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Hillel at the Crossroads: NEU Hillel Protests “Fear-Based Tactics”

Sep24

by: Edwin Black on September 24th, 2017 | No Comments »

This article is the third in a series. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Sheldon Goldman was hesitant and uncertain about what to do next.

As board chairman of the Northeastern University (NEU) Hillel, Goldman had witnessed what he termed an administrative “inquisition” by Hillel International against his chapter, programs and staff. The chargeswere denied by Hillel International. But Goldmanhad reached his limit.

Goldman had come to the NEU chapter years ago, as a parent of a daughter at the school. He haddonated$36,000 per yearinpersonal funds and had led fundraising drives to buttress the NEU chapter’s programs, its physicalbuildingand its future sustainability.

In a January 14, 2017, letter to Hillel International board chair Tina Price, Goldman recited the following accomplishments:”We received an offer from the Northeastern University to become a University affiliate–with the University offering to fund the annual organizational budget. We have built bridges with University departments, faculty and student groups and organized successful campaigns to defeat BDS resolutions … three timesin two years. We neutralized the SJP [Students for Justice in Palestine] organization that was creating an environment of harassment and intimidation for Jewish students.”

Still, NEU Hillel’s relations withHillel Internationalhad been raw for a long time, says Goldman. Matters came to a climax after NEU Hillel’s Israel Fellow,who was slated to receive aprestigious award at theHillel International General Assembly held in Orlando, Florida, in December 2016, saw the honor mysteriously withdrawn, according to Goldman. While still at the Orlando assembly, NEU Hillel executive director Arinne Braverman decided to resign over what she called “politics.”

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A Surprising Realization in America

Sep21

by: Richard Zimler on September 21st, 2017 | 4 Comments »

I’ve lived in Portugal for the last 27 years and generally visit America – the country where I was born and grew up – only once a year.  I recently had my annual visit, and for three weeks I stayed at a beachfront condominium on Sanibel, a tranquil and beautiful island off the west coast of Florida that is part of Lee County.  In that county – which includes the nearby city of Fort Myers – 59 percent of the population voted for Donald Trump. And he won the statewide vote as well (as most Tikkun readers will remember only too well!)  I mention the President’s popularity in that area of the country because it made me feel constrained and uncomfortable. And yet, at the same, time, his victory made me want to find a way to make it clear to shop owners, waitresses, cashiers and other strangers that I met that I regarded him as an ignorant bully and wretched human being.

After a few days, I began to notice that I had no problem mentioning my contempt for Trump to African-Americans but kept silent with whites.  The reason?  88% of blacks voted for Hillary Clinton, so airing my views about him with them was relatively safe (I do not like to get into quarrels with strangers!). Nationwide, only 37 percent of whites voted for Clinton, and 58 percent of them voted for Trump.

I confess that this comfort I felt discussing politics with African-Americans – and not with whites – is new to me, probably because I grew up in suburban community in New York with very few blacks.  In my high school on Long Island, we had 1600 white students and two African-Americans. I only began making black friends when I went to college. And yet I was always aware of the gap of experiences and perspective between us.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again: Part Four, The Renewal of Spirit

Sep20

by: on September 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

I started this blog series exactly a month ago, saying I “borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.”

Recently several friends have asked for my assessment of the general state of people as I observe them. I travel a good deal for speaking and consulting gigs and spend a lot of time connecting across distance in other ways, so responding to that query entails a quick mental survey of all I’ve seen in recent weeks.

So far, my replies have begun with my own state of mind. “I’m easily irritated and frustrated,” I say. “I hear something and I put the worst spin on it, making up the worst story to explain it. Then I have to dial back to remind myself there are other equally possible stories. It takes effort to relax into not-knowing.”

Then I say this: “But I’m definitely not the only one: polarizing rhetoric, hardcore posturing, the resistance to empathizing with another’s challenges because that might take attention away from your own—it seems like everyone is a full glass of water, poised to spill over at the next drop. I can think of lots of reasons, mostly things not in our immediate control. If I don’t want to feel this way, the territory I’ve got to explore is the landscape of my own emotions: where are they anchored in false narratives and ungrounded assumptions? What is in my control that can help to shift them?”


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Hillel at the Crossroads: How Things Broke Down in Boston

Sep17

by: Edwin Black on September 17th, 2017 | No Comments »

This article is the second in a series. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Northeastern University Hillel board chairman Sheldon Goldman is incensed at the treatment that his Hillel chapter has received at the hands of Hillel International, and he lays the blame squarely on the organization’s CEO — Eric Fingerhut.

In an August 18, 2017, email, Goldman insisted that Fingerhut “must be replaced as the leader of Hillel. This cannot be done quick enough, as his character is leaching away whatever moral fiber remains at SIC [Schusterman International Center].”

In a recent interview on the subject, Goldman invoked Isaac Newton, who famously said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” But, continued Goldman, “Hillel International is not looking for giants. Instead, [CEO] Eric Fingerhut is looking for pygmies.”

Goldman has emerged as the nation’s single most vocal and antagonistic critic of Hillel International and Fingerhut. As such, Goldman is now focusing attention on the sometimes-contentious relationship between Hillel International and some of its 550 local affiliates, most of which are independently-incorporated foundations.

What are Hillel International’s rights and duties — and limits — when it comes to improving Jewish campus life? This question may well be decided at Northeastern University (NEU).

The troubles between NEU Hillel and Hillel International go back years, and cover a gamut of disputes — from conflicts over the kosher kitchen, to problems with NEU’s building, to interpersonal friction. The incidents also include NEU Hillel’s 2016 purge of student leaders whom the local board thought were disruptive and bullying other Jewish students — only to find that International was not supportive of that effort.

But things took a decidedly toxic turn late last year, when — according to Goldman — a beloved Israel Fellow at NEU Hillel was denied the Richard M. Joel Exemplar of Excellence Award.

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Boundary Crossers: New Book Explores Jewish Spiritual Leaders in Non-Jewish Religions

Sep15

by: Matthew Gindin on September 15th, 2017 | No Comments »

When a Quaker becomes a Buddhist lama, or a Hindu becomes a Muslim Imam, the story is clearly one of conversion. When a Jew becomes a Wiccan priestess or a Catholic monk, the story is not so cut and dry. The nearly unique nature of Jewish identity-nearly, but not entirely, consider what happens if a Cherokee woman becomes a Buddhist nun- raises questions.

According to general views and to the Jewish tradition itself, the person remains a Jew. According to the Jewish religion, they remain bound by Jewish religious law and are simply in violation of it when they, say, leave an offering for the Great God Pan or eat a roast Ham at a Church dinner.

This unique set of cultural truths sets the backdrop for Allan Levin’s recent book Crossing the Boundary: Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths. In this diverse book, which manages admirably to combine probing intelligence with a lack of judgmentalism, Levin interviews sixteen Jews who are leaders in other spiritual traditions. Levin himself grew up a non-religious Jew who became active in the radical left and then seriously pursued personal enlightenment, first with a neo-tantric community and then with First Nations spirituality, before returning to find meaning again in his Jewish identity and traditional Jewish values (although not Orthodox ones in his case).

If this sounds familiar to you, it should. It is a path trodden by many Jews after the Holocaust and the ascendancy of modernist, conformist Judaism left younger Jews without spiritual leadership or an alternative Jewish culture willing to be an escape from the cultural-political mainstream.

What sets Levin apart is his quest to follow up on the trajectories of his contemporaries who have settled in other religious traditionsHis list includes heavyweights like Krishna Das (the most popular yogic chant master alive, a ubiquitous presence in Yoga classes from Berkeley to Kensington Market); Sharon Salzberg (a founding teacher in the American Vipassana/Mindfulness movement); Starhawk (perhaps the most important crafter of feminist/politically engaged neo-paganism) and Ken Cohen (modern master of Chinese spirituality and Qigong who has had an outsize influence on western Daoism). Aside from those luminaries Levin also interviews a Catholic Priest, a Vedantic Nondualist, a Sufi, a Sikh, a Medicine Man, and others.

The fascinating roster Levin has gathered only brings to mind all the other names he could have included: Bhikkhu Bodhi (founder of Buddhist Global Relief and a leading English language scholar of Theravadin Buddhism), Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfeild and John Kabat-Zinn (all pioneers in the Buddhist- inspired Mindfulness movement) and Norman Fischer (former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and leading interpreter of Soto Zen Buddhism in the West), or Jewish Buddhist teacher Jay Michaelson (a frequent contributor to the Forward), for example, and the list goes on and on. 

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Moving from Fault to Cause: Looking for Systemic Solutions to White Supremacy

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Downtown Charlottesville, by Bob Mical

The recent events in Charlottesville have brought even more attention and public conversation to the growing phenomenon of visible, explicit calls for white supremacy. Much of what I have since read and heard is horror and disgust at what has happened, and an intense inquiry about what can be done to make a dramatic shift, and quickly.

Although I experience myself as entirely separate and different from the torch-marchers, from their slogans, actions, and hatred, I consciously choose to maintain the discipline of remembering that they were not born this way; they are not in any special category. There are reasons why more and more people are drawn into such groups, and I want to know the causes, not what’s wrong with the people. Like many who’ve been writing recently, I am confident that fighting back, name calling, shaming, denouncing, and other similar tactics I’ve seen used recently are feeding rather than quelling this upsurge.

Clearly, we are facing a huge problem here; one of many that are challenging our overall ability to sustain ourselves as a species. One of the benefits that our very large brains give us is that we are, as a species, amazingly capable of responding to major challenges by solving complex problems. We know, without having to learn it very much, that to solve a problem we need to understand its cause and then look for solutions based on understanding the cause.

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again: Part Three, Monumental Mosh Pit and Cheshbon HaNefesh

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | No Comments »

I had a friend who in her youth acquired an elaborate multicolored tattoo spanning her stomach, a symmetrical image in which her navel served as a focal point. An eye? I no longer recall. She gave birth by Caesarean operation, and when the doctors stitched her back together, the two halves of the tattoo didn’t match up. As the years passed, the skew and pucker escalated. Her skin was an ever-present reminder of the gap between intention and execution, of innocence and error.

I think of her every time I see a body bearing a significant acreage of ink, especially the tattoos with quotations or aphorisms likely to grow less legible as flesh wrinkles and sags—but perhaps not before the sentiments they convey become stale or tiresome or embarrassing. A time-lapse effect goes off in my brain, fast-forwarding each decorated body fifty or sixty years into the future. Everything changes, I know. What were they thinking? Don’t they know the perils of anchoring tomorrow too firmly in today? The law of unintended consequences is the only one that is never broken.

Just so with the monuments to conquerors, Confederates, and criminals. These bronze-and-stone memorials are tattoos on the body politic. What were they thinking? Surely that whatever seemed worthy or urgent on the day they decided public space needed a tattoo would—should—remain so always.


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Hillel at the Crossroads: Who’s Responsible for Hillel?

Sep10

by: Edwin Black on September 10th, 2017 | 10 Comments »

This article is the first in a series. It originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

When Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut stands at the window of his curved corner office at the organization’s Washington, DC headquarters, he looks down on a streetscape dominated by Chinatown and its Friendship Arch. But Fingerhut’s domain extends far beyond anything the eye can see — to the four corners of North America, and beyond.

With 550 North American campus affiliates and 56 affiliates overseas, Hillel International is arguably one of America’s largest and most far-reaching Jewish organizations, dwarfing a combination of other major Jewish groups.

From its humble roots in 1920 at Texas A&M University, and then its formal creation in 1923 at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, Hillel has risen to become the tip of the spear in the battle for Jewry’s future. That battle is now being waged at the frontline of the conflagration — the college campus, where the fractal of antisemitism and anti-Zionism morphs daily.

The name Hillel stands for one thing: the next generation. Yet, the organization, which sports a $126.4 million-dollar budget and is staffed by approximately 1,000 employees, is greatly misunderstood.

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Holy Nones, Pray for Us

Sep8

by: on September 8th, 2017 | No Comments »

Just one week after the diabolical torchlight parade in Charlottesville – replete with frothing at the mouth Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us” – angels of light, of all races and nationalities, swooped in on the streets of Boston to declare, by their very essence, that love is still alive in America.  Based on the news footage, though there were not many overt displays of religiosity amongst the Bostonians marching in the name of love, the spirituality of the event was nonetheless palpable.

In recent years, media outlets have reported on the phenomenon of the so-called “nones” – people who mark no religious affiliation at all on religion surveys – and the efforts of Christians to evangelize them.  Rather than fretting over how to convert the nones, perhaps modern-day evangelizers, Catholic and Protestant, would do well to simply watch and listen how nones – like no doubt many of the Boston marchers – are confronting evil in our world. Chanting “Black lives matter, gay lives matter, trans lives matter,” it seems many a none are doing just fine in combatting the diabolical forces in our society.

You might not know that if you just listened to Christians convinced that nones are, ipso facto, moral lesser thans.

In a July article from Catholic News Service titled “Bishop Barron: How to evangelize the nones,” auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Robert Barron, lamented, “Our society today is like a big lazy lake, all of us floating individually, tolerating each other, not getting in each other’s way, but without energy, without purpose.” As the Boston marchers collectively resembled more a rolling river of justice than a lazy lake lacking energy and purpose, one might reasonably wonder how the good bishop could come to such sweeping generalizations about our society.  Could it be that Barron’s sociological misdiagnosis has its root in the same blind spot that enables theological anti-Semitism, precisely by giving it such a prime place in the Catholic lectionary?

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A Religious Left Means Sabotaging Oil Pipelines, Not Voting For Democrats

Sep8

by: Dean Dettloff on September 8th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

On July 24th, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya, two members of the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines, Iowa, held a press conference outside the Iowa Utilities Board. There, they read a statement explaining that they had been actively sabotaging the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), including damaging heavy machinery, pipeline valves, and more, since Donald Trump’s election in November, 2016. After reading the statement, in the presence of press and police, the two women used crowbars to remove letters from the Iowa Utilities Board sign that served as a backdrop, at which point they were arrested for criminal mischief. Though the two have not been charged for the actions they confessed, it was later revealed the two had been hunted by the private security firm TigerSwan until they turned themselves in.

“Some may view these actions as violent, but be not mistaken,” said Montoya before her arrest. “We acted from our hearts and never threatened human life nor personal property. What we did do was fight a private corporation that has run rampantly across our country seizing land and polluting our nation’s water supply.” These tactics, and their justification, are unsurprising for anyone familiar with the history of the Catholic spirit of resistance in the United States. The Cantonsville Nine are perhaps the most famous example, a group of priests and laypersons who stole Viet Nam draft documents and set them alight with homemade napalm, but they are hardly an isolated case. Montoya, who is 27, and Reznicek, 35, are only the latest generation of that legacy.

Considering the politics of Reznicek and Montoya helps complicate narratives about the “religious left” as they have appeared since the election of Donald Trump last November, especially insofar as the “religious left” has been identified with the Democratic Party. The Democrats lost the general election to the least recognizably Christian candidate in the history of the United States, due in large part to a block of committed Christian voters. That situation came as a surprise for many who thought Donald Trump’s concatenate of transgressions against traditional morals would have been a bridge too far for conservative Christians, who make up a significant demographic in Trump’s support base.

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