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Constructing God in the Public Sphere

Aug25

by: Ebele Mogo on August 25th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

god religion

The potent possibility of discerning the divine is actually not a closed process but an ongoing negotiation that changes over time Credit: Creative Commons/Aaron Escobar

I once made up a game: what if you could only use a word once in your lifetime and afterward you had to find new ways of expressing the same thought? The first time I could ask you to “come.” The next time I might have to say, “Advance.” “Draw near.” “Move forward.” “Progress in my direction.” The responsibility to find other exacting terms was exciting as it opened up possibilities in the use of language and challenged the brain.

Now imagine applying the rules of that game to the use of the word “God.” Finding other ways to express this word would probably extract what people really mean by it from the shadows. Some may say none, one, or multiple of the following: Judge. Energy. Father. Mother. Creator. Nothingness. Fighter. Defender. Being. Universe. Mystery. Love. The man upstairs. I do not know.

In the case of “God,” the glaring truth is that, within the same word and even within the same religious worldview, there are multiple understandings of what necessarily is an abstract noun, and thus beyond the complete grasp of language.


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Ferguson: This is what losing democracy looks like

Aug21

by: Michael N. Nagler on August 21st, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Ferguson police and protestors

Police and protestors engage in conflict in Ferguson Credit: Creative Commons/Loavesofbread

Some time back in the early fifties the U.S. Navy conducted an “exercise” to test bacterial warfare…in San Francisco!  They sprayed bacterial agents into the fog over the Bay to “see what would happen.”  Sure enough, some people got sick, and one elderly gentleman died.  When Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, discovered this through the Freedom of Information Act he wrote a stinging essay in the magazine.He said, “We are outraged, and we should be; but we have to realize that these are the wages of violence.  You cannot authorize a group to go out and defend you with military force and expect that that force will never come home to roost.”

This is the lesson we again seem to not to be learning from the violence – all of it, on both sides – unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri.  Yes, what Officer Wilson apparently did on the night of August 9th was outrageous, inexcusable.  I say “apparently’” because at this time controversy and contradictory reports are still swirling and it may be a while before we know – if we ever do – the truth.  But even when we do, and no matter what it is, there is a deeper truth to which the mainstream media will never direct us to, and will, in fact, obscure by their attention to details and particulars of this event as though it occurred in a vacuum.  What I’m thinking of here goes even beyond the racial tensions underlying the scenario of the white officer and black victim.


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Love Is the Final Fight

Aug21

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on August 21st, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Southern Coalition for Social Justice

The first Tuesday in August is National Night Out in neighborhoods across urban America. Roadblocks stop traffic on one block or another as old men roll grills into the street and the young fellas gather for a pick-up game. Grandmas put their lawn chairs out on the sidewalk, and little girls skip rope double Dutch until they fall over on the ground laughing. I love these block parties. They’ve been a staple of summer life in Walltown since before we came here in 2003.

But I didn’t go to National Night Out this year. As much as I wanted to be with my neighbors, I couldn’t stomach the police dancing in the street and slapping high fives for one evening while they patrol Walltown like a militarized zone the other 364 days of the year.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the idea of a National Night Out. Local police partner with communities to “take back the streets” and create safe places for folk to be together. In places where violence has driven folks off their porches and out of the parks, coming together on the block can be a bold act of community building. Indeed, I’ve seen it happen right here.

But any partnership depends on trust, and my young neighbors have been teaching me how difficult it is to trust police culture in our neighborhood today. Beyond the age of thirteen, any young black man in Walltown knows that he is subject to being stopped on the street, asked for identification, frisked and possibly put in hand-cuffs while officers “check things out.” Jamal or Tyrone do not feel any better about this treatment for having seen Officer Brown do the electric slide last week.

Of course, they’re better than me at wearing the mask. They probably went down to the park last Tuesday to catch up with folks and eat a free hot dog.  But I can’t shake this reality that they’ve forced me to see. I can’t, in the words of Jeremiah, say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.


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Ferguson Shows Failed US Policy and the Black-White Housing Gap

Aug20

by: Andre F. Shashaty on August 20th, 2014 | Comments Off

A local organizer in a town neighboring Ferguson, Mo., shows a typical "porch." Credit: Silicon Valley De-Bug

(Crossposted from New America Media)

On the surface, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was about local police using deadly force on an unarmed young man. But on a deeper level, it reflected the increasing poverty and economic decline that affects ethnic communities all over America.

Despite rosy reports in the media about the end of the national foreclosure crisis and the recession that followed, all is not well in our inner cities and suburbs with largely minority populations, like Ferguson.

The foreclosure crisis was hard on many Americans, but it was a disaster for communities of color, including the citizens of Ferguson.


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Border Lessons: Jewish Resources for Resisting Nationalism

Aug18

by: Mandy Cohen on August 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Last month I was in Warsaw. I was on my way home to LA after two weeks traveling with a group of university students through places that Yiddish-speaking Jews once called Lita, Lithuania. Jews from this area are called Litvaks, Lithuanians, they have distinctive dialects of Yiddish, and a reputation as intellectuals, given that Lita was the home of the greatest yeshivas, houses of study, in Jewish Europe.

Today, cities and towns that once belonged to the same Russian province are now separated not only by national borders, but by the border of the EU, which feels like it has re-concentrated all of the displaced energy of the open borders within the Schengen zone. All of the stress of border crossing that has disappeared between, say, Poland and Germany, feels manifested on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus. In order to travel through the places that were part of the largest state in Europe in the sixteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, we now travel between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, moving between time zones, currencies, alphabets, languages, and the legacy of the Soviet Union and her satellite states.

Helix project

Exploring creativity in the places where writers and artists lived for centuries. Credit: Yiddishkayt

I am an instructor in The Helix Project, a program that offers students – Jewish and non-Jewish – an opportunity to learn about the rich intricacies, complexities, and variety of Jewish life in Europe in its 1000 year history, focusing on Yiddish culture, literature and daily life in the great blossoming of that culture beginning towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Necessarily we confront the Holocaust, as we face the reality of towns that were once 60-90 percent Jewish and are now 90-100 percent Polish, or Lithuanian, or Belarusian. But we try to contextualize the Holocaust by giving equal attention to the long history preceding it and the history that continues to be written.


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A Letter to Jon Voight about Gaza and the History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Aug15

by: Mark LeVine and Gil Hochberg on August 15th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Editor’s Note: While there are elements of the argument presented below that differ from that presented in Embracing Israel/Palestine which you can order from www.tikkun.org/eip(e.g. my claim that it was illegitimate for Palestinians to resist immigration of Jews to Palestine, consistent with my view that no group should be excluded from being allowed to come to any country while other groups are being allowed to come — except on the basis of demonstrable lack of land or economic impossibility of that country absorbing the potential immigrants — and my claim that the Palestinians’ refusal to allow Jews living in displaced persons’ camps after the Holocaust generated fury at Palestinians that was not there among the Jewish yishuv/settlement in the years 1945-48 and led to some horrendous treatment of Palestinians thereafter), there is much that is important to absorb in the account presented by Tikkun Contributing editor Mark Levine and his colleague Gil Hochberg which, if really understood by Americans, Israelis, and Jews around the world, could open their hearts to a more generous and compassionate approach to the fate of the Palestinian people today, a compassion which needs to be accompanied by a great deal of compassion for the Jewish people and the traumas that we too carry in our unconscious and shapes how we understand the present realities in ways that keep us from being able to fully understand what needs to be done to make a lasting peace that would work for both sides of this struggle. So please read this note to Jon Voight.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner

Dear Jon Voight,

We write to you as admirers of your work for many years. We are also professors of modern Middle Eastern studies, specializing in the history and contemporary realities of Israel, Zionism and Palestine, and between the two of us have written and edited over half a dozen books on the country and the two peoples who are destined — or doomed, depending on your point of view — to share it.

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Why Hindus Should Be More Vocal on Issues Affecting Our Communities

Aug14

by: Murali Balaji on August 14th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Originally published in the Huffington Post

The turbulent American summer has seemingly reached a boiling point in the last few days, particularly in Ferguson, Missouri, where daily unrest has ensued in the wake of the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

The Brown shooting has come on the heels of other racially and economically charged events across the country, whether it has been the shutting off of water for poor Detroit residents, the upholding of North Carolina’s dubious voter ID laws, or the ongoing crisis of unaccompanied undocumented children on the U.S.-Mexico border.

When Hindu Americans are asked to join interfaith efforts to advocate or speak out on these issues, a common response is “How does this affect us?” That question is driven in part by the demographics of the Hindu American community, which is still overwhelming of South Asian descent. As a result, there still tends to be a conflation between ethnic and religious identities.


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“But Hamas…”

Aug14

by: Donna Nevel on August 14th, 2014 | 77 Comments »

A Palestinian man sits on the edge of a refugee camp following the Nakba in 1948. Credit: Creative Commons/palestineremembered.com.

In conversations about Gaza, I have heard many thoughtful people in the Jewish community lament the loss of Palestinian lives in Gaza but then say, “But Hamas…,” as if that were the heart of the problem. I’d like to suggest that, when we have these conversations about Hamas and Israel’s current bombing campaign, we begin with the necessary context and historical perspective.

Re: The Nakba

1. To create the Jewish state, the Zionist movement destroyed more than 400 Palestinians villages and expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and land. Palestinians who remained in what became Israel were relegated to second-class citizenship, had much of their property confiscated, and, to this day, have fewer rights than Jewish Israeli citizens.

Re: The 1967 Occupation

2. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and still occupies them until this day.

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Tisha b’Av: This Year We Mourned the Calamity We Have Created

Aug13

by: Max Cohen on August 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Tisha b'Av New York IfNotNow

If Not Now, When? Tisha b'Av evening service in New York City last week Credit: Gili Getz

Tisha b’Av is a cursed day. It was on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av that the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. Megillat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, describes with the utmost poetic sorrow the destruction that occurred on that fateful Ninth of Av two and a half millennia ago. And so it is that every year on Tisha b’Av we read in Eicha of the destruction, remember it, and mourn it.

But there’s one catch that makes Tisha b’Av not a bad dream, but a recurring nightmare: we kept on experiencing total calamity on that exact date for thousands of years afterwards. On that date in history, the 9th of the Jewish month of Av: the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem and exiled us from Israel for a second time; the Jewish people were exiled from England, France, and Germany, all in separate years; the Spanish Inquisition began; the Final Solution was formally approved by the Nazi Party; the Warsaw Ghetto began to be liquidated; and too many other eerily timed tragedies to count…

So Tisha b’Av is a holiday about adding to the heap whatever calamity Jews have most recently experienced. The profound insight of Eicha, Lamentations, and the rabbis of the Talmud, is to understand our calamities by focusing not our attackers or their moral status, but on our own moral failures.


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A Response to Seth Mandel’s Critique of the Parallel States Solution

Aug13

by: Mark LeVine and Mathias Mossberg on August 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

Last month the University of California Press published a new volume I co-edited with Ambassador Mathias Mossberg, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. The book, which is the product of a six year research project and features contributors from leading Israeli, Palestinian, and internationals scholars, explores new definitions of sovereignty that would enable Israelis and Palestinians to establish overlapping or parallel state structures over the entirety of Israel/Palestine. We believe this idea to constitute perhaps the only two state solution left, in the context of the clear impossibility of dividing the West Bank and dismantling Israel’s matrix of control over the territory, and the need to address the issue of settlements, Jerusalem, and refugees in any viable peace agreement.

A brief summary of our main ideas was published by the Huffington Post. A more detailed analysis will appear in Tikkun in the near future. As part of the dissemination of the ideas, we published an excerpt of the introduction, by Mathias Mossberg at Tablet, as well as the conclusion, by famed Israeli writer Eyal Meged. A staff blogger/writer at Commentary, Seth Mandel, read the excerpt from Tablet and decided to write a critique of the entire idea of parallel states based on the excerpt from Ambassador Mossberg’s introduction. He titled it “‘Parallel States’ Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster”. As might be expected, being that this is Commentary, and Mandel didn’t bother to read the book before making broad generalizations about the ideas and arguments, his arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. We took the time to write a response, assuming that in the spirit of informed debate, the editors would allow us to publish a rebuttal, but when I sent it to the magazine I received an immediate reply from editor John Podhoretz stating that they don’t publish responses to blog posts and that if I wanted to respond, I could either put it in my own blog (I don’t blog) or subscribe to Commentary and then put it as a comment. When I responded saying that asking the author of a book that is being attacked to pay to subscribe to the magazine before he can even reply seemed a bit uncollegial, to say the least, he replied that I could “take [my] whining somewhere else.”

Well, there’s nowhere else I could imagine doing so than Tikkun, which after all, is pretty much the first and still most important intellectual space where serious discussion of Israel/Palestine can occur. “All the rest,” its masthead has always said, “is commentary.”


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