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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



An Exchange Between Wendy Somerson and Yotam Marom on Anti-Semitism in the Left and the Jewish Left

Sep2

by: Wendy Elisheva Somerson and Yotam Marom on September 2nd, 2016 | 7 Comments »

[Editor's note: The article below by Wendy Elisheva Somerson was written in response to an article Tikkun published on our website a week ago written by Yotam Marom titled Toward the Next Jewish Rebellion: Facing Anti-Semitism and Assimilation in the Movement. We published that long article because it is relevant (though not written as a direct response to) a vigorous debate now taking place in progressive Jewish circles about how to think about an alliance with The Movement for Black Lives in light of its recent platform that included as one of its elements the claim that Israel is engaging in "genocide" against the Palestinian people, but also because it addresses the larger question of how to deal with anti-Semitism in the Left and in the consciousness of some leftist Jews who may have unconsciously internalized the anti-Semitism in the movement in order to protect their status as "loyal allies" to the Left as a whole, and in this case, to the section of the struggle against racism that has the label "Black Lives Matters" (though that is only a small section of the larger anti-racist movements in the US.). To understand Somerson more fully, it makes sense to first read Yotam Marom's original piece, which you'll find athttp://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/toward-the-next-jewish-rebellion-facing-anti-semitism-and-assimilation-in-the-movement. After reading that piece and then Somerson's response, please also read the response from Marom included below! It's an important discussion, and as Somerson points out, one done for "the sake of heaven."]

Arguing for the Sake of Heaven: Toward an Accountable Jewish Liberation

by Wendy Elisheva Somerson

We should always be wary about people who claim to summarize “the Jewish people” whether they are anti-Semitic or trying to elevate Jews in certain ways. Let’s assume we are a complex people,and that makes us very much like other people. – Judith Butler

I was excited to dig into Yotam Marom’s lengthy piece, “Toward the Next Jewish Rebellion: Facing Anti-Semitism and Assimilation in the Movement” after so many of my Lefty Jewish friends posted it on social media. As a fellow Jewish activist, I also long for Jewish culture to be visible in our social justice movements. But when I actually read his piece, I was disappointed because Marom conflates Jews with the State of Israel at a time when we should be doing everything we can to separate the two.


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Understanding Unconditional Love and Forgiveness from The Gospel of Simon

Sep1

by: Victor Narro on September 1st, 2016 | Comments Off

In my book Living Peace: Connecting Your Spirituality with Your Work for Justice (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), I reveal how the life and teachings of St. Francis of Assisi shape my work for justice, teaching me the way of peace, love, humility, and service. I talk about how my Franciscan spirituality has been enriched by the teachings of spiritual leaders of other faiths, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar, and human rights activist.

John Smelcer’s new book, The Gospel of Simon (Leapfrog Press, 2016, also available in Spanish as El Evangelio de Simon), speaks of the concept of unconditional love and peace through action. The book is a powerful and vivid narrative account of an encounter two thousand years ago during a public spectacle where an itinerant Jewish preacher named Jesus was being brutally crucified and a man named Simon was being forced by a Roman soldier carrying out the crucifixion to help him carry the heavy cross through the crowded streets. Through Smelcer’s powerful storytelling narrative of that encounter and the relationship that developed between Jesus and Simon, this book is able to provide deep insights into the teachings of the Gospel, not so much from the approach of preaching, but as a story that provides us with invaluable lessons. This book is storytelling at its best, and it can apply to all faiths and spiritual teachings. The book’s simple and eloquent prose invites the reader to read it deeply with an open mind and heart.

For me as a social justice activist and scholar, what moved me the most is Smelcer’s emphasis, with much simplicity, on how our spirituality or faith can be a force for justice in the world. Faith is how we choose to live our lives, mindful that we dwell in the presence of a higher spiritual being – a higher good. It begins with the simple act of loving. Because there is a higher Goodness who loves you, you cannot have faith until you love yourself. Through a conversation between Jesus and Simon, this book teaches us that it is the inward expression of love that matters. You must look into your own heart. What you adorn your body with outwardly is of no consequence and does not prove love. The contents of your heart and your acts of kindness are all that matter. Compassion is the soul in action. Compassion triumphs because it is endless.


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On Community and Conscience: Jewish Allyship and the Movement for Black Lives

Sep1

by: Lena Shapiro on September 1st, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Managing Editor’s note: As we have noted many times, the articles posted on Tikkun Daily do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials of the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe). We also encourage readers to visit the special section of www.tikkun.org called “Political Vision & Spiritual Wisdom” where Rabbi Michael Lerner includes many ofhis editorials, short articles, op-eds to which he wants to call readers’ attention (even if he disagrees with them), and action alerts.

Many people have approached me recently to ask how I feel about the use of the word “genocide” in reference to Israel in The Movement for Black Lives’ official platform, which feels weird, because I don’t think the platform is about me. I have genuinely appreciated the interesting, varied, and important conversations I have had about the platform, and its investment-divestment section in particular, but I know I am not the only one who feels frustrated watching the controversy over the word genocide become the dominant story about a transformative political document that lays out a policy approach for a vision of justice and equality.

A sentence from the "Invest/Divest" section of "A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice."

In response to the platform, some Jewish organizations have decided to distance themselves and withhold support from The Movement for Black Lives. This is not the first time that the Jewish community has conditioned its support for certain social justice causes on the exclusion of Palestinian rights. In a recentopinion piece, Northwestern University student Lauren Sonnenberg wrote that campus activism that links struggles for justice, security, and self-determination in America to similar struggles in Palestine does not make room for students like her. I have heard related sentiments from Jewish students on my own campus: that they are unwilling to participate in activism that recognizes the injustice of Israeli occupation, because they view it as an attack on their Jewish identity. It is not. The idea that social justice movements that support Palestinian human rights and dignity run contrary to Jewish values and interests is not just false: it is dangerous. Our participation in struggles for justice and security for all people cannot be suspended because it is part of our own community that is perpetrating and sustaining injustice.


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Reader Response: Promoting the Well-Being of Israelis and Palestinians

Aug17

by: Dr. Gerald H Katzman on August 17th, 2016 | Comments Off

[Editor's note: We welcome critiques of articles in Tikkun, and in this case, of one of the many books written by Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rather than respond fully here, Rabbi Lerner will address some of the issues raised in our Spring 2017 issue of Tikkun, which will focus on the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of the West Bank.

Managing Editor's note: As we have noted many times on Tikkun Daily, the articles posted here do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials in the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription atwww.tikkun.org/subscribe).The post below is an example of the kind of discourse we rarely publish because it demeans a whole group of people, in this case the 1.5 billion adherents to Islam. The author states, "The religion of Islam must turn away from militancy. Just as Judaism and Christianity have matured and adopted the 'Left Hand of G-d' as the model for proper, praiseworthy human behavior, so must all branches of Islam." The notion that Christianity and Judaism have matured and adopted the approach advocated by Rabbi Lerner's book "The Left Hand of God" would be difficult to substantiate, particularly in light of the Jewish world's support for Israel's treatment of Palestinians and the Christian world's long history of violence (i.e. the crusades and the inquisition), sexism, racism, homophobia, opposition to birth control, and attempts to limit women's rights to control their own bodies. Additionally, the claim that Islam as whole is not equally "mature" is offensive and cannot be proven by referencing the small percentage of Muslims who support violence against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Frankly, all of these kinds of generalizations about any religion, national group, race, gender, etc., are likely to be false or unsupportable, and we normally ban such articles that contain them. It was only because this response specifically critiques our editor's work that we are printing it, because we want to be a model of openness to such critiques, particularly of our editorial leadership and our public stances, in contrast to most magazines and newspapers that rarely allow for this kind of vulnerability - though we would have been much happier to print a critique that didn't have offensive claims against other peoples and religious groups!]

I am happy to reply to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s request that I critique his book Embracing Israel/Palestine. The book clearly represents a well-thought-out and detailed account of factors leading to the present Israeli/Palestinian divide and proposals for solving the many issues that underlie the conflict. I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of the area that Rabbi Lerner possesses. However, I do have my own impressions from years of Jewish education, multiple visits to Israel, and pursuing my ‘hobby’ of understanding how children are taught to hate and how to prevent this reprehensible practice.

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Pope Francis and the Changing Catholic Church

Aug10

by: Sarah Asch on August 10th, 2016 | Comments Off

Pope Francis saidin late July that he would never call terrorism “Islamic terrorism” since all religions contain fundamentalist groups. He made the comment in response to questions about a French priest who was targeted and killed in a terrorist attack.

His statement came on the heels of progressive remarks he made in June when he called for the Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBT community for centuries of discrimination. In his efforts to move the church towards a new era of cultural acceptance we should view Pope Francis with as much scrutiny as we would any politically savvy public figure. And whether or not you believe that the Pope is doing his best with a centuries-old system or that he is not moving fast enough on certain issues, we can all agree he is moving. Then the question becomes: how sustainable are these progressive movements after Pope Francis resigns or passes away? After all, Pope Francis changed the tenor of the church pretty quickly after his conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down at the age of 85. With that in mind, many wonder how far Francis, who is 79 years old, can move the church before he has to hand over the job to somebody else.


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The Need for a More Radical Solidarity in the Work for Justice based on Spirituality, Mindfulness, and Self-Care.

Jul19

by: Victor Narro on July 19th, 2016 | Comments Off

You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.

Do not be daunted
by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.

- Rabbi Tarfon in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers)

For the past few years, I have ended my classes at UCLA with a reflection with my students about this excerpt from a poem by Rabbi Tarfon and its significance for them. Many of us who work for social justice often work on organizing campaigns with short timelines, with little resources, and moving on all pistons at a grueling 24-7 pace. This extreme pace can consume the important things in life that contribute to a person’s well-being. It’s a kind of martyr’s code that measures a person’s commitment to justice by their willingness to sacrifice personal time, health, and relationships.

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Lift It

Jul11

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on July 11th, 2016 | Comments Off

If God is all-Powerful
Can he make a rock so large he himself
Cannot lift it
Cannot move it
Made up of the stone shavings of
The names
Carved out of the rock
Huddled in a pile
On the ground
The names so large
He himself cannot lift them
From the hearts
Of the bereaved
The empty spaces
Left in the rock
He himself couldn’t lift
There but not
There
The black blood that is
There but not
There

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More Blood Flowing, Will It Ever End?

Jul11

by: on July 11th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Two more black men shot dead by police, blood flowing from their bodies. As I think about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the blood flowing from their dying and dead bodies, I wonder if their souls are free from the societal stories about who black men are and the internalization of some of those stories. I think about the impact these stories have on the psychological, spiritual, physical, and social presence and existence of Black people in our society and how police and others react to them as a result of these stories.

Our society treats African Americans as though black bodies are less worthy or less valuable than white bodies; that black human beings are dangerous and threatening. I want to paint their bodies full of life, full of blood, but with different letters and societal stories inscribed on them. I want our societal stories to be ones of love, of acceptance, of worthiness, of value, of safety, of nonviolence, of beauty, of strength, of grace. Stories that in fact are the truth of who all of us are but on black bodies all we see are the negative images. I want these positive stories to shine brightly.

How might we get there? Spiritually, we need a mikvah – a bath of flowing, fresh water washing over each and every one of us that brings down the loving grace of the transformative energy of the universe to cleanse us. So each and every one of us can compassionately and gently, with love and strength, disrobe ourselves from these places of constriction, these stories that have become so embedded in our beings and in our culture that they become us instead of just stories. So that black bodies are finally free from the stories that they are dangerous and to be feared, from the hatred and prejudice that our society has imprinted on them so we can see their humanity rather than be obscured by our projections. And so that those of us who fail to see through these inscribed stories can wash ourselves clean of the stories imprinted upon us that impede our capacity to see the humanity of others.

What would happen then? Might black lives be freed from the legacies of prejudice, fear, and hatred that our society places upon them? Might police officers be freed from seeing black men as dangerous and threatening? Might we all be able to see the humanity in each other?

As I enter Shabbat with a heavy heart, I hold in my heart the memories of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, their family members and all who loved them, the Black women and men who are reminded once again of their own fragility in a country that is supposedly free, and of all the lives throughout the world who are killed and whose true stories we are unable to see. May we one day find a path to our true freedom where we see through the stories to the souls that live within each of us. Until that time, may we continue to do the work needed to fundamentally heal and transform our world.

Cat Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. She is also an attorney, mediator, and trainer in conflict resolution and empathic communication. She has co-led trainings with Rabbi Michael Lerner on integrating spirituality and activism and on communicating across differences on Israel and Palestine. You can reach Cat at cat@spiritualprogressives.org. To learn more about the Network of Spiritual Progressives, go to: www.spiritualprogressives.org.

Trending Now in Albany: Boycotts

Jul7

by: Zachary Aldridge on July 7th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

The man walked into the courtroom wearing a fine suit. He was handsome and poised. It was August 18, 1955 and the man, Pete Seeger, was testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee, asserting that he would not comply with the Committee and have his First Amendment rights stripped from him. We all know how this story ended; Seeger, who was one of scores of activists and artists who were blacklisted for alleged communist affiliations, was indicted for being in contempt of Congress in what is now recognized as one of the lowest and most fearful points in American democratic history.

Though the Red Scare has since been packed away in history textbooks, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has mandated something disturbingly similar: an executive order that forces state entities to divest from businesses and organizations linked to boycotts of Israel and the larger BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement. The order requires the creation and publication of a list of companies and institutions that support BDS, a tactic of intimidating pro-Palestinian voices and silencing critical discourse around Israel reminiscent of McCarthyism.

The BDS movement represents a call in 2005 from Palestinian civil society to pressure the State of Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands taken in 1967, recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens, and respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution #194.


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Night and Elie Wiesel’s Legacy of Transforming Youth Consciousness

Jul5

by: Ari Bloomekatz on July 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Source: Flickr (World Economic Forum).

Most of the discussions surrounding Elie Wiesel’s life and legacy seem to be focusing on him as a person, his dubious politics, what his life and survival has meant to Jews and the memory of theShoah, and, to put it simply, what his death means to adults – those old enough to remember his Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 or his efforts to dissuade President Reagan from visiting the Bitburg cemetery a year earlier.

But Wiesel’s legacy in the United States, and in many parts of the world, is not about adults. It’s about children, about teenagers, and, for the most part, his impact on non-Jewish youth everywhere. His legacy will beNight and the legions of American youth who read it.

Nightis how most non-Jewish youth in the U.S. learn about the real horrors of the Holocaust (along with perhaps Number the Stars andThe Diary of a Young Girl) and is one of the most important books in U.S. history not just for its role introducing Americans to the concentration camps, but in many ways also introducing them to Jews.

Night is required or suggested reading in many colleges, high schools, and some middle schools. I’m certain many of those I grew up with in Tennessee – where the first question everyone asked me after I moved there in middle school was “What church do you go to?” – would not have known much of anything about the Holocaust if it hadn’t been forNight.

While Wiesel’s politics have, at times, surely been suspect for progressives, we are forever changed as a society not merely for what he said, but what we’ve read. Wiesel the witness is amplified through Night into something bigger – we are all witnesses.

There have been efforts to banNightfrom schools in the past, and if we want to honor the best aspect of Wiesel’s legacy, we’ll make sure that never happens.

Like most young Jews, Night was not my introduction to the Holocaust and when my father took me to see a public conversation between Wiesel and Maya Angelou when I was young, I had no idea who he was. But I’m spiritually indebted to Wiesel because it was that conversation at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst that helped shape my own thoughts about miracles, the existence (or lack there of) of a God, and a transformative power of the universe.

I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but at one point Angelou the poet asked Wiesel the survivor if, after the horrors of the Holocaust, he still believed in miracles.

I love someone and they love me back, Wiesel said. Isn’t that a miracle?

I talk to someone and they understand me, Wiesel said. Isn’t that a miracle?

The idea of ordinary miracles, of a transformative power that’s not God or God-like but rooted in us as a people, has never been far from my mind after that day. And if we want to honor his legacy, we definitely should keep teaching Night in schools – and we should also understand what a miracle it is to read it.

Ari Bloomekatz is the managing editor of Tikkun magazine.