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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



“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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The Art of Revolution: The River and the Sea, A Documentary Play by Danny Bryck

Apr10

by: on April 10th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

When it comes to Israel/Palestine, Actor and Writer Danny Bryck isn’t the first to consider this question: “When everyone tells a different story, how do we tell the truth?” He may, however, be the first to work so hard to hear quite so many different stories that come from the thin strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.

In his documentary play The River and The Sea, which recently had a staged reading at The New Repertory Theatre in Boston as part of the “Next Voices” playwriting fellowship, Bryck uses transcriptions of interviews that he completed with individuals from all over Israel and the West Bank to create nearly sixty separate characters who represent everyone he met there, from a young soldier in Tel Aviv, to an Eritrean refugee, to a young mother in Gaza. Through these, and many more diverse characters, he gives voice to the vast cross-section of people who call Israel/Palestine home.

Photo Courtesy of New Repertory Theatre

Bryck initially went to Israel on a Birthright trip, but instead of returning home when the trip ended, he stayed on in the Middle East and set out on a three-month-long adventure with the goal of interviewing as many varied people as possible in order to begin the process of writing a play. He wanted to get a more nuanced and deeper version of the narratives in this part of the world, and so, through friends, friends of friends, various organizations, and even through talking to strangers, Bryck found himself having opportunities that no guided tour could or would ever provide.

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The Last Temptation of Noah

Apr9

by: Rabbi Howard Cooper on April 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

I once gave a sermon, at the Jewish New Year, during which a thunderstorm broke out and water started to pour through the synagogue roof. I’d like to claim that this was a cleverly-orchestrated special effects stunt that I’d managed to engineer; or even an example of my special relationship with what our tradition, anthropomorphically, calls ‘Our God in Heaven’. (Alas, it was just a leaking roof).

The title of the sermon was pinched – or ‘adapted’, as we writers say – from Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ which had come out that year (1988). In view of the release of  Darren Aronofsky’ s quasi-biblical epic ‘Noah’ with Russell Crowe as the eponymous hero – presumably not timed to coincide with the publication this week of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which relates what we already know in our guts, that global warming has already left its mark “on all continents and across the oceans”, creating havoc with our global weather including extreme heat waves and floods, as well as endangering food supplies; and that we are on the brink of “abrupt and irreversible changes” – I would like to share with you the text of this story-sermon, which has, sadly, frighteningly, stood the test of time…

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews Draw the Line

Apr4

by: Ronnie Barkan and Joshua Tartakovsky on April 4th, 2014 | 30 Comments »

A recent law obligating military service on religious Yeshiva students reveals the inherent flaw in Israel’s claim to be Jewish

An earlier version of this article has appeared on AlterNet

Prime Minister David Cameron got more than he expected at the Israeli Knesset in his last visit, receiving a cold shoulder from ultra-Orthodox and Palestinian legislators who share common interests, being the state’s most oppressed communities. Cameron’s visit to the Knesset took place on the same day that two controversial laws, the Conscription Law and the Governability Law, were finally approved following a prolonged legislative battle. As Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the guest of honour the ultra-Orthodox parliamentariansleft the plenary session in protest while their colleagues, Palestinian Members of the Knesset, refused to attend the event altogether. This was the culmination point of several months of heated protest over the Conscription Law which brought to the surface contradictions between Zionism and Judaism.

Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) of all denominations took to the streets of Jerusalem to oppose the draft law several days before its legislation. In a mass prayer, the worshippers-protesters declared their faithfulness to Torah study rather than to the military. United under the banner declaring that “the State of Israel is fighting against the Kingdom of Heaven” they held signs stating that military draft is a spiritual suicide. The event was not merely an opposition to the law but nothing short of a battle cry against the very legitimacy of a state that encroaches upon their spiritual autonomy and poses a danger to their religious liberty.

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A National Religious Campaign Against Torture? Can It Work?

Apr3

by: on April 3rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Senate Intelligence Committee / CommonDreams.org Photo

The images that emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq sparked a movement against torture that has worked doggedly for many years now. Among those moved to action have been people of faith, religious people, who see torture as a moral issue. As one of those people who has written op-eds, letters to members of Congress and the administration in the White House, attended rallies/protests, and met with Congressional staffers, I wondered whether a group of committed religious people could have a real impact. Today, with the announcement by the Senate Intelligence Committee that they had voted to declassify their summary of what is being called a “CIA Torture Report,” the answer is finally “maybe.”


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Mourning Democracy

Apr2

by: on April 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on McCutcheon vs. the Federal Elections Commission(FEC) is yet another nail in the coffin of U.S. democracy. The high court struck down the right of “We the People” to establish laws limiting overall campaign contributions by individuals. Such limits have been set in an attempt to create a level playing field in our democracy for rich and poor alike.

The political playing field was already unequal, since over the years the Supreme Court has increasingly granted civil rights and constitutional protections to corporations. This expansion of corporate rights culminated in the infamous 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC, which prohibits our right to limit corporate spending on elections through political action committees (PACs). The Citizens United decision resulted in the overturning of campaign finance laws at the federal level and in states across the nation. Today’s McCutcheon ruling is also disastrous for democracy.

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The Religious Left Launches Campaign for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn McCutcheon Decision and Get Money Out of Politics

Apr2

by: Network of Spiritual Progressives Press Release on April 2nd, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Rabbi Michael Lerner and Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr. of the Allen Temple Baptist Church announced today a new initiative emerging from the religious left in the U.S. in response to McCutcheon vs. FEC, the Supreme Court decision from April 2,2014, that banned limits set by the Federal Election Committee on the total that could be spent by any individual in an election. The previous limit was $123,200. Now there is no limit on the total a wealthy individual can donate in a given election cycle. In response to the decision, Rabbi Lerner said:

The Supreme Court is continuing its recent turn to give the super-rich and the richest corporations unlimited power to shape American elections and the government policies that will be enacted by these candidates once in office. This can only be reversed by an amendment to the Constitution, and we’ve designed it: the ESRA – Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment. That amendment will ban all money from elections for the president, the Congress, the governors, and the legislatures of the several states except for money provided by public funding for elections.

MoveOn and other organizations have organized protests against this decision, and many ordinary citizens are outraged. But, Lerner pointed out, “this is not going to be changed by demonstrations, but only by a concerted campaign to pass a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” [Please read the ESRA at www.tikkun.org/ESRA]

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Kerry Peace Plan Insults Palestinians & Israeli Peace Camp

Apr1

by: on April 1st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

It is possible that the details of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace proposal (as reported in the New York Times) are wrong. However, assuming the reports are correct, the Palestinians would be out of their minds to accept it. It is bad for Israelis and Palestinians and demeans the United States by reducing us to the role of Binyamin Netanyahu’s stenographer.

Here are the key points as reported in the Times.

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Is There Finally Hope for Challenging Orientalism in Hollywood?

Mar31

by: on March 31st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?


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“Realism” and Its Discontents

Mar27

by: on March 27th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

This has been a strange time in my little world: I’ve been traveling for work while my computer stayed home and lost its mind. I’m glad to say that sanity (i.e., memory, software, and general order) has been restored, and while I still have the sort of compulsive desire to tell the tale that afflicts survivors of accidents, I will spare you most of the saga.

What both journeys—mine and the computer’s—have given me is the opportunity to reflect on the workings of human minds, including my own. In particular, I’ve had a close-up look at the desire to believe, especially to believe the reassuring drone of those in authority.

Earlier this month, I gave a talk at Harvard that focused on some of the key ideas in The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future. I focused especially on the way Corporation Nation has consigned artists to a trivial and undernourished social role, instead of understanding artists as an indicator species for social well-being akin to the role oysters play as bio-monitors for marine environments. I pointed out how arts advocacy has steadily failed (e.g., President Obama asked Congress for $146 million for the National Endowment for Arts [NEA] in the next budget, $8 million less than this year, when he should have requested $440 million just to equal the spending power the agency had 35 years ago). Yet advocates keep making the same weak arguments and pretending that losing a little less than anticipated constitutes victory. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes flavor to the whole enterprise, a tacit agreement to adjust to absurdity and go along with the charade.


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