One year, in anticipation of the Yom Kippur prayers before Kol Nidre, the community was reciting Psalms in an agitated fashion. R. Pinhas of Koretz (a contemporary of the Baal Shem Tov) turned to them and said, all this carrying on and your words are going nowhere. You think that if you speak sheker (falsehoods) all year, suddenly your words will make an impact above? So I tell you this: Take upon yourselves that you will no longer speak falsehood and your prayers will immediately rise up…
President Obama sits with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia
Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told President Obama during a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday that he needed to “study the facts” the next time he, or his administration, planned on critiquing Israel’s settlement expansions. Netanyahu then, with incredible chutzpah, tried to imply that anti-Semitism was behind such critiques by Obama.
Netanyahu’s thorny words came after Washington blasted a new settlement expansion plan, characterized by the White House as poisonous, which was announced by Israel just before Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. This plan calls for 2,160 new housing units to be built in the neighborhood of Givat Hamatos, an area which stands beyond the Green Line and is integral to those who want to make dividing Jerusalem impossible in any future two-state resolution. The White House also criticized the occupation of twenty-five Palestinian apartments in East Jerusalem purchased by settlers, who — backed by riot police — expelled families in the middle of the night with little warning.
In response to these critiques, Netanyahu told Obama that he and his administration needed to “study the facts and details before making statements” about Israel’s new construction plan, claiming among other things that it was not new, that the timing of its announcement was innocent, and that the construction would be for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. However, it appears that Obama and the White House indeed did their due diligence, for Netanyahu’s claims have been shown to be false, and the Obama administration’s critiques on point.
Perhaps worse than calling Obama ignorant, however, was his forced attempt to depict his criticism as having anti-Semitic echoes. Here is what Netanyahu said after his meeting with Obama:
I have no intention of telling Jews they can’t buy apartments in East Jerusalem. This is private property and an individual right. There cannot be discrimination — not against Jews and not against Arabs.
by: Donna Swarthout on September 29th, 2014 | Comments Off
"Never again hatred of Jews" was the slogan for Central Council of Jews in Germany rally against anti-Semitism. Credit: Donna Swarthout
“It’s a fortress mentality,” said my friend as we sat outdoors over a glass of wine on a mild September evening after attending a back-to-school night at the John F. Kennedy School of Berlin. “Jewish organizations in Germany are closed, restrictive organizations that don’t seek volunteers and don’t have the transparency of Jewish groups in the States.” Punkt. Period. “But I want to do something to address the rise in anti-Semitism and promote cross-cultural unity,” I said. Silence. A sympathetic nod. Time to move on, I thought.
Less than a week earlier I had attended a rally against anti-Semitism organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. About 6,000 people, a rather disappointing turnout, gathered around the slogan “Steh Auf – Nie Wieder Judenhass” (Stand up – Never again hatred of Jews). I had simmered with disgruntlement over this slogan in the days leading up to the rally. Why couldn’t they have chosen something more positive and inspirational? I’ve lived in Berlin for more than three years and never felt hated. Yes, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, but let’s rally for a more just society for Jews, Muslims, and other minorities. Our freedom is intertwined with every legitimate group that encounters hatred.
It’s been about two months since I posted a piece of my writing on this blog. I was deeply immersed in supporting my sister Inbal on her final journey, which ended with her death on September 6, 2014.
One day I will find the words to write about Inbal here. (You can read her obituary here). Over the last seven years I’ve on occasion mentioned Inbal and her ongoing challenge of living with cancer. I don’t recall writing in any significant way about what it has been like to accompany her way of facing cancer. I kept it mostly separate, except when it seemed almost inhuman not to mention it. Now, having accompanied her, being so profoundly involved, learning as much as I have, and anticipating continuing to learn, I know that accompanying Inbal was a way to reweave my personal experiences and my work in the world.
The period of sitting Shiva, the Jewish custom of gathering community for seven days after someone dies, is over. I am now ready to slowly emerge into the next phase of my life, and writing about this period is a small step in that direction.
None of what I learned about myself and about life through this very demanding experience is new in its entirety; it is a deepening, at times surprising, of what I have known or intuited before; and it is an entirely new territory. I realized at one point that as little as we get prepared for parenting (ultimately everyone has to newly learn it with their own children), there is even less to prepare us for being with a loved one as they are dying. Moreover, this is a topic rarely talked about, whereas parenting is. Most of us don’t know what to say to each other about death, whereas so many easily share their opinions and experiences of parenting, and there are books, norms, and wisdom commonly available.
by: Donna Nevel, Kathleen Peratis, and Deborah Sagner on September 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off
Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at Daily News Hometown Heroes in Transit Awards. Credit: Creative Commons/Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York
Below is a letter sent to Mayor de Blasio from a group of Jewish New Yorkers. Tikkun asked us to share the origins of this letter. Once it became clear that virulently Islamophobic ads were going up in New York City’s buses and subways, a number of people from the Jewish community came together to discuss what they could do. The group thought that it would be extremely important and feasible for the Mayor and City to make sure that every New Yorker who saw those ads would know that the city considered them bigoted and hateful, and that the City would respond with a message calling for respect and safety for all communities. The group also thought it was important for members of the Jewish community to stand together with the Muslim community. As you can see from the signatories, Jews from many different areas of Jewish and public life came together in the signing of this statement that was sent to New York City’s mayor.
Sept. 22, 2014 Jewish New Yorkers call upon the Mayor to respond to Islamophobic ads with visible messages of repudiation of such bigotry and a call for respect and safety for all communities. See letter and signatories below.
Dear Mayor de Blasio:
As you know, hateful, bigoted signs that denigrate Muslims will be posted this week in NYC subway stations and on public buses. The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), the sponsor of this ad, is one of three groups co-founded by Pamela Geller that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as anti-Muslim hate groups.
While a court has ruled that the First Amendment prevents the MTA from rejecting these virulently anti-Muslim ads, NYC has the right – indeed, the obligation – to denounce the message they promote and to ensure that all New Yorkers are treated with dignity and respect.
Students kiss in front of Westboro Baptist Church protestors at Oberlin College in Ohio. Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia
A few years ago toward the end of July when I was serving as Associate Professor in the School of Education at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, led by their “pastor,” Fred Phelps, mounted protest rallies in three sites in Iowa: Waukee’s Jewish Historical Society, the Iowa State University Campus in Ames, and at the Marshalltown Community Theater, which was performing the play “The Laramie Project” profiling the life and murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.
Phelps (before his recent death) and his followers travel around the country protesting funerals of fallen soldiers (most of whom are apparently heterosexual). They claim that these deaths are God’s punishment against a country that tolerates homosexuality. Phelps is also notorious for his 1998 protest of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a college student from the University of Wyoming in Laramie murdered in a brutal homophobic assault.
On their websites godhatesfags.com & jewskilledjesus.com, Phelps and company directed their Iowa protests against “…the Jews…[who] arrested, falsely accused, prosecuted and then sentenced [Jesus] to death…” and protested Iowa because “God hates Iowa” for being “the first to begin giving $ to little [homosexual] perverts for no other reason than they brag about being little perverts.”
I wrote an editorial critical of Phelps and his followers in our local newspaper. Apparently, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Phelps’s daughter, read my piece, and she wrote me an email message before arriving in our town:
Glad to see we got your attention with our upcoming good fig hunt in Iowa. You approached the issue with a veil on your heart, blind eyes, a hard heart, stopped up ears, and full of guile – because that’s how you – and all the rest of the apostate, reprobate Jews – roll. God did that. His righteous judgments are wonderful!
PS: Shall we put you down as one of the naughty figs? You are definitely not sounding or acting like a good fig. I’m just sayin’.
by: Melissa Weininger on September 3rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »
I am going to behave like a Jew
and touch his face, and stare into his eyes,
and pull him off the road.
-Gerald Stern, “Behaving Like a Jew”
It’s been almost a month since a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown. In the wake of the shooting, residents of Ferguson concerned about police brutality and racism turned out in the streets to protest peacefully, and were met with tanks, riot gear, and tear gas. A small number of people were involved in either looting local businesses or throwing bottles and other small-scale weaponry, which was used to justify the police crackdown. Journalists, local politicians, and scores of people doing nothing but exercising a constitutionally protected right to free assembly were arrested and harassed.
During this period of unrest, my Facebook newsfeed was full of outrage and despair. But very little of that passion was directed at Ferguson. Instead, it was largely about Operation Protective Edge, in Gaza. Every day I was greeted with scores of articles defending Israel’s right to defend itself, justifying the scale of force in Gaza, and reporting on both rocket fire and tunnels dug by Hamas into Israeli territory. To be fair, however, I also saw numerous articles reporting on peace demonstrations, critiquing the scale of Israeli response to rocket fire, and mourning the loss of life on both sides.
Though this is merely anecdotal, it seems fairly representative of the institutional American Jewish response to events in Ferguson. While individual rabbis and Jewish leaders have called attention to and even protested against the violence in Missouri, and many articles, including those in Tikkun, have argued strongly for a Jewish ethical obligation to the Ferguson protestors, major, mainstream Jewish organizations have been largely silent. The Anti-Defamation League offers a lesson plan for talking about Ferguson with students on its website, but its only official statement is a denunciation of the presence of the New Black Panther Party at the Ferguson protests. Of the mainstream American Jewish religious movements, only the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism issued a press release regarding the violence in Ferguson.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th District, penned an op-ed in Daily Kos in which he argued that it is a progressive imperative to support Israel’s assault of Gaza.
It was a mostly forgettable post filled with factual inaccuracies, problematic justifications for killing civilians, and dehumanizing stereotypes of Palestinians that received almost no attention both here and in progressive media in general. However, what makes the post significant is that it was written not just by an elected official, but a Democrat writing under the banners of both progressive politics and liberal Zionism.
For this reason, I’ve chosen to briefly disassemble it below as both a progressive and a two-state Jew.
Let’s begin, shall we? In the first two paragraphs, Leach establishes his progressive credentials, and notes he’s referred to as “The Liberal Lion of Pennsylvania” for his stances on the issues.
Then, after noting his preference to focus on human rights in the foreign policy arena and his general opposition to American wars (except for Afghanistan), he writes the following regarding his ‘progressive’ worldview:
To me, this general world view can lead to only one logical conclusion, which is the strong support of Israel in its current conflict with Hamas. There is one country in the Middle East which respects women’s rights, gay rights, the rights of political minorities, free speech and the right of dissent, and that is Israel. There is no other nation in the region which could, in any sense of the word, be considered progressive.
Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia
Pope Francis appeared to step into the quagmire in Iraq last week when he reportedly “endorsed the use of force” against ISIS. He was speaking a week after Obama authorized U.S attacks on ISIS military positions to stave off the threatened destruction of refugees in the Kurdish mountains. So was the “Pontiff of Peace” sprinkling holy water on airstrikes, perhaps even embarking on “the last crusade”?
No, in fact, the pope was doing nothing of the sort. His message was garbled through glib and superficial reporting, as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has shown in an excellent analysis in The Daily Beast of what the pope said and didn’t say.
However the pope’s statement – and subsequent misinterpretations – clearly show how urgently the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions need to start talking face to face rather than through press statements. The crisis in the Middle East goes far beyond the military and political conflict, horrific as it is. At a deeper level, the spiritual identity of all three religions is under assault from the militarization of language and glorification of conflict.
To respond to these spiritual temptations of power and dominance, there’s an urgent need for these religious leaders to declare a “spiritual emergency” and meet in a “spiritual summit” to speak clearly to their faithful, from their respective traditions and scriptures, in defense of their shared values and vision of faith as applied to the current circumstances.
In a letter published today in The New York Times as an advertisement, 40 survivors of Nazi genocide and hundreds of their children are publicly deploring “the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza,” Israel’s ongoing occupation, and the troubling rise of systemic racism.
The letter, a response to an advertisement posted recently by Eli Wiesel, in which Palestinians were portrayed as championing “child sacrifice,” is the first of its kind to be signed by so many Holocaust survivors, who are making waves by calling for a full boycott of Israel – roundly viewed as anathema by Jewish institutions in both the United States and Europe. Below is the full text of their letter:
As Jewish survivors and descendants of survivors and victims of the Nazi genocide we unequivocally condemn the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and the ongoing occupation and colonization of historic Palestine. We further condemn the United States for providing Israel with the funding to carry out the attack, and Western states more generally for using their diplomatic muscle to protect Israel from condemnation. Genocide begins with the silence of the world.
We are alarmed by the extreme, racist dehumanization of Palestinians in Israeli society, which has reached a fever-pitch. In Israel, politicians and pundits in The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post have called openly for genocide of Palestinians and right-wing Israelis are adopting Neo-Nazi insignia.