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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

Predicting the Future of Religion: A Thought Experiment


by: Ed Simon on June 4th, 2015 | Comments Off

A gloved hand holding a marble reflecting the inside of St. Peter's Basilica.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Heidi.


The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

Last month’s news from Pew on the decline of institutional Christianity, with its trove of data on the “unaffiliated” and the decline of the mainstream, has stolen the stage from its previous report on the Future of World Religions — a study that concluded that while atheists, agnostics and the unchurched are on the rise in the U.S. their numbers are projected to decline globally. But while Pew’s prediction that Islam will overtake Christianity made headlines, the authors of the study were quick to remind us that their findings are not the direct results of polling but projections.

It would seem hard enough to project something as simple as population growth, but what of the mercurial nature of religious faith itself? It might well be impossible to predict the “turn of the soul” for one individual, let alone that of an entire community.


What Kids4Peace Can Teach Us About Peace


by: Susan Bloch on June 4th, 2015 | 18 Comments »

An Israeli and Palestinian girl embracing each other.

At Kids4Peace, an interfaith community of Israeli, Palestinian, and North American youth and educators, the next generation of peacemakers is learning how nonviolent communication facilitates listening and understanding rather than judgement. Credit: Mandy Price.

“The Puget Sound is really a mess,” one of my grandchildren told me recently.

It’s so polluted. Did you know even the orcas are contaminated with toxic chemicals.”

Determined to build a better future, our kids want to find new ways to make themselves heard — in the classroom, by their parents, communities, and politicians. It’s easy for parents to think their kids are only interested in the latest football results, lose sleep over what to wear to graduation, and spend far too much time playing games on their phones. In reality youth are also texting and blogging about police brutality, melting icecaps, and how to end U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. They worry how we’ll ever get out of the mess.


Birthwrong: Meet the Pranksters Celebrating the Jewish Diaspora


by: Hannah Gold on June 3rd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A swastika with the "No" symbol across it.This piece was originally published on Transformation at openDemocracy.net.

Every summer, young Jewish people from around the world go on a free holiday to Israel. Run by a company called ‘Taglit-Birthright,’ the tours aim to “strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish communities and solidarity with Israel”.

The ten day trips are funded by the Israeli government and international donors, and have been criticized for promoting a biased view of Israel, ignoring the state’s complex history and ongoing human rights abuses. Several alternative tours now exist, offering trips to the West Bank and meetings with Palestinian activists.

In early 2015 another contender emerged: ‘Birthwrong‘. Organised by Jewdas, a bunch of radical left-wing pranksters, political commentators and party planners, Birthwrong is “a trip for anyone who’s sick of Israel’s stranglehold on Jewish culture… [a] fiesta of the oppressed, marginalized and ridiculously, obscenely hopeful.”


Art Gallery Feature: The Journey of the Ethiopian Community Is Not Over Yet


by: Galit Govezensky on May 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Upon their arrival to the Promised Land, the Ethiopian community has experienced ongoing sorrow caused by discrimination. Above: Jerusalem Day, May 17th: Ethiopian Israelis protest the unprovoked beating of an Ethiopian soldier by police officers. Credit: Author.

To see more photographs by Galit Govezensky of the Ethiopian Israeli protests on Memorial Day, visit the Tikkun Daily Art Gallery.

It is highly symbolic that Memorial Day for the Ethiopian victims who died as they made the long, hazardous journey on foot through Sudan during the late ’70s and in the ’80s is combined with Jerusalem Day that is celebrated on the 28th of Iyar.

Today, there are over 120,000 members of the Beta Israel and the Falashmura community living in Israel. The Beta Israel immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, mostly in secret mass airlifts known as Operation Moses (1984-1985) and Operation Solomon (1991).

A national ceremony was observed this week at the cemetery on Mount Herzl, which served to commemorate the Ethiopians who never finished the journey. Thousands of community members, including religious leaders (keisim), IDF soldiers, women and the elderly, gather annually to attend this event. Memorial Day for them is meant to honor those who perished along the way, during their exodus on foot through Sudan, on what later turned into “Operation Moses” — a mission in which thousands of members of the community fled oppression and life-threatening predicaments. Since the Ethiopian government banned Jews from leaving its borders to immigrate to Israel, they were able to rapidly depart from Sudan in a covert evacuation organized by the Israeli Defense Forces. To do this, they had to sell all their possessions and embark on a journey of hundreds of miles through Sudan on foot.In that journey, many were murdered and others died of thirst and starvation. It is estimated that 4,000 people, about one-fifth of those who undertook the journey through Sudan, lost their lives in their courageous attempt to fulfill their dream and to reach Israel.


Flying Home from Home (Part 2)


by: on May 21st, 2015 | 7 Comments »

My previous piece about Israel was posted here and included some of my personal experiences of present day Israel and my life as an exile and immigrant. In this part, I take a look at the complexities emerging from the particular national identity that has been forged before, during, and after the establishment of the state of Israel.

David Ben-Gurion (First Prime Minister of Israel) pronounces the Declaration of the State of Israel, May 14 1948

Hebrew has two words for nationalism. They are close to each other linguistically, and far from each other in connotation. One translates more accurately into chauvinism, in that it has distinctly negative connotations. The other, the “good” nationalism, is exalted. This time was the first since I left in 1983 that my visit coincided with the few days of the year where the national identity of a Jewish people fighting for its life against all odds becomes center stage in three separate holidays. Israel was created, after all, to be a Jewish state that serves as the sanctuary for all Jews in the world, a safe haven from the anti-Semitism that defined Jewish life, at least in Europe, for millennia.


“Israel” Is the Name of a People Also


by: Rabbi Arthur Waskow on May 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

We are living between two festivals that make two very different assertions of Jewish identity. One is “Yom Ha’Atzma’ut” (April 22-23); the other is Shavuot (May 23-25).

Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is usually translated as “Israeli Independence Day,” but it would be more accurate to call it “Day for Standing on One’s Own Feet, Day of Affirming One’s Own Essence” because etzem means “bone, skeleton, internal essential structure.”

angel and jacob

What does it mean for the people of Israel to be named "Yisrael" or "godwrestlers"? "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Alexander Louis Leloir. Credit: Creative Commons.

Shavuot has been observed for about 2,000 years as the anniversary of the Revelation of Torah on Mount Sinai.

During these weeks, the most recent Israeli elections culminated in final agreement on a hair-thin governing coalition of 61 out of 120 seats in the Knesset. The resulting government is by far the most right-wing – politically, economically, and religiously – in Israel’s history.

Since the State of Israel claims to be “the Jewish State,” and since its actions certainly affect the world’s understanding of the Jewish people (and for many Jews, our understanding of our selves), it is hard for Jews anywhere to ignore the meaning of these recent changes. Since I have invested my life in drawing upon the past wisdom of the Jewish people, shaping its present, and transforming its future, I certainly cannot ignore these events.

In this I am hardly alone. There have been myriad analyses and essays about the elections and the new government. Almost all have focused on the political implications – for Israelis, for Palestine, for the Middle East, for the United States.

I feel drawn to think and feel in a different dimension. So what I have written below looks into the moral and spiritual meaning of the election in the light of Torah. From the standpoint of the Shavuot we are approaching, what is the meaning of the Yom ha’Atzma’ut we have recently passed? What is our own essence, what are the feet of our own on which we hope to stand?

So I raise these questions:

  • “What does it mean, deeply and fully, for the People, as well as the State, to be named “Yisrael,” “Godwrestlers”?
  • What have been the different effects of post-Holocaust-traumatic-stress on Israeli and American Jewry?
  • Why does the Torah repeat so many times the command, “Treat strangers with justice and love, for you were strangers in the Narrow Land”?
  • What are the relationships among love, admiration, and idolatry directed toward the State?

What actually happened in the recent elections and negotiations toward choosing a new government? The Israeli electorate – especially the majority of its Jewish majority – voted for a racist government. This government is racist toward the Palestinians whom Prime Minister Netanyahu (truthfully, at last) said he will never permit to govern themselves. And it is racist toward the Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — whose desire to vote to change their lives — VOTE, not riot — he used as a justification for rousing a right-wing racist outpouring of voters for himself.


Ethiopian Israelis Rise Up Against Discrimination and Injustice


by: Rachel Kutcher on May 18th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Ethiopian Israelis gathering protesting outdoors.

Programs like Yahel Social Change are eradicating individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the Ethiopian Israeli community. Above, protestors react to police brutality in Israel earlier this month. Credit: CreativeCommons / Lilach Daniel.

There seems to be a broad consensus that the protests over the last few weeks are not only about police violence, but rather that police violence against an Ethiopian Israeli soldier was simply the catalyst for protests against broader discrimination against and disparities experienced by the Ethiopian community. Indeed, during my time in Israel and the Yahel Social Change program, I have often become angry when learning about these disparities. While volunteering at Tebeka, a legal aid organization serving the Ethiopian community, I’ve been appalled by both individual and systemic forms of discrimination experienced by the community. I’ve been frustrated by the ways in which Israel’s absorption of the Ethiopian community failed to respect a strong Ethiopian Jewish culture, with strong leaders and community social systems. I’ve wanted to shake some sense in to the people who have claimed the primarily Ethiopian neighborhood in which I live and have been warmly embraced is “dangerous.” I believe the anger and frustration that is fueling the protests is well justified. Both the news media and a few of my Yahel peers have written about these social disparities and discrimination, and about the challenges in the Ethiopian aliyah to Israel, so I’d like to offer a complementary perspective.


Ethnic Solidarity Without Militarized Nationalism: Insights from Jewish Eastern Europe


by: Ri J. Turner on May 14th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Israeli flag flying near the Dead Sea.

The quintessential question of how to reconcile communal identity with a society based on universal equality and individual rights, is still the primary tension underlying Jewish communal politics, indeed is at the heart of much international and intranational conflict today. Credit: CreativeCommons / Micah Walter.

In the context of modern, secular nation-states in which citizenship is based on human equality and individual rights, what happens to collective cultural, religious, and ethnic history and identity?

Contemporary global “answers” to this question are far from satisfying. They include global capitalism (in which consumer identity replaces ethnic identity); militarized state nationalism (in which citizenship is synonymous with association with a certain army; national identity (which theoretically trumps or replaces ethnic identity); and global white supremacy (the development and dominance of a valorized white “ethnic” identity that is ahistorical and defined primarily in terms of control of global power and resources).

These “answers” rest uneasily on the underground rumblings of the very same question: in a world in which privilege, opportunity, and resources are accorded to the few who are able to escape labels of “otherness” (racial, ethnic, gendered, sexual, ability, age, class) to become the “universal human being who is deserving of rights” (as that is defined in terms of Western white supremacy) what, indeed, happens to communal ethnic, religious, and cultural history and identity?


Media Alert: Jews Congratulate Pope Francis


by: on May 13th, 2015 | 7 Comments »

Jewish liberals and progressives reacted with enthusiasm to the announcement today that the Vatican will recognize the Palestinian State.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine: a Quarterly Jewish and Interfaith Critique of Politics, Culture and Society, the most prominent voice of liberal and progressive Jews and our non-Jewish spiritual progressive allies, released the following statement on May 13:

“Many liberal and progressive Jews congratulate the Vatican on the important step toward peace it took yesterday in announcing that it will recognize the State of Palestine.

“We have rejoiced in the many steps that Pope Francis has taken to take seriously the biblical injunction to pursue justice and to protect our global environment. Now he has entered a highly contested arena with the courage he has shown on other issues.


Call Off the Warriors and Call in the Mediators (or psychologists or musicians)


by: Edith Lutz on May 8th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Israeli soldiers standing next to a tank.

The perennially increasing military budgets of world powers have resulted in unprecedented militarization, in the middle of which often sits Israel. Peace, on the other hand, is a child of nonviolent communication and empathy. Credit: CreativeCommons / Palestine Solidarity Project.

Promoting the capacity for empathy and supporting measures that help to develop empathy would be the better way to pave the path towards peace in the Middle East — and perhaps the only viable one.

It would certainly be a cheaper one. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the total sum of the world’s military expenditures in 2014 amounted to 1,776 billion dollars. With $610 billion, the United States was far and away at the top of the league. The U.S.A. exported armaments worth more than $20 billion, making it the world’s leading exporter, too. In some cases the United States is very generous and offers additional military aid (supporting their own killing industry in the process). Israel, for example, is such a beneficiary. It receives military aid of about $3 billion annually. The U.S. has also helped with additional aid in special cases, such as the funding of the Iron Drone project with $429 million in March 2014 or with $576 million for the Tamir interception missiles in July 2014 (Haaretz,10 March/18 Aug 2014). Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. “In the interest of U.S. national security” and despite the protests of human rights activists, the States is going to resume its frozen military aid. President Obama has asked the Congress for $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt per year. (Reuters)