by: Mechapesset Atid on April 16th, 2015 | 3 Comments »
"Don't Say We Did Not Know" is the defense invoked by Germans after World War II. Activist Amos Gvirtz's mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians. Credit: Donna Baranski-Walker.
When accused of being a traitor to Israel, as Amos Gvirtz has sometimes been, the sexagenarian activist author responds by advising caution.
“If I am a traitor,” he replies, “then Israel, by its very essence, is against peace.”
Gvirtz, who is careful to describe himself as an activist rather than a journalist, is the author of a weekly email blast called “Don’t Say We Did Not Know.” This title and concept refer to a common defense invoked by Germans after World War II when questioned about atrocities committed by their country. Gvirtz’s mission is to ensure that this excuse cannot be used by Israelis when asked to answer for crimes against Palestinians.
“I try to tell stories that I did not see in the mainstream Israeli media,” he says. “I think the Israeli media is ignoring the great majority of the daily human rights violations.”
Gvirtz has recently compiled a number of his own essays for a book with the same title as his weekly email. At present, the book is available only in Hebrew, but he hopes to have it translated so that it can reach a wider audience.
“My editor asked me, ‘Who am I writing to?’ and I said, ‘To everybody who wants to know.’”
Last Friday, on the first night of Passover, I was asked to share a teaching on Moses, who led our people out of slavery in Egypt. A friend suggested I share it with you:
The idea that always arises for me when I think of Moses and many other leaders of spiritual or political revolutions is Amilcar Cabral’s concept of “class suicide.”
Cabral was the revolutionary socialist leader of the national liberation movement that freed the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. “Class suicide” describes the act of dying to the privileged class of one’s birth – for instance, by taking a step with no return – and thus sacrificing one’s own privileged position and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.
In either political or spiritual history, a large proportion of such trailblazers were born into privilege. Siddhartha was the son of chieftain; Mao Zedong was the son of a wealthy farmer; Ho Chi Minh was the son of a Confucian scholar and magistrate; Gandhi’s father was the chief minister of a princely state and Gandhi himself received law training in London. And Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt in Pharaoh’s house.
Clicking my way through a Google search for Cabral’s term, I happened on the work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a freeborn African-American abolitionist and author born in 1825. Her life story is pretty remarkable. One of her books was Moses: A Story of the Nile.
by: Roxanne J. Fand on April 4th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Jews in Iran and Afghanistan hit each other with bundles of green onions during the Seder song 'Dayenu' to remember the Jewish people's yearning for food during exile from Egypt. Credit: CreativeCommons / Rachel Barenblat.
Ever since I could remember, I loved Passover Seders, especially the song, “Dayenu,” whatever it might mean. Perhaps the story of freedom from slavery appealed to me as a child “enslaved” by parental and school authority. When I was old enough to read the English translation, “It Would Suffice Us,” and followed along stanza by stanza, I simply recognized gratitude for all the benefits God gave to the Israelites, from being freed of their Egyptian servitude to their regaining the Promised Land.
The Torah tells us of four sons…
One of the central passages of the seder involves a presentation of the questions of, and the responses to four paradigmatic sons. We are told of a wise son, a wicked son, an innocent or naive son, and the fourth described as one who does not know how to initiate a question. Each of these “sons”questions, in one way or another, is about the meaning of the ritual observances surrounding Passover, and for each one an appropriate answer is given, depending on the personality of the son. Each of these ‘sons’ questions and answers are constructed out of biblical proof texts which contain a reference to instructing one’s offspring. However, they are not presented, Powerpoint style, in order of their appearance in the Torah, and are used in a homiletic manner to teach certain points. What these points might be is also left unexplained in an almost zen koan like challenge to comprehension; we will see that loaded within this seemingly innocuous passage is a call to transformative consciousness.
The entire passage is unclear, for example, the question of the wise son and the wicked son are similar, while the answers they receive are curious; furthermore, the answer given to the wicked son and the non-questioning son are derived from the exact same verse. What do all these texts with their attributions to different types of children come to teach us on the first night of Passover, what does any of this have to do with liberation from oppression?
This is meant as a supplement to the traditional Haggadah. You can use it in addition to a traditional Haggadah, introducing whichever parts you like to your Seder to provoke a lively discussion, or you can use this as the basis for an alternative Haggadah, which can then be supplemented by the traditional Haggadah.
"Passover" by Lynne Feldman (lynnefeldman.com).
A Note to Non-Jews: You are very welcome at our Seder! Jesus was a Jew, and the Last Supper was a Seder. Our supplement affirms the liberatory message that is part of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is found in many other religious and spiritual traditions as well. You may find some of this ritual helpful if you create your own rite to celebrate the key insight of Easter or of any of the spring holidays of the world: that rebirth, renewal, and transformation are possible, and that we are not stuck in the dark, cold, and deadly energies of winter. Judaism builds on that universal experience of nature and adds another dimension: it suggests that the class structure (slavery, feudalism, capitalism, or neoliberal imperialism) can be overcome, and that we human beings, created in the image of the Transformative Power of the Universe (God), can create a world based on love, generosity, justice, and peace.
We understand God in part as the Transformative Power of the Universe – the force that makes possible the transformation from that which is to that which ought to be, the force that makes it possible to transcend the tendency of human beings to pass on to others the hurt and pain that has been done to us, the force that permeates every ounce of Being and unites all in one transcendent and imminent reality. In short, we understand God in part as the ultimate Unity of All with All, of whom we are always a part, even if we are not always conscious of the part of God we are, or the part of God that everyone and everything is. And you are welcome at our Seder even if you think all of this makes no sense and there is no God.
What makes this year’s Passover Seders unlike any others is that a majority of American Jews have been forced to face the fact that Palestinians today are asking Jews what Moses asked Pharaoh: “Let my people go.” The Israeli elections, and subsequent support for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s open racism and obstinate refusal to help create a Palestinian state, is not playing well with many younger Jews, and they will be challenging their elders to rethink their blind support for Israeli policies.
Increasingly, young Jews are on the Moses side, and see Netanyahu as the contemporary Pharaoh. So at the Seder more and more Jews will be asking Israel to “let the Palestinian people go.”
The easiest way for Israel to allow Palestinians their freedomis to create a politically and economically viable Palestinian state living in peace with Israel and based on the 1967 borders of Israel with slight border changes to allow Israel to incorporate the settlements in Gush Etzion and Jewish parts of Jerusalem that were built on conquered Arab land in 1967. The terms for that agreement were well worked out by “The Geneva Accord” developed by former Yitzhak Rabin aide (and Ehud Barak’s Minister of Justice) Yossi Beilin, and would include Jerusalem serving as the capital of both states, massive reparations to the Palestinian people to help fund such a state (paid in part by the international community), and joint police and military cooperation, supplemented by international help, to deal with the inevitable acts of terror from both Israeli and Palestinian terrorists who would want to block any such agreement.
Though Prime Minister Netanyahu has now sought to back away from his unequivocal election commitment in mid-March that he would never allow Palestinians to have a separate state, it is clear to most American Jews that he was telling the truth to his own community when he made that commitment. Only a fully unambiguous embrace of a detailed plan for ending the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, and major unilateral acts on Israel’s part to begin to implement the creation of a Palestinian state, would be believed by any Palestinians at this point. And who can blame them?
by: Howard Cooper on February 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Purim is often made into a Jewish Mardi Gras, but the story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zera invites us to look at a darker core of Purim. Credit: CreativeCommons / StateofIsrael.
There’s a curious Purim-related story in the Talmud about two scholars, Rabbah and Rabbi Zera. One year they got together to celebrate the festival and, as is the custom, they got completely drunk. So drunk that Rabbah attacked Rabbi Zera and killed him. On the next day, the Talmud goes on, Rabbah prayed on Rabbi Zera’s behalf and brought him back to life. The next year, Rabbah went to Rabbi Zera and said “Will my honoured teacher come, and we can again celebrate Purim together?” To which Rabbi Zera replied: “A miracle doesn’t take place on every occasion”(Megillah 7b). Once bitten, twice shy.
What do we make of this story? Obviously it’s a fable—not quite a parable, but a piece of imaginative playfulness: we know that (pace the New Testament) once they are dead, people don’t come back to life. So what is the story getting at? Is it a critique of the dangers of drunkenness? Is it an implicit acknowledgement—a millennium and a half before psychoanalysis and Melanie Klein – that aggression, murderousness, is just below the surface of even the most educated or pious of human hearts? And that it doesn’t take much, just a few drinks, to loosen up inhibitions and for this innate and powerful energy in us to burst out in violent and destructive fashion?
by: Dahlia Abraham-Klein on January 26th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Every week before Shabbat in the sanctuary of observant Jewish homes, we are graced with a special capacity to meditate and to converse with God while kneading dough to make challah. The kneading is an action meditation, best understood as the performance of commandments and rituals. While meditatively kneading, you can clear the mind for a holy intention and open the channel as a springboard to reach God.
The first step to having the right intention is through practicing breath control. When God created Adam, the Torah says, “God formed man out of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life. Man [thus] became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for breath is neshima, while the Hebrew word for soul is neshama. We can understand from this verse that breath and soul are intimately connected. God breathed into man and by doing so, bestowed upon him a spark of the divine – a soul. God did not breathe into any other creature but Adam. Only man has the ability to use his breath in order to control his mind and thereby body, to draw closer to God.
by: Audrey Lichter on January 25th, 2015 | Comments Off
Credit: Chai Mitzvah
Rabbi Tarfon, a member of the third generation of the Mishnah sages, once said “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to accept tochecha?” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a 1st-century CE Palestinian Mishnaic sage, added, “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give tochecha?” (Babylonian Talmud, Arachin 16b). Tochecha, at times translated as reproach or admonishment, is the mitzvah of compassionate critique in the Jewish religion. The general injunction against negative speech, lashon hara, (“you shall not wrong one another” in Leviticus 25:17) does not negate tochecha because the latter is focused on how the correction is made. “Although you are required to reprove wrongdoers, you will be sinning if you do it the wrong way. Be careful not to embarrass them” (Rashi; Sifra).
“These quotes could have been written today,” says Ann Pava, Chair of National Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), as she recently reflected on her study of tochecha through her participation in her local Federation’s Lion of Judah Chai Mitzvah class.
Chai Mitzvah is an international adult Jewish learning initiative which encourages participants to combine group study with a set curriculum and with individual exploration of study, spirituality and social action. One of the topics in the curriculum is “Interpersonal Relationships”, addressing responsibilities between an individual and the community.
When I received a phone call from my cousin Larry Lerner whom I deeply esteem asking me to be part of the slate of HaTikvah for the World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, I had to decline. Though I am pro-Israel and brought my son to high school in Israel and supported him by living in Israel while he was serving in the IDF, I am equally pro-Palestine and have never described myself as a Zionist, so how could I become a delegate to this convention? Moreover, upon reading their platform, I know that I’ve been a strong critic of the Israeli Labor Party and its failure to attempt to educate Israelis about what kind of a peace settlement would actually work, much less endorsed anything like the one I’ve proposed in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (which you can order at www.tikkun.org/eip).
Credit: Creative Commons / Lilach Daniel
I am particularly unhappy with all those Jewish organizations which oppose the Occupation of the West Bank solely on “Jewish self-interest” grounds without ever really addressing the ethical issues involved in that Occupation causing so much pain and violence to the Palestinian people. When the Torah commands us to “love the stranger” and “do not oppress the stranger,” it must be read today as applying to the Palestinian people – and Meretz and the Labor Party should say that clearly in their platform. Nor could I sign on to a platform that summarily opposes the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement. I reject a general boycott of Israel and I am aware that when talking about their demand of “ending the Occupation” some activists in the international BDS movement believe that “the Occupation” started with the creation of the State of Israel and hence aim at ending its existence. On the other hand, I do support BDS in regard to the Occupation of the West Bank, and favor using that tactic against any products produced in the Settlements or any firm that produces goods or services that are used primarily to support the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza (e.g. Caterpillar).