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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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My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 5

Mar5

by: on March 5th, 2017 | No Comments »

Angels and Devils

Today’s lesson is a tough one: angels and demons. “Angels are pure spirits without a body [so much for harps and halos] created to adore and enjoy G’d in heaven.” Hmmm, glorified servants, perfectly useless for us here below. But wait. “also appointed our guardians.” Nice idea. Lovely idea.

I really don’t believe in angels. Unless the term refers to a gracious, benevolent archetype, one of the aids our unconscious provides. That I subscribe to. But as for the wings and robes, I might as well believe in Batman. Angels get a lot of business including literal profit-making business. Nowadays, they appear lacy, childlike, almost always pink and feminine—though the only angels mentioned in the Bible have manly names—Gabriel, Michael, Phanuel, and Raphael (no manly parts, of course)— and engage in manly struggles such as wrestling and rolling away giant stones.

Demons, on the other hand, get less attention and trade except from Satan worshippers and Pentecostals. “Bad angels” feature in Halloween costumes as sexy red demonesses and goateed, lusty devils. Dehorned demons, you might say. Nothing dangerous or powerful. The Sunday School Companion tells us “many of them sinned and were cast into hell and these were called devils or bad angels.”

I definitely believe in demonic aspects of the personality, addictions, compulsions, a seemingly willful refusal of compassion, inability to empathize. I’ve tasted all these and take them seriously.

Is there a small devil in the compulsion to hang onto possessions? I’m struggling to work my way through a vast store of books and papers I’ll never use again. What is the sin that turned the angel of preparedness, safekeeping, memory, and care into fearful clutching and pointless piling? Let me run through the seven deadly ones: Anger? Pride? Lust? Gluttony? Greed? Sloth? I can’t remember the seventh one: Simony? Usury?

Pride could be at play: “Remember that one time when I was semi-important?” But that’s not really it. Anger? Sometimes I hang onto evidence of unresolved events as if I’ll be able to fix them someday, as if I’ll get another chance. And fear– that if I let go of this thing, I’ll need it someday. What does it take to let possessions go?

Faith—that there will be plenty more good things in the world. I know this is true. Hope—for the present and future. And love. Ah yes, love comes in when I give things away. I have a compulsion to keep things because they are high quality even though I don’t use them. There’s a colorful term for that: a “dog in the manger” attitude. A dog can’t eat hay, but he lies in the manger and won’t let the cows eat it either.

My act of contrition? I’m deciding to give away some good possessions that I’ve been saving but not using. And I’m going to go through one box of paper today, armed with Faith, Hope, and Love. I imagine many of you face similar challenges, and I’d love to hear about your approach.

 

 

 

 

 

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 4

Mar4

by: on March 4th, 2017 | No Comments »

In my Sunday School Companion, each Lesson begins with official definitions, definitions that have the imprimatur of numerous Catholic officials. The Catechism asks, “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” and answers “…from the Catholic Church through which G’d speaks to us.”

These words are strangely relevant to a recent experience: an eloquent speaker called out people who appropriate another culture – by wearing dreadlocks, for example, or, in my case, having a yin-yang tattoo, or even, also in my case, bearing a name from another culture. It seems I’m a cultural appropriator both by choice and by birth. When I got home, I realized even in this unorthodox Lenten journey I’m a cultural appropriator!

The speaker was angry and justifiably so. How often have sacred symbols been used to make money or cover over the destruction of the very culture they purport to hold up? Too often to count.

And yet, is it always harmful to cross, and mix and blend cultures? Is there a way to share culture in a world where culture changes constantly, sometimes through bitter force but also through chance and choice?

As with so many issues, power enters in. People of less power have been banned from partaking of the objects, places, and even the language of the more powerful, yet perversely, they’ve also been forced to partake of it. White people have been able to cherry-pick without permission and often in complete ignorance.

Yet I want to say something for cultural sharing, for each person’s right to individuate, to seek and find among the myriad offerings of the world that which, often for mysterious reasons, speaks to their souls. Haven’t important movements and groups arisen from such mixtures? The Black Muslims, for example, or Norteño music.

Is culture to be strictly fenced, walled, and patrolled so that petty thieves like me are kept out entirely? Where do the boundaries end? Is it possible to honor as well as appropriate? I’ve always felt a certain softness toward men who like to wear dresses and makeup, shave their legs, etc. as many women do in modern Western culture. Wow, I think, Even though we have less power, they want to join us and be like us. Well, go ahead. Welcome. Does it sometimes seem a caricature of femininity? Maybe, but even so, I can honor the spirit.

I wonder how I, as an impoverished American, could relate so strongly to a 17th-century French nobleman, Voltaire? Yet I felt him as a kindred spirit. I learned French, not “my” culture. I also studied Spanish and Hebrew. Come to think of it, even my English isn’t native. I should be speaking German, Norwegian, Swedish, and Russian. Sometimes, for mysterious reasons, people feel a strong and deep connection to an “other.” I’m reluctant to criticize all such connections. As my friend, Arlene, pointed out, Catholicism itself is a mixture, a combination and amalgamation of multiple traditions.

On the other hand, if everything blends into a mush, might we lose some important legacies? Maybe we need both: cultural magpies and cultural guardians.

Being Called Out for Cultural Appropriation

Once, my first response to anger and shaming would have been to cower and apologize whether I thought I was in the wrong or not.

Later, I responded with hurt feelings and resentment that someone did not recognize me for who I truly am.

Is there a third response? How can I apply faith, hope, love, and contrition here?

Maybe I have faith that if I really knew this speaker better, I’d see her suffering. Maybe I can have hope that what feels like antagonism can someday be healed or at least accepted. I can think of what I love about that speaker, for example, vocal allegiance to many causes I also support, the speaker’s important work with youth.

And finally, contrition. What can I amend? Can I bring more thought and awareness to the symbols I wear or display, and perhaps accept that no matter what I choose, others may have a different perspective from mine, maybe forever, and, even though at times it may be painful, it’s also important, and necessary.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 3

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

What does Good News Mean to Me? An Act of Contrition?

Near the beginning of my 1888 Sunday School Companion, I find An Act of Faith, An Act of Hope, An Act of Love, and an Act of Contrition. Interesting order.  First, faith, hope, and love, and only in the end, contrition. I like that. Our culture seems rife with self-hatred, self-critique, self-rejection. I can see how we might need to focus on faith, hope, and love first so that contrition doesn’t become “I’m horrible and worthless and there’s no hope.” Maybe the “good news” resides in faith, hope, and love; faith to trust in the power of truth and love; hope that we can make a difference; love, well love is the healing balm that needs no explanation.

Much of the language of these “acts” does not speak to me.

I especially want to roll my eyes at “I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee” as if it doesn’t even matter that another person was hurt. G’d’s the only one that matters (Because in the Jewish tradition, people don’t speak the name of G’d, I’m using this replacement.) And one part just goes in the trash: “I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven…” Isn’t that like saying, “I could kick myself for mouthing off because now I can’t have the car”? Apparently, the philosopher Levinas has worked hard to avoid the eye-popping selfishness of “virtue” done for gain.

But one thing I do love: each Act begins with “Oh my God!” That’s exactly how I felt yesterday when I realized I had not been “vocal and visible” as my friend Kari put it. Those words are such a meme in our culture—OMG!—that it’s funny to find it at the beginning of sober and orthodox prayers from 1888. I’m interested in this idea of doing an act of faith, of hope, and of love and then contrition. I wonder: could I do them all in one day? They might be really small.

For example, I trust, I have confidence in the people who put together a certain program I’m going to read in. Is that an act of faith?  I feel optimistic and hopeful about the experience. I want to do it with love for my fellow participants, the audience, and myself, maybe even “the world”.

And then, contrition. Wow, looking it up, I see contrition includes older meanings of “to rub, wear, scrape away, destroy.” Strong language.

But maybe strong language is needed. I am often burdened with regret. Sometimes even after making amends, I can’t let go of it. Old regrets stay with me: the time I was so rejecting of a nice person in 7th grade. I can still see her hurt blue eyes. And it was all about being popular. It was all about distancing myself from someone low-status. These “sins” (I’m not fond of the word) form a tough, burnt layer that apparently requires major scraping! Maybe that scraping, rubbing, destroying” is needed so that I can not only forgive myself but let go of longterm grudges against others. I strongly suspect the two are intertwined. Hmmm. There’s a lot of freedom in letting both go. A lot of lightness and room for new things to take their places.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent, Day 2

Mar2

by: on March 2nd, 2017 | 5 Comments »

On Ash Wednesday, I received a letter from Casa de Clara, the Catholic Worker House in San Jose. In it, the letter connected Executive Order 9066, the Japanese Internment order, with recent events. Which is regrettably easy to do.

The letter also mentioned that on Ash Wednesday, when Catholics receive the ash on their foreheads, they also receive the words, “Repent and believe the Good News.” That was news to me. I’d forgotten or never known that Ash Wednesday was connected to repentance. But a point to ponder.

Repentance

Near the end, came a Dr. King quote, “a time comes when silence is betrayal,” which I found too a propos. Earlier in the day, in an open space with numerous half-enclosed desks, a pal whose politics are more conservative than mine mentioned Trump’s speech. Though he hadn’t voted for Trump, he liked the speech and criticized Democrats for remaining seated while a Navy Seal’s widow was being honored. He has never been a ranter, and I wanted to have a respectful conversation.

I said maybe they were remembering Trump’s treatment of the parents of a Muslim soldier who had died. I mentioned how polarized the country is and how hard to hear another point of view, but offered that the left, too, could use a better tone. We parted on cordial terms, and I walked to the kitchen passing an African-American colleague and a Japanese-American colleague. I wondered: if they overheard me, would they have considered me an ally? Had I been so eager to be nice and avoid conflict that I didn’t say my truth clearly?

I wished I’d responded, not heatedly, but openly, to one point: “Why can’t they give him a chance?” To do what? Is what I wish I’d replied. When his actions harm people, and choices for the Dept. of Education and Dept. of Labor, in particular are people who oppose the mission of their posts? When I thought of repentance, that failure stabbed me. I followed up with an email to my pal in which I mentioned Trump’s Cabinet choices in particular and left no question which side I was on, while never ranting. Of course, my colleagues would have no way of knowing I did that.

P. S. My wonderful activist friend, Kari, mentioned the importance of being “vocal and visible.” In some ways, I have been, but I commit to being more so.

So that’s the repentance side for me.

My Own Private Unorthodox Lent

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Recently, I went to Niles with my friends to have tea and lollygag in the antique stores. One of the treasures I departed with was an 1888 Sunday School Companion with an actual literal imprimatur from an Archbishop! That gave me an idea.

I wasn’t raised Catholic, but from my years at a Jesuit university I gained a greater awareness of the enormous scope of Catholicism, many pieces of which I now see as valuable for me. Even Lent which had once seemed an unpalatable and needless mortification of the flesh to achieve social control through self-degradation (or possibly because by early spring, people were running low on food) suggested meaningful possiblities. I read a few works whose names I wish I could remember which made me think some Lenten practices might be helpful psychologically and spiritually.


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Spiritual Practice in the Time of the Mad King

Feb27

by: Rodger Kamenetz on February 27th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, an early 19th century Hasidic master, offered a parable about a king who foretold that the year’s harvest of rye would be contaminated with ergot, a fungus with effects similar to LSD. Whoever ate the rye would become mad. The prime minister said we must put aside enough grain so we won’t have to eat this year’s harvest.

But the king said, “But then we will be the only ones who will be sane. Everyone else will be mad. Therefore they will think that we are the mad ones. Therefore, we too must eat this year’s grain. But we will put a mark on our foreheads so at least we will know we are mad. I will look at your forehead you will look at mine, and when we see this sign, we will know we are both mad.”

The parable touches on our current situation. It seems the country is going mad, that the country as a whole has eaten a substance that is guaranteed to distort reality. When we find ourselves reading everyday in the newspaper that the “president falsely stated”, when almost every word out of his mouth is a distortion of reality, and when this is repeated every day of the week, there is an overall contaminating effect.

One symptom of the madness is a sense of weariness in the land, as if time is slowing down – which is very much the effect of psychoactive substances. A month of this presidency already feels like a year, and a year will feel like a decade.

It is not only the lying, but the constant shifts of attention, the clever diversions and shiny objects, the theatrical episodes that redirect attention when things are going badly. It now requires so much effort to keep pace that merely to play the role of informed citizen has become almost a full time job in which we are challenged every hour to maintain our own sense of reality and normalcy against a widespread infection of madness.

Everyone has consumed the harvest, everyone is going mad. The concepts of “fake news” and “alternative facts” are not merely propaganda, but a description of a metaphysical infection in which we all, regardless of our politics and whether we wish to or not, are consuming the contaminated “rye” as our daily bread. For we cannot help but consume the news in a way that feels all consuming, in a way that is also consuming us.


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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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