the sort of grassroots social change you’d like to see. I’m kidding. This sort of mob violence empowers the right in democratic countries.

  13. Per chance, is Beery in the group of baby boomers who despise their failures, and thefefore attack any youth who have a persepective on the future?
    As for the rantings on fascism emanating from the mouths of the Dick, his idiot-boy, and Rummy: Shame on the frying pans calling the kettles black. Anyone want to really discuss who the financial supports of the Nazis were? How about Prescott Bush, and his Union Bank Corporation. Prescott ‘somehow’ missed prosecution under the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917.
    I’ve got family I never met, because of the Bush family financing of Hitler’s nazis. And, yeah, I emphatically remember the 6 million, and I emphatically say “never again” means for the entirety of humanity.
    As for those rightwingers with nomial Jewish surnames, the concept of ‘collaborators’ comes to my mind.

  14. Yeah, Ariel’s in his mid-20’s. Which is, I think, all the more reason to respect his accomplishments and many endeavors; he, like you, Dan, is a “project guy” who is never happy unless he’s helming several different projects at once.
    I posted my own intervention to this debate at:
    I obviously come down more on the Mobius side, but before I could talk about the substance I had to comment on the rhetoric being used so far in the back-and-forth. I hope people will agree with me.

  15. Hi Dan,
    I must say that I am disappointed that you attacked my character instead of my ideas. I think I did a good job of describing your motivations in my article in the Jerusalem Post, and did not in any way attack your character.
    Moreover, I am disappointed that you chose to highlight selected portions of my past in order to strengthen your case. Your readers should know that I was the national director of a socialist Zionist youth movement–Hashomer Hatzair, that I was a peace activist working with Palestinian youth movements in Gaza and the West Bank in 1998-1999, that I ran a lecture series on Minorities in the Middle East at Columbia, and that I have been a vocal advocate against genocide in Sudan years before the cause hit the public agenda, and ran a full section on it in my magazine, PresenTense.
    But you are right. I did not raise $500 for the North–I donated three years of my life, worked with my good friend Aharon–who is donating months of his life to the State–to raise thousands of dollars for military equipment to help protect you and your bourgeois life in Jerusalem, and am donating thousands of dollars of space in the next issue of PresenTense to raise awareness about the plight of people in the North.
    But none of that matters, because it is irrelevant to the ideas I put forward.
    I think that if you quote the Chofetz Chaim it would do you well to study what he wrote about attacking a person instead of disagreeing with their ideas, and I would hope that you would deal with my central claim–that universalism has historically led to a weaker Jewish People–instead of resorting to smear tactics and mudslinging.

  16. Please don’t force me to choose between an ethnic/national or a religious/ethical definition of being Jewish. I love explaining this dual identity to Gentiles who are frequently confused and it amuses me.
    But seriously, folks: If I am not for myself, who will be for me. If I am only for myself, what am I? We must embrace both of these principles to remain truly Jewish.
    The rest is commentary. Or, if you like, Jewschool. Thank you Mobius, for a passionately eloquent post. And thank you, Jewschoolers, for caring so much about our Jewish community and our world.

  17. >
    That’s a good question. Sometimes other people feel really threatened by another person’s willingness to get into a fight, one that has consequences for others besides the fighters. That’s why, if the fight you’re desperate to get into freaks out, endangers or repells your family. That’s why someone might want to, short of fear of getting into a DIFFERENT fight, that they’d rather NOT get into. That’s why some people don’t pick fights with obnoxious police officers or gangsters, even though it really feels like the rightest thing to do, it may come with a commitment to more trouble than you might like.

  18. The only way Berry’s attack makes any sense is if you really believe it is 1933 and the Iranian push for the bomb is a likely existential threat to Israel. From that perspective, now is not a good time for intra-Jewish squabbling. But even from a very narrow-minded “Good for the Jews” perspective, disdaining efforts in Darfur or Jewish donations to Lebanese civilians is a bit short-sighted. Berry’s final pot-shot, about tikkun olam being “junk food” suggests he would be troubled by Jewish univerasalism even if the Iranians weren’t led by an apocolyptic meglomaniac. It alsoindicates ignorance of what “junk food” was served up as Jewish education over the past generation – a warmed over concoction of rote drilling for Bar Mitzvot, Holocaust awareness and fuzzy Zionism.
    Given this cocktail, it is understandable that many young engaged Jews have reacted passionately in the other direction – running away from anything the reeks of substance-free Jewish tribalism. To the extent that leads to a thirst for a more grounded, complex and critical Zionism that’s a good thing. But given that global anti-Semitism has bounced back from its post-Soviet collapse nadir, when critical Zionism slips into anti-Zionism it is simply irresponsible. Mobius seems to dance this line rhetorically, and it mars what it otherwise a sharp and cogent critique of Jewish paritcularism.
    Part of the difficulty of being a modern Jew is dealing with the problems and responsibility of Jewish power. As Jewish history shows, they are much better problems to have than those of Jewish powerlessness.

  19. This debate between is not a new one – it’s the standard tension between particularist tendencies and universalist ones that any thinking person needs to consider. I can understand and deeply relate to both impulses, and it’s a valuable tension to be dealing with today. So thanks for spelling it out. And sure, this particular instance offers a set of details that introduces new questions to deal with.
    I consider myself a liberal Jew in many ways. And yet, I think universalist tones, the kind of which Sieradski paints as being challenging-to-the-norm, are anything buy new and novel – go to any college campus where there are liberal Jews and you’ll find heaps of similar sympathies. And there is good reason why they’re not hard to find – they’re the obvious conclusion for young Jews who don’t naturally identify with traditionalism and are attracted to humanist ethics.
    For an audience of liberal-minded university-educated young Jews, it is Beery’s position that needs to be voiced more often and more genuinely processed. Sure, it’s also the easy target for obvious universalist critiques – ones that have indeed been cast at Beery –(discrimination, morally repugnant, small-minded, bigoted, etc.), but it thoughtfully presents the traditional model of intra-group particularist obligations and demands the relevant challenge: can Judaism survive if Jews don’t care about Jews more than they care about non-Jews? This question, while it inspires an eye-rolling and cringing response from those of us who are universally-sensitive (myself included), is both poignant and practical.
    The only thing I’m confused about is why anyone is surprised by either position or the debate. No need for hyperbolic reactions and off-topic comparisons: this is good stuff for debate, so let’s try and stick to the central issue at hand. Let’s not use ad-hominem attacks and reductive accusations to convince ourselves that we’ve arrived at the terribly obvious and exclusively reasonable conclusion – Life just isn’t that simple.

  20. “The only way Berry’s attack makes any sense is if you really believe it is 1933 and the Iranian push for the bomb is a likely existential threat to Israel.”
    Er, yes. You don’t think it is?
    But I do think Jews should help both Jews and gentiles. But we should be selective and smart aobut it, just as we would in personal relationships. You don’t give endlessly to everyone around you, you prioritize.

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