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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



The Miracles of Christmukah!

Dec1

by: Dan Brook and Richard H. Schwartz on December 1st, 2016 | No Comments »

Small christmas tree and chanukah candles side by side.Christmas and Chanukah periodically coincide and do so again beginning on Christmas Eve 2016, the first night of Chanukah 5777. Some are calling it Christmukah. Some are calling it another miracle!

Hope springs eternal. Indeed, it’s always been an integral part of Jewish and Christian history, spirituality, and politics. Without hope, there wouldn’t be a Chanukah; without hope, there might not even be a Jewish community; without hope, there might not be democracy or America. That’s the power of radical hope!

Christmas has been celebrated for over 1600 years and Chanukah has been celebrated for 2181 years. The two holidays may be united in our gratitude for Light, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Latkes. We don’t know if Jesus ever ate latkes, but as a Jew, it is highly likely that he celebrated Chanukah.


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Witnessing Standing Rock: A Short Guide

Nov30

by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on November 30th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Three women holding up a sign saying "water is life." I traveled to Standing Rock in order to help sustain the camp and be a witness. Here are some humble suggestions of what you might do if you travel to Standing Rock, and if you are in solidarity with indigenous struggles locally.

Work in the kitchen! Mounds of garlic are peeled daily to feed the thousands of people eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. There are five main kitchens throughout camp, so there are many opportunities to go into a nearby kitchen and ask when a good time to volunteer is. Working in a kitchen is a great way to contribute directly to the basic ongoing daily needs of the camp and to meet people!

Go to an early morning ceremony. Standing Rock is a prayer camp and attending an indigenous led ceremony is the best way to learn about the spirit of Standing Rock. Morning ceremonies start at 6 AM and may be led by women. The ceremony I attended by the sacred fires on Friday morning was led by a medicine woman named Blue Lightning, who I had the honor of getting to know while I was there. She asked me to be guardian of the east gate because she learned I was one of the first woman rabbis from young Jewish people from the Bay Area who contributed to building several tents for her family encampment. The morning ceremony was dedicated to “untangling” energies that need to come back into harmony. People were invited to dance in four concentric circles around a four directional altar created with crystals and shells. When the sun rose, about a hundred people walked down to the river for a pipe ceremony led by Lakota women who have greeted the dawn in this way by the shores of this river for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is their land.

Be in service. While I was at Standing Rock, I remained in service to Blue Lightning’s intergenerational family, which consisted of elders, parents, and children. I was able to serve in this way due to my relationships with Bay Area Jewish young people in their 20′s and 30′s who contributed funds for and built several winterized tents, each one complete with insulation, a wood stove, lots of heaters, a porch, chairs, cots, blankets, rugs, tables, and a complete kitchen with shelves, cooking utensils, a stove, storage bins, and wash station for Blue Lightning’s family encampment. The kitchen was dedicated by Blue Lightning to be a meeting place for elders. It’s warm and welcoming. I spent time setting up the kitchen and attending to immediate needs of the elders.

Participate in an action that feels right to you. There is nonviolent direct action training at camp. There is also an ongoing conversation about whether or not a particular action is sanctioned by elders. I chose to attend a Thanksgiving Day silent vigil by the river organized by indigenous youth with the sanction of the elders. The action had several components: some people remained in silence on the camp side of the river while others crossed over the river on a plank to get to Turtle Island, which is sacred ground to the Lakota. There were indigenous men protecting the nonviolent nature of the action by not allowing anyone to climb up the hill to the ridge where dozens of militarized police stood in wait threatening them with violence over a bull horn while telling people they didn’t want a confrontation at the same time. People were still traumatized by Sunday’s attack, which injured 166 people. While I was there, the police installed bright floodlights by the river. They also placed barbed wire along the ridge of Turtle Island and the river’s edge. If you are planning to be part of a direct action, please check in with the legal tent on Facebook Hill to be trained and find out about arrest procedures before you participate.

Listen to stories. Being in camp with an indigenous family allowed me to hear lots of stories such as Blue Lightning’s family stories; Lakota, Shoshone, and Ute histories; tribal origin tales, creation tales, and teachings about prayer; the story of this particular Pipe Line; eminent domain, broken treaties, and Native sovereignty rights; and stories about Standing Rock itself. Jane Fonda’s appearance at camp over Thanksgiving started some conversations. The threat of police violence sparks rumors, so don’t believe every story. Dallas Goldtooth is a good source for staying in touch with what is actually happening. Indigenous news sources are the best way to stay informed.


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We Will Not Be Silent: Join IfNotNow’s National Day of Jewish Resistance on Wednesday, November 30th

Nov29

by: Aron Wander on November 29th, 2016 | 3 Comments »

Even after President-elect Donald Trump appointed Stephen Bannon – the former head of Breitbart and an enabler of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other prejudices – as his chief strategist, some of our largest Jewish organizations remained silent about the hate that is being welcomed into the White House.

In their absence, Jewish activists around the country are leading our communities from the streets and standing up for ourselves and other minorities in line with Judaism’s ancient injunction: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

The Talmud tells of three rabbis – Yehudah, Yose, and Shimon – who met in the second century to discuss the fate of the Jewish community after it had been devastated by the Romans. Rabbi Yehudah suggested a conciliatory approach. Rabbi Yose was silent. Only Rabbi Shimon, who had watched as the Romans brutally executed his teacher Akiva, called out the Romans for their cruelty, materialism, and selfishness. Rabbi Shimon was reported to the Romans, who sentenced him to death. He escaped and went into hiding to preserve our tradition (Shabbat 33b).

Today, we are faced once again with a choice about how to respond to oppression and injustice. The Talmud leaves little doubt that Rabbi Shimon’s decision to speak out was the moral one, but many of our institutions have still opted for Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yose’s passivity. The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (CoP), among others, have refused to explicitly condemn Trump or Bannon.

As head of Breitbart, Bannon turned the news site into the platform of the “alt-right,” facilitating threats against Muslims, conspiracies about Jews, discrimination against people of color, and hatred against women. When criticized for not taking a stance on Bannon, AJC spoke proudly of its commitment to “centrism.”

Centrism means respecting a wide variety of opinions; it does not mean refusing to condemn bigotry.

Institutions like AJC have made the mistake of thinking that moderation — or a warped idea of centrism — is a value in and of itself. Our ancestors did not deny that there is a time to be moderate: the Talmud records numerous times that caution and temperance brought about the best outcome. The rabbis also asserted, though, that certain situations demand moral clarity. In the Mishnah, they wrote, “Do not associate with a wicked man” (Avot 1:7). They did not follow up with a list of extenuating circumstances in which it makes sense to cooperate with evil. They did not advocate for centrism in the face of injustice. Their message was simple: the only response to cruelty — the only response that preserves the integrity of Judaism — is Rabbi Shimon’s.

That is why last week, IfNotNow led 1,500 Jews in the streets across four cities to demand that Trump fire Bannon and to call on our institutions to stand with us. Our voices have joined with Jewish rabbis and organizations across the country – JFREJ, the Anti-Defamation League, and T’ruah, among others – that have condemned Trump and Bannon and pledged solidarity with marginalized Americans. It is now incumbent upon our community – 76 percent of which voted against Trump – to get our other institutions to follow suit.

This Wednesday, we are organizing a national day of Jewish Resistance. As part of grassroots demonstrations in more than a dozen cities, thousands of Jews will continue to demand that Trump remove Bannon from the White House. At the same time, we will keep sending a message to the leaders and institutions that claim to represent us: stand up for us and our allies or step aside.

Only a few weeks ago on Yom Kippur, synagogues across the country read the words of Isaiah: “Let the oppressed go free” (Isaiah 58:6). Let us show LGBTQ folk, people of color, women, immigrants, Muslims, and our fellow Jews that we meant it.

The choice is simple. Will our institutions continue to be silent in the face of a white supremacy that threatens everyone, or will they stand up for freedom and dignity for all?

Aron Wander is a member of IfNotNow. He lives in New York City where he works as a political consultant, volunteers with PASSNYC, and blogs about Judaism with his roommate at Unconservative

Review of Super Weird Heroes by Craig Yoe

Nov24

by: Paul Buhle on November 24th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

A superhero riding a lightning bolt with comic panels in the background.

Cover of Super Weird Heroes by Craig Yoe

Craig Yoe is the living definition of the wild and crazy archivist-annotator in the pursuit of the strange, nay, inexplicable qualities of the forgotten pulp culture of the golden age of comics.  That is to say, of the (arguably) Jewish Age of comic art, its creators drew largely from the blue-collar districts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and the poor sides of Manhattan, at work on “Funny Animals” and funnier looking superheroes with the occasional super-heroine. Reader, you may ask what sort of mind is at work in tracking down Cat-Man (and Kitten), The Moth, or one who does not so nearly match his name, Phantasmo, Master of the World, a muscular, none too subtly erotic chap leaping into action against wrong-doers with a dramatically bare butt.

You might as well ask! Happily, the artist-editor who gave us such golden oldie reproductions as hundreds of pages of four-color reprints in The Complete Milt Gross: Comic Books and Life Story, explains his motivations in a recent interview. A keen but twisted intellect is at work here. As a kid, like almost any ordinary comic-reading kid (and in this respect, very much like your reviewer), he lavished attention upon Donald Duck and Little Lulu, intuitively grasping the genius of the art and narrative. At some point, after a natural progression through superhero comics and beyond them, he became obsessed with the “throw away medium” of comic books’ early days—particularly, the sense that something great had been done, evidently by way of artistic inattention. Comic books possessed no known educational or psychological intent, nor did artists and their assistants anticipate critical praise or a career boost. Nothing more than what Yoe calls the “verve and sense of motion” developed more or less spontaneously—no doubt also, a rush to the next deadline—can be understood here. But sometimes, it’s great.


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At the Post Office in Donald Trump’s America, I Want the National Park Stamps — and a Passport

Nov23

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on November 23rd, 2016 | 5 Comments »

Blue passport, United States of America.

Trump’s America, Wednesday morning, 9:03 AM.

I head in to my local post office. I’m out of stamps. I also need my passport renewed. It expires this month.

Rather than flee the country, I vowed that, if Trump won the election, I’d stay in the U.S. and fight along with the people who would be endangered by the new administration. I still feel that way – but I am not comfortable having an expired passport.


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The Great Comic Book Heroes

Nov10

by: Paul Buhle on November 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

A man in a suit is talking on the telephone under an electricity pole and wire. Another man in a suit stands behind him.

Cousin Joseph: A Graphic Novel by Jules Feiffer

To begin to introduce Jules Feiffer, to any reader of cerebral comics older than fifty, is probably absurd.He has been around so long and played a handful of roles so central to the development of an evolving American comic art that it would be almost easier to define Feiffer without comics than comics without Feiffer. But the strange contours remain fascinating.

So let us try. Comic art took a considerable leap forward with The Spirit, a strip “packaged” by its creator, Will Eisner, for the daily press, and joined through the same creator to the firm Eisner and Iger, which similarly packaged (i.e.,actually did everything but print) comic books for a dozen or more firms during the apex of the field in the 1940s. Teenaged Jules Feiffer worked in this little factory setting, and has, in his way, borne the signs ever since. The Spirit was politically bland and reactionary, but its form was pretty revolutionary, cinematic, and theatrical (Eisner’s father was at times a set-designer for the Yiddish theater in the U.S.), with flowing motion and intriguing backdrops.


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Review of After One-Hundred-and-Twenty by Hillel Halkin

Nov10

by: Paige Foreman on November 10th, 2016 | No Comments »

Photo by Tom Hilton. Source: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/).

Berkeley recently decided to take a break from the drought – it rained all day on Friday, and I remembered asking my father why the rain falls when I was a little girl.

“The angels are crying – someone just died,” my father replied.

“Really?”

“I don’t know,” my father shrugged. “But it sure is a nice idea.”

In the final chapter of After One-Hundred-and-Twenty, Hillel Halkin describes a long midrash about the death of Moses. The Torah is silent about how Moses reacts to his death, but the Rabbinic commentary fleshes out Moses’ humanity. The way Moses reacts to his impending death is not all that different from how most humans react to death. Moses argues with God, evades angels, and begs to live on as an animal. In the end though, Moses’ life is taken by God with a kiss and within sight of the Promised Land that Moses never reaches. After the death of Moses, God wept, and I wondered if it rained that day.

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Community Horror? American Artists at Work

Nov3

by: Paul Buhle on November 3rd, 2016 | No Comments »

Two hands holding a black box over a table.

Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,’ The Authorized Graphic Adaptation by Miles Hyman

Dread seems to have become the unitary emotion of the day, reinforced by stern warnings of insecurity all around, interrupted mainly by pharma ads offering relief of almost every non-lethal dread. Perhaps life (and death) were once simpler, or perceived to be simpler. “The Lottery,” an allegorical or non-allegorical short story by Shirley Jackson exquisitely touched the Dread button almost seventy years ago – at the time, the most popular story in New Yorker history – and comes alive today, if “alive” is right word, in a notable graphic novel adaptation.

For those interested in the history of comic art, this rings a certain bell or perhaps two or three. The saga of a village choosing, once per year, to stone to death a villager chosen by lots, might be in the horror vein, although personally, I see it as much more sci-fi. Horror comics, driving sales of comics skyward in the later 1940s and early 1950s, also led to suppression by way of a Comics Code that would be enforced through concerned (mostly Catholic) threats of boycotts. If sometimes well crafted, horror comics were certainly not cerebral. Sci-fi comics, given to themes of post-nuclear civilization, or of bitterly disappointing space travel, never sold so many, but had a more artistic touch, not to mention progressive sentiments. Both genres reached a peak in EC Comics, the backdrop to Mad, with some of the key artists carrying their talents over effortlessly to brilliant satire.


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I Stand with Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Palestine: A Brief Essay on White Privilege

Nov2

by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on November 2nd, 2016 | No Comments »

The author with a sign urging to end police militarization.

Within the mountains of conversations that comprise the Babylonian Talmud, I have been drawn to a single practice: strive not to benefit or profit from the fruits of violence. As a white, elderly Jewish woman of mixed Ashkenazi descent and the sixth generation of my family to live on this continent, I am part of the group of European settlers who arrived here and built their houses on land stolen by military force from indigenous people. Turtle Island, the name for this continent for 20,000 years before colonialism, was and is home to great civilizations and hundreds of sovereign nations that excelled and continue to excel in agriculture, astronomy, medicine, and the arts. On this continent, my Jewish relatives who arrived here in the 1840s were not targeted for genocide or slavery by state or society. In my eyes, there is no way I can avoid profiting and benefiting from the fruits of colonial violence that targeted indigenous people for genocide and slavery. We are all embedded in the ever-evolving colonial system, which, even after 500 years, continues to target indigenous people for mass incarceration, land confiscation, and military occupation. The same context is true for Jewish people living in Israel. Jews in Israel live on land stolen from Palestinians and continue to rely upon unjust apartheid laws that privilege them over Palestinians in all things solely based on differences in human identity. This is racism at its core and it is shameful, regardless of our spiritual or historical connection to the land.


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Ever-Dying People: Review of Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Oct13

by: Brian Bouldrey on October 13th, 2016 | No Comments »

Here I Am, A Novel, Jonathan Safran Foer

Jacob Bloch, the grandson of Isaac, a survivor of the camps, and Julia, an architect who has never had her designs built, have three sons: Sam, Max, and Benjy, wise and lovely kids. Jacob’s father Irv is an outspoken enemy of Arab states and his opinions lean on the rest of the family: his blog manifestos are pretty much the opposite of what you would find inTikkun. They all live in Washington, DC. Sam, the eldest of the Bloch children, is studying for his bar mitzvah, but has been caught writing a list of vile racial epithets, quite out of his character, but perhaps under the influence of his grandfather.

The rabbi brings Julia and Jacob in to discuss their son’s sin, and threatens to disallow Sam’s bar mitzvah, a much anticipated event that arguably keeps great-grandfather Isaac alive. Sam claims he did not do it, though the words are in his handwriting. Jacob, his father, believes Sam. Julia, his mother, does not. This is the first sign of a rift in their sixteen-year marriage, one that has been full of love, tradition, organic mattresses, and goofy and touching family rituals. And then Julia finds a burner cell phone that Jacob has been hiding from her, full of filthy texts to another woman. “There is not a single story about a cell phone that ends well,” a friend cautions Julia, but that doesn’t mean the story isn’t a great one.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a massive earthquake has devastated Israel and all the Arab States, which escalates tensions to the brink of warfare before our very eyes. Family friends of the Blochs, a sort of mirror family with Tamir, Rivka, and their sons Noam and Barak, live in Israel; and while Noam has just started his commitment to the Israeli army, Tamir and Barak come to Washington for Sam’s bar mitzvah, and the earthquake leaves them stranded, while Noam heads to battle.

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