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The Crisis in Israel’s Holocaust Education

Apr23

by: Ayana Nir on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and Israeli government ministers participate in March of the Living. Credit: Creative Commons/JAFI Israel

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

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Tikkun’s Spring 2014 Issue: Does America Need a Left?

Apr23

by: Tikkun Administration on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

The sprawling American Left knows what it opposes, but it rarely articulates a shared vision of the world we want. Don’t miss this fierce debate on the Left’s relation to liberalism, its historical gains and failures, and its relation to the ecological catastrophe ahead. You can get a taste of this debate by clicking on each article and reading the first few paragraphs.

Check out the Table of Contents below!

Then, if you are not yet a subscriber or member of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, you’ll be asked to subscribe or join (after which you will get the print and/or online version of the magazine). If you are already a paid-up subscriber or member, you should be able to read the full article online and be getting the print version in the mail. Many of us forget how to log in to read subscriber-only content online; please don’t hesitate to seek guidance on how to register to read the online version of the print magazine. Just email alena@tikkun.org or call 510-644-1200 for help. If you are a subscriber or member of the NSP and haven’t received the print magazine in the mail yet, please email alena@tikkun.org. We want to fix the problem as soon as we know about it!


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No “Honor” or Respect in Colonizing Native American and Jewish Culture

Apr23

by: Warren J. Blumenthal on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Controversy is swirling around a long-overdue public debate whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise. On one side, some news outlets, like the San Francisco Chronicle, have announced they will no longer use the word “Redskins” when referring to the team. Recently, the D.C. City Council voted overwhelmingly to change what the original form of the resolution termed as the team’s “racist and derogatory” moniker.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) Twin Cities organized a protest at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington “Redskins” last November and issued a statement in opposition to the team’s name, arguing:

The continued use of American Indian likenesses and images by sports teams has resulted in widespread racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping which promotes hatred and disrespect of American Indian people. Using American Indian slurs like ‘Redskins’ is no different than the use of Black Sambo which offended African Americans or the Frito Bandito which is offensive to the Hispanic community.

The press release went on to demand: “Retire the racist attire! Recognize that American Indians are a living people, not mascots for America’s fun and games!”

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Hirsi Ali, Islam, and Cultural Relativism: The Brandeis Controversy

Apr23

by: on April 23rd, 2014 | No Comments »

Hirsi Ali. Credit: Creative Commons

I write this on Easter Sunday. A little less than a month from now, on May 18, 2014, Brandeis University will hold its sixty-third commencement ceremony. I shall not be there; I am south of the Equator in Brazil. Someone else also will not be there —Somali feminist, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I am glad she will not be. An invitation extended to her was withdrawn by the president of the university, Fred Lawrence. Many of the faculty had signed a letter of protest and the Muslim Students Association had added its voice. Yet, the whole episode leaves me with bittersweet taste. I was left with a nagging question. Ross Douhat in the New York Times said that the university should just come out and confess its bias: “I can live with the progressivism. It’s the lying that gets toxic.” Elsewhere in the media the dustup at Brandeis was portrayed as a speed-bump in the battle over free speech. It was much more. In an age of identity politics can we criticize the formerly colonized or semi-colonized “Two-Thirds World” (in the faculty letter’s terminology)? How to address female genital mutilation in Somalia, slavery in Mauritania and the lynching of gays in Kenya? Especially when such occurrences are clothed with the authority of religion, how do we respond?

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Resurrection Garden, Resurrection Feast: A Post-Easter Reflection

Apr22

by: on April 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »

Crossposted from Feminism & Religion

In John’s account of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalen mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  Or perhaps it is not a mistake or not just a mistake but also a poetic truth. In any event, John’s Gospel makes clear:  the Resurrection takes place in a garden!

(For the feminist significance of horticulture, I refer you to Carol Christ’s recent post Women and Weeding, the first 10,000 years on the feminismandreligion.com blogsite.)

Many  prominent (male) theologians, historians, anthropologists, psychoanalysts among them James Frazer, Jung, and C.S. Lewis made the case for and/or against (in Lewis’ case) Jesus being another dying rising god of vegetation with Christianity borrowing imagery and ritual from earlier or even contemporary cults. The argument against insists that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection is historical, redemptive, and unique.  From a tour of Bloglandia, the debate pro and con appears to continue unabated.  I say better to pull weeds (if you are lucky enough to have a garden) than pontificate.

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U.S. to Israel: Stop Discriminating Against Palestinian-Americans

Apr22

by: on April 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Israel has been told by the United States that, unless it stops discriminating against Palestinian-Americans (and Americans of Middle-Eastern descent) trying to enter the country, Israel will continue to be denied entry into its visa waiver program.

Israel would like to gain entry into the program, which grants visitors to the United States from approved countries visas of up to 90 days. However, American officials remain concerned about the high percentage of Palestinian-Americans who are refused entry into Israel.

In March, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister told U.S. officials that Israel would stop discriminating against Palestinian-Americans if the U.S. granted Israel entry into its visa waiver program. However, its seems the State Department is not interested in promises alone, but rather wants to see a pattern of concrete actions.

Per Haaretz:

For years, discrimination against Palestinian-Americans entering Israel has been a main obstacle against Israel’s joining the program … The State Department has repeated this concern a number of times in recent years, including last month.

“The Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the visa waiver program,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at a daily briefing in March.


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Jeff Gipe’s “Renegade Art”: Protesting Development Near Rocky Flats Plutonium Plant

Apr21

by: Annie Pentilla on April 21st, 2014 | No Comments »

Jeff Gipe. "Cold War Horse." Steel, epoxy resin, canvas, foam.


When artist Jeff Gipe talks about his sculpture Cold War Horse – a renegade art piece he created to protest the construction of a toll road and housing development near the former plutonium plant and superfund site Rocky Flats – it sounds as though he’s reading from the pages of a John Grisham novel.

Indeed the entire Rocky Flats’ story reads like a made-for-Hollywood movie, replete with leaking drums of nuclear waste, FBI raids, and so-called government cover-ups.

“That’s the thing about Rocky Flats,” says Gipe. “You can’t know one thing. It’s like this ever-widening scope where you have one question, and then you’ve got ten more.”

Located near Arvada, Colorado, Rocky Flats produced plutonium triggers for use in nuclear weapons from 1951 to 1989. Through its operational period the plant was plagued with accidents, including the two fires in 1957 and ’69 that distributed plumes of plutonium-laced smoke across Colorado’s Front Range. After an investigation revealed supervisors had failed to abide by environmental laws, the FBI raided the plant in 1989. The site was subsequently turned into a superfund site and later a wildlife refuge.

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Ukraine and the Myths, Blessings, and Curses of Nationalism

Apr21

by: Howard Cooper on April 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment »

If you’ve been watching the TV news these last few weeks the scene will have become familiar: around a Soviet-era town hall you see a group of armed men in military fatigues and flak jackets, weapons in hand, cell-phones, walkie-talkies. Smiles for the cameras. And always ready to explain themselves to Western journalists.

A stone in Simferopol, Ukraine, memorializes the Jewish and Krymchak victims of the Simferopol massacre perpetrated by the Nazis in 1941. This year, before the Russian annexation of Crimea, troublemakers spray-painted

The situation in eastern Ukraine seems to change from day to day, and this last ten days has seen an accelerating drama unfold, almost by the hour; but what really caught my attention was a newspaper report from Luke Harding, a British journalist who approached the group surrounding the town hall in Slavyansk, and asked the men who they were. Here’s what Harding reported April 15 in The Guardian:

“We’re Cossacks”, one of the group explained. “It doesn’t matter where we are from.” ‘He declined to give his name’ – the article continues – ‘Instead, he offered a quick history lesson, stretching back a thousand years, to when Slavic tribes banded together to form Kievan Rus – the dynasty that eventually flourished into modern day Ukraine and its big neighbour Russia. “We don’t want Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t exist for us. There are no people called Ukrainians”, he declared. “there are just Slav people who used to be in Kievan Rus, before Jews like Trotsky divided us. We should all be together again”.

“We should all be together again” presumably means ‘all of us, except the Jews’. Three hundred and fifty years ago, in the mid 17th century, a Cossack rebellion against Polish and Lithuanian rule in these lands, a rebellion led by the infamous Khmelnitsky, generated some of the worst pogroms against Jews since the medieval Crusades. It’s estimated that 100,000 Jews were massacred in 1648-9 alone, at the height of Khmelnitsky’s revolt.

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Israel/Palestine: A World of Hope and Pain

Apr21

by: Ricky Fishman on April 21st, 2014 | 5 Comments »

On the beaches and in the hip cafes of Tel Aviv, it is easy to escape the feeling of life at the edge of a precipice. Israelis refer to this modern Mediterranean city as “the bubble”: a place where one can imagine an Israel of secularism and safety.

That feeling, however, quickly dissipates in Jerusalem where I wandered the ancient alleyways of the Arab, Jewish, and Christian quarters, and followed the Stations of the Cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; where I watched pilgrims crying as they kissed the marble slab on which Mary, mother of Jesus, washed her crucified son. And where, at the Dome of the Rock-one of the holiest sites of Islam-I saw praying women protesting the presence of orthodox Jews who had been escorted by Israeli military police onto the grounds. Though also sacred to Jews, this spot has long been respected as an Islamic place of worship. So the women wailed as the Jewish men marched around the site as if it belonged to them alone. I then saw one of the men spit, desecrating the Muslim holy ground, infuriating those at prayer.

In the Aida refugee camp, just a few blocks from our hotel in Bethlehem (in the occupied West Bank), we drove under a tear gas cloud, to go see the Palestinian side of the “separation” wall. The wall is covered with revolutionary art and has become a “tagging” destination for international and local graffiti artists. When we came to a street corner, we looked to the right and saw an Israeli jeep surrounded by five soldiers in full battle gear. Our van then turned left into a crowd of Palestinian teenagers, their faces covered by masks and bandanas, armed with slingshots and rocks; apparently a typical day in the life of the camps.

The tour group I was leading moved from place to place in the West Bank and Israel. The 10 of us met with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, religious leaders, Jewish settlers, and ordinary people just trying to get by in some very tough circumstances.

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How the Progressive D.C. Community Helped Me Defeat the Right-Wing, ‘Pro-Israel’ Silencing Machine

Apr19

by: on April 19th, 2014 | 11 Comments »

On February 6, my inbox was inundated with messages from people I did not know. I’m so disgusted, they read; You’re going to hear from us again, they read; We’re going to fight this, they read.

As someone who has grown accustomed to sporadic bits of hate mail for my progressive views on Israel, I was prepared for the worst.

However, these emails, largely from residents of the D.C. metro area, were messages of support, messages of defiance. They were messages from those who had just learned that the D.C. Jewish Community Center, already under pressure from right-wing organizations and influences on a number of fronts, had quietly cancelled my high-profile book event, at which I was to speak about the themes of reconciliation and dialogue contained in my memior, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

The story of how my event came to be cancelled is a story being played out repeatedly in America today, a story representing all that is wrong with American political discourse on Israel. It is also the story of how the D.C. community rallied to my side, rallied to create a new book event on April 30 at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library – not for me, but for the sake of dialogue, for the sake of combating efforts to tamp down discussion on issues we must confront in the Jewish community, issues we must confront as a nation.


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