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How to be Effective at Your Thanksgiving Table This Year

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Ever had a frustrating experience on Thanksgiving with friends or family? Your progressive ideas are dismissed as unrealistic or seem to offend people? Here are some tips on how to navigate that at your Thanksgiving table 2017.

First, remember that there is a lot to give thanks for in our world today.  We ought not let our celebration of all that is miraculous in the universe, our celebration of the continuing bountiful reality of planet Earth, and our appreciation of all the good people in this would be undermined or ruined by having all the conversation focusing on the Trumpists.

So step one: encourage friends and family to spend some time celebrating the good, even at the expense of not watching the t.v. or focusing on everything wrong with the world. Ask your host or your friends to give some time to expressing out loud some of what people assembled appreciate about each other, about themselves, about our mother Earth, and about the tens of millions of people (the numerical majority of voters) who did not vote for Trump and would not support those (in both major political parties) who blindly put the needs of corporate America above the needs of the rest of the population. We can also celebrate the growing outrage at the sexual abuse of women–an outrage that wasn’t there in the past and which is a further testimony to the huge impact of the women’s movement (whose struggle against patriarchy benefits men as well as women, and which is in my view the most important revolution of the past two thousand years at least, even as men must join with women in this struggle because there is so much more to accomplish!).

And challenge those liberals and progressives who are putting down everyone who voted for Trump or didn’t vote. Remind people that a section of those who did vote for Trump were NOT racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.  but people who were voting against the Democratic Party that they perceived as having abandoned them (sometimes with good reason–you can reread Tikkun’s critiques of the way the half-hearted steps taken by Presidents Clinton and Obama, supposedly pragmatic and realistic, actually raised hopes that they did not fulfill and helped create a growing discontent about paying taxes to a government that wasn’t coming through for many many people, e.g. the flawed Obamacare which did not create any serious controls on health insurers or pharmaceuticals or for-profit-hospitals’ ability to raise their charges dramatically, as people have been discovering this year and will feel even more intensely next year).

Ever since the 1960s a growing number of voters have been angry at a Left that looks down on anyone not already in their ranks, assuming that these others are all haters or racists, sexists, homophobes, etc., or that they are all stupid, or that sees them as a ” bundle of deplorables” (in Hillary Clinton’s words). Many of them have experienced liberals and progressives dismissing all people who are religious as ignorant or just plain stupid. The Left reeks of religiophobia, not just from people like Bill Maher but from a pervasive belief that religious people are reactionary or psychologically retarded. This pushes many people who would agree with everything else we stand for into the arms of the Right.

Another problem:  since the election of Trump more and more people in the liberal and progressive world, particularly on college campuses, have turned the important and legitimate struggle against patriarchy and racist practices into a discourse that suggests that ALL men are sexist and have “male privilege and all whites are racist and have “white skin privilege.”. In so doing, they are driving more and more people into the arms of right wing demagogues who use the opportunity this discourse presents to convince people that these lefties are elitists who hate them and know nothing about the real struggles that most Americans face in their lives (even whites and men).

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A modest measure to prevent cruelty and improve food safety

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2017 | No Comments »

It’s not easy to think about the animals behind the eggs and meat that end up on our plates. If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard something about the troubling ways animals are raised for food. Some of the most upsetting examples are how factory farms cruelly confine mother pigs, egg-laying hens, and veal calves in cages so small they can barely move. These systems are deny farm animals virtually every instinct most natural to them. Surely, inflicting such pain on animals is a violation of the Jewish values and laws that call upon us to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals, or tzaar baalei chayim.. In addition to the blatant cruelty, numerous studies show that animals raised in extreme confinement are more likely to carry disease, requiring the worrying overuse of important antibiotics.

Fortunately, there is an important measure on the November 2018 ballot that will end this type of cruelty and alleviate threats to human safety: The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act. This simple measure would upgrade California law by requiring not just more space, but cage-free conditions for farm animals. It would also require that all eggs, veal, and pork sold in the state be sourced from farms that comply with these modest animal welfare and food safety rules.

This groundbreaking campaign has already been endorsed by prominent faith voices throughout the state, such as Reverend Richard Mouw, former President of Fuller Theological Seminary and myself, Rabbi Michael Lerner, of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. Other endorsers include the Center for Food Safety, Evangelicals for Social Action, San Francisco SPCA, the Humane Society of the US, Jewish Initiative for Animals as well as dozens of family farmers, veterinarians, and public health professionals who believe in safeguarding animal welfare and improving food safety.

As a conscientious consumer, I urge you to join me in supporting this important measure by getting involved here: www.preventcrueltyca.com/volunteer.

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Why A Ramah Counselor Spoke-Out About the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters Last Week

Nov17

by: Sylvie Rosen on November 17th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters
Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters. Image courtesy of author.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up at Ramah. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Ramah is a holy community, a Kehilah Kedoshah, as we say. This summer, when a fire burned down our main building, people posted on Facebook, donated money, and reached out to me individually. I felt supported by the entire National Ramah movement.

But where is that same support, community, and strength in our conversations, actions, and education on Israel/Palestine? Although Ramah changes me and lifts me up in so many ways, it fails me every year in one way: by perpetuating lies about the Occupation.

Not once, in my combined ten years at Ramah in the Berkshires and Ramah in the Rockies, did anyone mention the Occupation. We don’t talk about it because we want to pretend it doesn’t exist every summer.

In my three summers on staff, none of our programming ever attempted to address the Occupation. Instead, on Yom Israel in 2016, staff instructed campers to build mock settlements as a fun competition that demonstrated how Jews built Israel from nothing. No one mentioned that people lived on that land before. In our dining tent, we have a map from The Nachshon Project showing where all the famous Biblical characters lived in Israel/Palestine — stealthily laying claim to the idea that only Jews have a historic right to the land. We have maps of Israel across the camp to emulate the Israel Trail, but not one of them outlines the Green Line. This past summer, during our staff training session on Israel, we talked about our feelings and relationship to Israel, but never about the Occupation. The unspoken agreement about the Occupation was: it’s complicated, difficult, and not appropriate for a summer camp.

This is an educational and moral disaster.

Rabbi Cohen responded in Haaretz to our campaign the day of the Speak-Out and Teach-In I participated in last week: “We [Ramah and IfNotNow] don’t differ on the importance of teaching our teens and staff about the difficulties of the occupation.”

But if that is true, then the attempts made have been at best inconsistent and inadequate. In the past I’ve made excuses for Ramah because I want it to be the leader in the American-Jewish community that it claims to be. I told myself that the rest of the work Ramah does outweighs these issues. I was scared to disagree with the place is so central to my identity.

But I can’t maintain this lie anymore, which is why I went to the Speak-Out and Teach-In outside the National Ramah Commission last Tuesday. I joined because I want to see systemic change, and I know our community can do better than individual private meetings that superficially deal with this issue. We have to hold Ramah accountable and we can’t do that in a private setting. We want change for this summer, and we need public support for that. This is why we have invited Rabbi Cohen, to a public forum to talk with alumni and members of the Jewish community.

When I return to Ramah this summer along with 11,000 other people, I want our work and community to truly be holy, Kedoshah, by truthfully and thoughtfully educating campers and staff about the realities of the occupation.

I also want to address how we should educate campers and staff on the Occupation this summer. We must acknowledge the reality that millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. IfNotNow has compiled a list of some resources we can use to teach campers and staff how to think critically about Israel. But this is just a start, it shows that this kind of education is possible and that other Jewish educators are doing it.  We need to upend the idea that Israel education and all Jewish education cannot include discussions about the Occupation. For those at Ramah who are professional Jewish educators, addressing the Occupation is as part of their job as teaching campers how to lead shabbat services — and we must hold them responsible for that.

__

Sylvie Rosen is an IfNotNow member and Ramah camp counselor.

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Nonviolence in the Face of Hatred

Nov16

by: on November 16th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Anita was present at almost every one of the 34-sessions of my online course Responding to the Call of Our Times. I have sometimes wondered what this course would have been like without her steady willingness to explore the depths of nonviolence. I was counting on it as a thread tying us together, inviting others into more willingness, inviting me into more daring capacity to excavate, find truth, find love. I thought Anita could not surprise me any longer. Then, two weeks before the end of the course, she surprised all of us.

Anita was one of very few people of African descent in the group, and the experience she described was totally related to her background. Some weeks before, her one remaining sister shared with her for the first time that years ago, when she was living in the South, there were a few times when the Ku Klux Klan broke into her house and dragged her out into a field towards a burning cross.

Probably 1958, from the North Carolina State Archives

Anita was bringing this up for a very specific reason, fully fitting with the focus on leadership that the course was on. Although this was very tender for her, she wasn’t bringing it up for empathy or sympathy. She was bringing it up because she wanted to find a way to transform her thinking about what her sister had shared with her, so she would know what to do with the violent thoughts that were populating her mind and challenging her commitment. Out of respect for her dignity and choice, I never asked for the specific nature of the thoughts.

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Written Testimony of Kenneth S. Stern

Nov15

by: Kenneth S. Stern on November 15th, 2017 | No Comments »

WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF KENNETH S. STERN

Executive Director

Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation

Before the

UNITES STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

November 7, 2017 Hearing on

Examining Anti-Semitism on College Campuses

 

Dear Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and honorable members of the Committee:

My name is Kenneth Stern. I am the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, which works to increase understanding of hatred and antisemitism, and how to combat them, with a particular emphasis on college campuses.

I have also taught a full semester class on antisemitism at Bard College as a visiting assistant professor of human rights, where I am currently a fellow of its Center for Civic Engagement.

I am honored to have been invited to speak with you today.

Antisemitism has been around for thousands of years, and it is no surprise that it appears on our college campuses too, as do all other forms of hatreds and prejudices.

The questions before the Committee today are multi-faceted:

1) How do we understand antisemitism on campus?

2) How is it manifested?

3) What works to combat it?

4) What might, despite the best of intentions, make the problem worse?

I began working on issues of antisemitism in 1980s, when I was a young lawyer in Portland, Oregon involved with politically progressive cases.

While protesting the 1982 War in Lebanon, I was shocked to hear antisemitism from some of my progressive colleagues. They seemed not to care that they were vilifying Israel in terms reminiscent of how members of the white supremacist Posse Comitatus – who used to hand out antisemitic tracts around the Multnomah County Courthouse where I practiced – demonized Jews.

I began working as a volunteer with the Oregon Jewish community on issues of antisemitism, and in 1989 joined the national staff of the American Jewish Committee as its antisemitism expert, where I worked for the next 25 years. The campus was part of my portfolio.

One of my earliest projects – at the height of the hate speech code craze in the early 1990s – was to research effective ways colleges and universities should address bigotry. With the help of the late Brooklyn College President Robert Hess, I convened a group of college presidents to advise my research, and wrote a monograph that was a blueprint for action. I then trained over 200 presidents around the country on this topic1 . The key points were: do not violate academic freedom or free speech; speak out with your own voice strongly and promptly against bigotry; punish conduct where appropriate; review curriculum; train staff; survey how students perceive the climate on campus.

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Embracing the Stranger, Part IV: Knowing Ourselves to Know Others

Nov9

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 9th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series, here for part II, and here for part III. This is the final installment.

Knowing Ourselves to Know Others: Reflections of an Interview with JR Furst

Coming to do the work of social justice is a journey that people travel based on their identities and experiences. It is many individual people that create a community striving for change as they bring their own unique perspectives. However, even within this, there are points of connection and common cause for those who dedicate their time and energy to challenging, systems and norms that maintain deep division. A friendship and a connection between two individuals has been the foundation for the work of Beyond This Prison, a project started by JR Furst and Glenn Robinson to work with at risk youth by developing leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, and positive confrontation.

After this, JR began writing with multiple inmates, but made a particular and long term connection with Glenn Robinson. Glenn has been serving a forty year sentence in a Louisiana jail for a non violent crime since the age of 17. When JR first read Glenn’s response When Glenn first began writing back to JR, “It felt like there was an underlying tone of ‘I’ve been waiting for your letter, let’s gets started, we have a lot of work to do.’” Glenn believed that the connection between these two practical strangers was destiny. Through the development of this relationship, JR began to tell Glenn’s life story to others. “[Glenn said] If he’s going to sit here rotting in a cell he might as well find someway to connect with the outside world and to have his experiences, life, wisdom, and perspective not be in vain.”

Slowly, Beyond This Prison was formed as a way to share Glenn’s words of wisdom and insight. The project, which works with the organization, Youth Spirit Artworks, has developed workshops that have given participants the chance to be vulnerable about their own lives and discuss the metaphorical prisons that they experience and feel trapped by. Using the insight from Glenn’s letters, JR uses the inspiration and wisdom to form workshops for youth who are on the same possible track that led to Glenn’s incarceration. JR stated that these workshops create an opportunity for people to showcase their amazing capability to open up. “Give someone a creative prompt, they can step outside of themselves and their reality. Amazing things emerge just naturally.”

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This Week’s Torah Portion

Nov7

by: 2017-2018 T'ruah Israel Fellows on November 7th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Note from Rabbi Lerner:

This week’s Torah portion to be read this Saturday in synagogues around the world tells of Abraham bargaining for a place to buy his wife Sarah. He finally succeeds in purchasing the spot which is now identified as the cave of machpelah in the center of Hebron. It became a holy site for Jews some 2200 years ago, and many Jews went on pilgramage to that site until the Roman imperialists forced Jews out of much of what the Romans named Palestine. When, some 1300 years ago, Muslims conquered the Holy Land, they constructed a mosque on top of this cave, and that became a holy site for Muslims as well who also believed that they, through Ishmael (Abraham’s first son, though not through his wife Sara but from her handmaiden Hagar) were descendents of Abraham. After the 1967 “Six Days War” Israel conquered the West Bank, a group called Gush Emunim, composed mostly of religious fanatics who believed that Jews had “the right” all of the West Bank and Gaza (and some even thinking that God had “given us” all the territory to the Euprhates river in Iraq) settled first nearby Hebron, then in Hebron next to the mosque where they could have immediate access to the supposed graves of our ancestors.They began displacing Arabs living near the cave and this caused friction between the over 100,000 Muslims who lived in this large West Bank city and the settlers. In 1994 a settler entered the mosque and murdered some 19 Muslims at prayer. In response, Israel sent in IDF (Israeli army) to protect the settlers from the anger of the (unarmed) Palestinians, and as more settler arrived and more Palestinians were displaced, anger grew, and so did the presence of the Israeli army, shutting down streets in central Hebron till it felt to many more like a prison than like the center of one of the biggest Palestinian cities.

Below is a note I received from a group of young people studying in Israel this year as the Truah Israel Fellows with the interdenominational organization Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights of which I am a member.  Please read it to understand better why Palestinians are so outraged at the Occupation.

– Rabbi Michael Lerner

 

A d’var Torah for Parashat Chayei Sarah by the 2017-2018 T’ruah Israel Fellows

 

Visiting Hebron, one of the first impressions that hits like a sucker-punch to the stomach is of a ghost town. Streets once bustling with thousands of Palestinians are now traversed almost exclusively by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Freedom of movement is squashed. Palestinian doors are welded shut and porches are caged in, ostensibly to protect them from the 800 settlers living in their midst. It’s hard to fathom what life is like when you cannot go out of your front door. This is occupation at its starkest.

But after this shock subsides, a more insidious, creeping form of occupation starts to draw one’s attention. Wherever we travel in the rest of Israel, we see street signs in three languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and English. It’s a recognition of Arabic’s status as an official language and a nod to the kind of coexistence that, at least in theory, Israel strives for. But here in Hebron, a lot of work has gone into painting a different picture.

Here, the street names are in Hebrew and English. No Arabic. Road signs point to Jerusalem and the settlement of Neve Samuel but not to any of the Palestinian neighborhoods or villages. It’s a pretty blatant attempt to cloak the occupation, to erase anyone’s connection to this place but the Jews’.

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Photo Series, Part III: Ramsal

Nov7

by: Emily Monforte on November 7th, 2017 | No Comments »

This series of portraits paired with interview-based articles attempts to start a conversation about how change makers think about, communicate, and embody their identities; and how this relates to the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. The intention of the series is to explore our differences and what makes us individual so as to underline a common thread of desire for love, non-violence, generosity, peace, and caring about others that I happen to believe lies at the heart of all activist work. In particular this work attempts to focus on the idea that bringing your own story of how your identity interacts with your activism allows for those looking from the outside in to be touched on a human-to-human level, allowing them to feel compassion for you and the goal of the work at large.

Click here to read part I in the series, and here for part II. This is the final installment in the series.

Ramsal

Photo of Ramsal standing in closet wearing headphones

Photo courtesy of Ramsal

 

Ramsal grew up in New Jersey in an “Orthodox conservative insular Jewish community” as they describe it, and for a large portion of their life lived by the values they absorbed during that time. The one they focused on in our interview was the particular relationship they developed to God. “It took me up until about my last year of college to realize that I was interacting with a God that was masculine and domineering and judgmental and separate from me and the tangible accessible world. I realized that because I was viewing God as this separate other domineering judgmental entity, I was practicing my religion from a source of fear where I was scared that if I didn’t do what God asked me to do or what I believe God asked me to do that I would be punished.” This realization was the first step in their process of re-constructing their understanding of God’s relationship to themself and how God exists in the universe as a whole. Ramsal recognized the toxicity in a spiritual life driven by fear, their religion had become an obligation, they walked a careful line, doing as they thought God wanted, for they did not see God as forgiving or understanding of missteps, but as awaiting their mistakes ready to slap them on the wrists. “Finally I had this eureka moment, and I realized the entire universe is God. It’s not this separate entity that I am praying to. I think that words and the way we phrase things subconsciously end up dictating how we…interact with our world. When we constantly refer to our God as a He and as something that we are praying to, we tend to forget that we are part of God, that God is part of us and the universe as a whole, that is where the oneness of God exists… God is oneness, the universe is God. And when I started approaching religion from that space, God had a sex change for me.”

When Ramsal says God had a sex change for them, they do not mean in the way we have essentialized gender in our society today. What Ramsal means is that “God became this motherly loving figure. In Hebrew the world love translates to the word אהבה (Ah-ha-va) a four letter word, alef he et he, and the root of that word is hav, which means to give. So love to me means giving, and I received this life without having been asked for anything in return, so it’s this unconditional love and unconditional gift which I am eternally blessed and grateful to receive.” God came to embody this ever giving power which Ramsal sees as acutely akin to the type of giving that begins when a mother has a child. In many ways this association with God as feminine manifested itself for Ramsal during their time working on the floor as a nurse in a labor and delivery unit. “I was constantly surrounded by the essence of motherhood, and everyday was watching the intense love and giving that a mother gifts to her child from the moment they are born, just massive acts of giving.”

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Embracing the Stranger, Part III: A Place for Compassion in Activism

Nov6

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 6th, 2017 | No Comments »

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series, and here for part II. Stay tuned the final installment!

A Place for Compassion in Activism: Reflections of an Interview with Tada Hozumi

In social justice work, the activist communities that are built are a vital component to the success and continuation of movements. The interactions, group dynamics, and relationships activists have with each other can affect the work they do to create a better world for all people. In talking with Tada Hozumi, they explained to me, “[...]Social justice is about relationships – relationships between people on an individual or community level.” Hozumi is the facilitator for their most current project, “Authentic Allyship,” an online coaching program for white allies to explore what it means to cultivate allyship based on self-compassion and self-care, rather than obligation. Additionally, they are the author of an upcoming book, Selfish Activist, describing possible ways to build healthy relationships within social justice communities.They describe that in the work for social justice, our relationships are equally as important if we are to dismantle the systems that oppress ourselves and others. Therefore, they maintain, “[B]ecause it’s a relationship, all the principles of healthy relating still apply.”

Hozumi has more recently stepped away from social justice circles after experiencing the more and more prevalent “burnout” that activists can experience after engaging in the profound emotional, psychological, and at times visceral work of activism. After stepping away and reflecting on the social justice communities they participated in, Hozumi thought about social justice culture and community, and developed their own thinking about allyship in activist circles.

A fundamental aspect to social justice work can be to live in a just society together. In some way, we live in relationship to everyone, whether they are a complete stranger, or our most intimate and close partners. Therefore, in social justice work, the development of relationships is vital. Hozumi explains that, “[...] within social justice communities we’re often forgetting to treat ourselves [and] others like we’re in a relationship. So that to me is [...] inherently missing the mark, when this work is about people and their relationships to each other. [...] [W]hat I’m focused on is looking at [...] what does it mean if we started looking at activist work as relationship work? There’s so much information out there already about how to manage relationships.” Having social justice communities model the kind of relationships we want could be an act of revolutionary thinking and process.

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Where Were You When Rabin Was Shot?

Nov2

by: Ethan Gologor on November 2nd, 2017 | 1 Comment »

As with those other infamous shots in the 60s that resound in our memories, frozen by the singular import of the tragic occasion, I have no trouble recalling the moment I learned of Rabin’s assassination. I was in the middle of teaching a three-hour introductory psychology class at my college in Crown Heights. We were just returning from our ten-minute break when one of my African-American students asked if I had heard. “Heard what?” “That Rabin had been shot.” For a minute, I didn’t understand. The ease with which his name emerged must have surprised me. Had the whole world really kept up? Did everyone, regardless of background or context, have at their fingertips the names of Peres, Shamir, Begin, Sharon, Dayan? And why was he making such a point of telling me? Did he somehow know that I’d have more than an average, passing interest?

Yes, I knew very well the name of Rabin. As the descendant of generations of Jews born in Jerusalem, as an adolescent who couldn’t help feeling a special kinship, even with Eva Marie Saint, after seeing Exodus, as a groom who took his marriage vows under a chupah on the beaches of Eilat, I took pride in many of his accomplishments. And while the well-celebrated peace efforts of his last two years seem to have vanished with him, I refer to those dramas that now seem so long ago–exploits of the Palmach before the country was formed, the efficient surgical strikes of an unparalleled air force, manifestations of prototypically Hebrew ethics, which originated somewhere between Genesis and Deuteronomy and which were continually on display between the Mediterranean and Red Seas, between Sinai and Golan, between dawn and dusk on six days in June in 1967. The generals who always led the charge across threatening territories, loaded with land mines. The precision bombing of the oil tankards, without an enemy life taken. The courage and ingenuity of the Entebbe invasion. Rabin, often the mastermind, symbolized the resolve by which the state of Israel was born and the care by which its values were nurtured. And even when he fell temporarily from grace with–scandal of scandals!–an attempt to preserve a few real dollars outside of his country that regularly devoured savings with 50 per cent inflation a year, I felt for him. Give of yourself but also take care of yourself. The shrewd coup where nobody really gets hurt. A victimless crime. How can I save a little here? (On my first trip to Israel, a well-to-do sabra asked my companion, as we were disembarking, if she’d mind wearing the mink she’d bought abroad till we all cleared customs. It would save her a few dollars. I liked that too.) However patriotic one is, the tax collector–well, that’s something else.

But while my personal history is known hardly to anyone, word of my “ethnicity,” as all my Jamaican and Trinidadian and Nigerian students are used to referring to it, had apparently gotten around. Without my becoming aware of it, I had become the campus Jew. Without applying for the position, I had become the authority, the arbiter, the representative on matters Jewish. (As the years went by, I would become in charge of bringing the menorah to the winter holiday table and certifying the authenticity of the latkes that somehow would find their place, adjacent to the collard greens and sweet potato pie and goat curry.) And however awkward I felt to be so chosen, I couldn’t help but appreciate the genuineness of the offer. When that three-hour class was over, three staff members, one African, one African-American and one Caribbean added their expressions of sympathy. And with those, I actually began to feel simultaneously as Jewish and as at home in this almost totally black environment as I ever had. They knew, they identified, they shared. We’ve had our own many centuries of this, thank you, so we all recognize the pain of sudden and violent and senseless death.

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