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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category



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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Baptist Pastor Inflicts Grief upon the Grieving

Aug18

by: on August 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

“The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

Biblical scholar Matthew Henry interprets this biblical passage as one in which, “The priests were solemnly to bless the people in the name of the Lord…while he mercifully forgives our sins, supplies our wants, consoles the heart, and prepares us by his grace for eternal glory….”

Pastor T. W. Jenkins welcomes guests with these comforting words from Numbers 6:24-26 when contacting his website for the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of Tampa, Florida. Jenkins explains his Church as “Christ-centered and biblically-based…[and] offers over 30 ministries, all of which are open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home.” Well, this may hold true, except if your family wishes to assemble a funeral service when the deceased man happens to have been married in life to another man. In that case, this biblical command no longer applies, and the pastor declares it null and void.

During the wake of Julion Evans who had succumbed to amyloidosis (a rare disease of a certain protein building up in bodily organs), his mother, Julie Atwood, and his husband and life partner for over 17 years, Kendall Capers, found no hope after receiving word from Jenkins that he had cancelled Evans’s funeral after reading a newspaper obituary that Evans was married to another man, that Capers was the “surviving husband.” Jenkins told Atwood that conducting the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church would be “blasphemous.”

Explaining his decision, Jenkins asserted: “I try not to condemn anyone’s lifestyle, but at the same time, I am a man of God and have to stand upon my principles.”

Well, Jenkins, in your refusal to conduct the funeral service, you have, indeed, condemned Evans’s so-called “lifestyle.” Actually, I never really understood why it is that heterosexual people and couples live their lives, while those of us who love and partner with someone of the same sex lead sorted “lifestyles.” Be that as it may, Jenkins has the absolute right “to stand upon [his] principles” as he defines them, though he would do well to take note of an action taken by another branch of Baptists.


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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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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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We, Thee & Me

Aug12

by: on August 12th, 2014 | Comments Off

I’ve been researching women in the arts and culture for a presentation next week at the Women’s International Study Center’s inaugural symposium. There’s ample information online, and it all tells an unsurprising story (if you’ve been keeping your eyes open).

Credit: Creative Commons

There’s more arts work by women out in the world, and also more work that depicts women as objects for others’ pleasure or service. Compared to a few decades ago, there are significantly more women in galleries, museums, orchestras, theaters, and so on, but nothing like a proportional representation of women in the population. At the upper levels of prestige institutional culture, women are scarce: one conducts a major orchestra, a handful head large dance companies and museums, fewer than half as many get museum and upscale gallery shows as men, etc. There’s more activism all the time, with organizations in every cultural sector working on inclusion, representation, and education to even the score. (There’s a good selection of links at WomenArts.)

Perusing the numbers, my mind leaps to a black-and-white conclusion that men, the gatekeepers, keep women out. But a report done a few years ago on gender bias in theater keeps nagging at me. Some of the findings illustrate the logic of entrenched bias. There are more male playwrights and they submit more scripts, so ipso facto, more scripts by men will be produced. To change that, you have to tinker with the supply side as well as the decision-making process: how to get more women to write and submit scripts — that isn’t exactly rocket science. In fact (albeit more gradually than the pace of change I would like to see), more women become active in each cultural field every year.

But the finding that nags me is this; in a blind study of scripts (the same script was submitted to comparable theaters, half under a man’s name, half under a woman’s), women’s plays were ranked lower in terms of quality, economic prospects, and audience response. The thing is the lower rankings were delivered by women. That’s right. Female artistic directors and literary managers ranked the script lower when a woman’s name was attached, while their male counterparts ranked the woman’s script the same as the man’s.


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Genocide in Iraq

Aug11

by: Anouar Majid on August 11th, 2014 | 8 Comments »

Editor’s Note: Anouar Majid’s critique of ISIS is also a critique of many in the Islamic world who are too quiet about the crimes being done in the name of Islam. For that reason, we at Tikkun have to consider his views, just as we ask the Jewish world to consider our views about many in the Jewish world who are too quiet about the Israeli use of violence in Gaza. What worries us is the degree to which Majid may be willing to abandon Islam entirely, something we are not willing to do in regard to Judaism.

 

Tangier, Morocco:

When the world awoke to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some wondered why no one had taken the previous destruction of the 6th-century Buddha statutes in Bamiyan, Afghanistan seriously. Those attacks should have warranted a massive airstrike on the Taliban government and its supporters. Blowing up a part of our history in such a cavalier fashion amounted to a crime against humanity, but enlightened people shrugged their shoulders, chalked up such behavior to backward Muslim extremists and moved on. They should have known better. Who knows? Immediate military intervention could have spared us many years of strife and sorrow.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now known only as the Islamic State, did the same a couple of weeks ago when they detonated the tomb of the biblical and Qur’anic prophet Jonah in Mosul. It was one of their many attacks of pre- or non-Islamic monuments and even people. For the caliphate-crazed Wahhabi-inspired fanatics who trampled on the heritage of a city that was more than 6,000 years old when Islam was born, such monuments, as well as Christians or any group of people who are not like them, are desecrations that that have to be violently uprooted. It should, therefore, come as no surprise at all that ISIS is now waging a genocidal war against the Yazidis, a people whose religion has remained an enigma for centuries. Like many Muslims, ISIS considers the Yazidis as ungodly and must, therefore, be eliminated.


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Torah Commentary- Shabbat Nachamu: Hope means Justice in the Present

Aug7

by: on August 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Only for the sake of the hopeless ones have we been given hope. (Walter Benjamin, Schriften I)

The world today is ugly, one in which we can read of children dying as a result of political battles in too many places in the world, without shedding a tear, or worse, justifying this outcome as valid or expected. We must cry out for an end to this kind of suffering and cry out for an end to these horrors.

This Sabbath is known traditionally as Shabbat Nachamu, The Sabbath of comforting. The Isaiah 40 (well known outside the synagogue as the opening of Handel’s Messiah) is a prophecy of hope read at this point in the calendar, just after the commemoration of the horrors of war which twice led up to the destruction of the Temple and the creation of millions of refugees. As a result of these experiences, traditional Jewish culture is marked by an emphasis on hope, on a belief that injustice will be overcome, and that the “weary will be given strength”, as the end of this chapter in Isaiah proclaims.

Hope seems one of the more lofty spiritual aspirations of mankind, yet one of the least frequently defined. Schiller seems to have summed it up for the Romantic era as:

Im Herzen kuendet es laut sich an:

Zu was Besserm sind wir geboren!

The heart proclaims it loudly within

We were born for better things!

What these better things might be is not detailed, as yearning itself was enough of a goal in the Romantic era. Whatever hope may be, it was usually something earmarked for future generations. Imber’s Hebrew poem, “The Hope”, later adapted for use as the Israeli national anthem, is built around a similar theme: “As long as within the heart/ A Jewish soul yearns…our Hope is not lost.” This hope is defined as (in the current official version, somewhat different from the original text), “To be a free nation in our land/ The land of Zion-Jerusalem.”

While perhaps in Imber’s time, a harsh time for Jewish existence, a free land may have been adequate to define “the hope”, there are few who would currently feel that hope has been fulfilled only with land ownership, which itself has brought with it some serious challenges, not all of which can be said to have been reached. Certainly we have no less need for hope. So what is it that we hope for? Furthermore, must hope always be something aimed at the future? Is it possible that we can define hope in such a way that it reflects a process which can be actualized in the present, in the here and now? Can we afford to wait for the future when the present is so filled with death and suffering?

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Abe’s Babes: Interfaith Theater to Counter Prejudice at the Dinner Table

Jul30

by: Sara Weissman on July 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

When we encounter systemic racism, we know where our moral obligation lies. We speak out. But what happens when prejudice finds its way into the most intimate setting, the dinner table? “Well, you know how they are. They can’t be reasoned with. Could you please pass the salt?”

Abe's Babes members dine together.

Abe's Babes members dine together around their own laden table. Credit: Yvonne Perczuk.

Disparaging comments about another group are unfortunately common in many communities. When these kinds of off-hand remarks emerge in our own homes or in the homes of our friends, how are we supposed to respond? Abe’s Babes, a group of six Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women in Sydney, Australia, may have found an answer.

After experiencing this brand of “dinner table prejudice” in Sydney’s Muslim and Jewish communities, the group decided to confront the issue with a creative weapon: theater. Collectively, they wrote a play called The Laden Table, which tells of two meals – a Jewish family breaking their Yom Kippur fast and a Muslim family celebrating Eid. After seven years of hard work, the first professional production will take place in Sydney on the nights of July 30, July 31, and August 1.

After hearing prejudiced remarks about Muslims at a Jewish dinner table, Yvonne Perczuk, one of the founders of the playwriting group, felt deeply disturbed. Realizing that similar conversations were taking place in Muslim homes, she decided something had to be done about misconceptions harbored in both communities.

“The fear of the other, the fear of the unknown – all of those fears come out at the dinner table,” Perczuk said. “They come out in a spontaneous way so that’s where you hear the truths about how people feel.”


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“Israel Provoked This War: It’s Up to Obama to Stop It” and Recommended Articles

Jul29

by: Tikkun Administration on July 29th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Editor’s Note: July 27, 2014, Sunday morning: As of yesterday with over 1,000 fatalities in Gaza, 928 fatalities had been identified by name as of 10 A.M. and revealed that 764 were civilians, including 215 children and 118 women. Over 30 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians have been killed. Israel rejected a proposed ceasefire and furiously critiqued Sec. of State Kerry for proposing it without allowing Israel to continue (during the “ceasefire”) to destroy Hamas tunnels. Kerry backed down and apologized. Please read the following articles, which may provide you with some of the information and analyses you won’t find in Western media.

Below we have an article by Henry Siegman who was once the powerful director of the American Jewish Congress. In those days he refused to write for Tikkun or join our board–our insistence that Israel should negotiate with the Palestinians was considered far too radical, and Siegman, who told me he personally agreed with Tikkun’s position, lacked the courage to challenge the major American Jewish mainstream of which he was a part. As has happened to so many people after they lose their positions of power, he became more forthright in his articulation of what needed to change. I imagine the same thing will happen with Obama after he leaves office. It’s a terrible shame that these people didn’t have the courage to do so when they had the power to make a difference.

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A Reflection on the Passing of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Jul29

by: Rabbi Sammy Intrator on July 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

I am in pain over the loss of a great spiritual guide for our generation in the passing of Reb Zalman. He was perhaps the last of a breed, that bridged generations and who had lived on both sides of the great Jewish divide in these generations.

He understood the depth, the beauty and the love of the old world of Hasidim through the deep exposure he had to that world in his early years. His Rebbe (teacher) was Reb Yosef  Yitzchok Schneerson, the 6 th Lubavitcher Rebbe and father in law of the last Rebbe whose 20 Yar Ziet anniversary was just commemorated a few weeks ago.

Yet for much of his life, especially from the 60′s and thereafter, he was a beacon of light to a younger generation, who as the Torah in the beginning of Exodus says “did not know Joseph” and had no understanding of that world. With depth, with love, with humor, and with songs he imparted a spiritual conscience of an old age that spoke to the generation of a new age. The renewal Judaism he helped found was not really meant to create another branch of Judaism, but rather to influence and inspire its existing branches. His deeply universal message was powerfully influenced by his deep Jewish roots.

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