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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Admissions: A Peace-Oriented Film About Israel/Palestine

Mar30

by: John Viscount on March 30th, 2015 | No Comments »

A poster for the movie "Admissions."

After the devastating events of 9/11, it became tragically clear that war was once again on the horizon. As a personal response, I wrote the script for Admissions, a film about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. My intention was to put forth a more forgiving interpretation of life’s events so people could find a pathway to peace no matter how crazy things got.

In 2011, the script was given to Academy Award nominee and peace activist, James Cromwell, and he graciously agreed to play the lead role. When the film was finished, Admissions began its festival run where it has won 26 international awards, been translated into Hebrew, Arabic, Farsi, and Spanish, and broadcast to 80 million people worldwide.

As a result of the positive response to Admissions, a number of peace organizations coalesced around the film’s message and several efforts were synergized. The result was a new mission to create Ministries and Departments of Peace in governments worldwide.

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How a California Gurdwara From a Century Ago Can be a Model for Interfaith Harmony

Mar26

by: Murali Balaji on March 26th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

The popular narrative in media and textbooks on the South Asian American population is that they’ve only existed in the United States for a few decades.

But such a narrative misrepresents and obscures a much longer history, especially at the turn of the century, when several thousand Indians settled in regions like Northern California. It’s the largely untold story of the migration of Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims from pre-partition India from the late 19th century up until the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act (which was passed to limit Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Indian migration).

Even before the act was passed, migrants from India faced many obstacles, including systemic discrimination and outright violence. The 1907 “anti-Hindoo” riots in Bellingham, Washington, for example, targeted mostly Sikh laborers whom whites had accused of stealing lumber jobs. Bellingham is only about an hour north of Bothell, Washington, where a Hindu temple was recently vandalized.

Still, in their small conclaves, the immigrants of different faiths began to find ways to develop a community identity, in part because they were largely shunned by whites. At the time, about two-thirds of Indian immigrants in California at the turn of the century were Sikh, and as a result, the Pacific Coast Khalsa Diwan Society — a gurdwara — opened in Stockton in 1911.

Because Hindus and Muslims in the region were still small in number, and unable to get the approvals to build any sites of worship, the Stockton gurdwara served as a place of worship for all three religions. While Hindu-Sikh co-worship was common in northern India for centuries, a place for all three groups in the United States was created by circumstance and sustained through interfaith bonds.

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The Militarists and Haters Win in Israel

Mar25

by: on March 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Winners:  Netanyahu, AIPAC, the U.S. Republican Party, Sheldon Adelson (the American Jewish billionaire funder of the right), Hamas, the Islamic State, and the right-wing Mullahs in Iran.

Losers: Israelis, World Jewry, the Palestinian people, the forces for peace and nonviolence everywhere, the Palestinian Authority, the people of Iran, and the people of the United States.

According to Israeli newspapers reporting on the outcome of the Israeli election on Tuesday, Likud increased its lead in the next Knesset of 120 members. It will now hold thirty Knesset seats, compared to the Zionist Union (former Labor Party) with twenty-four seats. As the frontrunner, Netanyahu will be asked to create the government coalition.

The Joint List of Palestinian Israelis, the third-largest party, gets 14 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10, Habayit Hayehudi (ultra right) with eight, Shas with seven, United Torah Judaism with six, Yisrael Beiteinu (fascist right) with six, and Meretz (once the peace party) with four.

Though the Israeli president has said he will ask for a government of national unity, it will be unity around the policies that Netanyahu put out clearly in the last days of the election: no Palestinian state, no deal that would allow Iran to develop nuclear energy, no willingness to count Arab Israelis as “real Israelis” (Netanyahu went so far as to warn the Israeli public that they were in danger because Arab Israelis had formed a Joint List and might become a real force in the Knesset unless the Jewish Israelis rallied around Netanyahu’s Likud party).

How can the right wing grow to so much power in an Israel filled with mostly decent human beings, some of whom have even been influenced by Judaism’s teachings of love for the neighbor and love for “the other,” though of course most Israelis are secular?

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Then You Win: What Swarthmore Means For Open Hillel

Mar25

by: Evan Goldstein on March 25th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Jewish students holding signs protesting against Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the many voices being silenced by Hillel International's policy of dictating what is and is not acceptable dialogue within the Jewish community. Credit: Jewish Voice for Peace.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

Popular sayings are often more useful as pithy evasions of analysis than as actual descriptors, but in this case it seems Hillel International is determined to enact Gandhi’s dictum. Recall October 2014, when Eric Fingerhut dismissed the Open Hillel movement as a “small group of activists.” In December 2014, Fingerhut likened us to the Biblical rebel Korach (cf. Numbers 16), and suggested our cause would not endure.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you.

By March 2015, Hillel International apparently has no choice but to fight: Formerly known as Swarthmore Hillel, Swarthmore Kehilah was forced to drop the Hillel name, following legal threats from Hillel International. Swarthmore’s sin was to plan an event entitled, “Social Justice Then and Now: Lessons From the Civil Rights Movement,” which will feature three Jewish veterans of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Since these particular activists support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, their very presence threatens Hillel’s “name and reputation,” and therefore, apparently necessitates legal threats.

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Questions of Masculinity in Force Majeure

Mar24

by: Ethan J. Leib on March 24th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

A traffic sign suggesting for men to hold women's hands as they cross the street.

The film Force Majeure forces us to examine exactly what masculine stereotypes we are trying to abolish, and why. Credit: CreativeCommons / Keoni Cabral.

As a legal scholar, I can tell you that the legal term “force majeure” usually refers to acts of God – earthquakes, hurricanes, and avalanches – that serve to relieve parties’ performance obligations in a contract. In a cleverly-titled film that should have been an Oscar contender this year – Force Majeure by Ruben Ӧstlund, now available for streaming on Netflix – the avalanche never really occurs and the performance obligations of masculinity are never really relieved. The film depicts a man who fails to live up to conventional expectations of manliness in the face of a threatened “act of God” but shows us something potentially more embarrassing still: that the command to be a man may itself be a literal force majeure; a superior force, emerging from the force of desire. Modern feminism has been slow to recognize that an unreconstructed female libido that reinforces male performances of masculinity threatens to stand in the way of a full and robust sexual equality.

Force Majeure presents us with the discomfiting challenge that the quest for sex equality – the commitment to unwind patterns of patriarchy and have a society that values men and women equally – may require much more than futzing at the margins of our laws. Instead, it may require rewiring libidinal urges. This isn’t quite like trying to undo a natural law but it may be a clawing away at the foundations of life in marriage and monogamy. The movie helps us see that marriage as an institution and women themselves are invested in performances of masculinity. This doesn’t mean we can remain resigned to material inequality caused by patterns of male domination. But it may mean that we need to have more uncomfortable conversations about the deep ways the desire for masculinity – by women, in particular – continues to structure male performances of masculinity. This structure of desire keeps us living in a gender conformist world that prescribes scripts feminists say they are eager to cast aside.


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Collaboration, Willingness, and Leadership – Now and in the Future

Mar20

by: on March 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

640px-Metamorphosis_frog_MeyersFor years, I’ve been saying that I don’t know how the world of our dreams would come about. The gap between what I see in the world and what I want to see is so vast, that I don’t have any linear “theory of change” that makes sense to me. For some weeks now, I’ve been going to sleep, many nights, thinking about what could bring about a true shift to a collaborative future given how completely intertwined all the pieces of the existing social order are.

In my recently published book Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Working Together to Create a Nonviolent Future, I humbly acknowledge my inability to show a path. Instead, I do two things in that book. One is looking at where we are and what we can do, now, in this world, to move in that direction, however small the steps are. The building blocks I see are a disciplined commitment to nonviolence, to learning how to work together with others to reclaim collaboration, and to a massive revision of our understanding of power and leadership. The other focus of the book is on painting as vivid an image as possible of what a fully collaborative future can look like, so as to inspire and nurture these commitments and to provide a direction to move in.

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Florida Proposes “Stand Outside My Loo” Law

Mar20

by: on March 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

A sign for a unisex bathroom.

Florida is proposing a law that would impose criminal penalties on those who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates, implicitly discriminating against transgender citizens. Credit: CreativeCommons / Matthew Rutledge.

Florida, one of the states known for its infamous so-called “stand your ground” law (“justifiable use of force” law), has now proposed standing its patriarchal ground once again, this time in its “Single Sex Facilities” (what I am calling its “Stand Out of My Loo”) law. If passed by the state legislature, CS/HB 583 would impose criminal penalties on persons who knowingly enter restrooms of a sex not designated on their birth certificates.

Sponsors of this clearly discriminatory bill designed it specifically to ban trans* people from using restrooms that most closely align with their gender identities. Legislators see the writing on the bathroom walls signaling the establishment of gender inclusive restroom facilities throughout the nation, which have existed in a number of nations around the world for decades.

Some may refer to these spaces as “gender neutral,” though “gender inclusive” has become the preferred terminology to describe a space – most notably restrooms and floors in college and university dormitories and in many businesses – denoting a cite of inclusion welcoming individuals of all genders and gender identities and expressions. The terminology “gender neutral” overlooks the actual hierarchal power dynamics among genders, and the implications on the lived experiences of virtually everyone in our society.

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Tribute to Karen McCarthy Brown: Author of Mama LoLa or the Book that Kept Me in Grad School

Mar18

by: on March 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

News that Karen McCarthy Brown passed away after years of deteriorating illness reached me earlier this month. I kept it to myself. When more official announcements from Drew University–where she was Professor Emerita of anthropology and sociology of religion — showed up on my Facebook feed this past Sunday, I shared it with the following comment:

Reading Karen’s Mama Lola kept me in grad school. Vodou got a human face from her. A tremendous loss, indeed.

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Al Rosen Banged Homers and Battled Anti-Semitism

Mar16

by: Peter Dreier on March 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A black and white photo of Jewish baseball player Al Rosen.

Al Rosen is one of the most underrated baseball players of all time, and certainly one of the greatest of Jewish heritage. Credit: TribeVibe MLB.

Al Rosen, a slugging Jewish third baseman for the Cleveland Indians and winner of the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1953, died Saturday at age 91. He was an outstanding player whose career was cut short by injuries and who battled anti-Semitism among players and fans.

Since Lipman Pike donned a uniform for the Troy Haymakers in 1871, there have been more than 160 Jews among the roughly 17,000 players who have played Major League baseball. Although there have been more than enough outstanding Jewish big leaguers to fill an All-Star team, Rosen is the third greatest Jewish baseball player of all time, after Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

Rosen spent four years in the Navy during World War II, hampering his development as a young player. And at the peak of his career, he was beset by injuries, which led him to retire in 1956 at age 32. His career was too short (only seven full seasons in the majors) to rival Greenberg as a player or a Jewish idol, or even to gain entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

As a result, there are only two Jewish players — Greenberg and Koufax — in the Cooperstown shrine. Greenberg was the best Jewish player in the 1930s and 1940s, an idol among American Jews (including the young Rosen) at a time of widespread anti-Semitism. Koufax, whose career was hampered by wildness as a young pitcher and injuries as he reached his prime, was the greatest Jewish player of the 1960s — and, to many baseball observers, the greatest left-handed pitcher of all time. Rosen, whose career was sandwiched in between these two iconic figures, took great pride in both his Jewishness and in his athletic accomplishments, but he is understandably not as well-known as either Greenberg or Koufax.

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Wielding Truth and Nonviolence in the Fight of Our Lives

Mar15

by: Michael N. Nagler on March 15th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Sixty-seven years after Gandhi’s assassination, we find ourselves in a world still direly in need of his influence. Half the members of the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate have proudly declared that they don’t believe human activity is causing climate change. The wealthiest 80 people worldwide – all billionaires – now have as much material wealth as the poorest 350 million. The triumph of ideology over reason and greed over compassion is frightening.

While I have never owned a television set, I perforce watch snatches of commercial television in the locker room of my health club; enough to horrify any civilized person. Recently I saw something about the film “American Sniper”. The film is extremely violent, full of lies (see this article) designed to glorify cowardly violence and dehumanization, making both seem “patriotic.” It has grossed $300 million. Sparing you further details, it would not be too much to say that this country is steadily descending into barbarism – and no country that did that has ever survived.

Many generations feel that they are up against the critical battle between good and evil, but this is different. For the first time in the history of life on earth one species – us – has the capability to make the planet uninhabitable and we don’t have the wisdom, or even the common sense, to refrain from doing it.

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