Readers Respond: Letters to the Editor, Fall 2014
A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.
THE “PEACE PROCESS”: DOWN AND OUT?
The Palestinian Authority reached out to Hamas to form a unity government. This apparently so upset Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that he canceled the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. There will be no peace between Israel and Palestine and no hope for an independent Palestinian state under Benjamin Netanyahu. There will only be hope if Netanyahu is defeated in a future election by Tzipi Livni.
Michael Lerner responds:
Nor will there be peace under Tzipi Livni or any other probable candidate for prime minister until there is a change of heart in both peoples such that they understand the narrative of the other and have compassion for those whom they’ve come to see as unrelenting enemies. Though Israel was outrageous and arrogant in refusing to fulfill the terms that created the rounds of talks that ended in May (freeing Palestinian prisoners), the Palestinians made a crucial error by refusing to embrace an idea thrown out by Kerry and momentarily embraced by Netanyahu—the suggestion that settlers could stay in the West Bank but as citizens of a Palestinian state (presumably living under Palestinian laws and giving up their Israeli citizenship). This proposal could only work if Israel also apologized for its part in the 1948 Nakba and agreed to bring back 20,000 Palestinians per year for the next thirty years and provide them with decent housing and jobs. I’ve written on this idea at more length in Embracing Israel/Palestine, where I analyzed the psycho-spiritual post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicts both sides, and in my editorial in Tikkun’s Winter 2014 issue, where I defined the only terms that would produce a sustainable agreement that could satisfy the basic needs of both sides.
It’s a waste of time to revive those talks. What would work better is for Obama himself to take on the task of laying out the proposal I outlined above in detail to the Israeli people and Palestinian people over the heads of their leadership. After the midterm elections, it is conceivable he could do this because he will never have to run for office again. Obama could simultaneously seek to build a constituency for this proposal among the American people, undeterred by AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and all other unresponsive bodies. He’d meet with much resistance from the diehards on both sides, but if he had the backbone to try to sell this plan to the American, Israeli, and Palestinian publics, he’d do more for peace than would any agreement that he could impose on the leaders of those countries. (Imposed agreements always risk being defeated in practice, as the Oslo Accord was after having been signed with great hoopla at the White House in 1993.) That path might make it easier for a future president to push Israel toward a reasonable peace position and give strength to the openhearted people on all sides of this struggle who realize that only a generous and just peace can possibly be sustainable. All the rest is commentary.
LITURGY GONE TOO WILD?
I find it hard to understand how someone can find anything to do with Jesus in a couple of naked male dancers at an Easter celebration in church (I’m referring to “When Liturgy Goes Wild, Worship Happens” by Donna Schaper in the Winter 2014 issue). Yes, Christianity is about freedom, but not freedom to do whatever you want, no matter how ridiculous. It is about freedom from the guilt and eternal penalty of sin, as well as the bondage to sin.
The article goes on to distort the clear meaning of scripture mercilessly by mentioning that about 20 percent of the questions Jesus asked involved clothing and nakedness, citing, as one example, Jesus’s question, “Why do you worry so much about what you will wear?” Obviously the question, from Matthew chapter 6, is in the context that your heavenly Father will take care of clothing you, as the subsequent verses attest. They have nothing to do with nudity. And Christ being stripped of his clothing prior to the crucifixion was not meant to be an endorsement of nudity in worship or other contexts.
None of the other questions Christ posed involving nakedness could, by any stretch of the imagination, be taken as some kind of an endorsement of artistic nudity, recreational nudity, or what have you. If you want to make a Christian argument for such things in some contexts, you may do so, but not by distorting the clear meaning of scripture, or, for that matter, of Christianity.
Donna Schaper Responds
In response to Dan Hochberg’s letter regarding my article, I want to simply observe two things. One is that nudity seems to bother him a lot. I was writing about something larger than nudity. By making nudity apparent and visible, the vulnerability of nakedness can be more richly observed. I am so sorry to have offended his righteous sensibilities. I would hope for a dialogue in which Jesus’s urgency for us to clothe the naked and to worry less about fashion and what we wear would open the doors on understandings of human vulnerabilities. I do want to know why we so often picture Jesus as naked on the cross. My direction was vulnerability in letting liturgy go wild. I am sorry that Dan Hochberg doesn’t want to go there but prefers the irate self-protection of the so-called “appropriate,” which is such a good costume to wear when vulnerability threatens. Secondly, I spend most of my life battling the religion of rules with the religion of compassion. I think the “rules people” spend a lot of time beating themselves and others with a stick. I write to make room for compassion in the ocean of rules that people use and abuse to confuse religion with self-righteousness. Finally, next time I write about liturgy, I hope I’ll find a way to get to the “clear meaning of Christianity.” Dan Hochberg thinks he has it; I do not. Instead I like to evoke and invoke in worship, even sometimes to provoke so that people who think they have the “clear” meaning of Christianity will be more creatively confused.
THE CASE FOR BDS
I’ve written you a couple of times asking for you to publish an article by someone who is in the know about, and in favor of, BDS, so that your readership can get a sense “from the horse’s mouth” what BDS is all about from its own point of view.
Now, having read Donna Nevel’s Tikkun Daily post on “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the American Jewish Community,” I’m writing to let you know that I appreciate your having done so. I feel heard!
POETRY THAT LETS US CHOOSE
We use language, according to Hayim Nahman Bialik, to conceal. We are like one “who crosses a river when it is breaking up, by stepping across floating, moving blocks of ice. Between the breaches the void looms.”
Barbara Goldberg—the author of the poem “Furlough” that was published as a web exclusive on tikkun.org—is the daughter of survivors, the granddaughter of those who could not imagine another life long enough to escape in time. Though more than thirty years old when she realized she was a poet, she had excellent training in reading between the lines. “I was aware of how language can obscure as well as reveal. Obsessed from childhood with curiosity about the ‘underbelly’ of things, I wanted to find a way to penetrate surface appearances.” Her legacy? “To stay liquid, be able to make a quick getaway…Fear is the ravenous wolf at my door. Sometimes I throw him a scrap in the shape of a poem.”
Even in a poem like “Furlough,” a poem ostensibly about witnessing a father taking delight in his child, images of war—a child thrown up into the air falling “light/as grenades”—are the powerful counterweight just under the surface. But the poem does not stop there. Reminiscent of a Yiddish curse—may you grow like an onion with your head in the ground—the poet gives us a choice. “Gravity” that brings us down or “love, to hold things up.” What a great distance this poem travels. The scrap thrown to the wolf will keep us safe for a long time, if we pay attention to the complex territory of this fully realized poem.
SUICIDES OVER FIFTY
I’m all verklempt over here as I read “What Do the Suicides of Fifty-Year-Old Men Reveal?” (Margaret Morganroth Gullette’s article from the Spring 2014 print issue)—for it is forcing me to face the fact that the idea of suicide as a way out has crossed my mind with increasing regularity in recent years.
I am one of those referenced in the article who was not insured because of a pre-existing condition and could not get appropriate treatment for a debilitating spinal condition. Now that I am of Medicare age I have finally had an MRI and am undergoing treatment for spinal stenosis and an injury to a facet joint.
Now, I’m facing three realities:
1) It might be too far-gone to avoid surgery. The physical therapist is scratching her head at my very slow progress, and the other conservative modalities have failed totally.
2) Medicare limits a patient to 30 physical therapy visits per year. That’s not only less than one per week; it fails to cover enough for one injury or condition!
3) All too often surgery fails to improve spinal conditions, but rather worsens them.
So, being uninsured was truly devastating in my case, it seems.
Walking around in constant chronic pain is very debilitating. Michael, if I did not have a 7-year-old child (truly G-d’s gift in my old age), I wonder if I would not add to the suicide statistic.
As you might know, worship attendance nationally (and in my little spiritual center) is way off, money is down, and my little group is barely able to pay my rent and utilities, let alone an income that makes an enjoyable life possible.
However, I am not the prototypical fifty-plus-year-old discussed in the article.
Fortunately, in my case, my total dedication to my relationship with the Almighty provides an outlet, a resource, a pre-occupation, and a fulfilling commitment that overrides my more temporal concerns.
Without that Divine commitment, and a fulfilling occupation that helps people, Michael, and without a little girl who I dearly love, I know of little that would keep me in this game.
I can fully and completely put myself in the shoes of the man your friend writes about. I understand him… there but for life choices and blessings that fell my way, go I.
The one thing not mentioned in the article—and why I stated in my note to my fellow ministers that it is “a partial look”—is the spiritual vacuum that must be there for suicides; that life isn’t about making a living yada yada… that there is this relationship with G-d etc. That was not the article’s point of view and I understand that. It is a worthy topic for consideration in the future, however.
Before I forget, let me tell you that I have posted the article in the Unity Minister Discussion Group as follows:
Suicide Rate Among Men over 50 Called “Epidemic”: Important for us to know about. My friend Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine takes a partial look at the sad phenomenon… I’m shocked by the stats and wondering how we can be of service in the face of it.
I have previously exhorted members of our group to join the Network of Spiritual Progressives.
So, thank you for this article. I am proud to know that we are friends and happy to support your work, even as meagerly as I am presently able. By G-d’s grace my struggling ministry will find its audience and we’ll be more able to support your work.
Please take a look at www.SpiritualFerndale.com. If you or your people can make suggestions, please do. You will note that my dear friend Rabbi Dorit Edut speaks for me when I go on vacation and I am trying to get her to become more involved. I always tell her that she is my favorite FEMALE rabbi as I happily mention you and your work from time to time.
Much love to you and your family.
—John Considine (Rev.)
REMEMBERING NELSON MANDELA
Rabbi Lerner’s web article, “Nelson Mandela: A Jewish Perspective,” on the attraction that Nelson Mandela had for Jews, seems to politely ignore the fact that a great many Jews, together with the vast majority of white South Africans, exhibited extreme fear of Mr. Mandela during the time of his imprisonment. At the start of his first treason trial, I was an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town, and saw the paranoia at very close quarters. In the early sixties, before I became an academic political scientist, I worked for the parliamentary campaign of the late, great progressive Helen Suzman, Member of Parliament, and often found considerable hostility from many Jewish voters. As in the United States during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, there were real divisions among all white voter groups. In both countries, responses were much more nuanced, though with some differences. Not the least of it was that in the U.S. blacks are a minority and in South Africa they are a majority, but treated as a subject minority by colonial history and white hysteria.
El Cerrito, CA
THE DANCE OF ALLYSHIP
Thank you for this thoughtful article. I love and want to keep talking about race relations especially between Jews and people of color. For me it is a dance, watching dynamics between races, classes, and genders—super conscious of what respect means to the different people around the table. But, yes, bringing my ideas to the table. Ultimately, that is why I am there, so I must say what is on my mind.
I sit on a diverse team at the residential drug rehab I work at. And I do the dance every day with my colleagues—the dance of showing respect, bringing ideas, and voicing my opinion. I love working there and I love working with them.
The dance is a huge challenge but we have no choice but to do it. I have been blessed with close relationships for many years and I have found African Americans to be extremely generous with me and even when I have put my foot in my mouth, they have let it go. I think because they do see me as an ally because I won’t stop doing the work.
We know how that feels when our allies (in my case, the allies of Jews and lesbians) are out there with us and say things that are offensive or do things that show lack of awareness. They are in the process of developing this work with us, so they are included. And God knows, we want them and need them at the table.
In ending, all I have to say is “please, please speak up” so that the work will move forward.
New Paltz, NY