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The Jewish Woman Whose Story Rebukes Hollywood Stereotypes of Female Spies


by: Gregory Wallance on March 28th, 2018 | No Comments »

Hollywood has a hang up with women spies.   Tinsel town can’t envision them other than as one dimensional women whose espionage is sex driven.

There are the femme fatales who erotically lure men into dangerous or compromising situations, obtain their secrets, and then betray them.  Consider a 2014 episode of “Homeland,” where CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) seduces a teenage Pakistani asset and then uses the love struck boy as bait to catch a terrorist but succeeds only in getting the boy killed.    Essentially, a misogynistic concept of women spies as destructive to men.

Then there are the women who are forced into spying as a form of bondage.  Think “Femme Nikita” (her choice: life in prison or become a spy) or the recently released “Red Sparrow” in which Jennifer Lawrence plays a Russian ballerina who suffers an injury that ends her ballet dancing.   As the movie tells it, she has no career alternative or means to care for an ailing mother other than to enroll in spy seductress-assassin school, where her sexuality is weaponized.

A Jewish woman, Sarah Aaronsohn, is one curative for Hollywood’s unfair women spy tropes.   In fact, she puts the lie to them because she was the skilled leader of Great Britain’s most effective espionage network in the Middle East during World War I.

She was born in 1890 in Palestine, then part of the Ottoman Empire, to Jewish settlers from Romania.  When World War I began in 1914, Sarah was married to a Jewish businessman in Constantinople (now Istanbul).  In late 1915 Sarah returned home to Palestine for an extended visit.  By a coincidence of timing and geography, her three-week train trip took her through the heart of the genocide the Turks conducted against the Armenians.

The nightmarish journey convinced the deeply shaken Sarah that unless the British defeated the Ottoman Empire, the same fate would befall the Jews of Palestine.  Little more than a year later, at age 27, this housewife had become the leader of a pro-British spy network, code-named Nili.


Culture Shift: Redirecting Humanity’s Path to a Flourishing Future


by: Jeremy Lent on March 27th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

It’s time to build a new worldview around a deeper sense of connectedness.

What do all these ideas have in common—a tax on carbon, big investments in renewable energy, a livable minimum wage, and freely accessible healthcare? The answer is that we need all of them, but even taken together they’re utterly insufficient to redirect humanity away from impending catastrophe and toward a truly flourishing future.

That’s because the problems these ideas are designed to solve, critical as they are, are symptoms of an even more profound problem: the implicit values of a global economic and political system that is driving civilization toward a precipice.

Even with the best of intentions, those actively working to reform the current system are a bit like software engineers valiantly trying to fix multiple bugs in a faulty software program: each fix complicates the code, leading inevitably to a new set of bugs that require even more heroic workarounds. Ultimately, it becomes clear that the problem isn’t just the software: an entirely new operating system is required to get where we need to go.

Searching for a foundation of meaning

This realization dawned on me gradually over the years I spent researching my book, The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. My research began as a personal search for meaning. I’d been through a personal crisis when the certainties on which I’d built my early life came crashing down around me. I wanted my life going forward to be truly meaningful—but based on what foundation? I was determined to sort through the received narratives of meaning until I came across a foundation I could really believe in.


Never Again! Protest is Our Prayer


by: on March 27th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

United Methodist Building, Washington DC


When people step out of their comfort zones and take a stand for peace, justice, and environmental sanity, it is a form of prayer. It is an embodied form of hope for transformation and faith in the future. Yet people who take such stands are often dismissed or persecuted, just as prophets have been persecuted through the ages.

Today it is our youth. Some are congratulating them for their activism, but they are also being insulted and called names for marching for their lives, standing up to the ruling Powers, and demanding reasonable gun laws and safe schools. When these demonstrations of active democracy are maligned or called naïve, while our political process is dominated by corporate front groups like the NRA, we are in dark times indeed. Meanwhile, gun manufacturers and their political advocates accept very minor gun-control policies that they know will increase gun sales. (See the March 2nd Time Magazine report: Gun Maker Says Sales are Plunging.)

Nevertheless, young people are stepping into leadership, raising their voices, calling for an end to gun violence, including shooting deaths (often of young black men) by police. They demand that adults act and that lawmakers establish policies to protect them from being shot and killed in their own schools.


Enough is Enough. It’sTime for a Change. Never Again.


by: on March 24th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

The last time I wrote about gun violence was in October of 2017 after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. The essay I wrote at that time was titled “I Surrender.” (https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/10/02/i-surrender/) In that essay, I stated that after so many mass shootings, after several essays that I had written over a number of years, at least since the mass shooting that nearly killed Gabby Giffords, I had nothing more to say. Valentine’s Day this year saw another mass shooting, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and teachers were killed and another 17 were injured, making it one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

The day it happened, I had nothing more to say. Just as in the Las Vegas shooting, I had no words, no tears, only a sick, sinking resignation that I live in a country that has lost both its mind and its soul. I expected the usual ritual. Politicians would offer thoughts and prayers. We would see candle light vigils and memorials made of candles and teddy bears and stuffed toys. The media would be on the ground for a day or two. We would hear the life stories of the people who died, and some information about the shooter, who was captured alive. Then the nation would move on until the next mass shooting.

However, this time was different. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School decided this time would be different. They rallied, appeared on television, met with the president of the United States, and appeared on a CNN town hall. They called out politicians for their unwillingness to pass gun regulations. They called out politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association. They travelled to Tallahassee, the Florida state capital to demand gun regulations. They organized a walk out of school to protest gun violence, and students from schools around the nation walked out in solidarity.

Saturday, March, 24, 2018, the students organized a march on Washington that brought more than half a million people to the nation’s capital to protest gun violence and to demand gun regulations. Some 800 sibling marches were planned throughout the United States and across the globe. The young people were astonishing. In the DC march, only young people spoke. They were beautiful, passionate, articulate and moving. More than that, they were strategic.

I say and say again that the powers that be in the United States cannot stand unity. It is a frightening thing when We the People of the United States decide that we will not be divided according to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion or a myriad other ways we have to identify our particular tribe. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that organized this event understand the power of unity, so they invited young people of color from Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City and other places to speak. We heard from a young Latina who told about ducking bullets before she learned to read. We heard from a young black woman from Chicago who was present at an armed robbery, the memory of which stays with her every day. There were two young black men from Chicago who called themselves warriors for peace. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s granddaughter spoke about her dream of the end of guns. Period. We heard from a young black man from Washington, DC who had lost his twin brother to gun violence. And, we heard from young people who had been on lock down at another school down the street during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook. These young people understand the power of unity.

These young people were fearless. They called out the NRA. Senator Marco Rubio took heat for the amount of money he has taken from the NRA. The students divided the number of students in Florida into the amount of money that Rubio has taken from the NRA and concluded that Rubio has sold out the students for $1.05 per student.

There were elders in the crowd. One woman carried a sign saying Nana marches for and named her grandchildren. I saw at least one woman in a hat from the Woman’s March. And another woman wearing a Nasty Woman tee shirt. One man carried a sign reminding us that John Lennon had been killed by gun violence. Paul McCartney marched in New York City in honor of Lennon.


Confronting the NRA’s Idol Worship of Guns


by: Matthias Beier on March 14th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, made several key claims at February’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference which reflect the mindset that keeps the country from taking effective action to prevent mass shootings in our schools. First, he claimed: “There is no greater personal individual freedom than the right to keep and bear arms.” If you scratch your head at that statement and wonder in which John Wayne movie LaPierre is living, wait for the next line that tells you that this freedom reduced to a gun is “not bestowed by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.” [See minutes 34:36-35:05 in this video of the speech]

To translate the message of the NRA pointedly: God wants you to have a gun. Only the NRA, America’s pimp for the gun industry, could come up with that blasphemous idea. The narrative that only guns guarantee freedom is what keeps lawmakers from passing sensible gun laws that effectively prevent school shootings.

As a father of school age children and as a seminary professor, I have a responsibility to debunk this harmful worship of guns. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gun ownership or the 2nd Amendment. The NRA wants us to believe that the debate about preventing school shootings is about taking all guns away. It is not. Forbidding gun ownership would only feed into the very paranoid fears of government takeover the NRA bases its power on. The NRA argues as if we were still living at the brink of dictatorship where the only recourse is vigilante justice. We are not. Our citizens have access to an independent judiciary; effective democratic checks and balances through the division of power of the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government; and strong nongovernmental advocacy groups and watchdogs spanning the gamut of the political spectrum that protect citizen’s rights to free speech and expression. The right to bear weapons is not under attack. But making sure that this right is exercised responsibly without anti-democratic narcissistic and psychopathic overreach is just as important as requiring a license to operate a vehicle and compliance with traffic laws for all. That is the function of sensible gun regulations. What I am against is thus not the right to bear arms but the harmful ideology that guns are elevated to god-like guarantors of freedom.

The NRA does not, of course, worship “God.” The NRA worships fear as god. If we take apart LaPierre’s conflation of God and guns, we see that he worships the fear of threat. As the key representative of the American gun lobby, he believes freedom is based on defending yourself against threats by threatening the death of another person, group or nation. Whosoever can spread the most fear wins. This is the same strategy we currently hear coming out of the White House. It is at the heart of bully politics as well as domestic violence. And it provides the rationale for the NRA’s solution that only more guns will fix gun violence. If we as a people continue to buy into the idea that threats and violence secure freedom, we collude with this idolatry of fear and inadvertently continue to sacrifice our children at the altar of the god of fear. 


Not on My Watch: A Response to Hate


by: Barbara Artson on March 7th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Since writing my three-generational novel, ODESSA, ODESSA (She Writes Press, September 11, 2018) – a novel loosely based on my family’s history–which tells the story of a religious Jewish family living in Odessa at the turn of the century, forced to abandon all they know and hold dear – country, culture, language, and often, close family members – I am more painfully aware of other individuals and groups facing comparable situations. The characters in my historical novel represent the lucky ones – those fortunate and resilient enough to scrape together the resources to make the voyage across the Atlantic and to reach the safe New York Harbor, with Lady Liberty holding up her beacon of hope and freedom. And to succeed! Six million other Jews (and gays, and Romas, and Communists and Righteous Christians) were not so fortunate.

It is with sadness that I follow the ongoing plight of the Rohingya people, the latest targets of political and ethnic violence, who Amnesty International calls “one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.”[1]

I view the faces of starving children, held by their helpless mothers and living in conditions no human beings should endure. I behold a photograph of ten men chained together, obliged to watch while others dig their shallow graves, and then to await the fire of their executioners’ guns. They are the outcasts, like the Jews in Russia, the African and original Americans in the United States, the Palestinians in Israel, the Dalits (untouchables) in India, the Tutsis in Rwanda, the “colored” and blacks in South Africa, and the beleaguered Syrian residents.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority forced to leave their homes in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar (Burma), whose government claims they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and therefore they deprive them of their rights as citizens. After being systematically raped, murdered, and burned out of their villages,[2] a million of these men, women, and children remain homeless, stateless, destitute, and dying of cholera, diphtheria, and starvation in displacement camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Novel Peace Prize winner, has turned a deaf ear to their predicament. And the authorities quibble about whether this satisfies the definition of a genocide!


Social Hope in the Time of Trump


by: Ronald Aronson on March 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Election night 2016 dealt a profound shock to the majority of Americans who voted against Donald Trump. You can probably remember where you were and how you felt at the moment it became clear that Trump was going to win. The mainstream mood was captured in Gustavo Viselner’s poignant cartoon sequence a few weeks later showing Barack and Michelle Obama preparing to leave the White House. Their bags are packed and they’re about to go. The president says: “Are you ready Michelle?” He turns off the lights as they depart. The White House goes dark. And then in the final panel the lights go out all over America.

Vilsener captured the loss of hope at first shared by many of us. But only at first. Spontaneous demonstrations took place that very week throughout the country, meetings were held to discuss the implications of Trump’s victory. Sixty people came to one such meeting I participated in in a northern suburb of Detroit where usually twenty is a good turnout. At a followup meeting to discuss what to do in response to the election over ninety people showed up. A women’s demonstration was called for Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C. This mobilization spread around the country and around the world, becoming one of the largest waves of demonstrations ever in the United States. Other planning meetings followed, former Democratic staffers published a guide to putting pressure on Congress, Indivisible, that led to the creation of thousands of local activist groups within weeks (now well over 6000), most of which are still going strong. The travel ban from Muslim countries provoked spontaneous demonstrations at airports around the country. Demonstrations continued at congressional and senatorial offices, town halls were disrupted, and everywhere people began newly familiarizing themselves with the budget, the Republicans’ various health care plans, Trump’s war on the environment, his attack on science.

In short, as Trump spewed a dizzying series of tweets and actions, allied himself with the extreme right wing and the most predatory capitalists, and immediately began to implement both his own white nationalist promises and a neoliberal agenda of deregulation, he was met with a massive and spontaneous uprising. A movement calling itself “the Resistance” willed itself into existence, determined to do battle on virtually every front. Any post-election discouragement was sloughed off immediately and replaced within days by an astounding new reality—one of the largest organized movements in U. S. history.


‘The next Haman’ beauty pageant!


by: Rabbi David Seidenberg on March 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

“The Villain Haman” under Purim, colornimbus.com

What does Haman look like, sound like? What picture comes to mind? Black hair, a mustache and a big nose? What do you picture him doing with his hands? If the megillah is read in different voices in your community, does the reader use a snively, whiny voice for Haman?

How is it that nearly every portrait of Haman looks like an anti-Semitic cartoon? How is it that Haman’s often-mimed hand-wringing looks just like the cartoon Jew slavering over his money?

Haman mask, jewitup.com

Why would anyone think that the voice of this man who for a time charmed a king and a kingdom would sound villainous? For that matter, why would a villain sound any different from anyone else?

Evil comes dressed up in expensive suits, in statistics and logical arguments. It comes from the mouths of people who look like fashion models as much as it might come from a warty face with beady eyes.

Steve Bannon, Time Magazine

Last year, the target of many liberal Purim shpiels was the new Trump administration. Steve Bannon was ascendant, joined by Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka – three Trump advisers who hated immigrants as much or more than Trump himself. If Trump was Ahasuerus, then Bannon was cast as Haman. In some shpiels, a Bannon Haman played alongside Ivanka as Esther. His strangely blotchy face fit the stereotype of an ugly villain behind a drunken king to a T.


“A cloud hangs over our neighborhood”: Jewish residents of the Upper West Side respond to Israel-related censorship


by: on March 2nd, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Please see the below ad, signed by a wide range of Jewish community leaders and members on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It appeared in today’s The West Side Spirit (Upper West Side of Manhattan). 

Calling for a Matriot Revolution


by: Frances Payne Adler on March 2nd, 2018 | No Comments »

"Grandma Helen Vandevere" by Kira Carrillo Corser. Image courtesy of the artist.

Yes, you got that right, a matriot revolution. We have the word. We have the will. And, wait, best of all, we’re already doing it.

First, a story about where the word began. It was 1991, during the first Gulf War. I was sitting at my desk and heard on the radio that our defense forces had invented a missile and called it a Patriot. That evening, I invented a word, asking myself, If that’s what a patriot is, what does a matriot look like?

And then I created a definition: “A matriot is one who perceives national defense as health, education, and shelter, for all of the people in his or her country, and the world.”

What does a matriot look like? I think of a guest at my dinner table at that time, a physicist who told me he designed ‘smart’ bombs. I asked him what he would do with this technology if he were using it for peaceful means. “I would build hands,” he said, “for people who are paralyzed.” This is what a matriot looks like.

I think of Fort Ord military base in Monterey. The Army had closed down the base after 80 years, and I’d been hired to work with other faculty to convert it into a university. We turned the artillery vault into an on-line library, the blood bank into an environmental research lab, the jeep and tank garages into classrooms and public art studios. We transformed the survival training station into a childcare center, gas masks into little laughing shoving mouths at the water fountain. A thrill to be doing this matriot work.

Each in our own way, women and men, old and young, we’re already doing it. Solidarity, intersectionality, working together across issues. Our teenagers are leading us with #NeverAgain, taking on gun control and resisting the NRA. We’ve stood up for women’s health and safety in the #MeToo anti-harassment movement. We’ve protested, united with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’ve taken a knee, a Kaepernick, at football games, at high school basketball games. We’ve lobbied to protect health care. And to protect the health of our planet.