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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

HaTikvah Slate for the World Zionist Conference


by: on January 22nd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

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).

Jewish students waving Israel flags

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).


‘Selma’ is True to the Story it Needs to Tell


by: on January 19th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

After weeks of controversy over “Selma” and especially the scenes of head butting between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson, I was a little surprised when I finally saw the movie during this MLK day weekend (I do not live in a city that was graced with the pre-release). As I quickly learned, “Selma” is not essentially about MLK or LBJ. It is, of all things, about Selma.

Its 42-year-old director, Ava DuVernay, says of “Selma”, “It honors the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.” This it does faithfully and movingly. “Selma” illuminates a struggle – movement of church ladies, teenagers, and old men – that materialized in a small town long before King entered the picture.

Still, there are questions. These begin with the portrayal of Johnson but extend to other gaps in the film – including what I’ll describe for now as the case of the missing yarmulkes.


The Choices of 1947 Return: A Review of Zionism and Its Discontents


by: Abba A. Solomon on December 24th, 2014 | 20 Comments »

book coverZionism and Its Discontents: Radical Currents in Israel/Palestine
by Ran Greenstein
Pluto Press, 2014

Kol Yisrael areivim zeh ba-zeh. This assertion, that “All Jews are responsible for each other,” has the crux of the situation. How are Jews to work out their relationship and “responsibility” to the “national home of the Jewish people”? To act decently, we must face what happened, face what the “return to Zion” led to.

Zionism and Its Discontents by Ran Greenstein reviews opposition to the Jewish nationalist state project in Mandate Palestine and after the State of Israel was proclaimed, May 14, 1948. Israeli-born Greenstein’s focus on Israel/Palestine is enriched by his study of South Africa’s liberation from Apartheid ideology.

Reading of pre-State opposition — from Arabs, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, and Zionists who rejected the “Jewish state” goal — reminds us that the consequences of making a Zionist state, consequences of perpetual conflict and injustice, were foreseen.

As I found, while researching a book on the American Jewish establishment and Zionism, the records of Jewish organizations are full of predictions of disaster that would come from taking possession of Palestine as a matter of right, over the interests of residents of that land.


Kavanah (Intention) for Candle Lighting: Eighth Night of Hanukkah


by: Aryeh Cohen on December 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

eighth night of hanukkah

Credit: Creative Commons / Wikipedia entry: Jewish holidays

The deepest yet also the simplest truth of Hanukkah is that it is a holiday about a miracle. The real power of the miracle, however, is not that one cruse of pure oil was found after the Temple was defiled by occupying forces. Neither is the real power that that one cruse of oil burned for eight days when it should have burned for only one day. The real power is the story of the miracle itself.


Kavanah (Intention) for Candle Lighting: Third Night of Hanukkah


by: Aryeh Cohen on December 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

lighting the menorah

Credit: Creative Commons / Elvert Barnes

The Talmud reports that the reason for adding a candle to the menorah every night of Hanukkah is that “one may raise up within holiness but one may not lower within holiness.” This principle usually governs an action that may or may not be taken with regard to vessels, materials, and foodstuffs that are dedicated to the Temple. In one example, a priest’s worn clothes may be used for wicks in the Temple candelabra but not for more mundane purposes. How might we understand this in relation to our more modest candelabra?

We are moved to the deeper meaning of the candlelight. Just as with each added candle there is more light, we must constantly add to the quantity of holiness in the world. How does one expand holiness in the world? The Torah (Leviticus 19) commands “you shall be holy, for I God, your God, am holy.” This general statement is followed by a list of specific actions, including this: “You shall do no iniquity in justice. You shall not favor the wretched and you shall not defer to the rich. In righteousness you shall judge your fellow … You shall not stand over the blood of your fellow. I am God.”


Jews Across America are Standing Against Police Violence This Hanukkah


by: on December 16th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

As Jews throughout the world light candles this evening, many across America are simultaneously shining a light upon police violence and affirming that black lives matter in protests and social action efforts in over seventeen cities.

From Boston to San Francisco and Albany to Durham, Jews are committing themselves over the next eight days during Hanukkah to not just mark a historical moment in which the shackles of occupation and oppression were overthrown by ancient Jews, but to illuminate the racism and state oppression ripping America apart.


Hundreds of Jews and allies in Boston block traffic and affirm that Black Lives Matter. Image via Michelle Weiser.


Modern Maccabee


by: Mitchel Davidovitz on December 16th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

hanukkah menorah

Credit: Creative Commons / Robert Couse-Baker

Despite having nearly no religious significance, not appearing in the Tanakh, and only warranting a few passing references in the Mishna, Hanukkah seems to stand out as an important cultural event for American Jewry and is largely viewed as the quintessential Jewish holiday to non-Jews in America. This is largely due to its calendar proximity to Christmas and inclusion on television programs which provides illusions of multicultural inclusion. Jewish symbols featured in advertisements are used to latch the Jewish population into participating in “holiday season” consumerism. This is a part of television’s much broader role in assimilating Jews and other minority/immigrant groups into America’s capitalist culture. It is a great irony because the premise of Hanukkah stems from a revolt against those attempting to acculturate the Jewish people. 


Osmosis: A Jew Searches for Silence During Christmas


by: Y. A. Shir on December 15th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Christmas decorations

Credit: Creative Commons/ Ian Wilson

I spent last Christmas at a Jewish meditation retreat. Stepping into the lobby of the Jewish summer camp where it was held was crossing over from one world into another. There were no poinsettias, no mistletoe, none of the amped-up holiday cheer. This was Jewish space: mezuzahs on every doorpost, Hebrew letters on the bulletin board, kosher everything, faces of people I’d never met but somehow already knew—their gait, the furrows on their brows, the occasional clothing item we Israelis recognize immediately as coming from over there.

Much of the retreat was spent in silence. One of the things that silence can do is wake us up to the noise inside our own mind. On this particular retreat, the silence made me realize that it took two days for the Christmas carols to stop playing in my head.

During Shabbat and as part of the morning blessings, we broke the silence and sang other songs, songs that for fleeting intervals made me understand what people mean when they talk about raising the roof.

Ozi vezimrat ya, vayehi li lishua.

God is my strength and my song, and will be my salvation.

It was as if the room—like my body after a good session of yoga—had discovered more space between its vertebrae.

For the remainder of the retreat it was these melodies that reverberated through me. On my drive back, instead of turning on the radio or plugging in my iPod, I stayed in silence and I sang. When I arrived at my house I parked, dropped off my bags, and walked to the river, where I sang some more. Then I went home.


The Little Candle That Wouldn’t


by: Bonnie L. Gracer on December 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

“I ask you,” fumed Red. “Was that any way to live a life? Squished in a red tin container– above the kitty litter, no less — just waiting for our turn to burn to death? Well I won’t do it.”

A photograph of the candles that inspired this playful piece of writing. Credit: Bonnie Gracer.

“You mean our turn to shine, Red — to declare the miracle of Chanukah,” said Shamash.

“Shut up Shamash. Just because you were picked to be the Shamash you think you are so high and mighty, elevated above everybody else. Don’t forget your roots. You are made out of wax just like the rest of us – red wax, just like me — and you too are being extinguished as we speak.”

“Hey, I worked hard for that promotion,” said Shamash. It’s taken me years to get noticed.”


“Open Dialogue” on Israel/Palestine Is Not Enough


by: Henry Rosen on December 12th, 2014 | 18 Comments »

open hillel

Vassar College professor Hua Hsu wrote in the New Yorker recently that “There should be nothing controversial about everyday kindness; civility as a kind of individual moral compass should remain a virtue. But civility as a type of discourse – as a high road that nobody ever actually walks – is the opposite. It is bullshit.”

Open dialogue, very much like civility, exists as both a venerable ideal and a carrot-on-a-stick style tool of discipline. When it comes to critiquing Israel, particularly from a non-Zionist or anti-Zionist approach, open dialogue becomes a mechanism that avoids the acknowledgement of underlying power imbalances and the foundational inequality of our respective ideologies.

The idea of “open dialogue” sets up a framework that requires balancing ideologies of Zionism with anti-Zionism. However, anti-Zionist and Zionist ideologies are not on an even playing field. To be clear, anti-Zionism carries with it no semblance of the same amount of institutional power as Zionism. Particularly as articulated by Palestinians, whose voices ought to be considered with primacy, anti-Zionism has historically been (and remains) the target of political repression and disenfranchisement. Trying to gain a balanced view from both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist perspective would imply those two ways of seeing the world having the same kind of organizational backing; this is simply not the case.

Moreover, conversations between anti-Zionists and Zionists, even liberal Zionists, never play out on equal ground. The fact that Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, states it “will not partner with, house, or host organizations, groups, or speakers” that have explicitly non-Zionist politics provides one very important instance in which an institution represses challenges to Zionism. Unsurprisingly, Hillel invokes Hsu’s concept of civility in prohibiting those that “foster an atmosphere of incivility” in campus Hillels. With such exclusive rules in place, an anti-Zionist student pursuing an open dialogue is only ever entering a Hillel house on the prescriptive terms of the institutional power. How open is that dialogue, then? Not at all. As soon as any one part of a conversation refuses to acknowledge the power differentials that exist between itself and the other parts, open dialogue becomes chimerical.