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Archive for the ‘Rethinking Religion’ Category



Leaving Auschwitz

Feb20

by: Jerome Richard on February 20th, 2014 | 7 Comments »

A statue of Dimitar Peshev, who saved 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during WWII. Credit: Creative Commons

On November 14, 2013, a street in Washington D.C. was renamed Dimitar Peshev Plaza in honor of a man credited with saving the lives of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation during World War II. Peshev had been recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial so the honor appeared to be, if anything, overdue.

Bulgaria has long been lauded for saving its Jewish population, but the U.S. Holocaust Museum used the Peshev memorial proposal to point out that while no Bulgarian Jews were deported, over 11,000 Jews from Macedonia and part of Greece, then occupied by Bulgaria, were sent to the camps.

Radu Ioanid, a director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, said “The callous and devious attempts to distort the history of Bulgarian Jewry is insulting to the victims of the Holocaust and is damaging to the image of Bulgaria…”

It was like interrupting a memorial service to announce that while the deceased was a splendid fellow his brother was once arrested for manslaughter.

Bulgaria’s ambassador to the United States, Elena Poptodorova, was insulted by what she called the museum’s “very rude” response.

There are thirty-six Holocaust museums in the United States, including the major one in Washington D.C. There are five in New York State, four just in Los Angeles. There are Holocaust museums in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Terre Haute, Indiana. Many more in other countries. Isn’t that excessive, even to commemorate such a monstrous crime as the Holocaust?

Of course, a full and accurate account is essential for an understanding of history, but there seems to be something else going on here. The proposal, after all, was to honor one individual. Why use that to tarnish the whole country’s reputation? It smacks of what someone said when asked if another Holocaust museum was needed. “Yes,” he replied. “We should rub their noses in it.” By they he meant the whole non-Jewish world.

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Moving to a Different Rock

Feb20

by: Roger Breisch on February 20th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Years ago, my brother-in-law, a retired geophysicist, invited us to join him on a trek across the lava on the island of Hawai’i so we could see red-hot flows making their trek toward the ocean – nature’s way of making the Big Island even bigger.

The hike was several miles without the aid of a trail. Having spent many hours on the flows, my brother-in-law had many words of advice as we prepared, but it was his final admonition, as we came within a few feet of the blazing river of lava, which lodged itself in some deep crevice in my brain. Since even the “cooled” lava had been molten not long before our visit, he warned, “If your feet get warm, move to a different rock.” There’s wise but useless counsel, I thought. Who would stand motionless in life as the soles of their shoes begin to burn?

I wonder if the same is true for humans as a species. To believe we can continue on our current path is folly. Our collective feet are getting warm – as is the global environment. How long can we keep from being scorched by an economic system based on digging up resources we turn into temporary trinkets to use briefly, discard and bury? How will we continue to feed 7 billion people, even as we become 12 billion, as farmland is increasingly turned into strip malls and housing developments? But then, to save corporate mega-farms is to preserve a different kind of ecological disaster. How long will Mother Nature – Pachamama – put up with a species that shows so little regard for the delicate balance required to support all life? At what point might she call a halt to our self-centeredness?

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Museum of Jewish Heritage Bans Discussion Of Truman & Israel: Too Controversial!

Feb19

by: on February 19th, 2014 | Comments Off

Credit: Creative Commons

It is almost laughable. The organized Jewish community, which claims to be worried about young Jews defecting in droves, just cannot help itself from doing things that drive Jews (not just young ones) away. Between supporting Netanyahu, advocating for war with Iran and maintaining the occupation, and keeping silent as Israel evolves into a theocracy, it also is in the business of preventing debate on all these things and more.

The latest is this. Phil Weiss reports that the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York has banned an appearance by New Republic journalist, John Judis, who has written a book challenging the conventional wisdom about why President Truman recognized Israel. The book argues that Truman recognized Israel in 1948 not because he was a fervent Zionist but because it was May of an election year, he was trailing in the polls and he was heavily lobbied by Zionists to do so. Shocking, right. Who would think that politics would enter into a decision like that?

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The Young Friends Pleasure and Benefit Society

Feb15

by: Eileen Pollack on February 15th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Until last May, I had never visited the cemetery where my mother’s parents lie buried. My grandfather died before I was born. My grandmother helped to raise me; I loved her dearly, but she died while I was living abroad, and I didn’t attend her funeral. All I knew was that the cemetery was called Mount Zion, one of those never-ending seas of graves you glimpse to one side of the BQE or the LIE as you are hurrying to LaGuardia.

“Promise me you’ll never go there,” my mother said. She seemed to believe that if I attempted to find it, I would end up lost, or dead, or both. But how could I live my life without once visiting my grandparents’ graves? And how could I die without knowing I had said goodbye to my beloved Grandma Pauline? Every time I traveled to New York, I vowed I would find Mount Zion. And every time, I had too much to do, or I chickened out.

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The Way of Peace is the Way of Truth: Interfaith Resources for Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine

Feb14

by: Mary Grey on February 14th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak  to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.

I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.

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Torah Commentary: Ki Tissa- Text and Authority: Sinai and the Golden Calf

Feb13

by: on February 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

Another one of those periodic crises of authority that tend to erupt in the Orthodox world recently captured the attention of the greater community. In this episode, two Orthodox day schools allowed girls who wished to put on tephillin, the ritual prayer boxes traditionally worn by men, the right to put on tephillin during school prayer time. A salvo from the traditionalist camp was quick to follow, focusing not on the question at hand but on the question of authority, with the central argument being that decisions of this sort can’t be made at the local level, but rather require the input from those recognized as long standing authorities. In particular, in this response, the specific argument was that while everyone now has equal access to the full corpus of Jewish legal texts, by way of the internet and the Bar-Ilan database, it doesn’t mean that everyone had the rights of “authority”. I am not going to take sides in this argument, but I believe we get some insight into the problems of a concept like “authority” in both its presence and absence.

The central story of this week’s reading is the well known story of the Golden Calf. Just after all the miracles of the exodus, Moses goes up to Sinai to receive the Torah, and when he is delayed in returning, the people assume he’s dead, have a major freak out, and create an idol of a calf out of gold, which they proclaim the new god and leader of the people. When Moses makes his way back down the mountain with the tablets of the law, the “luhot”, he literally loses it, smashing the tablets. God reveals to Moses that the plan is to wipe out the people and start again, to which Moses regains his composure and advocates for the people. God accepts the appeal and Moses gets a second set of luhot. So was there any lingering result of the sin? We discussed one possible ramification, the idea of a dwelling place, which may have come about as a result of the people’s tragic error. This week we will look at another repercussion of the event, which may give us some insight into the motivations for what appears to us to be a very odd sin by the people given everything they had recently experienced. In other words, why did they make a golden idol of a calf?

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A Not So Modest Proposal: Africa and Homophobia

Feb13

by: on February 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Credit: Creative Commons

In the last several months I have visited services in several faith communities – Jewish, Catholic and Muslim.  Sunday before last I was in my own house of worship, Union Methodist, a historically Black congregation.  After religious services, we gathered in the basement to discuss the vexed question of whether or not our pastors could or could not officiate over same-sex marriages.  The meeting took no formal vote, but the overwhelming sense of the gathering was that all people had a right to equality.  A thirteen year-old girl stood up and cried when she spoke of the bullying of a boy at her school.  An elderly Caribbean woman denounced gay bashing. A middle-aged father of two spoke of how he had slowly come out to his two daughters.  A Puerto Rican psychologist spoke movingly of how his early view of homosexuality had turned him away from a call to the ministry.  A young man from the Deep South spoke of the long darkness in his soul as he wrestled with demons, sexual and otherwise.  We had church.   

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Theaster’s Way

Feb6

by: on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”

His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.

So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Photo Gallery: Surviving Genocide in Sudan and Congo

Feb3

by: Janice Kamenir-Reznik on February 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Ten years ago, the first genocide of the 21st century started in Darfur. It was another in the long list of 46 genocides since the Holocaust, when the world first promised “Never Again!” Despite that promise, we’ve heard a deafening silence from the world as each of these genocides unfolded.

refugee camp

Tea: Miada and her mother share solar-cooked tea in the Iridimi Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. Credit: Barbara Grover.

During Rosh Hashanah in 2004, Rabbi Harold Schulweis challenged the Valley Beth Shalom Congregation in Encino to not stand idly by as another genocide happened in front of our eyes; he asked that we found Jewish World Watch, through which we could bring the lessons of Torah to bear on the horror being inflicted on humankind by perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities.

The Valley Beth Shalom community responded en masse, calling upon Southern California synagogues to unify and raise their collective voices in outrage over the events in Darfur. Over the last ten years, more than 70 synagogues have answered that call; together we have marched, rallied, and advocated – locally, nationally and internationally. We sent delegations to travel to the regions we work in to bear witness and bring survivors the message that they are not alone.

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Weekly Sermon: A Minor Detail, or a Gospel Mandate

Feb2

by: on February 2nd, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Watch the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr.’s Sermon on Psalm 23 and Luke 8: 40-55 as he explores seemingly minor details in the text that, upon further investigation, hold surprising spiritual power and significance.