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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 | No Comments »

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 “death to Jews” on the only Reform synagogue in Simferopol. Credit: Creative Commons/Klaus Norbert.

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 worse 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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Jews as Racialized Other as Reflected in the Kansas Murders

Apr18

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on April 18th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

We are learning from news accounts that the alleged shooter in the murders of three people at two separate Jewish sites, a community center and a retirement village in Overland Park, Kansas just one day before the Jewish Passover, was inspired by hate.

According to Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass, “This was a hate crime.” The federal government can now prosecute the suspected perpetrator, Frazier Glenn Miller (a.k.a. Frazier Glenn Cross), 73-years old, on hate-crime charges.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Miller as a former grand-dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and a founding member of the White Patriot Party, a white supremacist group. Miller has posted approximately 12000 times on Vanguard News Network whose slogan is “No Jews, Just Right.”

So why did a self-described “white supremacist” target apparent white people at Jewish community centers? The answer is quite simple: Though Jewish people are members of every so-called “race,” even Jews of European heritage (Ashkenazim) have been and still continue to be “racially” othered by dominant Christian European-heritage communities in some quarters. For this reason, I argue that the federal and state prosecutors charge Miller with first-degree premeditated murder stemming from his religious, ethnic, and racial bigotry, even though it appears that he mistakenly targeted people who were not themselves Jewish. Anti-Jewish prejudice (a.k.a. anti-Semitism) is a form of racism.

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A Challenge to the Jewish Mainstream: Will You Stand Against Islamophobia?

Apr17

by: Alex Kane on April 17th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

What’s the ideology undergirding opposition to the construction of mosques in the United States? How are anti-Muslim groups funded? How have Jewish groups reacted when confronted with issues like the proposed construction of the Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City?

bookElly Bulkin and Donna Nevel answer these questions and more in their new book Islamophobia and Israel, a sobering analysis of the Jewish establishment’s dalliance with anti-Muslim bigotry.

Based on a series of articles that I had the pleasure of editing before their initial publication on AlterNet, Bulkin and Nevel’s book takes a close look back at the summer of 2010, when the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry were fanned with vigor. It had been nine years after the September 11, 2001, attacks by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. But Islamophobia – collective animus targeting all Muslims – was still ingrained into swathes of the American body politic. And the Park51 Islamic center was exploited to bring that bigotry to the surface.

When anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller first started railing against Park51, the name of the planned mosque and community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero, not many people noticed. But in a matter of months, concern over what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” migrated from the fever swamps of Islamophobic blogs to Fox News. Then the rest of the mainstream press started paying attention. Ugly protests broke out. Heated debate captured the airwaves. The majority of Americans said they opposed the mosque.

The Jewish community was split on the issue. But the voice that captured the most attention was the Anti-Defamation League, a thoroughly mainstream group that calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights” group. On July 28, 2010, the group issued a statement calling for the planned mosque to be moved away from the World Trade Center site, a rationale that only makes sense if you blame all Muslims for 9/11. With that statement, the ADL joined the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier, who said that Park51 was insensitively being built at the “wrong location.”

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A Seed on the Seder Plate

Apr13

by: Ariel Vegosen and Rae Abileah on April 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

Seed saving at Nadvanya

in this earth
in this earth
in this immaculate field
we shall not plant any seeds
except for compassion
except for love
-Rumi

Two weeks ago Rae posted a short message on her facebook wall: “Idea ~ what about putting a seed on the Seder plate this year to represent the patenting and owning of seeds, of life, and the movements toward seed freedom, organic GMO-free food, healthy agriculture and thriving communities…? Curious to hear your thoughts…” Instant like-like-like. “Sow brilliant,” commented a compost-making friend. The response was overwhelmingly positive. So we thought we’d post this invite to the interfaith Tikkun reader community and dig deeper into what’s behind this idea and how together we can cultivate a movement for healthy eats and food justice.

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The Challenges of Seder Night

Apr13

by: Rabbi Howard Cooper on April 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we sit down to our Seders – with family, with friends, or in community – we in the so-called ‘First World’, in 2014, intuit that as Jews we are living, historically speaking, lives of immense privilege. While we speak of oppression in Egypt and celebrate the journey our people made from slavery to freedom, we acknowledge the freedoms we now enjoy, unprecedented in Jewish history: freedom to assemble as we want, free to celebrate without persecution, free to speak our minds without fear of a knock on the door, free to express our Jewish selves in whatever style we may choose. The NSA may be monitoring every move we make – but would we want to alive in any other era of our millennia-old history?

Yet the challenge of Seder night is not just to remember the past, not just to recall the extraordinary longevity of our story with its roots in servitude and its mythos of the Jews as a people liberated into a different kind of servitude – servitude to a vision of how things could be, how freedoms of many kinds could be the inheritance of all peoples;  as UK Rabbi John Rayner z”l expressed it: ‘freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from hatred, freedom from fear; freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to learn, freedom to love, freedom to hope, freedom to rejoice – soon, in our days’. The Seder night is, of course, all of that. But it is more than that.

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In One Word: Poof!

Apr11

by: Uri Avnery on April 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.

“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.

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Book Review – From the Psalms to the Cloud: Connecting to the Digital Age

Apr11

by: Donna Schaper on April 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

From the Psalms to the Cloud
by Maria Mankin and Maren C. Tirabassi
Pilgrim Press, 2013

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to wonder about technology. Will it be our great savior or will it be another thorn in the flesh, another opportunity to hear Thoreau’s lament? “Human beings”, he says, “have a tendency to become the tools of their tools.”

This excellent collection of prayers and worship materials finds a way to help us understand the tool of technology. It is a very green book while also being useful. It is green because it gives us a way out of the totalitarian world of the market and into a world that we make with words.

Just about everybody is on the other side of the time famine and the trust famine and deep into digital and connectivity overload. By time famine I mean the pervasive sense that there is not enough time to do what we want, so subjugated is our time to technology, 800 numbers, forms and robotic requests for information. By trust famine I mean all that time we spend worrying about the time famine and wondering if somebody else is in charge. Are we in charge of our tools and our time or are our tools and time famine in charge of us?

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“In Every Generation…” How Mainstream Approaches to Passover Lock Shut the Jewish Imagination

Apr11

by: Robert Cohen on April 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

For our Passover meal this year (Monday 14 April) I have a fifth question and answer to add to the traditional quartet of the Ma Nishtanah.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

seder plate

A seder plate. Credit: Creative Commons/Gwen Harlow.

Because on this night we make a meal, literally and metaphorically, of our unique story. Via mouthfuls of bitter herbs, salt water, nuts and raisins mixed with wine, and unleavened bread, we promote the damaging mindset that tells us that we are the world’s eternal victims.

I expect an immediate challenge to my liturgical liberties.

“Enough already with your iconoclastic itch! How can you say such things? Surely, Passover is the quintessential expression of our physical and spiritual liberation. Hasn’t the escape of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery become the biblical paradigm of freedom from oppression that has brought hope to countless peoples across the centuries?”

I know, I know. But my fifth question and answer is true none the less. This is the night when we are most at risk from locking shut the Jewish capacity for empathy and blinding ourselves to the suffering of others – most notably, the Palestinians.

There will be some around the Seder table who will resent me wanting to recount the woes of another people (“the Palestinians for heaven’s sake!”) rather than those of my own kith and kin.

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