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Is This It? I’m Afraid So

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Jews of my generation are trained from infancy to sense which way the wind is blowing. If you descend as I do from a long line of nomads and refugees—if your family tree is stunted, the branches disappearing into cracks in history, if the images of children being torn from their parents’ arms are imprinted just behind your eyes—you develop a keen sense of impending disaster. And so the question that reverberates is simple: Is it now? Is this it?

I’m afraid so.


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The Siamese Twins

Jun15

by: Uri Avnery on June 15th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Image of President Gerald R. Ford and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting in the Oval Office

President Gerald R. Ford and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meeting in the Oval Office. Image courtesy of Crethi Plethi.

After commenting on most of the episodes on the first Israeli Prime Ministers in Raviv Drucker’s TV series “The Captains”, I must come back to the one whose episode I have not yet covered: Yitzhak Rabin.

Let me state right from the beginning: I liked the man.

He was a man after my own heart: honest, logical, straightforward, to the point.

No nonsense, no small talk. You entered his room, he poured you a straight whisky (seemed to me he detested water), got you seated, and asked a question that compelled you to come straight to the point.

How refreshing, compared to other politicians. But Rabin was no real politician. He was a military man through and through. He was also the man who could have changed the history of Israel.

That is why he was murdered.

The salient fact of his life was that, at the age of 70, he completely changed his basic outlook.

He was not born a man of peace. Far from it.

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Baseball Infamy

Jun14

by: Victor Acquista on June 14th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

A Mound Over Hell

by Gary Morgenstein

BHC Press, 2018

A good place to start making our world a better place is to identify current problems and then strategize on how to solve those problems. What about when the problems themselves are hidden, or entangled in a complex web of truth and falsehood and conflicting ideologies? What we often categorize as “culture wars” has roots in the evolution of consciousness and how individuals and groups at different levels of consciousness coexist. Socially conscious fiction helps to shine light upon social ills. In this sense, it helps to raise awareness.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

In his novel, A Mound Over Hell, Gary Morgenstein has given us much to think about regarding the current state of modern society. Although the story is set in the future, today’s social problems are on full display. Baseball seems an unlikely place to uncover and expose societal conflict. Yet, Morgenstein reveals it to be the perfect construct for digging deep into the underbelly of a future America where baseball is on the brink of extinction. The seeds of past conflict often blossom into future turmoil. His novel is a far cry from A Field of Dreams.

In these times when people exploit half-truths, fake news, and alternate facts, the book itself is timely. The narrative blends a combination of baseball truths and fabrications wedded together, takes readers through a somewhat unexpected trajectory, and reframes historical elements to uncover an uncomfortable present. Surprise! Not all is what citizens have been led to believe. Lies clearly have the upper hand in this marital union. Despite this foundation of falsehood, the citizens live in a zeitgeist of syrupy contentment.

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A Family Reunion

Jun6

by: on June 6th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

When my family gets together it is a good time.

This Memorial Day Weekend, my paternal extended family met in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a good time. A family reunion is interesting because it links past and present in the eternal now, and we see in real time, in flesh and blood and music and dancing and food and stories told and new memories made and worship and more food and more music and more dancing our connection -in blood and in love–to other human beings. These people look like us and act like us, and we are growing old together.

Since my father’s death in 2013, I am part of the elder generation. We get together and laugh about who is the eldest of the elders, remembering when we were the young bunch. We see younger cousins who remind us of aunts and uncles and cousins who were long dead when they were born. We tell the stories of these people so the younger generations will know that they too are connected.

While in Memphis, our family visited the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. This is a historical site the tells the story of the Underground Railroad, a system of houses and hideouts that helped enslaved people to escape slavery into the north even into Canada. When my younger cousins who had organized the reunion said we were going to the Slave Haven, I must confess that I experienced cognitive dissonance. What kind of haven could there be for slaves? Now that I am of the elder generation, I am determined not to be a mean old lady who is constantly critical of the younger generations. So, I held my peace and just decided that I would see in the due course of time what a slave haven was. I was not disappointed. (http://www.slavehavenmemphis.com/)

The museum is located in the home of Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant and a member of the antislavery movement who helped enslaved people escape from 1855 until the end of the Civil War. I know the story of the Underground Railroad well. When I lived in Rochester, New York, I lived near houses that were stops on the way to Canada. When I lived in Dayton, Ohio, I learned of the route of the enslaved as they crossed the Ohio River on their way to Michigan and on to Canada. I have always pictured the houses on the secret road to freedom to be in the north. I always imagined slaves hiding in swamps or in the southern woods until they found their way north. However, the Slave Haven helped me to understand that there must have been people in the south who were willing to risk their own lives to help other people get to freedom by allowing their homes to be a stopping point.

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A note from a Canadian Muslim

Jun5

by: Dr. Junaid Jahangir on June 5th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

The Israeli sniper fatally shooting a 21-year-old nurse Razan Al Najjar in the chest and the earlier shooting of a soft-spoken Dr. Tarik Loubani has disturbed me greatly. Dr. Loubani reminds me of another soft-spoken Dr. Abu Al Aysh, who was yelled at in a press conference just when the IDF killed three of his daughters through a missile strike. I also note the incarceration of Ahed Tamimi, a teenager who was sentenced by a military court. I recall the burning of a young Abu Khdeir and the murder of three Israeli boys — Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel.

The people I look up to Rev. Dr. Nancy Steeves, Dr. Dawn Waring, Dr. Sherry Ann Chapman, Rev. Betty Marlin, Rev. Audrey Brooks and Rob Wells are all extremely concerned about occupation, apartheid, and ongoing persecution of the Palestinian people. Four of them have been to the Holy Land to stand as witness to the suffering of the Palestinian people that includes Muslims and Christians. On the other hand, I have warm relations with the Jewish community. Conservative Judaism has inspired me, as the writings of the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis (alav ha shalom) have touched me greatly. I have also followed the Responza of Conservative Judaism on same-sex marriage and have borrowed from it in my writings.

I am neither a Christian nor a Jew. For that matter, I am neither a traditional Muslim. After all, I have a drastically different understanding of homosexuality, blasphemy, dying with dignity, all of which would put me at odds with many Muslims who like to pass themselves as carrying “majoritarian” viewpoints. This also includes many LGBTQ Muslims, who just tweak one element in religion to fit themselves but buy neo-traditional values on all other issues. I could be considered a heretic, but it is such heresy that allows me to push the frontiers of thought.

When I write, I like to get my pieces vetted before sending them out in the media. As such, when I compose articles I want them air tight and unassailable. On LGBTQ issues, I have created a formidable discourse with Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, who is Palestinian, along with our brilliant editor Dr. Samar Habib. However, I find myself unable to create a similar discourse on Israel and Palestine. For every argument, there is a counter-argument. The narratives of the two people are utterly different and dialogue does not bridge them. That is why writing on Israel and Palestine has been very difficult for me. I have noted that in the interfaith group I tried to set in Edmonton. The Jewish Rabbi and the Egyptian lady were just at loggerheads.

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Religions Discriminating Against Same-Sex Couples are Religions Lacking Moral Authority

Jun5

by: Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld on June 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Long long ago in a land far far away at the world’s Middle East then under Roman rule, a man with ivory white skin and long flowing blond hair (really, I thought you said he was from the Middle East?) proclaimed:

“Thou shall not eateth cake if thou expecteth to marry someone of thine own sex, for it is abomination. If thou eateth said treat, thou shall burneth in the flames of the deep hot confectionery hellhole for eternity!”

While the historical Jesus of Nazareth has been shown never to have asserted any mention of same-sex sexuality, same-sex marriage, or the purchase and consumption of baked goods for same-sex couples, people with same-sex attractions and love interests have suffered the ravages of religious persecution throughout the ages on “religious” grounds.

Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have employed religious dogma to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.

The United States of America was founded on Christian justifications for oppression, utilizing so-called “religious” rationalizations for slavery, bans on interracial marriage, advancing racial segregation, against women’s enfranchisement and the rights of women to control their bodies, opposition to public schooling, banning public education and other services for people with disabilities, restrictions on immigration and voting rights, imposition of school prayer and so-called “Blue Laws” prohibiting Sunday sales, and many other areas of public policy. 

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Proposals for Reducing the Plague of Gun Violence

Jun1

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on June 1st, 2018 | No Comments »

June has been designated “Gun Violence Awareness Month,” with June 1st as “Gun Violence Awareness Day.” The first day and throughout the month are intended to raise awareness of the estimated 96 people killed every day and the many more injured across the United States.

We wear orange to symbolize the epidemic of gun violence ravaging the country. Throughout the month, organizations are planning educational efforts, voter registration drives, and mobilization activities.

We currently live in a political climate in which national, state, and local governments are increasingly dismantling regulations for the benefit of the corporate sector’s bottom line rather than to better ensure the safety and health of the people.

While no single or a combination of measures will completely eliminate firearms deaths and injuries, I have constructed a list of proposals, thereby bucking the current deregulatory trend, intended to substantially diminish the plague of violence:

Ban and criminalize the possession of semi-automatic and so-called “assault” weapons!

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Conspiracies, Left and Right

Jun1

by: Jonathan Zimmerman on June 1st, 2018 | No Comments »

Last week, the president of the United States went into full-on conspiracy-theory mode. Donald J. Trump asserted that a “criminal deep state” planted a spy in his 2016 campaign, in a failed effort to install Hillary Clinton in the White House. And so “Spygate” was born.

Meanwhile, Trump was being blackmailed by the Russians with a lurid tape showing prostitutes urinating in front of him. That’s why he has refrained from attacking Vladimir Putin, who conspired to swing the election to . . . Donald J. Trump.

No, wait: that conspiracy theory is being spread by Trump’s enemies, not by the president. And by indulging in their own flights of fantasy, they make it harder to criticize our fact-challenged commander-in-chief.

Let’s be clear: there’s no evidence—none—that anyone planted a “spy” in Trump’s campaign. True, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant contacted the campaign as part of the investigation of Russian meddling in the election. But Trump claims that the informant was sent by the Obama White House to infiltrate his operation, which is—quite simply—a fantasy.

Yet the “Pee-Gate” story is pretty fantastical, too. It comes to us from a dossier compiled by British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who has admitted that some parts of the dossier might not be accurate. He described it as a set of leads, not as a full report.

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Response to “Thoughts on Roth”

May30

by: Judith Mahoney Pasternak on May 30th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As a woman, a Jew, and a writer, I’ve tried for the days since I learned of Roth’s death to parse the grief I felt at that moment. It comes down to the repeated shocks of joy I felt on first reading Portnoy in 1969, before the very different shock of Second-Wave feminism had carried me down different paths, although never away from appreciating his work.

In fact, I think, it was feminism that enabled me to articulate what Portnoy had achieved: Roth had revealed, as no one before him had, the ways in which so many men of my demographic saw women—the Jewish American men of my generation, good men, men I had admired, loved, even married. As everyone has already noted about Roth’s work, I didn’t see myself mirrored in it. The so much smaller proportion of published works by women throughout most of Western history—combined, of course, with the profound differences in experience between the genders in a gender-divided world—has always made it hard for us to find ourselves mirrored in the literary canons.

So no, I didn’t see myself reflected in Portnoy. But I saw men I knew. They were exaggerated, of course. I was pretty sure that no one I knew had ever fucked his own family’s dinner, although I rolled on the floor laughing when I read Alex Portnoy’s confession of having done it.

That’s what writers do. We don’t create real people, God does. We create people who feel real, for the purpose of telling a story. There’s never been a literally real Alex Portnoy, or a literally real Mr. Micawber or Constance Chatterley. (One of my worst arguments with my father in our lives was when he told me how well D.H. Lawrence understood women and I demurred.)

Roth wrote great stories. Like what’s still the preponderance of the canons, they were about men, about what men think and feel and experience, including their experiences of the women in their lives. I’m glad there are more women being published now, glad our stories are being told. But I’m also glad Roth was here to write the ones he wrote.

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Now based in ParisJudith Mahoney Pasternak  is a long-time U.S. writer and journalist in the progressive media and an activist for feminism, peace, and Palestinian self-determination.

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Thoughts on Philip Roth: America, Jew, Male

May30

by: Shaul Magid on May 30th, 2018 | No Comments »

By Shaul Magid   (and please also read the afterword by Rabbi Michael  Lerner with another  and somewhat critical reflection on Roth after the bio of Shaul Magid below)

Why did it matter so much to me and so many others like me that Phillip Roth has left this world? When I first heard the news in the early hours of a late spring morning, I felt a kind of shudder like a window had closed suddenly and the air quality changed just a bit. He was, of course, a gifted writer and an American literary icon, but why does it really matter more than when other great literary figures leave this world. But there was something about Roth for anyone who really came to life in postwar America that is different. He often said he hated the term Jewish writer and always denied he was one. He identified simply as a writer and said “If I am not American I am nothing at all.” And yes, and yet. His use, manipulation, parody, obsession, subversion, and yes even diabolical love of Jewishness and Judaism made him one of the great Jewish writers in the past century at least. He is equal in my view to Shalom Aleichem or Shai Agnon, although painting a different world, for different people, of different Jews.

His Jewishness reminds me of what Hannah Arendt said she was asked what she thought of being a Jew, she replied, “Well, I can’t think of being anything else.” So while Roth may have denied being a Jewish writer, he was a writer who spoke to Jews in a way that was similar but different than the way he spoke to everyone else the same way that Toni Morrison speaks to blacks in a way different than the way she can he heard by whites. But for both Roth and Morrison it is all in the context of being an American, quintessentially so.

But what was Roth really saying to us…about being Jewish. First, it is that in today’s America, there is nothing to hide about being Jewish. He believed in America and he believed Jews were deeply a part of America. In the early 60s when Goodbye Columbus was first published he claimed he was booed at Yeshiva University, after being invited to speak there, and rabbinic leaders there tried to use their muscle to derail his literary career by writing to his publisher. One of the rabbis said, “In the Middle Ages they knew what to do with people like Roth.” (Steve Zipperstein’s May 28th essay in The Forward “Phillip Roth’s Forgotten Tape” writes that the reception at YU was not nearly a negative as Roth portrayed it). Gershom Scholem said of Portnoy’s Complaint, “This will be worse for the Jews than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” And yet, the way in which Jack Kerouac or Normal Mailer or Truman Capote or Tom Wolfe  meant something to the emerging counter-culture in the 1960s, Roth opened up a way for Jews in those years that they no longer needed to be in hiding. Yes, we had Malamud, and Howe, and Bellow, and Singer, but Roth was more subversive and more tempting. Roth pushed the boundaries in different and arguably more disturbing ways. The unveiling of Jewish neurosis for all to see, the queering of stereotypes to make them comical and then fascial, and then banal. The ability to laugh and feel suddenly naked, and then laugh at that too, that was a gift Roth gave us.

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