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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category



Climate Change & The Human Quandary

Apr30

by: on April 30th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

I’m on my way home from Philadelphia and the annual meeting of The Shalom Center, where I have the privilege of serving as president. The organization has a long history of peace and justice activism, increasingly arcing toward peace and justice for the Earth, which is to say the healing of global scorching (as our beloved director Rabbi Arthur Waskow calls it), which also entails rebuking the broken spirits who profit from the planet’s suffering.

Last month, when Arthur was given the first Lifetime Achievement Award by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, he pointed beyond human rights to The Shalom Center’s crucial work to heal and protect from the climate crisis: not just human rights, but the rights of the web of life on this planet, encompassing human and other living beings.

One of our chief topics at this year’s meeting was how to awaken Jewish activism on this burning issue. To date, The Shalom Center is the only organization grounded in the Jewish community that has taken this on as a central cause. We spent considerable time devising a new national initiative that you’ll be hearing about soon.


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Digging Under the Dam: A Story about Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Apr29

by: Sara Davidson on April 29th, 2014 | Comments Off

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Credit: Creative Commons

In 2005, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, who founded the Jewish Renewal movement, made a pilgrimage to Ukraine to the grave of the Baal Shem Tov, who founded Hasidism.

Reb Zalman felt a kinship with the Baal Shem Tov, which means master of the good name, because, like Zalman, he’d diverged from the dominant Jewish culture of his time. “In every generation,” Zalman said, “there are people who say, ‘These are the boundaries in which you must stay,’ and there are those who say, ‘I have to grow, I can’t stay within the old skin.’”

The Baal Shem Tov, called the Besht, had never studied at a yeshiva but had come to know God through devotion, singing, and prayer. He told his followers that “the person who recites the psalms wholeheartedly is already on the same level or maybe even higher than the elite scholars.” The Besht started a tradition based on experience, on passionate reaching for oneness with the Divine.

Reb Zalman, after fleeing the Nazis in Vienna, was ordained a Hasidic rabbi in the Lubavitcher community in Brooklyn. During the 1950′s he was dispatched to talk with disaffected young Jews at college campuses. At a B’nai B’rith Hillel conference for young adults, Reb Zalman, then 31, walked out by himself into the fields one night and began to weep.

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From Bullying to Genocides: Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we observe Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, which lasts until sundown today, I reflect upon my familial history: two scenarios with somewhat varied outcomes.

When I was a young child, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn,” (through his distinctive Polish accent, he pronounced my name “Varn”), “you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler, who was killed by the Nazis along with my mother Bascha and most of my thirteen brothers and sisters.” When I asked why they were killed, he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

We later learned that Nazi troops forced most of my Krosno relatives into the surrounding woods, shot them, and tossed their lifeless bodies into a mass unmarked grave along with over two thousand other Jewish residents. The Nazis eventually loaded the remaining Jews of Krosno onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Belzec death camps. The handful of Krosno Jews who survived liberation of the camps attempted to return to their homes that had been confiscated by the non-Jewish residents. No Jews reside today in Krosno.

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The Crisis in Israel’s Holocaust Education

Apr23

by: Ayana Nir on April 23rd, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and Israeli government ministers participate in March of the Living. Credit: Creative Commons/JAFI Israel

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

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A Challenge to the Jewish Mainstream: Will You Stand Against Islamophobia?

Apr17

by: Alex Kane on April 17th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

What’s the ideology undergirding opposition to the construction of mosques in the United States? How are anti-Muslim groups funded? How have Jewish groups reacted when confronted with issues like the proposed construction of the Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City?

bookElly Bulkin and Donna Nevel answer these questions and more in their new book Islamophobia and Israel, a sobering analysis of the Jewish establishment’s dalliance with anti-Muslim bigotry.

Based on a series of articles that I had the pleasure of editing before their initial publication on AlterNet, Bulkin and Nevel’s book takes a close look back at the summer of 2010, when the flames of anti-Muslim bigotry were fanned with vigor. It had been nine years after the September 11, 2001, attacks by a group of Islamic fundamentalists. But Islamophobia – collective animus targeting all Muslims – was still ingrained into swathes of the American body politic. And the Park51 Islamic center was exploited to bring that bigotry to the surface.

When anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller first started railing against Park51, the name of the planned mosque and community center a few blocks away from Ground Zero, not many people noticed. But in a matter of months, concern over what was dubbed the “Ground Zero mosque” migrated from the fever swamps of Islamophobic blogs to Fox News. Then the rest of the mainstream press started paying attention. Ugly protests broke out. Heated debate captured the airwaves. The majority of Americans said they opposed the mosque.

The Jewish community was split on the issue. But the voice that captured the most attention was the Anti-Defamation League, a thoroughly mainstream group that calls itself the “nation’s premier civil rights” group. On July 28, 2010, the group issued a statement calling for the planned mosque to be moved away from the World Trade Center site, a rationale that only makes sense if you blame all Muslims for 9/11. With that statement, the ADL joined the likes of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Marvin Hier, who said that Park51 was insensitively being built at the “wrong location.”

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A Seed on the Seder Plate

Apr13

by: Ariel Vegosen and Rae Abileah on April 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

Seed saving at Nadvanya

in this earth
in this earth
in this immaculate field
we shall not plant any seeds
except for compassion
except for love
-Rumi

Two weeks ago Rae posted a short message on her facebook wall: “Idea ~ what about putting a seed on the Seder plate this year to represent the patenting and owning of seeds, of life, and the movements toward seed freedom, organic GMO-free food, healthy agriculture and thriving communities…? Curious to hear your thoughts…” Instant like-like-like. “Sow brilliant,” commented a compost-making friend. The response was overwhelmingly positive. So we thought we’d post this invite to the interfaith Tikkun reader community and dig deeper into what’s behind this idea and how together we can cultivate a movement for healthy eats and food justice.

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The Challenges of Seder Night

Apr13

by: Rabbi Howard Cooper on April 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we sit down to our Seders – with family, with friends, or in community – we in the so-called ‘First World’, in 2014, intuit that as Jews we are living, historically speaking, lives of immense privilege. While we speak of oppression in Egypt and celebrate the journey our people made from slavery to freedom, we acknowledge the freedoms we now enjoy, unprecedented in Jewish history: freedom to assemble as we want, free to celebrate without persecution, free to speak our minds without fear of a knock on the door, free to express our Jewish selves in whatever style we may choose. The NSA may be monitoring every move we make – but would we want to alive in any other era of our millennia-old history?

Yet the challenge of Seder night is not just to remember the past, not just to recall the extraordinary longevity of our story with its roots in servitude and its mythos of the Jews as a people liberated into a different kind of servitude – servitude to a vision of how things could be, how freedoms of many kinds could be the inheritance of all peoples;  as UK Rabbi John Rayner z”l expressed it: ‘freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from hatred, freedom from fear; freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to learn, freedom to love, freedom to hope, freedom to rejoice – soon, in our days’. The Seder night is, of course, all of that. But it is more than that.

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Special Seder Messages for Passover

Apr11

by: on April 11th, 2014 | Comments Off

Tikkun‘s supplement to the traditional Passover Seder Haggadah is not just for Jews – it will move spiritual progressives both secular and religious. Please feel free to read it and make copies of it for your own use! As we’ve said in Tikkun many times, the particularism of Judaism is a universalist message, albeit one that has been hard for many Jews to hold on to through thousands of years of being subject to abuse, and our Seder Haggadah supplement explores that irony. So check it out at tikkun.org/passover.

Below you can read writings by three spiritual progressives – Jonathan Granoff, Shari Motro, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow (one of the most creative thinkers in the Jewish Renewal movement) – who further elaborate on universal messages emerging specifically from Jewish customs and practices.

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In One Word: Poof!

Apr11

by: Uri Avnery on April 11th, 2014 | Comments Off

Poor John Kerry. This week he emitted a sound that was more expressive than pages of diplomatic babble.

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations committee he explained how the actions of the Israeli government had torpedoed the “peace process”. They broke their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners, and at the same time announced the enlargement of more settlements in East Jerusalem. The peace efforts went “poof”.

“Poof” is the sound of air escaping a balloon. It is a good expression, because the “peace process” was from the very beginning nothing more than a balloon full of hot air. An exercise in make-believe.

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“In Every Generation…” How Mainstream Approaches to Passover Lock Shut the Jewish Imagination

Apr11

by: Robert Cohen on April 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

For our Passover meal this year (Monday 14 April) I have a fifth question and answer to add to the traditional quartet of the Ma Nishtanah.

Why is this night different from all other nights?

seder plate

A seder plate. Credit: Creative Commons/Gwen Harlow.

Because on this night we make a meal, literally and metaphorically, of our unique story. Via mouthfuls of bitter herbs, salt water, nuts and raisins mixed with wine, and unleavened bread, we promote the damaging mindset that tells us that we are the world’s eternal victims.

I expect an immediate challenge to my liturgical liberties.

“Enough already with your iconoclastic itch! How can you say such things? Surely, Passover is the quintessential expression of our physical and spiritual liberation. Hasn’t the escape of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery become the biblical paradigm of freedom from oppression that has brought hope to countless peoples across the centuries?”

I know, I know. But my fifth question and answer is true none the less. This is the night when we are most at risk from locking shut the Jewish capacity for empathy and blinding ourselves to the suffering of others – most notably, the Palestinians.

There will be some around the Seder table who will resent me wanting to recount the woes of another people (“the Palestinians for heaven’s sake!”) rather than those of my own kith and kin.

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