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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



I Rallied Against Anti-Semitism. Now What?

Sep29

by: Donna Swarthout on September 29th, 2014 | No Comments »

Central Council of Jews in Germany rally

"Never again hatred of Jews" was the slogan for Central Council of Jews in Germany rally against anti-Semitism. Credit: Donna Swarthout

“It’s a fortress mentality,” said my friend as we sat outdoors over a glass of wine on a mild September evening after attending a back-to-school night at the John F. Kennedy School of Berlin. “Jewish organizations in Germany are closed, restrictive organizations that don’t seek volunteers and don’t have the transparency of Jewish groups in the States.” Punkt. Period. “But I want to do something to address the rise in anti-Semitism and promote cross-cultural unity,” I said. Silence. A sympathetic nod. Time to move on, I thought.

Less than a week earlier I had attended a rally against anti-Semitism organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. About 6,000 people, a rather disappointing turnout, gathered around the slogan “Steh Auf – Nie Wieder Judenhass” (Stand up – Never again hatred of Jews). I had simmered with disgruntlement over this slogan in the days leading up to the rally. Why couldn’t they have chosen something more positive and inspirational? I’ve lived in Berlin for more than three years and never felt hated. Yes, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, but let’s rally for a more just society for Jews, Muslims, and other minorities. Our freedom is intertwined with every legitimate group that encounters hatred.


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Loss, Empty Space, and Community

Sep26

by: on September 26th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

aitzchayyim_0It’s been about two months since I posted a piece of my writing on this blog. I was deeply immersed in supporting my sister Inbal on her final journey, which ended with her death on September 6, 2014.

One day I will find the words to write about Inbal here. (You can read her obituary here). Over the last seven years I’ve on occasion mentioned Inbal and her ongoing challenge of living with cancer. I don’t recall writing in any significant way about what it has been like to accompany her way of facing cancer. I kept it mostly separate, except when it seemed almost inhuman not to mention it. Now, having accompanied her, being so profoundly involved, learning as much as I have, and anticipating continuing to learn, I know that accompanying Inbal was a way to reweave my personal experiences and my work in the world.

The period of sitting Shiva, the Jewish custom of gathering community for seven days after someone dies, is over. I am now ready to slowly emerge into the next phase of my life, and writing about this period is a small step in that direction.

Trusting Life

None of what I learned about myself and about life through this very demanding experience is new in its entirety; it is a deepening, at times surprising, of what I have known or intuited before; and it is an entirely new territory. I realized at one point that as little as we get prepared for parenting (ultimately everyone has to newly learn it with their own children), there is even less to prepare us for being with a loved one as they are dying. Moreover, this is a topic rarely talked about, whereas parenting is. Most of us don’t know what to say to each other about death, whereas so many easily share their opinions and experiences of parenting, and there are books, norms, and wisdom commonly available.

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Hindu Responses to the Confederate Flag Incident at Bryn Mawr College

Sep25

by: Murali Balaji on September 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Protestors link arms with one women wearing a sign that says, "Because I am brown."

Credit: The Bi-College News (http://www.biconews.com).

Last week’s Confederate flag incident at Bryn Mawr College, one of the nation’s top small liberal arts institutions, raised important questions about how colleges with progressive reputations are combating anti-Black racism. But the incident also highlighted the continuing struggle to develop and sustain interfaith efforts—particularly involving Dharmic traditions—to combat prejudice.

Given my own ties to the South Asian community, I’m personally most connected to the effort to persuade South Asian Americans—the majority of whom identify as Hindu—to become more active in combating racism. For college students of South Asian descent, the reluctance to join in anti-racism efforts can be from a combination of factors, including general apathy, a lack of recognition of the social histories of race and exclusion, or simply an unwillingness to speak out in fear of violating campus norms.

One Hindu American student, Shreekari Tadepalli, a freshman, said she was disappointed by the lack of strong response from the campus’ South Asian community to the flag’s exhibition. Many of Bryn Mawr’s South Asian American students are immigrants from countries like India and Pakistan, but even among those born and raised in America, the flag’s symbolism doesn’t hit home the way it should, Tadepalli said.

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The Climate March Was Great. Now What?

Sep23

by: on September 23rd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Hundreds of thousands of us marched against climate change Sunday to emphasize to the political leaders of the world assembling at the UN in the next few days that this is an issue of intense concern for the people of the world. We demand action, not just pious statements of concern!

There were people from around the world marching down the streets of NY, including people of every imaginable religion and ethnic group. It was an immense outpouring of people who were not content to sit back and just wait some more. And the spirit was one of joyful affirmation of our caring for the earth and the life support system of the planet. There was very little anger – the feeling was one of elation that so many people had come together to show their upset and their caring for the fate of Earth. They came with walkers and with baby strollers, young and old, many people in every age group. They sang, they danced, they cheered, they chanted their messages, and it was a beautiful manifestation of all that is good in human beings! And this scene was repeated around the country in dozens of cities and around the world as well.

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Tikkun Wins 2014 Magazine of the Year Award​

Sep22

by: on September 22nd, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Tikkun is the winner of the 2014 “Magazine of the Year: Overall Excellence in Religion Coverage” award from the Religion Newswriters Association!

Alana at RNA

As managing editor, I was honored to accept the Religion Newswriters Association award on behalf of Tikkun. Credit: Dawn Cherie Araujo.

Tikkun caught the eye of the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) with our special issue on immigration, which took discussions of spiritual religious principles and values beyond the confines of temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues, and instead debated their application in political and social realms. Reading Puck Lo’s report on a Sikh temple that mobilized to protect a worshiper from deportation, a diverse array of articles on why scripture should energize faith communities to fight for more caring policies on immigration, Ross Hyman’s impassioned article about why it’s a Jewish obligation to stand up for collective bargaining rights, and the many other wonderful contributions to that issue, the judges at the RNA decided to offer this special honor to Tikkun.

The immigration issue lauded by the RNA was just one example of the deep convergence of religious and political thought that makes Tikkun powerful and unique. Our themes range from explorations of life beyond the gender binary, to reports on activist efforts to put into practice a politics of care, to first-person narratives about Muslim prayer at the Great Mosque of Córdoba.

There’s more great content in store in the coming months. We’re very excited about the next three print issues of Tikkun that are coming up: the Fall 2014 issue on “Disability Justice and Spirituality,” the Winter 2015 issue on “Jubilee and Debt Abolition,” and the Spring 2015 issue on “The Place of Hope in an Age of Climate Disaster.” If you’re not yet a print subscriber, you can subscribe or join Tikkun‘s supporter network now to receive them.

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Sea Change: The Paper Boats of the People’s Climate March and the Case for Love

Sep20

by: on September 20th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

copyright 2013 Eiren Caffall

There is a theory out there in nature education circles that preparing children for climate change means steering clear of scaring them until they are old enough to handle it. David Sobel, author of Children’s Special Places, is often credited with the mantra, “no disasters before fourth grade,” and he writes eloquently about the notion that you must first ask children to love nature before you ask them to save it.

There are lots of people who champion this view. Recently, Grist published a profile of Liam Hennegan, a professor of environmental science at DePaul University, who has strong opinions about what books should be on a children’s environmental curriculum. He lists classics like The Hobbit, Where the Wild Things Are, and Bridge to Terabithia, not one of them mentioning a word about rising carbon emissions. Instead, the books are gorgeous works that you and I might remember from our own childhoods, full of the pleasures of being in nature, the desire to know and change a special place, and to build story, history, and relationship with it.

I was obsessed with Bridge to Terabithia as a kid. And, I was lucky enough to have access to a stream in my back yard, one that was like the stream in the book. I had hours of time to explore it, with no adults supervising my play. This stream was in the back field that ran behind our house in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. We lived over a gas station during the gas crisis of the 1970′s. My mother was in training for her eventual career in hydrogeology, meaning that I grew up hearing about the oil crisis, waste water runoff, leach fields, and superfund clean-up sites.

I had access to plenty of information about disasters before fourth grade.

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Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman Among 300 Hollywood Stars Likely Duped into Supporting Right-Wing Group

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

nytad On Sunday, The New York Times featured a full page advertisement on page A7 sponsored by the group Creative Community for Peace (CCFP). The advertisement, which at first glance appears to be a benign call for peace in Israel and a denouncement of terror, was signed by the likes of Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Aaron Sorkin, and hundreds of other entertainment stars.

A closer look at the ad reveals its less-than-benign intentions, and a closer look at the group behind the ad, CCFP, reveals that it is actually a front organization for the extremist pro-settler, pro-occupation organization StandWithUs, which is dedicated to laundering Israel’s image and shielding it from critique while demonizing Palestinians.

(For the purposes of transparency, StandWithUs tried to have one of my book appearances cancelled this year.)

Those who signed the letter, to be examined shortly, were almost certainly unaware of CCFP’s affiliation with a pro-occupation organization, particularly since it’s careful to hide that affiliation. Indeed, CCFP has attempted to claim that it is a wholly independent group, though the Forward found the opposite to be the case:

Formed in 2011, CCFP partnered with StandWithUs, a group widely perceived as being on the far right of the pro-Israel spectrum, which accepts tax deductible donations on CCFP’s behalf. CCFP’s founding member, David Renzer, has stated that his group has “always operated independently” of StandWithUs. But the Forward found that, like its partner group, CCFP rejects the U.S. position that settlements are an obstacle to peace and disputes the use of the term “occupation” to describe Israel’s military rule over the West Bank’s more than 2.5 million Palestinians.


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Homophobia and Anti-Semitism in the Same Breath: The Politics of the Westboro Baptist Church

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Westboro Baptist Church

Students kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protestors at Oberlin College in Ohio. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.

On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and protested Iowa because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”

I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:

 Hello Professor.

Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll. God did that.  His righteous judgments are wonderful!

PS:  Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs?  You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I’m just sayin’.

Shirley Phelps-Roper


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Affordable Housing Rally, San Jose

Sep15

by: on September 15th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

San Jose rally affordable housing

Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee led a rally in San Jose last week to raise funds and awareness for affordable housing. Credit: L. Kurth

Yes, it’s an oxymoron and a dream — affordable housing in San Jose, the city with the nation’s largest unsheltered homeless population. Four people died of exposure last winter, and so many more live crowded together in small apartments or vans.

So on September 11th a rally was held at city hall by Sacred Heart Housing Action Committee (SHHAC) along with a coalition of others to continue efforts to inform and persuade both the public and our elected and appointed officials to pass a fee to raise funds for affordable housing. It’s just one helpful idea, one drop in a bucket that was emptied when the Redevelopment Agencies (many for good reason) were disbanded.


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Joan Rivers Was No Gay Icon: An Open Letter to the Gay Community

Sep15

by: Nicholas Boeving on September 15th, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons/David Shankbone

Icon. We throw the word around, but do we really know what it means? It found its way into the English language from the original Greek word used for likeness or image (eikṓn). In other words, icons are reflections of what a given group of people hold to be sacred. Given the recent passage of Joan Rivers, and the bewailment of her death as the loss of a great gay icon, I think it’s time to have a frank discussion of just what it is we DO hold sacred in the gay community…and why. We do not ask ourselves this question often enough.

Some have expressed bewilderment as to why Joan Rivers even attained the status of “icon” in the gay community in the first place. To understand this, you must first understand, psychologically speaking, some of the purpose(s) humor serves. Both Plato and Aristotle (yes, they did agree on some things) say that we laugh at the wretched, the fat, the miserable and poor because it asserts our own superiority. Sound familiar? Thought so. Going further, psychiatrist George Eman Vaillant categorized humor as a specialized defense mechanism; in other words, some things are too painful to confront or too terrible to talk about so we just deflect against them.

But let us ask ourselves: just what is it that we’re defending against?


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