An Open Letter from 'The Shondes'


On March 28 Brooklyn rock band The Shondes (Yiddish for “The Disgraces”) were disinvited from the Washington Jewish Music Festival, at which they were scheduled to perform on June 2, due to band members’ views on Israel and Palestine. Founding members, singer Louisa Rachel Solomon and violinist Elijah Oberman, have written this open letter in response.

Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr/Meaghan O'Malley

The idea of “The Jewish Community” gets thrown around a lot, even though we have never been a singular or remotely unified group. Jews have wildly different traditions, experiences, and opinions about what Jewish-ness even is. Are The Shondes part of this often-invoked, elusive community? In many ways the answer is clearly yes. But when its institutional guardians draw borders around it to keep out people and ideas they deem unsavory, out-of-line, or “off-brand,” it is an incredibly fraught belonging, to say the least. That kind of policing is the antithesis of the Judaism we love.

One of our favorite jokes is the one about the four rabbis, three of whom always band against the other in arguments. When the fourth gets G-d to intercede for him, the three respond: “Nu? So now it’s three against two.” We were always, perhaps naively, very comfortable with the idea that in Judaism debate is inevitable and invaluable. (How else would the Talmud exist?) Coming to support Palestinian rights, then, even in the face of hardline institutional Zionism, didn’t make us feel any less Jewish or less entitled to community. After all, what could be more Jewish than asking tough questions and fighting injustice?
Of course we’ve learned a lot since then. When the DC Jewish Community Center (DC JCC) asked us to play the Washington Jewish Music Festival this year, we had no illusions about their politics. We accepted the offer in a spirit of optimism, believing that despite the political chasm between us, we are part of the community they supposedly serve, and ought to be able to get on stage and play our songs — most of which are about love, survival, and hope — for anyone who wants to hear them. Then they abruptly uninvited us last week, citing our past comments on Israel. Apparently the mere presence of those who don’t share their views is intolerable.

In light of this blacklisting debacle, it seemed we should offer a bit about where we are coming from. We are best friends who have shared 14 intensely transformative years in New York. We have an unmistakable camaraderie, a great platonic love born of shared hardship and joy, struggle, and occasional victory. We built our friendship in the streets protesting, in our apartments lighting Shabbes candles, and on stage performing. Music, Judaism, and activism have proven to be inseparable, essential parts of our lives.

In college at the New School we occupied pro-war President Bob Kerrey’s office, demanded divestment from arms manufacturers, and even formed an anti-Occupation “Hillel” (we had the audacity to declare it “Hillel” without anyone’s permission, before there was the inspirational Open Hillel). We watched the Twin Towers fall, in our pajamas in the street, and then watched a disturbing, reactionary patriotism unfold. We saw Arab, Muslim, and South Asian friends demonized and attacked in the shameful racist backlash that overtook our city. We protested, organized, and tried to figure out what solidarity was.

One particularly depressing day, Louisa convinced Eli to try playing punkrock violin with her, and we stumbled upon the musical collaboration that would become our life. Songwriting is rigorous work that helps us feel more whole; it engages us spiritually, politically, intellectually, and emotionally. When we perform, we give audiences everything we have, all our vulnerability and strength, and the connection between us is palpable. It feels sacred and radical, and in moments, like a glimpse of a better world.

Jewish ritual — on holidays, shabbes, and whenever else we needed it — also became a source of comfort, connection, and strength, and ritual events became sites for organizing. We joined Jews Against the Occupation, where we had the honor of working on the After Exodus seder. It took place on the last day of Passover as the sun set and the holiday ended, and focused on asking “after 8 days of reflecting on Jewish persecution and liberation, how do we respond to the oppression of Palestinians in our names?” There has never been much separation for us between doing Judaism and doing activism.

Though opposing occupation and Jewish nationalism made good sense to both of us, Louisa’s experiences with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank deepened how those political positions felt. They became much more visceral, particularly when Louisa described seeing Israeli soldiers terrorize Palestinian families and then spray paint stars of David on their homes, using the Jewish symbol as a mark of conquest. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is brutal and unjust, and its claims on Judaism are disgraceful distortions of anything we have ever found meaning in.

When we formed The Shondes we had no expectation of support from mainstream Jewish institutions. We were, after all, self-identified disgraces with a devoted, but small following. From their perspective we were ignorable, irrelevant. But that changed when we started receiving serious critical praise, and in their endless quest to appeal to young, hip Jews, we finally registered on their radar. How revealing that they invited us and then canceled, betraying their priorities so clearly. Evidently it’s more important to maintain an old guard party line on Israel than to “broaden the tent.” Rest assured, young and alienated Jews will get that message loud and clear: keeping critics of Israel out is more important than inviting you in.

We stand in solidarity with Palestine because Judaism calls us to the work of ethical existence, to grapple with power and privilege, to notice and resist what is unjust. We support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement (BDS) because it pressures Israel to comply with international law: to end the illegal occupation, ensure refugees their right to return home, and guarantee full rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel. Its tactics have been used throughout history to draw attention to and demand accountability for injustice, yet the DC JCC has treated our position like treason, grounds for excommunication. Their reaction is not only comically punitive, but embarrassingly retrograde! Sooner or later they will realize that increasing numbers of Jews oppose Israel’s actions in our names, and many of those who don’t endorse BDS unequivocally support open conversation of it. No one wants to be told what to think, threatened for asking questions, or punished for taking a stand. What an irony that institutions whose missions focus on protecting Judaism’s future are writing themselves out of it.
Through some Jewish numerology we won’t subject you to (ask if you want to know!), the tzitzit (fringes) on a tallis (prayer shawl), are said to represent both the heart (lev) and our commandments (mitzvot). Sometimes called G-d’s heartstrings, the fringes are an enduring reminder of our core beliefs and principles, our capacity for love and empathy, our responsibilities in the world. Some will try to coerce us into silence on Israel, but they will fail — the conversation is happening whether they like it or not. Judaism is not owned by these self-appointed arbiters of Jewish propriety; it belongs to all of us. We are a part of the Jewish community as much as such a thing exists, and we are happy to remain on its fringes. We will make our Jewish future here.


Elijah Oberman and Louisa Rachel Solomon are the violinist and lead singer of Brooklyn rock band The Shondes.

52 thoughts on “An Open Letter from 'The Shondes'

    • Apparently not everyone realizes that. It’s sad how quickly many of those aware enough about the occupation to make a difference slide into the BDS fallacy.

    • How truly misinformed you are. Another Palestinians are terrorists myth. Do you ever read Torah? Your views are unholy and full of a sickness that means only you are entitled to decide who gets to live where. You have turned Israel into a Land of the hateful!

      • Seeing that the Palestine people were nomdas until the Arab countries around this area told them to settle in Israel so they could have their own country, when they destroyed all Jewish people, and then told to flee when Israel became a nation again. They wanted them to look like the ones who were there first and not the Jewish people. These Jewish people had bought the land from the Ottoman Empire starting in the 1850 s or so and improved the land. Then when the British were in control they continued to buy back the land from all those who lived there.Oh also there never was a country called Palestine until 1967 when Yassar Arafat declared it to be at the Khartoum Conference.This history comes from the Egyptian circa 2500 b.c. then the Assyrian, Babylon, Greek, and the Romans. However there is recorded history of the Jewish people in this area from 1000 b.c.Sorry but the PLO,Hamas, and the Hezbollah are the ones who have made this area a war zone and not the Jewish people.

      • the initial decioisn to deny Chomsky entry was down to a misunderstanding, and denied claims that Chomsky’s name was on a black list of individuals prohibited from entering the country. She confirmed he was questioned for a number of hours before being denied entry by the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Border Authority.Speaking from the Jordan Valley, Chomsky told Channel 10 TV, I’ve often spoken at Israeli universities. In 2009, following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Chomsky said, supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration.

    • Based upon genetics, linguistics and real history, Ashkenasi are European not Semitic, so anti-Palestinian IS antisemitism. 49 some odd years ago people were displaced from their ancestral homeland and to say they have no right to return is to claim they were never there. Who in Israel were really never there?

    • BDS is more complicated than that, Bill.
      Israel seems to be trying to exterminate itself (at least as a Jewish state) by making the second state impossible.
      Much of BDS is about ending the occupation and illegal (see Theodur Meron) settlments which might actually save the Jewish state. Apartheid was always going to be life-limited.
      Or, perhaps the right of return (as mandated by international law) to a modern, 21st century secular multi-ethnic Israel is a just outcome given the type of jingoistic vitriol now associated with zionism.
      Either way, I’m glad to see these wonderful young people standing up for the Jewish tradition of human rights advocacy (AND spirited debate!) 🙂

    • You know, the ***** argument was also that the Jews were a porlbem too and the world would be a nicer place without them.For the record, there are some extremist Israelis who argue for the expulsion of the Arabs and say similar things that you do, that Israel would then be a peaceful place. They are condemned as racists.

    • Unlike others (remember when Arash the Occupation Soldier potsed that video of a stoning and blamed ALL Muslims even though the people in the video weren’t Muslims and he wouldn’t own up to it. In fact, he still blamed Islam!), I’ll own up to it. The map is poorly devised and it was misleading, but I should have been more careful. And yes, I agree with Mr. Smiley Face, Israel is a massive thief when it comes to monopolizing W. Bank water for the relatively small # of settlers. Thus, it’s not hard to see how I jumped the gun.

    • This is an extreme far-left small group of Jews who hate the rest of us. You know and I know the maiorjty of Jews support Israel. You know and I know the maiorjty of Iranians want to fundamentally change the government in Iran. By the way, I like your picture of Obama.. isn’t that from when he spoke at AIPAC?

  1. You have every right to advocate as you see fit. But your implicit contention — that the JCC should be obligated to provide a platform to BDS advocates — is nonsence. It is also somewhat ironic when BDS advocates cry crocodile tears when they are subjected to a boycott.

    • i’m ignoring this bloarwhd. chomsky’s about as jewish as jewish gets. these people do a disservice to jews with their watering down of the concept of anti semitism. like the boy who cried wolf the villagers wouldn’t even know what an anti semitism looked like if they kept listening to creeps like this. luckily for the most part they don’t.

  2. Thank you for your amazing letter. It is honest, accurate & inspiring. The future of Judaism must be with justice, not commission of human rights violations in perpetuity. I am grateful for your elequent letter and your advocacy.

    • Seham’s imagined rhairotcel question to Atwood, and a couple of comments refer to Chomsky being kept out of the country. He was kept out of the country, of course, only if you accept the West Bank as being part of Israel. Given the significance of this issue, one should be more careful and clear in how one uses these terms.

    • Yes becuase if it never beacme a country the the islams in the middle east would not be trying to kill us. The islam arnt mad that we have freedom there mad that we are helping israel

  3. Beautiful letter. Many thanks for your thoughtful compassion. I look forward to listening to the Shondes.

    • This is an extreme far-left small group of Jews who hate the rest of us. You know and I know the maijorty of Jews support Israel. You know and I know the maijorty of Iranians want to fundamentally change the government in Iran. By the way, I like your picture of Obama.. isn’t that from when he spoke at AIPAC?

  4. .
    The idea of “The Jewish Community” gets thrown around a lot, even though we have never been a singular or remotely unified group. Jews have wildly different traditions, experiences, and opinions about what Jewish-ness even is.
    Indeed, and so-called pluralistic Jewish institutions, which position themselves to as home to the diversity of American Jews, are cracking under the weight of pro-Israel guidelines most young Jews look upon with a mixture of confusion and disdain.
    Keep making your music, The Shondes. You’ll always have an audience in the ‘Jewish community.’

    • You can obviously define the Jewish Community any way you like, but that misses the point by a mile. The DCJCC has long had a policy opposing BDS. Providing a platform to musical artists (or writers) who use their craft to vigorously advocate for BDS cannot be squared with that policy. BDS is where the line is drawn.

  5. I will have more sympathy for this argument when it stops being about how terribly wrong the Israelis are.
    Apparently always. I urge you to look at the destruction of Jewish institutions under Jordanian occupation of the Old City, at the failure of the Jordanians or the Egyptians to integrate the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza into their societies and/or to grant them citizenship during their control of those lands, at the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt by Nasser in 1956, at the expulsion of the Jews from other Arab lands from 1948 on, at the persecution of and assaults on any remaining Jews in those countries, at the complete failure of the “international community” — whatever it may be — and the BDS movement to address any of these issues. I agree that governments in Israel have not always acted on what many of us would see as the interests of their people. This discussion, however, should not always be a one way street, in which the Israelis are always the bad guys and every bit of history is conveniently forgotten.

  6. Thank you for this great, compassionate letter. As a Jew who supports BDS and palestinian rights (there are far more of us than people might think!) I am ashamed and furious about an apartheid state that claims my identity as its justification.
    It is not ironic nor crying crocodile tears to criticize this move, just because one supports one boycott doesn’t mean one should support every boycott on principle. It would be more ironic if people who protest the BDS boycotts on general grounds that conversation matters would support this because suddenly dialogue doesn’t matter any more..

  7. The goal is BDS is the elimination of Israel. BDS is also aligned with and supported by the most homophobic, misogynistic and racists terrorists which many of the extreme left have now embraced.

  8. Dazed and confused. I really don’t care what your music sounds like, or how “sensitive” you say you are. You crawl into bed with ISM or BDS….you’re a nincompoop Jew hater. They want to kill everybody.
    Yes really is that simple.

  9. I wish to convey my respect for your kindness giving support to all those that really need help on in this concern. Your special dedication to passing the message up and down became extremely invaluable and have enabled individuals just like me to attain their goals. Your amazing invaluable guideline can mean so much to me and substantially more to my fellow workers. Warm regards; from everyone of us.

  10. Some things never change . Throughout the long history of our people there have been quasi Jews who have conspired with our enemies in order to harm our people . This contemporary mass neurosis is no different . Ashamed Jews who are compelled to assimilate and to appease those who hate us in order to be accepted . The badge of Judaism diluted to the extent that it is meaningless is nevertheless used to good effect in order to give a degree of respect and immunity from charges of antisemitism .
    Those who collude with ISM support their primary objective which is the dismantlement of Israel as The Jewish nation state and its replacement by a single Palestinian state . Jewish right to self determination is damned while Palestinian Rights are championed .
    You are the enemy within . The Trojan horse that has reoccurred throughout our history . You give succour to our enemies and give them a degree of acceptability which is odious to all right thinking people and not just Jews .
    That is why you were excluded and why we who uphold the concept and very existence of Eretz Israel will renew our efforts to exclude you at every opportunity .
    Sell your snake oil elsewhere

  11. of course like your web site however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
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  12. Thanks very much. Great letter. I’ll check out your music. We just visited Nablus the other day–my wife, son, and I are visiting family in Jerusalem for a while–and the massive infrastructure of the occupation was made more present to me as we drove north from Ramallah past settlement after settlement. It is different from seeing the abstractions of color-coded maps. We have a lot of work to do with our fellow Jews and those who will be our allies to help fix the situation, but justice (and therefore the source of justice) demands it.

  13. From what I understand BDS does not have anything to do with denying the state of Israel its existence. BDS is merely suggesting that Palestinians have basic human rights such as any other human living on this planet. BDS supports divestment from products that are made in the illegal Israeli settlements. All Palestinians want is to get their land back to have a safe place for their families and children to live and grow. From someone who has been to the West Bank and seen first hand the terrorism and atrocities that occur daily I applaud The Shondes for their brave and beautiful words! Solidarity!

    • You’re wrong. They demand the “right of return” of millions of so called refugees who left in 1948. It is simply demand for the demographic destruction of a state. There is no right of return or compensation for the Jews who fled Arab countries

  14. Just to set the record straight Palestine was taken from its people by force – thousands of the indigenous people who had lived there for thousands of years were terrorized murdered and driven from THEIR land. For reference simply google Occupation 101 the true history of the founding of Israel.

    • We can all use sources to push and agenda. Prior to the mandate, there was not “Palestine”, there never was. How many of those so called indigenous are indeed so? There no boxers, as it was part of the Ottoman Empire. As for terrorism and murder, well it seems to be happening all over the Middle East on a grand scale and Jews have nothing to do with it.. Here’s my version of migration mandated Palestine.
      Over 200,000 dead in Syria

      • there never was a Palestine- yeah it just happened to be named Palestine for no apparent reason prior to 1948- then by a divine miracle its name disappeared into the dustbin of history- your smoking gun article was just a pathetic attempt to rationalize the outright theft of Palestine- you can make your own opinions you cant make your own facts

        • When was there an entity called palestine prior to the mandate. Mandated Palestine, as created by the League of Nations, encompassed what is today’s Jordan had been partitioned in 1922. Prior to that, it was a borderless corner of the Ottoman Empire. It was not a province or jurisdiction in any shape or form. Try and read a rally history book about the region and come back.

          • For your edification, the region between the Jordan River and the Med. Sea was first referred to as “Palestine” by the Greek historian Herodotus (“the father of history”) during the 5th century BCE.
            100 years later, in the mid-4th Century BCE, Aristotle made reference to the Dead Sea in his Meteorology. “Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine….”
            Jewish historian Josephus’s (c.37-100 CE) The Jewish War, Antiquities of the Jews contains copious references to both “Palestine” and “Palestinians.”
            Early in their rule, the Romans referred to the region around Jerusalem as Palaestina and in turn, the Byzantines named the region or province west of the Jordan River, from Mount Carmel in the north to the Gaza Strip in the south, Palaestina Prima.
            When the Muslim Arabs arrived in Palestine (and liberated its Jewish population from Byzantine Christian oppression) they retained the administrative organization of the territory of Palestine as it had been under the Romans and the Byzantines. The Arabs referred to the territory as “Filastin” (no p in Arabic.)
            European tourist books of the nineteenth century refer to “Palestine,” as did Theodor Herzl in his correspondence. The 1917 Balfour Declaration also refers to Palestine as does the League of Nations Class A Mandate British Mandate.
            Furthermore, Jordan (designated as Transjordan by the Allies after WWI) was not part of historic Palestine. As Ottoman maps attest, today’s Jordan was administered separately from Palestine, the dividing line being the Jordan River. Known to locals as Al Baqa, the area east of the Jordan River which became the Emirate of Transjordan in 1923 (as partial fulfillment of Britain’s pledge in the July 1915 to March 1916 Hussein/ McMahon correspondence to grant the Arabs independence – including Palestine – in exchange for their invaluable assistance in defeating the Turks during WWI) was part of the Turkish vilayet (province) of Syria. The area west of the river was governed by the Ottomans as three sanjaks (sub-provinces), two of which (Acre and Nablus) formed part of the vilayet of Beirut, while the third was the independent sanjak of Jerusalem.

    • It’s not worthy arguing point by point with you, it really isn’t. Seeing as you denied the Holocaust and accused Jews of being behind 911, it’s easy to see where you are coming from. Go away you Holocaust denying SOB. Anti Semitism is not tolerated here. As for Tikkun daily, we can see what they tolerate here. It’s embarrassing.

  15. Prophetic comments by 3 eminent Jews:
    Asked to sign a petition supporting settlement of Jews in Palestine, Sigmund Freud declined: “I cannot…I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state….It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land….I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives.” (Letter to Dr. Chaim Koffler Keren HaYassod, Vienna: 2/26/30)
    Albert Einstein, 1939: “There could be no greater calamity than a permanent discord between us and the Arab people…. Let us recall that in former times no people lived in greater friendship with us than the ancestors of these Arabs.”
    Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, 1944: “The concept of a racial state – the Hitlerian concept- is repugnant to the civilized world, as witness the fearful global war in which we are involved. . . , I urge that we do nothing to set us back on the road to the past. To project at this time the creation of a Jewish state or commonwealth is to launch a singular innovation in world affairs which might well have incalculable consequences.”

  16. Its such as you learn my thoughts! You appear to grasp so much approximately
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  17. RE: In a normal sotciey someone from the NY Times would now call Margaret Atwood and say, Now that you’re back from accepting your prize in Israel do you have anything to say about Noam Chomsky being denied entry into Israel? But I guess integrity is too much to ask. WeissMY COMMENT: Phil, your normal sotciey is oxymoronic!

  18. Interesting how the host engages in what she calls a deatbe thanking a person who admires her writings while on the other hand she ignores any call for any kind of a discussion or criticism Needless to say that reading what the doctor writes is a complete waste of time

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