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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Modern Maccabee

Dec16

by: Mitchel Davidovitz on December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

hanukkah menorah

Credit: Creative Commons / Robert Couse-Baker

Despite having nearly no religious significance, not appearing in the Tanakh, and only warranting a few passing references in the Mishna, Hanukkah seems to stand out as an important cultural event for American Jewry and is largely viewed as the quintessential Jewish holiday to non-Jews in America. This is largely due to its calendar proximity to Christmas and inclusion on television programs which provides illusions of multicultural inclusion. Jewish symbols featured in advertisements are used to latch the Jewish population into participating in “holiday season” consumerism. This is a part of television’s much broader role in assimilating Jews and other minority/immigrant groups into America’s capitalist culture. It is a great irony because the premise of Hanukkah stems from a revolt against those attempting to acculturate the Jewish people. 

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Osmosis: A Jew Searches for Silence During Christmas

Dec15

by: Y. A. Shir on December 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Christmas decorations

Credit: Creative Commons / Ian Wilson

I spent last Christmas at a Jewish meditation retreat. Stepping into the lobby of the Jewish summer camp where it was held was crossing over from one world into another. There were no poinsettias, no mistletoe, none of the amped-up holiday cheer. This was Jewish space: mezuzahs on every doorpost, Hebrew letters on the bulletin board, kosher everything, faces of people I’d never met but somehow already knew—their gait, the furrows on their brows, the occasional clothing item we Israelis recognize immediately as coming from over there.

Much of the retreat was spent in silence. One of the things that silence can do is wake us up to the noise inside our own mind. On this particular retreat, the silence made me realize that it took two days for the Christmas carols to stop playing in my head.

During Shabbat and as part of the morning blessings, we broke the silence and sang other songs, songs that for fleeting intervals made me understand what people mean when they talk about raising the roof.

Ozi vezimrat ya, vayehi li lishua.

God is my strength and my song, and will be my salvation.

It was as if the room—like my body after a good session of yoga—had discovered more space between its vertebrae.

For the remainder of the retreat it was these melodies that reverberated through me. On my drive back, instead of turning on the radio or plugging in my iPod, I stayed in silence and I sang. When I arrived at my house I parked, dropped off my bags, and walked to the river, where I sang some more. Then I went home.

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Join George Lakoff, Marianne Williamson​, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Matthew Fox and more to Reclaim America

Dec13

by: Tikkun on December 13th, 2014 | No Comments »

After the 2014 elections and facing a Congress determined to dismantle environmental protections and health and social benefits for middle income Americans and the poor in 2015-2016, and after the spate of well-publicized police murders of African American men and grand juries refusing to indict the police, it’s critical that ethically sensitive people develop a strategy to: RECLAIM AMERICA

YOU ARE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN:

WHAT: A Strategy Discussion

WHEN: Sunday December 14th from1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: At the University of San Francisco McLaren Hall(Golden Gate Ave near Roselyn Terrace)

 

If you can’t make it, create a similar gathering in your community, church, synagogue, mosque, ashram, university, political movement, social change organization, etc. We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives may be able to help you do so. So whether or not you can come to this, please read the full note below!

WHO: Among the presenters at our strategy conference:

Rev. Amos Brown pastor, Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, George Lakoff Prof. of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the UC Berkeley, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant and Moral Politics, Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor of Tikkun, rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue, author of The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right and Spirit Matters, Mathew Fox Liberation Theologian, author of Original Blessing and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Marianne Williamson author of Healing the Soul of America: A Return to Love and Imagine What America Could Be in the 21st Century, Rhonda Magee Professor of Law at USF teaches Race Law and Policy,Cat Zavis Attorney, Executive Director, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, mediator, and teacher of Empathic Communication, Reginald W. Lyles from Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland and former advisor to Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, Jorge Aquino Liberation Theologianof the Theology and Religious Studies Dept. of USF, Rebecca Kaplan Oakland City Council President, Iftekhar Hai President of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance

(Our speakers will start the discussion, but the most important person to be there is YOU). Whether or not you can come, please send this out to everyone on your lists, paste it on your website and your Facebook or other social media, and send it to people all around the U.S. because if they can’t come themselves, they might be inspired to create a similar gathering where they live, and we will be happy to work with them to assist them in doing so. And they probably have friends in northern California who might love to come if they knew about this!

Pre-registration at: spiritualprogressives.org/reclaimAmerica

“Open Dialogue” on Israel/Palestine Is Not Enough

Dec12

by: Henry Rosen on December 12th, 2014 | 18 Comments »

open hillel

Vassar College professor Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker recently that “There should be nothing controversial about everyday kindness; civility as a kind of individual moral compass should remain a virtue. But civility as a type of discourse – as a high road that nobody ever actually walks – is the opposite. It is bullshit.”

Open dialogue, very much like civility, exists as both a venerable ideal and a carrot-on-a-stick style tool of discipline. When it comes to critiquing Israel, particularly from a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist approach, open dialogue becomes a mechanism that avoids the acknowledgement of underlying power imbalances and the foundational inequality of our respective ideologies.

The idea of “open dialogue” sets up a framework that requires balancing ideologies of Zionism with anti-Zionism. However, anti-Zionist and Zionist ideologies are not on an even playing field. To be clear, anti-Zionism carries with it no semblance of the same amount of institutional power as Zionism. Particularly as articulated by Palestinians, whose voices ought to be considered with primacy, anti-Zionism has historically been (and remains) the target of political repression and disenfranchisement. Trying to gain a balanced view from both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist perspective would imply those two ways of seeing the world having the same kind of organizational backing; this is simply not the case.

Moreover, conversations between anti-Zionists and Zionists, even liberal Zionists, never play out on equal ground. The fact that Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, states it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that have explicitly non-Zionist politics provides one very important instance in which an institution represses challenges to Zionism. Unsurprisingly, Hillel invokes Hsu’s concept of civility in prohibiting those that “foster an atmosphere of incivility” in campus Hillels. With such exclusive rules in place, an anti-Zionist student pursuing an open dialogue is only ever entering a Hillel house on the prescriptive terms of the institutional power. How open is that dialogue, then? Not at all. As soon as any one part of a conversation refuses to acknowledge the power differentials that exist between itself and the other parts, open dialogue becomes chimerical.

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Happy to Live in Richmond This Week

Dec11

by: on December 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Because this was the headline in the local newspaper (later addition: Richmond, CA, I forgot to say!):

Richmond police chief a prominent participant in protest against police violence

…a different kind of protest popped up in Richmond on Tuesday, and at the vanguard of the gathering calling for a reduction in police violence in communities of color was an unlikely participant: Richmond’s police chief.

“I’ve never seen anything like it, not in Richmond, not anywhere,” said longtime resident Mary Square, who stood on the north side of Macdonald Avenue watching the protesters on the south side of the street. “All these police, and the police chief, holding signs calling for an end to police violence. … I’m going to tell my kids.”

Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

So what’s different about this white police chief? Here’s one thing:

Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung (Ellen Seskin)

Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and Terrance Cheung, the chief of staff in Supervisor John Gioia’s office, were married in a ceremony that took place among blooming flowers in the terraced amphitheater at the Berkeley Rose Garden over the weekend. After the small ceremony, the newlyweds held a reception for about 250 people at the Richmond waterfront restaurant Salute’s.

Magnus and Cheung form something of a political power couple as was evidenced by some of the guests at the reception….

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On the ‘American Hijab’

Dec11

by: Metis on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

hijab

Credit: Creative Commons/ Haifeez

Some years ago my hijab wearing friend was approached by an older woman in Melbourne and told to “go back home”; there was no place for her in Australia. My friend is Caucasian Australian. She was at home!

Earlier this year I was making small talk with an acquaintance, a hijab wearing Indian Muslim woman, as I waited for my pizza order. She asked me what I was doing these days. I told her that I was comparing two major tafasir (exegesis or explanation of Quranic verses) on women’s issues and collecting various interpretations for verse 4:34 of the Quran. Without a moment’s thought she said, “Oh, wow Mashallah! I didn’t know you’d be interested in something like that, I mean I’d understand if a woman with hijab did that!”

So when I read this article, American Hijab: Why My Scarf is a Sociopolitical Statement, Not a Symbol of My Religiosity, it perplexed me.

I am very happy that the author wrote this article because I’m old enough to see the shift in clothing symbols for Muslims pre and post 9/11. I was born Muslim in the West, in a world when Muslim majority countries were more secular than religious and grew up in the pre 9/11 time when Islam was being revived so I see post 9/11 world through the eyes of an older adult who has experience of what it was like before it.

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Let Your Voice Be Heard

Dec11

by: Tikkun on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Berkeley Protests /Credit: Annette Bernhardt

A vital aspect of the ongoing Berkeley Protests (along with those around the country) is the undeniable power of voice. We at Tikkun believe in the voice of the people, from that of an individual blogger to the harmonious chants of thousands in the streets. We know, as these protests have shown, how powerful a group of citizens can be when they come together to let their voices be heard. And we know the importance of each individual within the crowd.

Over the years both Tikkun and the Tikkun Daily blog have expanded their writer base, drawing in brilliant younger writers and increasing interfaith diversity. We’ve created a platform for individuals to let their voices free. This grants them the opportunity to gather momentum and support and turn their single cry into the chant of many.

Below we have two examples of writers who have graced Tikkun with their voice and in turn found a home:

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Rabbi Fills Long-Vacant Spot: Spiritual Leader of Jews in Jamaica

Dec11

by: Maayan Jaffe on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Shaare Shalom shul

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan (left) is spiritual adviser to Nigel Chen-See, who came to Judaism later in life. Shown here, Chen-See celebrates at his conversion service by reading the Jewish declaration of faith and other prayers. Photo credit: Provided.

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan is a man of much faith. Three years ago, he left his Reform synagogue in Albany, Georgia, to take a rabbinic position that had sat vacant for more than three decades: the spiritual leader of Jews in Jamaica.

The rabbi, who is shorter in stature and just beginning to gray, says he has a vision, one that is rooted in more than 300 years of Jewish history on the island, but that aims toward a future that he hopes will “inspire brethren around the world.”

“My vision is to open up the synagogue and bring people in … to make Jamaican Judaism more accessible, more modern, more spiritual,” said Rabbi Kaplan during a recent meeting at an upscale hotel in Kingston. The city is home to the majority of Jamaica’s Jews and its only synagogue, Shaare Shalom, and Hillel Academy.

Shaare Shalom shul

A congregant meditates during the Friday night Shabbat service. Around 20 people come to prayer at Shaare Shalom on Friday nights. Photo credit: Maayan Jaffe.

A Friday night service at the combination Sephardic-Ashkenazi shul averages twenty people. In Kaplan’s mind, the approximately 400-seat shul, with its sand-covered floor, high beams and almost-majestic turquoise window coverings, could be full of spiritual seekers, converts, followers of Rastafarian faith who relate to the Jewish message, and lost Jews who are slowly returning to their religion. Many Jamaican Jews, he said, were long ago assimilated – likely intermarried – but they still have a Jewish spark.

The Jews of Jamaica arrived with Columbus in 1494. They were not practicing Jews at the time, having been given the choice by the Spanish government of converting to Catholicism or going into exile. These Jews were known as Conversos. Some managed to escape Spain for Jamaica, in search of religious freedom. While there are not good records from that time as a result of natural disasters, it is assumed that some tried to practice their faith on the island, albeit discreetly.

Over the course of the next decades, Conversos found their way out of Spain and Portugal to communities in Germany, England and the Netherlands. From there, over the next 150 years, they continued northeast to the Caribbean, including to Jamaica. The earliest known outwardly Jewish settlers made their homes in Port Royal after the capture of the Island by the English in 1655, and then in Spanish Town and Kingston. Pockets lived in smaller island towns, like Falmouth and Montego Bay.

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Black Lives Matter: Go to an African American Church in Solidarity This Coming Sunday Morning

Dec10

by: on December 10th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Tens of millions of Americans are deeply disturbed by the racism that has recently gotten the focus that it should have had for the past many decades. The failure of juries to indict police who kill African American males was not new, but the awareness of this reality which has been just one of the many faces of racism that weigh down the lives of African Americans in this society was quite unusual and momentarily broke through the dominant discourse that “that problem has been solved decades ago after Martin Luther King, Jr. saved his people by ending segregation and winning the voting rights laws.”

Of course, even now there are many in the media who try to deny the ongoing significance of racism in our society. Yet the outpouring of anger that we’ve seen on college campuses and in the streets of the U.S. is a reason for hopefulness that when the media turns its attention away from this issue some of the consciousness about racism will remain alive beyond the peoples of color who can never forget it as long as it is shoved in their face by police, unemployment, hunger, poverty, harassment, and endless opportunities to experience the contempt that many whites feel toward them.

Is it any wonder that some young African Americans find it hard to believe that there is a strong connection between how hard they work and how well they will be treated in this society? Does anyone really think that if a Black cop had killed a middle class white youth or strangled and then let die a white man that the grand jury would not have indicted him? What we have been hearing more clearly than ever in the past few years is the tremendous fear that African Americans carry with them at all times — fear of white majority and their occupying force in communities of color that we call police and some of us call “pigs,” and fear of the way the system keeps on undermining them, manifesting contempt for them, and treating them as though their lives did not matter.

That’s why I am so glad that this Sunday, December 14, the Progressive National Baptist Convention has called for a morning of standing in solidarity with African Americans. I strongly urge you to find a Black church near you and show up in solidarity. The focus is not only on mourning but in publicly proclaiming: “Black Lives Matter.” That afternoon, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives will be holding a strategy conference to assess what needs to change in the way the liberal and progressive forces have developed in the past few decades that has rendered them less influential and hence less able to defend the mini-steps that were taken in the past to overcome American racism. I’m hoping that our event will spur dozens of others.

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‘I’m a resident of a nation that don’t want me’

Dec10

by: Melissa Weininger on December 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

One of the first acts of the 112th United States Congress was to stage a reading of the entire constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. The reading was planned as a way of acknowledging the strength of the new Tea Party faction in the House and its ideological commitment to upholding its particular understanding of the Constitution. There was just one problem: the U.S. Constitution, despite having been modified since, still contains references to its own codification of the anti-democratic beginnings of American democracy. Namely, the Constitution makes distinctions between citizens and “other persons,” or slaves, in counting population numbers for the purposes of apportionment of representatives and taxation. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution provides that population will be counted “by adding to the whole Number of free Persons…three fifths of all other Persons.” Not wanting to be reminded of the imperfections in our Constitution, or the contradictions encoded in our democracy, the House leadership decided to read a redacted version that eliminated all language later superseded by amendments.

Simply removing the language that codified the dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, however, can’t make it disappear. This week brought further evidence that despite Constitutional amendments and other forms of political and judicial reform, the lingering effects of Article 1 remain. Last month’s decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict the white police officer who killed the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August was a reminder that our country was founded on the principle that African-American lives are worth less (three-fifths, according to the Constitution) than white ones. That sentiment was everywhere evident at protests decrying the grand jury decision, on signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” The fact that we still need to be reminded that black lives have worth brings us back to the way the founding documents of our democracy have, in a sense, written some American citizens out of it from the start. As a line from the Ferguson tribute song “Don’t Shoot” puts it, “I’m a resident of a nation that don’t want me.”


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