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Israel@70: Fixing the way we pray for the State


by: Rabbi David Seidenberg on April 17th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

The traditional prayer for the State of Israel, more literally titled “A Prayer for the Peace of the State,” tefilah lish’lom hamedinah, was written in 1948 by the chief rabbis of what had up until then been Palestine, in a time of war. The state was under direct attack by the Arab armies, and there was little distinction between peace, survival, and victory.

As we approach Israel’s 70th birthday, it is time to make such distinctions. Israel and the Jewish people live in a much more complex reality, a democratic reality. A reality where the strongest military cannot create peace on its own.

This reality is one where the triumph of one party or policy can undermine the flow of justice and reverse the outlook for peace. It is a reality where praying for Israel must include not only praying for the well-being of the Jewish people, but also praying for the well-being of the region, and the well-being of the Palestinian people, many of whom are Israeli citizens, most of whom are in some way under Israel’s control. And it is a reality where praying for the well-being of mutual enemies must include praying that people on all sides be protected from their own hatred, not just from attack.


Sign statement supporting B’tselem’s call to Israelis soldiers to refuse orders to shoot into crowds of unarmed civilians


by: on April 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

B’tselem, the Israeli Human Rights Organization, has called for Israeli soldiers to refuse orders to shoot into a crowd of unarmed civilians. The Israeli government justifies its killing of demonstrators last Friday and its intent to do so again this Friday by claiming that there are violence seekers among the crowd, and that some threw molotov cocktails toward the separation wall. Yet this is no excuse to kill innocent civilians. Intentionally shooting and killing nonviolent protestors is inhumane and inexcusable. We face this problem in U.S. peace and justice demonstrations when a few people smash windows or throw rocks at police. It is often very difficult to restrain them, and some have been identified as undercover police agents trying to discredit our otherwise non-violent movement.

In Gaza, the dictatorial government of Hamas does not want peace with Israel, but only an obliteration of the Israeli state, and defacto aids the right-wing in Israel who say that any two state solution would only be a front for further armed struggle against Israel. Hamas rightly suspects that a 2 state solution that showed real caring for the Palestinian people would lead most Palestinians to elect leaders who accepted a peace with justice for both sides, and that would leave Hamas leaders with a much decreased popular base, whereas their credibility increases every time Israel violates basic human rights of the Palestinian people.

After 51 years of Occupation, Israel’s policies have not brought Israel security but only ongoing struggle and increasing anger at Jews around the world whose best-known public organizations and institutions mostly rally around whatever Israel comes up with to enforce its Occupation. Most polls indicate that most Palestinians would settle for a Palestinian state in the West Bank that was economically and politically viable (the terms that would provide peace, security and justice to both sides are well known–you can read them in Rabbi Lerner’s book Embracing Israel/Palestine which can be ordered at www.tikkun.org/eip). Hamas has stated over and over again that it will settle for nothing less than a Palestinian state that includes all the territory of the current State of Israel. So we are not surprised that there were some people in that demonstration with violent intent to serve the tacit alliance between the extreme Right in Israel and the “destroy Israel” goal of some Palestinian extremists. But of course, violent intent is not the same as targeting and shooting Israelis, which did not happen. It was Israelis who were shooting indiscriminately into a demonstration of people seeking to challenge Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

Please read part of B’Tselem’s call here, then below it you will find the statement we are asking you to sign to support their campaign (click here to sign).


B’Tselem’s Call

B’Tselem launched a media campaign in Israel entitled “Sorry, Sir,  I can’t shoot”. The campaign includes newspaper advertisements clarifying to soldiers that they must refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators. The organization is taking this unusual step following last Friday’s events, when soldiers used live fire against unarmed demonstrators. Of at least 17 Palestinians killed that day, 12 were killed at the protests. Hundreds more were injured by live gunfire.

The military is preparing for the demonstrations, but instead of attempting to reduce the number of those killed or injured, official sources have announced in advance that soldiers will use live fire against demonstrators even if they are hundreds of meters from the fence. B’Tselem warned of the expected outcome of this policy and now, ahead of the expected demonstrations this Friday, it is again clarifying that shooting unarmed demonstrators is illegal and that orders to shoot in this manner are manifestly illegal.

Contrary to the impression given by senior military officers and government ministers, the military is not permitted to act as it sees fit, nor can Israel determine on its own what is permissible and what is not when dealing with demonstrators. Like all other countries, Israel’s actions are subject to the provisions of international law and the restrictions they impose on the use of weapons, and specifically the use of live fire. The provisions limit its use to instances involving tangible and immediate mortal danger, and only in the absence of any other alternative. Israel cannot simply decide that it is not bound by these rules. . .

The responsibility for issuing these unlawful orders and for their lethal consequences rests with the policy makers and – above all – with Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and the chief of staff. They are also the ones who bear the obligation to change these regulations immediately, before this Friday’s planned protests, in order to forestall any further casualties. That said, it is also a criminal offense to obey patently illegal orders. Therefore, as long as soldiers in the field continue to receive orders to use live fire against unarmed civilians, they are duty-bound to refuse to comply.


Our Statement

We join with B’tselem the Israeli Human Rights Organization in calling on Israelis to follow both international law, human rights, and Torah principles, and to know that those principles require individual members of any military, police or other state unit to refuse orders to shoot into crowds of unarmed civilians. We call upon our elected officials, our religious organizations, and our cultural and political leaders, as well as the public institutions in the Jewish world that have often given blind support to Israeli policies toward Palestinians, to challenge Israel’s defense of such orders and demand that Israel give explicit instructions to its armed forces, border guards, and police to not shoot unarmed civilians and to hold those guilty of doing so or ordering such to be prosecuted. And we urge all countries of the world to give this same instruction to all of their border guards, police, national guard, and armies when dealing with public demonstrations regardless of the content of the demonstrators demands, rhetoric, or intentions. 

Please click here to sign our statement in support of B’Tselem.

Gun Violence as State Sponsored Domestic Terrorism


by: Henry Giroux on February 23rd, 2018 | No Comments »

Passing thoughts on the willingness of the politicians and merchants of death who allow the unimaginable to become imaginable, allow financial gain to prevail over the lives of innocent children, and are more willing to protect guns at the expense of the lives of children.

President Trump listened recently to the impassioned testimony of parents and children who have seen their children and friends killed in gun shootings. He responded by advocating that teachers be armed and trained to have concealed weapons.

Instead of confronting the roots of violence in America, he followed the NRA line of addressing the issue of mass violence, shootings, and the ongoing carnage with a call to arm more people, putting more guns into play, and stating that violence can be met with more violence. This logic is breathtaking in its insanity, moral depravity, refusal to get to the root of the problem, and even advocate minor reforms such as banning assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and expanding background checks.

There are 300 million guns in the United States and since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School of 20 young children and 6 teachers a decade ago, 11,000 more children have died of gun violence.

There is no defense for putting the policies of the NRA ahead of the lives of children. Criminal acts often pass for legislative policies. How else to explain the Florida legislature refusing to even debate outlawing assault weapons while students from Majory Stoneman Douglas High School sat in the galleys and watched this wretched and irresponsible act take place. How else to explain that the House of Representatives – reduced to an adjunct of the NRA – voted to pass the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R.38) which would allow individuals to carry concealed weapons across state lines. These are the people who have the blood of thousands on their hands.

The power of money in politics has morphed into a form of barbarism in which financial gain and power have become more important than protecting the lives of America’s children.

I find it extremely difficult to watch the debates about gun violence on the mainstream media. The call for reform is so limited as to be useless. Instead of banning assault rifles, they celebrate Trump for suggesting that he raise the age to 21 in order for people to buy a weapon of war. Instead of preventing violence from engulfing the country and schools, he calls for arming teachers and the press celebrates his willingness to entertain this issue. Instead of speaking about justice and allowing people to speak who are against deregulating laws restricting or abolishing the merchants of death, the media allows an NRA hawk to speak at the town meeting and rather than calling her out for being a spokesperson for violence rather than justice, they congratulate themselves on promoting balance.

The corporate media has become a normalizing force for violence because they lack the courage to challenge the corporations that control them. They also benefit by peddling extreme violence as a spectacle. They refuse to begin with the issue of money in politics and start instead with what one parent called non-starters. Guns disappear from the conversation and appeals to fear and security take over. Young people have to lead this conversation and move beyond the mainstream media. And when they do appear they have to flip the script and ask the questions they think are important.

Children no longer have a safe space in America, a country saturated in violence as a spectacle, sport, and deadly acts of domestic terrorism. Any defense for the proliferation of guns, especially those designed for war, is criminal. This is the discourse of political corruption, a government in the hands of the gun lobbies, and a country that trades in violence at every turn in order to accrue profits at the expense of the lives of innocent children.

This debate is not simply about gun violence, it is about the rule of capital and how the architects of violence accrue enough power to turn machineries of death and destruction into profits while selling violence as a commodity. Violence is both a source of profits and a cherished national ideal. It is also the defining feature of a toxic masculinity. Gun reform is no substitute for real justice and the necessary abolition of a death-dealing and cruel economic and political system that is the antithesis of democracy.

What are we to make of a society in which young children have a greater sense of moral courage and social responsibility than the zombie adults who make the laws that fail to invest in and protect the lives of present and future generations. First step, expose their lies, make their faces public, use the new media to organize across state lines, and work like hell to vote them out of office in 2018. Hold these ruthless walking dead responsible and then banish them to the gutter where they belong. At the same time, imagine and fight for not a reform of American society but a restructuring along the lines of a democratic socialist order.


Henry Giroux is a contributing editor toTikkunMagazine.

How the Wars-for-our-Freedoms Narrative Stifles Debate and Undermines Democracy


by: Andy Heintz on February 23rd, 2018 | No Comments »

While the political climate in Washington is extremely polarized, on one issue there is near universal agreement: When a soldier dies in a U.S. war they died for our freedoms. Despite the constant claims that progressives are anti-American, a significant number of mainstream progressive pundits and politicians support this nationalistic viewpoint. For example, when President Donald Trump tried to prevent transgender Americans from serving in the military, progressives chastised him because these soldiers are willing to die for our country. These statements are admirable in a way, and I have no doubt that most of them are genuine. But what is troubling about the all-wars-are-for-our-freedom narrative is that it’s near universal acceptance severely limits the spectrum of debate in this country, thus undermining our democracy. Questioning the morality of U.S. wars should never be confused with dishonoring the bravery and sacrifice of American soldiers. However, it’s extremely difficult to have a serious discussion about the pros and cons of war when the supporters of said war can use the freedom narrative like a cudgel to verbally bludgeon critics.

“Commentary on the Vietnam War ranges from ‘noble cause’ to ‘blundering efforts to do good’ that became too costly to us – Anthony Lewis, at the dissident extreme,” famous dissident writer Noam Chomsky said in an interview I conducted with him. “And it generalizes far beyond the US.  Why?  It’s close to tautology.  If one doesn’t accept that framework, one is pretty much excluded from the category of ‘respectability.’”

It’s hard to think of anything more unpopular than questioning if soldiers are really dying for our freedoms. The only worse offense in politics is perhaps questioning if every soldier who has participated in physical combat should be considered a hero. The latter question will cause such a firestorm of controversy that the journalist, pundit or politician will either have to offer a heartfelt apology or will be forever excluded from serious discussions about our nation. Interestingly, some famous Americans like Mark Twain and Henry Thoreau did manage to survive their criticism of the war in Philippines (Twain) and the Mexican-American war (Thoreau) without being banished from mainstream opinion. However, these two famous figures are generally beloved by the public for reasons other than their anti-war bona fides.

In a perfect world, American politics would be an exercise in rationality, and rationality demands we acknowledge the complexity of the world and the duality of U.S. history. If someone makes the claims that all wars are fought for our freedom, then every war and/or foreign conflict the U.S. has been involved in should be scrutinized to see if this claim has any basis in fact. A cursory glance at U.S. history makes clear this claim collapses under close examination. Even the most militaristic historian would be hard pressed to make a reasonable argument that past U.S. interventions in Vietnam, Mexico, The Philippines and several Latin American countries were fought to preserve American’s personal freedoms. In other words, none of these invasions were undertaken because these countries posed any sort of threat to the inner workings of American democracy.  More recent wars and foreign conflicts in Libya, Afghanistan, Panama and Iraq yield similar conclusions.

This isn’t to say that supporters of the war in Afghanistan couldn’t make the case the country needed to be invaded to root out al Qaeda after the barbaric terrorist attacks of September 11th. That is a plausible claim, but it differs from the claim that the U.S. had to go to war with Afghanistan to defend the freedoms of ordinary Americans. Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization that operates in many countries, but it’s presence was especially abundant in Afghanistan where it was protected by the Taliban, so a war to find the planners of September 11th and weaken al Qaeda has merit because a damaged al Qaeda could plausibly make future terrorist attacks on American soil less likely. But it’s much harder to make the case that al Qaeda posed a threat to the inner workings of American democracy. Despite having nowhere near the same military strength as the United States, neither al Qaeda or the Islamic State has been able to take over a country in the Middle East other than in Afghanistan. To make the case that any terrorist organization has the capacity to overthrow a country with the strongest military in the history of the world is absurd. Of course, the Bush administration didn’t say this directly, but this is what saying the war in Afghanistan was fought to preserve our freedoms implies. If the Bush administration would have made the case that we had invade Afghanistan to make it less likely that we would be attacked on our own soil again, that would have been more honest and reasonable argument.


Patriarchy: A major obstacle to world peace


by: Dr. Adis Duderija on February 16th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

Discussions on peace are central to humanity since they force us to deal with some fundamental issues regarding our human existence, its purpose and nature. As we all know, world-peace is much more than just the state of ‘absence of war’. The voluminous literature on ‘just peace’ and ‘just war’ testifies to this fact well. My purpose is not to engage with this literature directly but to offer some reflections on what I consider to be the major impediment to world peace today.

Today, we live in an incredibly interconnected world that one or two generations ago was simply unimaginable. Things we do and choices we make on a daily basis often can have significant impact, both positive and negative, on people who live on different continents, who come from different religious, cultural, ethnic or racial backgrounds and whom we will never meet in person. How our actions impact upon others are often not always easy to discern or to understand. Nevertheless, given our state of interconnectedness, it becomes ethically incumbent upon us to try our utmost to understand how our place in the world and things that we do (or not do) impact upon others no matter where they live or what their backgrounds are. This state of unprecedented interconnectedness offers to us a tremendous opportunity to do good. However, it is also a potential burden for if we fail to take full advantage of this opportunity history and future generations will judge us harshly. Rightly so, I think.

So what are the main impediments to world-peace today?  In this brief article I will discuss one that I consider to be the most prevalent and most damaging-patriarchy.  Patriarchy is a major obstacle to world –peace because the underlying philosophy and worldview behind it permeates all other impediments I will mention in the course of this article.

Patriarchy is a dual system of domination of a small percentage of privileged men (mainly white, rich men living in the Global North) over other men, women and children. Patriarchy as a system of domination is based upon certain worldview that manifests itself in all aspects of human   existence both at a level of society and at the level of the individual. It affects the way people think, behave and feel. Traditional hegemonic masculinity is its ultimate source of ‘values’ and norms. While we have been witnessing patriarchy ever since the rise of agricultural societies it current forms are much more lethal and insidious due to the nature of the contemporary world we live in.


An Emergency Appeal from Honduras


by: on February 12th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Let me step aside from the activities of our delegation during our week in Honduras and interject a personal plea:

If you’re like me, you get all kinds of appeals for calls and letters of support, for donations to make and for delegations to join. The pain of the world cries out to us daily, and our efforts seem so inconsequential. Perhaps, like me, you have often passed them by, or also like me, you’ve joined delegations from time to time.

Here’s the thing: This time is different, really different.

Honduras is on the tipping point between peaceful negotiations and civil war. The uneasy political truce in Honduras is breaking down, right now, after the years of increasing intimidation and assassinations since the military coup against the constitutionally elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

As you may know, the military kidnapped Zelaya and somewhat melodramatically flew him out of the country at night in his pajamas. Since then, a wave of protest, repression and assassination has swept the country.

Whatever tenuous agreements among the political parties that have held the country together since the military coup, ruptured at last November’ contested election. In the midst of counting the ballots, when it appeared that the opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah was winning, the election commission stopped the count. The counting resumed hours later, yet Nasrallah’s lead had vanished and the Hernández had a 1.5 percent edge. Perhaps it is worth nothing that the election commission is dominated by Hernández supporters. Opposition candidate Salvador Nasrallah refused to accept the result.

Afterwards, the Organization of American States agreed there was evidence of fraud and called for a new election, but the U.S. has tacitly supported Hernández as the winner.

Over the coming months, the crisis is likely to grow worse. The opposition Alianza shows no signs of giving in this seizure of power by Juan Orlando Hernández and his right-wing National Party. In December, Zelaya issued an appeal to the American people to make every effort to stop the “immoral support” that the U.S. government has given to the dictatorship of Hernández. In his appeal, he wrote:

The electoral fraud supported by the U.S. State Department in favor of the dictatorship has forced our people to protest massively throughout the country, despite savage government repression that has taken the lives of more than 34 young people since the election, and in which hundreds of protestors have been criminalized and imprisoned.

After this electoral coup, police and military forces have been sweeping through opposition villages, harassing and threatening people in their homes. The death toll is now reaching about 40, often merely bystanders at protests who are fired upon with live ammunition.

It’s bad enough that some police officers are questioning and rebelling against their orders.

That is why I appeal to you, now, at this moment, to stop and help tip the balance toward peace and away from violence and repression. Any action you take to influence the U.S. in favor of peaceful domestic dialogue may save real lives, right now. You can:

  • Call, email or write your Congressional representative to ask him or her to support the ‘Berta Caceres’ resolution A.R. 1299 to stop military aid to the Honduran government until the security forces stop violating human rights and past perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Send a donation to the emergency fund to support SHARE and the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. [Yes, every delegation runs more on faith than dollars!]
  • Or designate your donation to SHARE on behalf of Radio Progreso.
  • Even a simple email to Radio Progreso and Padre Melo to show support for free and independent news would help. (Email: prensa@radioprogreso.net.) If Melo and the station receive emails, they can print these out and show the wide range of support from people of good will to anyone who questions their rights to free speech and assembly.

I wouldn’t stop to ask you this unless I really believed that American voices at this moment could save lives over the coming months. The pressure on the American government is vital to at least give the Honduran civil society a chance to work things out on their own without the historical interference of the imperial giant to the north.


David A. Sylvesteris a Bay Area writer, teacher and contributor toTikkun. A Roman Catholic, he is also a member of Beyt Tikkun and has traveled to El Salvador as an election observer in 2009 and to Iraq in 1998 on a humanitarian mission with Voices in the Wilderness. In 2006, he served three months in a federal prison camp for civil disobedience at the U.S. army base at Fort Benning to protest the U.S.-training of Central American military troops.

It’s a Sin to Build a Nuclear Weapon


by: on January 14th, 2018 | 12 Comments »


I pulled out this old “historic” poster and put it up on our refrigerator today, after the false alarm went out to Hawaiians that an incoming (presumably nuclear) missile was on its way. My grown children will recognize the poster, because it was on our refrigerator for years. I began my career as an activist in 1979, when I realized the extent of the very real danger of nuclear war.I was engaged in the peace and anti-nuclear movement the whole time they were growing up. They remember carrying candles and walking from Pioneer Park to the Broad Street Bridge in Nevada City each year on August 6, Hiroshima Day. During the election year of 1984, I was a paid organizer for the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign’s Political Action Committee (PAC), Freeze Voter ’84, which I worked on here in Nevada County. (Read here aboutThe Nuclear Freeze and its Impact.)

One morning, I was at home by myself, cleaning house while I listened to a tape of Helen Caldicott talking about the psychological effects of nuclear war on the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, known as hibakusha. Listening to their stories about what they had suffered over the years, I imagined my own family going through what they had gone through and I began to weep.


Finding My Place as an Anti-Occupation Reform Jew


by: Netanya Perluss on December 19th, 2017 | 10 Comments »

This past week at the URJ Biennial, I was blessed to celebrate social justice and my Jewish values, traditions, and songs with 6,000 Jews from across the world. As President Trump unilaterally announced the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, I was so glad to be with the two Jewish movements closest to my heart: the Reform Movement and IfNotNow.

I grew up in the Reform Movement. I was deeply involved in at my temple, found my home away from home spending summers at URJ Camp Newman, and formed deep and lasting friendships in NFTY. I spent a semester in Israel on NFTY EIE, and found my voice as a songleader at URJ Kutz Camp.

Through all these experiences, from all these communities, I learned to laugh, love, sing, and learn.  But most importantly, I was taught that Tikkun Olam, or fixing the world, was a responsibility of the Jewish people. My Jewish life encouraged me to call out injustices and work to make our world a better place. Through liturgy, songs, programs at camps, youth group events, and sermons at temple, I was called into action, often with a line from the history of our people:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?


What Kind of Peace Plan Is Trump Trying To Sell?


by: Michael J. Koplow on December 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Whatever one thinks of the Trump administration and its approach to Middle East peace, you have to give the Trump team high marks for its ability to keep a secret. Speculation has abounded for months about what Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and their colleagues are working on and what their peace initiative will contain, whenever it is unveiled. For those who wish their efforts to be successful, Sunday’s New York Times reporting on the details of the Trump plan are not encouraging.

According to the Times story, following Kushner’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) summoned President Abbas to Riyadh and presented him with a plan that sounds like something out of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. It would involve sovereignty over non-contiguous territory in the West Bank – presumably Areas A and B, and some parts of Area C – with a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis rather than East Jerusalem, and no evacuation of settlements from Area C. It is unclear whether this would be a final status agreement or an interim accord that could be expanded later, but its terms are more in line with maximalist Israeli positions rather than any sort of compromise. The Times further reported that MBS heavily pressured Abbas into not only sitting down at the negotiating table but accepting a deal on these specific terms, and that he is prepared to use his financial leverage to reward Abbas for accepting or pressure him to resign if he rejects it.

This report is curious in a lot of ways. For starters, Kushner himself publicly caused reason to doubt its veracity at the Saban Forum on Sunday by extolling the importance of a final status agreement that will put many of the issues between Israelis and Palestinians to bed. The terms as described by the New York Times story do none of that, and instead sound like a series of half measures in preparation for something else down the road. The problem, of course, is that trying to convince the Palestinians to sign off on something to which literally no Palestinian leader could acquiesce will doom any later part of this plan, since it will never get past the first step. If the Trump administration used MBS to float a trial balloon, it backfired spectacularly, but it also goes against the grain of Kushner’s preference for a comprehensive deal – a preference that he expressed so strongly that he even endorsed the concept known as linkage, which holds that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make the region’s other problems go away. President Trump’s qualifier in his recognition of Jerusalem’s capital yesterday that it does not prejudice final status issues also points toward a desire for a comprehensive deal over interim half measures.


Why A Ramah Counselor Spoke-Out About the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters Last Week


by: Sylvie Rosen on November 17th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters
Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters. Image courtesy of author.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up at Ramah. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Ramah is a holy community, a Kehilah Kedoshah, as we say. This summer, when a fire burned down our main building, people posted on Facebook, donated money, and reached out to me individually. I felt supported by the entire National Ramah movement.

But where is that same support, community, and strength in our conversations, actions, and education on Israel/Palestine? Although Ramah changes me and lifts me up in so many ways, it fails me every year in one way: by perpetuating lies about the Occupation.

Not once, in my combined ten years at Ramah in the Berkshires and Ramah in the Rockies, did anyone mention the Occupation. We don’t talk about it because we want to pretend it doesn’t exist every summer.

In my three summers on staff, none of our programming ever attempted to address the Occupation. Instead, on Yom Israel in 2016, staff instructed campers to build mock settlements as a fun competition that demonstrated how Jews built Israel from nothing. No one mentioned that people lived on that land before. In our dining tent, we have a map from The Nachshon Project showing where all the famous Biblical characters lived in Israel/Palestine — stealthily laying claim to the idea that only Jews have a historic right to the land. We have maps of Israel across the camp to emulate the Israel Trail, but not one of them outlines the Green Line. This past summer, during our staff training session on Israel, we talked about our feelings and relationship to Israel, but never about the Occupation. The unspoken agreement about the Occupation was: it’s complicated, difficult, and not appropriate for a summer camp.

This is an educational and moral disaster.

Rabbi Cohen responded in Haaretz to our campaign the day of the Speak-Out and Teach-In I participated in last week: “We [Ramah and IfNotNow] don’t differ on the importance of teaching our teens and staff about the difficulties of the occupation.”

But if that is true, then the attempts made have been at best inconsistent and inadequate. In the past I’ve made excuses for Ramah because I want it to be the leader in the American-Jewish community that it claims to be. I told myself that the rest of the work Ramah does outweighs these issues. I was scared to disagree with the place is so central to my identity.

But I can’t maintain this lie anymore, which is why I went to the Speak-Out and Teach-In outside the National Ramah Commission last Tuesday. I joined because I want to see systemic change, and I know our community can do better than individual private meetings that superficially deal with this issue. We have to hold Ramah accountable and we can’t do that in a private setting. We want change for this summer, and we need public support for that. This is why we have invited Rabbi Cohen, to a public forum to talk with alumni and members of the Jewish community.

When I return to Ramah this summer along with 11,000 other people, I want our work and community to truly be holy, Kedoshah, by truthfully and thoughtfully educating campers and staff about the realities of the occupation.

I also want to address how we should educate campers and staff on the Occupation this summer. We must acknowledge the reality that millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. IfNotNow has compiled a list of some resources we can use to teach campers and staff how to think critically about Israel. But this is just a start, it shows that this kind of education is possible and that other Jewish educators are doing it.  We need to upend the idea that Israel education and all Jewish education cannot include discussions about the Occupation. For those at Ramah who are professional Jewish educators, addressing the Occupation is as part of their job as teaching campers how to lead shabbat services — and we must hold them responsible for that.


Sylvie Rosen is an IfNotNow member and Ramah camp counselor.