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Anti-Semitism is Back … and Won’t Go Away

Mar10

by: Michael Lerner on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Suddenly anti-Semitism is back. Over one hundred headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were overturned in a hate act early Sunday February 26, a week after a similar assault on a Jewish cemetery in Missouri. Since the election of Donald Trump there have been hundreds of incidents of bomb threats to Jewish institutions, 20 more on Monday February 27th, along with college campuses reporting a dramatic rise in anti-Semitic graffiti.

 

President Trump is reported to have followed alt-Right conspiracy theorists in suggesting in an off-the-record briefing that these might be false flag operations coming from Jews who are seeking to build sympathy and reclaim our victim status.

 

Jewish leaders around the country are calling upon President Trump to order a full-scale investigation of this surge in acts designed to frighten Jews. Unfortunately, they have been facing some indifference from a media and public which have been overdosed with cries of anti-Semitism. When progressive Jews and some major Protestant denominations have dared to criticize Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians the Jewish establishment and many rabbis in synagogues around the U.S. have said that those people critiquing Israel’s denial of human rights to Palestinians are either anti-Semites or “self-hating Jews.” Just two weekends ago Congressman Keith Ellison lost his bid to be chair of the Democratic National Committee after Jewish organizations and fundraisers spread the rumor that he was an anti-Semite based on his mild criticisms of Israeli policies. After decades of mainstream Jewish organizations crying wolf by reviling young Jews who want the same rights for Palestinians that Jews correctly have sought for ourselves and many other oppressed groups, the Jewish establishment deserves some responsibility for weakening their own credibility and diminishing the American public’s concern when now our community is facing real anti-Semitism.


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AIPAC Cheered Trump, Now They Will Cheer Pence: We Won’t Be Silent

Mar10

by: Katheryn Simpson on March 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

 

For six months in 2011 and 2012, I lived just minutes from Beersheba and its Iron Dome. When the siren screamed, people would rush indoors. It stopped missiles, but the threat of rockets remained, simmering as a constant question. It wasn’t a question of if, but when we’d hear the siren again. There is no wall high enough and no dome strong enough to give Jews, Muslims, and Christians true security or peace of mind. Only justice can do that.

Still, AIPAC continues to claim that safety can be found in defense spending. In a recent tweet, AIPAC shared a recent successful test of the improved Iron Dome. They would have us believe that security can be bought. But I never saw that in Israel.

That’s why, at the end of this month, Jews will march up to AIPAC’s doorstep in both Los Angeles and Washington D.C. to make American Jews face a hard truth: AIPAC has failed to show moral Jewish leadership. Instead, for a false sense of safety, this institution — and others in the American Jewish establishment — have undermined the Jewish values of justice and dignity so critical to our own fight for equality.

AIPAC’s mission, it claims, is to work toward the security of the State of Israel. Yet now, fifty years into the Occupation, AIPAC shows no signs of understanding what a path to true security might look like, let alone of how to start traveling down it. Instead, its members gave then-candidate Trump a standing ovation when he promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that could easily —if not surely — inflame violence. AIPAC has also remained silent in the face of David Friedman’s support for non-democratic Jewish rule over all Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In its single-minded pursuit of Israeli security, AIPAC has also been silent about the many threats against Jewish communities in America. It remained silent after the vandalism of Jewish graves in several cities, the more than one hundred bomb threats against JCCs, and the recent spike in hate crimes against Jews. For an organization concerned about the Jewish state, its leaders are noticeably silent about this rise in threats against Jews domestically, threats that appear fueled by rhetoric from the Trump administration.

Though this recent silence in the face of the bigotry and anti-Semitism of Trump’s administration is particularly chilling, AIPAC has long aligned itself with policies that undermine the possibility of peace between Jews and Muslims. In 2016, its national conference hosted Steven Emerson, a man who lied about government ‘no-go zones’ in Muslim areas, including the entire UK city of Birmingham. Nina Rosenwald, a member of its national board, supports multiple organizations that fan the flames of American Islamophobia, such as the Middle East Forum. Emerson and Rosenwald aren’t on the fringes of the organization — they are its core.


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Fordham Shows the Hypocrisy of its Values by Banning SJP, Silencing Students

Mar10

by: Brian Walt on March 10th, 2017 | No Comments »

Jewish tradition celebrates  ‘makhloket l’shem shamayim’  or ‘disagreement for the sake of heaven’ – the principle that open debate and critical dissent on ethical and moral issues is a necessary and holy task. Open debate, especially on controversial moral issues, is critical in any community committed to the sacred Jewish commitment to pursue justice,  tzedek,for all.

As a Jewish child growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I saw how many of those who opposed Apartheid were often silenced, shamed, banned, not allowed to organize, arrested, imprisoned and murdered. As a result, we all lived in fear of openly expressing our opinion and too many in my Jewish community and in other faith communities betrayed our faiths by not speaking up for justice and not challenging the denial of freedom of speech.


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​Reading the Megillah for Purim

Mar9

by: Beth Kissileff on March 9th, 2017 | No Comments »

The New York Times ran aneditorial by Francis X Clines about “dystopian classics” that “are being consulted as a literary trove for plumbing the national Id.” While I did read Philip K. Dick’sThe Man in the High Castleand Philip Roth’sThe Plot Against Americaduring the Republican Convention instead of watching it, and I definitely plan to read Sinclair Lewis’It Can’t Happen Hereand Richard Condon’sThe Manchurian Candidate, and reread1984and Brave New World, I want to suggest one that might be best reading for the Jews.

The only book of the Bible not to ever mention the name of God, the Book of Esther is the historically latest book to be included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. People have been divided for ages how toread it. Is the book a satire? A mockery of political language and an incompetently run palace? Wishful thinking that Jews might possibly defeat an advisor who wishes to do them evil? Wish fulfillment about the fate of the Jews in a world where they are in exile without political power?

I would like to suggest that much of the strategy and wisdom needed to foment resistance in America under Trump can be found in this odd book. It’s message ultimately? Though appeal is made obliquely to a higher power it is decisive human action that saves the day. In asking Esther to act, Mordechai tells her that if she keeps silent at this time, salvation will come from elsewhere(Esther4:14) which has been interpreted by classical Jewish sources as from God. But,whether because of this threat or not, Esther does act, does not assume that she, in the King’s palace will be spared the fate of the other Jews(Esther4:13).

What does Esther do? Esther says she will fast for 3 days and asks the rest of the Jews to do likewise. Then, after the 3 day fast she will try her luck with the king and “if I perish, I perish”( Esther4:16). Once she goes to him, she invites him first to one banquet and then to a second; intervening between the two banquets is a sleepless night for the king. To help his insomnia, he asks for his record book, literally his “book of memories, the words of the days” to be brought to him(Esther 6:1). It is found in writing that Mordechai had informed him of the plot by the two courtiers to kill him and that no consequent honor or dignity had been conferred on Mordechai. It is this written “memory” that causes the king to have an understanding that he must reward the loyalty of this trustworthy subject. This re-inscribing and then re-enacting of the events of the past, made possible through the vehicle of writing, turns the plot of this potentially tragic story decisively on its head. At the second banquet, Esther fingers Haman as the one behind the plot to exterminate her and her people and the king immediately declares that Haman must hang.

The eradication of the man who wished to kill the Jews is not enough to finish the job. Instead, letters must be written, not to countermand the king’s orders, since a royal decree once promulgated cannot be undone. Language itself is the weapon to combat the word of the king. Esther and Mordechai are nowin a position to write letters of their own.

There is something in the act of writing that is itself powerful. Recall that Mordechai’s report of the plot on the king’s life was recorded in writing, and that because his deeds were recorded, they were able to have an effect beyond the limited memories of the time at which they were done. When something is written it can have a potency and effectiveness that extends beyond when it happens. What do Esther and Mordechai do to consolidate their power? They write letters once(Esther 9: 20) and then a second time(Esther 9: 29). Writing puts ideas out in the world, disseminates them with effectiveness.

Writing does have power, allowing one to put into concrete form what has here-to-fore existed only in one’s head. I often wonder whether writing can have an effect on the world, what its purpose is, but at the same time, know that it can change things. Writing about something, expressing feelings and sharing them with others can catalyze others to action and to think in new ways, to have empathy or yearning for something new. The fascinating thing about the book of Esther and what makes it seem so modern and applicable to the world today is that humans have to use the tools at their disposal, including writing, to get their message out.

In fact, in the last few verses of Esther, it is twice mentioned in 9: 32 and in 10: 2 that these events were written in a book. Now, Jews have a book, a “sefer divrei hayamim” a book of the matters of the day, just like the Persians did at the beginning of the book(Esther2:23), and as the last two books of the Bible, Divrei Hayamim, usually translated asChroniclesin English, are called. Perhaps the scroll of Esther is really about the process of writing a book of history, which requires both words and deeds to be complete. So much of the plot of megillat Esther depends on the written word taking effect, having a force in the world – once a decree is issued it can’t be annulled. Mordechai’s recognition of Bigtan and Teresh’s plot against the king in chapter two becoming part of the king’s consciousness because it is written and then read, Jews defending themselves because decrees about this go out.

What Jews in the age of Trump can learn from Esther’s book is a threefold strategy.Listen and be vigilant, at the king’s gate and elsewhere, about what is going on in the precincts of the palace and where power is contained. Be willing to risk everything- lives are at stake if a tyrant is not stopped. Send letters, commit things to writingas an effective means of both protest and of establishing a new order from a baseline of truth.

Mostly though the book of Esther shows that human action and vigilance will save the day. The morning after the election, my husband said to me, “I feel like I am Mordechai in the book of Esther” andexplained that the first thing Mordechai did was to be vigilant, to sit at the king’s gate and see what was going on(Esther 2: 19,21). He added that sitting at the gate and observing, we have a chance to know what is going on and intervene. In his sitting at the gate, Mordechai overheard some terrorists plotting to assassinate the king, told Queen Esther(significantly, here in2:22is the first use of her title) and she informed the king who investigated and thwarted the attempt on his life.

Like Esther and Mordechai, not only do Jews need to use the playbook of the book of Esther to observe, but to write down facts and send letters and act. And believe it or not(see Elliot Horowitz’ bookReckless Ritesfor more on this) the Jews did physically I am not suggesting we need to fight physically yet, but I do think we need to observe all, pay attention to what historian Heather Richardson of Boston University has called a “shock event”meant to destabilize a society and throw it into chaos. We must also galvanize ourselves, even to risking our lives if necessary as Esther did. And continue to write letters that will help our lawmakers know our opinions as they promulgate law.

The positive thing about all this is that Purim is the one holiday that will remain operative in the time of the Messiah, according to tradition. Why? Maimonides inHilkhot Megillah2:18, quotes Esther9:28about the endurance of the holiday in every generation. Even when the Messiah comes, and no action is needed on our part, still Jews should remember this one holiday above all others. I would suggest that humans can value the fact that even without divine intervention, sometimes we are capable of making good decisions, in order to put power in the hands of those who will use it well.

Until then, the words of Philip Roth’sThe Plot Against Americaremain in my mind. “The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.” But I remember that though we can’t see and foresee everything we still can and must act, and can learn from the playbook of histories, fictional histories and enduring histories.

 

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Beth Kissileff is the author of the novel Questioning Return and editor of the anthology Reading Genesis. Visit her on line atwww.bethkissileff.com

 

Review of Preludes and Fugues by Emmanuel Moses, Transl. Marilyn Hacker

Mar6

by: Paige Foreman on March 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

“Who built the church where the whole world huddles?”

The cathedral’s heavy wooden doors were wide open, inviting the world inside for the Washington Bach Consort’s free noontime organ and cantata performance. I crossed the threshold and was surrounded by van Gogh stained glass. Swirls of twilight purples and blues surrounded outlines of dark, quiet church towns and sunlight streaming through yellow glass illuminated figures of Christ. The outline of a labyrinth twisted beneath my feet as I walked down the aisle and sat in the front pew.

People in pews, stained glass windows, pipe organ.At noon, the cathedral’s great pipe organ roared to life with music. Bach’s Fugue in F major shook the very foundations of the church, and I thought of the organ as an actual heart beating life into the church through contrapuntal veins. A fugue builds up like a storm cloud as a musical theme is examined in different voices that eventually all intertwine with each other towards the end, almost losing control of itself.

The crowd applauded at the end of the fugue and J. Reilly Lewis, the director of the Bach Consort and a master organist, stepped out to conduct the cantata. He was a warm, charismatic man with silver hair and a great sense of humor. Lewis was my own music teacher’s mentor and I was told that I absolutely had to see him conduct. Lewis was a brilliant interpreter of Bach and his orchestra used authentic Baroque instruments.

One month later, my music teacher was flying back to Washington, D.C. for Lewis’ funeral. I saw the last noontime concert Lewis ever conducted at before he died of a heart attack. He had vanished beyond what Emmanuel Moses calls, “the impassable threshold,” in his Preludes and Fugues poetry collection translated by Marilyn Hacker.


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Hands Up, Herbie!: Bugsy Siegel and Uncle Shmatik

Mar6

by: Joey Perr on March 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Introductory note: This is an excerpt from the comic book, Hands Up,Herbie!, by Joey Perr. A unique documentary work drawn from an oral history of Herb Perr, art teacher and art activist, it also offers a Jewish family history less outside the norm than younger Tikkun readers might expect. Jewish involvement with organized crime during the first half of the twentieth century coincided with lower middle class status and inaccessibility to many professions. Herb leaves home for Greenwich Village and its excitements, becomes an artist and art teacher, and finally founds the leading arts activist group during the Reagan years. He never quite leaves his family’s past behind, at least not in memory.

~Paul Buhle

 


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Joey Perr is a comic artist and public high school history teacher in New York City. His comic artwork has been published in Jewish Currents, Guernica, and elsewhere. Hands Up, Herbie! is his first graphic novel.

A Response to Jane Eisner’s Op-Ed in Forward on the Sanctuary Movement

Mar6

by: Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb on March 6th, 2017 | No Comments »

A group of protesters holding up signs supporting the Sanctuary Movement.

A Shomeret Shalom crew joins Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity at the monthly interfaith vigil in front of West County Detention Center in Richmond, California.

As a board member of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, an organization that mobilizes faith-based communities in California in pursuit of immigrant justice, I was sickened by Forward Editor-in-Chief Jane Eisner’s ambivalent stance toward the new Sanctuary Movement. In her opinion piece published on February 28th, Eisner demonstrates her failure to understand that the decades-old Sanctuary Movement is rooted in communities of color, that is, communities most at risk for deportation. Eisner discourages synagogues from participating in the Sanctuary Movement because she believes that congregations that offer sanctuary will cause “further politicization of religious life.” This is terrible advice at a time we desperately need an intersectional, multifaith coalition that confronts racism as well as the root causes of what compels people to leave their homes in the first place.

Eisner believes religion and politics should be separate in American life and, in her view, offering physical sanctuary to human beings about to be deported politicizes religious spaces. However, offering sanctuary is first and foremost, a religious act, according to Jewish teachings. Talmudic sages elaborate and clarify biblical commandments and values by prioritizing them:  “What are the greatest principles of Torah? Save one life, save an entire world; human dignity overrides every negative precept of Torah; love your neighbor as yourself. How? Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” These are not suggestions; they are commandments. Piety without instrumental action is condemned by prophets and sages alike. Defying ruling systems that wield unjust power is exactly how our religion got started! The midwives resisting Pharaoh come to mind.


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Mary Tyler Moore, the Hollywood Reds, and the Rise of Social Television

Feb6

by: Paul Buhle on February 6th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke looking to the left. I was not watching much television at the high point of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I should have suspected something when some of my good friends, TV watchers and veterans of the Women’s Liberation Movement, mourned its passing in 1977 and perhaps even more, the early cancellation of the spin-off, Rhoda, a seemingly Jewish career woman’s saga, a year later. As recalled in the last few days by the death of the MTM star, the show and the persona obviously bolstered the vision of millions of women entering the job market determined to achieve and not to be treated as mere subordinates.

By sheer coincidence, in the early 1990s, I found myself getting the story of the Hollywood Blacklistees (most of them writers, and a large majority of them Jewish) through personal interviews of old timers, an effort filled out by looking at their work, film and television, as much as I could. Lots of surprises met me, like the lead co-writer of the best Abbott and Costello films ending up a valued scriptwriter for Lassie,Flipper, and Daktari, or another blacklisted writer who had few credits in film but more in radio and then television, shaping The Danny Thomas Show behind assorted fictional names. Or what I now think of as non-surprises, learning that my two favorite shows, as a kid, You Are There and The Adventures of Robin Hood respectively, had been largely written by mostly Jewish Reds on the run from the FBI and the blacklisters. The Mary Tyler Moore Show turns out to be a curiously connected story, destined to be central to a large phase of television history.

Things were happening, which is to say another generation of TV viewers had come to be seen as the new consumers, by 1960. As the Kennedy Era opened, there was a growing sense that social themes largely vanished after TV production had moved from New York to Los Angeles – and shifted in theme from live drama to omnipresent Westerns – were going to be more popular again. Sharp constraints on many topical themes remained firm, but a very few interracial dramas now crept in, along with the occasional dramatic shows starring women. These efforts made little headway. Then came The Dick Van Dyke Show or rather, Head of the Family, opening to small viewership in the Summer 1960 season.

Here’s the backstory: seasoned comedian Carl Reiner, who later titled his memoir Paul Robeson Saved My Life, was called in by producer Sheldon Leonard, another friend in the vicinity of the Hollywood Old Left in film and radio during the salad days of the 1940s. Reiner had written a somewhat successful Broadway play (later a small film) about the life of a television scriptwriter, based loosely upon his own life, and recast the material once more for television, offering audiences something uniquely urban and Jewish-inflected. Head of the Family, as a sort of insiders’ comedy, attracted interest among the critics, but was no hit. Now comes the decisive turn.

Sheldon Leonard, then best remembered for playing film mobsters, set up a new production company, with partners Reiner, Danny Thomas, and TV personality Dick Van Dyke, for a show closer to the tested-and-tried, stage-and-film Neil Simon formula (status anxiety, big city daily life, etc.) than anything tried so far on the small screen. The lead would be Dick Van Dyke and established television comedienne Mary Tyler Moore, with the veteran Jewish comedian Morey Amsterdam now as a supporting or rather, shpritzing scriptwriter.

Reiner and Leonard needed a new head writer. They called in an old and trusted friend: blacklistee Frank Tarloff, my (much later) interviewee, who had abandoned Danny Thomas and television at large for a breather, writing films in Britain. It was a marriage made in heaven, arguably even better than fictional Robbie and Laura. The Dick Van Dyke Show, whose stars had matching JFK and Jackie-style hairdos,added to the emerging sitcom formula innovative camera techniques, giving even the live studio audience the feel of watching something like a movie being made in front of them. It was a movie of the bright and funny, complicated personalities, somehow “Jewish” even when genetically Gentile, in the entertainment-writing world. Walter Bernstein, one of those writers on other shows, captured it perfectly again in The Front, a film made possible by Woody Allen, a youngster who knew the aging crowd of Jewish funny men very well. The ambience of The Dick Van Dyke Show was so charming, TV critic-historian David Marc quipped, rewriting the famous mordant phrase of Theodor Adorno,that “If there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, at least there can be New Rochelle,” the not-quite-Manhattan locus.

The magnetism of the stars and supporting cast also had another side that began to fulfill one of the blacklisted-and-persecuted Hollywood Old Left’s long-standing aspirations. Office, elevator and crowd scenes had African American actors, seen not in the standard TV menial roles like maids or butlers or performers in variety show acts,but as one more anonymous set of office-going professionals. Otherwise on the show, “Social Rules” as understood in 1950s American life were to be kidded continuously and in settings unfamiliar in various ways – without ever going too far. Dick Van Dyke got bar mitzvah lessons in one episode; in another, the happy couple, awarded at a banquet for their contributions to interracial progress, accidentally dip their hands in black dye and confront monumental embarrassment before the crowd of over-earnest, interracial liberals.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was a monumental hit (1961-66) and the spin-offs destined to be yet more memorable. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1971-77), yet stronger in character-driven humor, notoriously offered Mary as the independent career woman seeking something more important to her than catching a man, although definitely still given to embarrassing laugh-moments. As the associate producer of a television station in Minneapolis, she counted. Her bosom-buddy Rhoda, most definitely Jewish and at least as independent-minded, got her own show, albeit short-lived. And something else happened.

Lou Grant (1977-82), with lefty Ed Asner reprising his role as Mary’s boss but in the toughened status as journalistic muckraker and all-too-obviously Jewish radical, was arguably the first dramatic show to take on America’s imperial crimes, along other calculated crimes and disorders in high places. Red-baited continuously, Asner was as much as chased from the air, although he had his revenge in leading the Screen Actors Guild and serving as a burr in the saddle of the CIA-linked AFL-CIO leadership of the age. By that time, M*A*S*H, had long since spun off from a film co-written by Ring Lardner, Jr., one of the most famous of the blacklisted screenwriters, and was well on its way to becoming both the most watched (through residuals) and most peacenik series in television history. For that matter, Norman Lear’s comedies, All in the Family, the definitely Jewish Maud, and others – made possible by the quiet participation of blacklisted writers and their friends, had firmly established what might be called “social television” if never “socialist television,” once and for all. No surprise, Lear himself also had a long history with the Hollywood (Jewish) Left. Hello Roseanne and The Simpsons among many others to come, and for that matter Saturday Night Live, a while back: there was an audience for this stuff.

Mary Tyler Moore, the actress, had done her work. After MTM, she receded gradually from public life, despite films, television, and a campaign for public health attention to diabetes (from which she herself suffered, for decades). The big moment had passed for the creative team of writers and producers who had come of age just before or during the Second World War, with the vitality of the Popular Front all around them. Like the blacklisted screenwriters and directors, active in dozens of more and less memorable films under the blacklist and after, the aging stars who had known them so well continued on where they could, as long as they could.

Critics who snarled at television have always dismissed these social moments in popular entertainment as irrelevant or worse, good-tasting lures to the unwary liberal viewer. One of the stranger Cold War liberal tropes, familiar in the writings of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., among others, merged the alleged Communist conspiracy with the commercial-culture conspiracy, perhaps conspiring together to poison the prospects for “real culture” among the masses, as rock music allegedly ruined the taste for classical music. We hear less from the Snob Party these days, but they are always likely to return, generally reaffirming the virtues of liberal democracy American-style, also hawkish and empire-style, in a world of barbarisms. Those of us who have always enjoyed “a good show,” meanwhile, nurture warm memories about Mary Tyler Moore and the shifts in mass media that her work helped bring about.

Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner’s Hide in Plain Sight, a sequel to their Radical Hollywood, offers the details on the saga of the blacklisted Hollywood Left after 1950.

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Paul Buhle, the thirteen-year-old of 1957 who wanted to be a science fiction writer when he grew up, but became a historian and comics editor instead.

The Holocaust, Israel, and Trump’s Jewish Myopia

Feb6

by: Matt Sienkiewicz on February 6th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Sean Spicer standing behind a White House podium.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

After a weekend of controversy, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was no doubt well-prepared on Monday to explain why the President had removed any mention of anti-Semitism in his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Spicer began by reiterating the counter-intuitive notion that by ignoring the near annihilation of European Jewry, President Trump’s team, likely lead by Steve Bannon, was somehow being inclusive. The logic behind this idea is impenetrable, unless one assumes that Presidential statements have 140 character limits, making it impossible to affirm the centrality of anti-Semitism to the Nazi worldview while also acknowledging the broad range of people targeted by their hate. Just as bad, however, was Spicer’s pivot. American Jews, he suggested, have no right to be offended by the Holocaust statement for a simple, single, and seemingly unrelated reason: Israel.

Trump, Spicer articulated, is a perfect friend to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the state he represents. That being the (much debatable) case, how could Jews possibly interpret anti-Semitism in anything Trump does? Aren’t Jews and Israelis always of the same mind? The answer, of course, is that not all Jewish people care singularly, or even primarily, about Israel. Furthermore, there’s plenty of room in contemporary white nationalism, with its fundamental commitment to racial separation, to support a nation way over yonder in which Jews wear their funny hats, eat their funny food, and mind their own business. And if this all comes at the expense of a bunch of Muslims, well, even better. It’s an ugly, unfair view of Israel, but it’s one that the alt-right can easily get behind.

Trump’s team, via Spicer, was offering American Jews a deal: Give up that part of your identity that’s so concerned with the Holocaust and accept one in which Israeli strength, just or unjust, defines what it means to be who you are. Some Jews, of course, tend to agree. Perhaps, they argue, Jewish fascination with victimization is past its expiration date. This would be true, were it not for the obvious fact that many Jews in America and beyond understand the Holocaust not merely as a defining trauma, but also as a call to action. Holocaust remembrance motivates Jews to care about the long-term security of the Jewish people, certainly. It also, however, causes Jews throughout the world to identify Jewishness with the ability to look beyond their own tribe and towards mankind. It convinces millions of Jews to donate to Jewish charities that offer their services to all in need, regardless of religion. It makes Senator Chuck Schumer, a man whose great-grandmother was murdered for being Jewish, cry when he thinks about Iraqi refugees being turned away at JFK. It helps Jews understand that a strong identity need not preclude a commitment to mankind.

The people who prepped Spicer’s response are not terribly interested in mankind or, for that matter, Jews. Sure, they can find a way to make use of them. If the Jewish people can be reduced to an ethnic clan locked in a bitter, eternal struggle with Arabs and Islam, then they fit right in. If their commitment to Israel’s Jewishness makes claims of America’s Christian Soul more plausible, that’s great. If their need to understand and accept Israeli security measures makes building a Mexican border wall appear more morally palatable then, by all means, be as Jewish as you want. But if being Jewish means looking back at events such as the Holocaust and using them as inspiration to protest the wall, fight the ban, and #resist, then they’d just as soon see that line deleted.

In a multicultural democracy, minority groups make compromises. It’s simple math. Politicians, seeking their majorities, never take the time to really understand what makes a subculture tick. Filmmakers and TV producers, aiming for a wider audience, boil their representations down, simplifying the complexity of minority life and, at times, drifting into stereotypes. This reality is unfortunate, but if it comes with a sense of progress towards respect and security, the price may be worth paying.

Bannon, Trump, et al., however, are asking for far too much and giving far too little in return. By deleting Auschwitz and offering Israeli settlements, they are asking Jews to give up the messy history and psychology that is so central to contemporary Jewish identity. Particularly in America, Jews often live in a state of constant contradiction, striving to be both tribal and universal, feeling both empowered and in a state of potential victimhood. In exchange for this difficult but very meaningful struggle, the President is asking Jews to embrace a static, one note, identity-based ethno-religious fervor for Israel. It’s a bad, bad deal. I hope we turn them down.

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Matt Sienkiewicz is a Modern Orthodox Jewish American who researches and teaches global media at Boston College. His documentary Live From Bethlehem is available from the Media Education Foundation and he can be followed on Twitter.

A New King: Inaugurating Resistance Along with a President

Feb3

by: David Seidenberg on February 3rd, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Who is wise? Someone one who learns from every person.

I. We have three Pharaohs in our Torah. The first Pharaoh, less memorable, receives Abraham and Sarah and then sends them away. The second, the good Pharaoh, is the one who raises Joseph from imprisoned slave to ruler over all Egypt. Only the third one, who did not know Joseph, is called “melekh chadash,” “a new king” – new because he inaugurated a radically new political order.

The new Pharaoh’s first policy, based on fear of foreigners, was to cast the entire Hebrew people into slavery. His next policy was to kill the Hebrew male babies, bringing God’s judgment upon himself and his nation. We began his story when we began the book of Exodus, the day after Trump’s inauguration. Interwoven with his story is the story of Shifra and Puah, the Hebrews’ midwives, who inaugurate resistance to the Pharaoh of the Exodus when they refuse to implement his policy of male infanticide.

How different is the story of the second Pharaoh, Joseph’s Pharaoh, that comes at the end of Genesis? He essentially becomes a pupil at Joseph’s feet, handing over to Joseph the reins of power. We need to understand what Joseph did with that power if we want to understand how Egypt became a fascist state under the Pharaoh who never knew Joseph. In the same way, we need to understand how the use of power by progressive forces in the U.S. has helped set up the world of pain our country is now entering.

II. The story of Joseph’s Pharaoh is a story about a world turned upside down, first by Nature, then by Joseph himself. Seven years of extravagant abundance, swallowed up by seven years of deadly famine. And a young man, a Hebrew slave, who saved the world. Joseph gathered up enough grain during the seven fat years to supply the seven lean ones.


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