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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category



The Power of Privacy: A Review of The Oslo Diaries

Aug6

by: on August 6th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

The signing of the Oslo Accords was, to many, a sign that Israeli-Palestinian relations would improve. Photo by Ohayon Avi

After seeing The Oslo Diaries at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, I felt inspired to start keeping a diary of my own. The Sundance-selected documentary, directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, tells the tense and moving story of the secret 1992 peace talks and their tragic failure, using interviews, reenactments, and primary sources to give us a holistic perspective on the historical moment. I recommend you see it too.

 

The film is named quite literally, as much of the film’s dialogue is taken directly from the diaries of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators of the Oslo Accords. And while their journal entries aren’t in literal conversation, they do provide the inner dialogue of some of the story’s most important characters — and frequently overlap in their subject matter, like two sides of the same coin. Without a doubt, the film holds great emotional power, and even, at one point, brought me to tears. Despite the diaries’ centrality to that power, however, the filmmakers fail to realize their practical and symbolic significance. Ultimately, the film paints a beautiful picture, but misses an opportunity to create something more meaningful, condemning itself to the same fate as the Oslo Accords.


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What Needs Rethinking to Make Another World Possible?

Jul30

by: on July 30th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Knesset members vote on amendments to the proposed Jewish nation-state bill at the Knesset. Image Courtesy of Miriam Alster.

I miss my optimism.She’s hiding deep in shadow, in a place that has more in common with the Kali Yuga than the messianic era. She’s trying to wedge herself into a future of chaos and oppression in which the old world breaks down, holding onto the hope of rebuilding along lines far more loving and just. I keep hearing this scenario framed as spiritual teaching or political analysis. Either way, the type of encouragement I’m feeling these days says that we are on the bridge between worlds, the old systems crumbling, the new order not yet having taken shape. We are wisely counseled to take heart from history, from those forced to live under the boot of dictatorship who found ways to resist, survive, thrive, and regain freedom. We are wisely counseled to prepare to live through this without forgetting ourselves.

Coaxing my optimism out of hiding, I send her frequent whispers of reassurance. Look at the vast resistance to illegitimate authority and cruel plutocratic policies! Look how far we outnumber those being served by the Present Occupant of the White House, and if only we vote, we will prevail in anything that can be decided by an election! This too shall pass, I tell her, maybe into something surprising and wonderful.

Now I’m starting to get messages in return.”From where I’m hiding,” my optimism tells me, “I see too much certainty about what’s right and true on all sides. If the old order is breaking down, wouldn’t this be a good time to re-examine our ideas about what should take its place? I’m not coming out till that happens.”

She has a point.Consider the action the state of Israel’s right-wing governing coalition took last week, passing a a new law as part of its foundational legislation – kind of a decentralized constitution – establishing Israel as the “nation-state of the Jewish people.” Civil rights advocates and Arab Israelis (who make up more than 20 percent of its citizenry) quickly condemned the law as apartheid, racism, and the end of democracy. While the law does not explicitly deprive Arab citizens of rights such as voting, it opens the door to even more preferential treatment of Jews. It flies the flag of dis-belonging, of less than, of unwelcome. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading the coalition behind this legislation (even while charged with at least two counts of bribery by the police), has lots of support from the White House.


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Do Unto Yourself: The Power of Reciprocity

Jul17

by: on July 17th, 2018 | Comments Off

How do you treat yourself as compared to your habitual ways of treating others?I’ve been thinking about the dangers of self-exploitation.

I’ve always thought my radar for being exploited was keenly sensitive, even hyper-sensitive. I always attributed this to the way my young self was used by my family, constantly urged and deployed to live for others as I was entitled to no needs and desires of my own. I thought I was over that form of self-punishment, that I could no longer fall unawares into situations that made me feel used. But not long ago, I found myself talking about my own life-choices – particularly my proclivity to stick where I am needed long after it serves me – and the voice of my mother came into my head. “Do it for me,” she said nearly every day, “it will cost you so little and mean so much to me.”

The shock of realization was visceral, the epiphany loud and clear. No one had coerced me. Driving myself, my fuel had been the very same message I’d worked so long to reject. I had been using myself in precisely the same way others had used me long ago.


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Goodbye to Time

Jul16

by: Adam Fagin on July 16th, 2018 | Comments Off

As a result of President Trump's "zero-tolerance policy," thousands of immigrant children have been detained and separated from their parents for indefinite periods.

Detention centers for the children of immigrants have again raised the specter of the Holocaust in mainstream civic discourse. As a Jewish-American with a strong sense of cultural identity and an even stronger belief that what’s past is prologue, I have frequently wondered what my relationship and responsibility to the reemergence of these images should be, whether it’s tiki-torched white nationalists shouting “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville or swastikas raised at rallies in criticism of the current administration.

In response to this question, I’m reminded of a recent reading of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the graphic novel about his father Vladek’s survival from the outbreak of the war through his time at Auschwitz. The work brings together a past of unimaginable physical and psychological torment and present-day New York where an elderly Vladek bears witness to his son.

In one scene, Art and his wife, Francoise, wait in the car as Vladek enters a supermarket to return several opened but unfinished boxes of food. The two are mortified by this attempt. But they know it’s useless to intervene. On the way to the store, Art and Francoise had listened as the old man continued his story of the camps. His survival was a miracle, says Francoise as they watch Vladek arguing with the manager through the store window, to which Art responds: “But in some ways he didn’t survive.”

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Healing the Heart of this Country

Jul5

by: Dr. John Goldthwait on July 5th, 2018 | Comments Off

Those who disagree politically often demean, blame, and criticize those who differ from them and the result is the climate of divisiveness we see in this country today. Each political party believes they are the “good guys” while those in other party are the “bad guys” who must be defeated. Members of both parties believe this is a logical and desirable way to proceed and act accordingly. However, to do this is to accept and act on the “us versus them” understanding of how the world works.

This approach has absolutely no hope of succeeding because it is based on an invalid premise. This premise is that there are good people (us) and bad people (them). If the “good” people fight against and defeat the “bad” people, then everything will be just fine. So how well is this working out? Are we a loving and peaceful country?

The history of our country and the world confirms that trying to attack and defeat those we perceive as “bad” has never worked. Yes, there may be times when the “good” guys succeed in defeating the “bad”guys and things may seem better for a time until, once again, there are more “bad” guys we must attack and defeat. They perceive things in the same way, of course, and set about defeating us. What ensues is mutual blaming, criticizing, demonizing, and attacking that only results in more suffering for everyone involved.

Despite the failure of us-versus-them thinking to solve our difficulties, this does not stop people from thinking it will work. It is so tempting to blame someone else for one’s difficulties in life. A convincing case can always be made that “they” are responsible for our suffering. “They” may be people with the wrong political and/or religious beliefs, the wrong skin color, the wrong national origin or who have other unacceptable characteristics or behaviors that differentiate them from us. The delusion is that once we defeat those we blame for our problems and suffering, everything will be just fine.


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The Hidden Who Uphold The World

Jun30

by: on June 30th, 2018 | Comments Off

 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, presenting Judaism and World Peace award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend posted on Facebook, sharing the fatigue and demoralization she had been fighting as she sorted through old papers documenting her journey in the last few decades of the progressive movement in this country: the ideas appropriated without credit; the individuals whose own sense of entitlement blinded them to the injuries they inflicted; the surplus ego, the embedded pathways of patriarchy, and more, much more.

She touched my heart in the tender place of my own questioning, and I wrote back:

The challenge of remaining whole amidst the brokenness is formidable. The challenge of holding all these contradictions is fatiguing. It may not be much consolation to be seen as one who helps to shift the energies, inside and out, by speaking these truths, but you are such a one. There is a Jewish legend of the 36 just ones (the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim) who by their existence uphold the world. It is not given to anyone to know who they are, but we are asked to live as if life itself depended on us, as if we were among the 36. Love and honor to you for answering this call, my friend.

You see, her words brought to mind the legend of the 36 Just Ones – The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim in Hebrew – who by their righteousness uphold the existence of the world. In Jewish mysticism, the story goes that if at any time the total number of these pillars of existence were to fall below 36, the world would end, as together they constitute an ironclad argument to the Divine that humanity is worth the trouble.


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REVIVAL Album Spreads Love and Hope

Jun22

by: Robin Kopf on June 22nd, 2018 | Comments Off

Just in time for LGBT+ Pride weekend in San Francisco and New York City, the live folk-rock show, REVIVAL, has released an album as of June 21st.

Part of the spirit of Pride is modeling a world that focuses more on love and less on fear and hatred. REVIVAL‘s story based songs do just this – they send messages of healing, spirituality, joy, faith, and caring for the world we live in.

REVIVAL started out as a performance by singers Lea Kalisch and Julia Ostrov, violinist Samantha Gillogly, guitarist Ugene Romashov, and percussionist Anna Wray, all based in or around New York City. The music and lyrics were written by Kristen Plylar-Moore in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and they began performing the show in late 2016.


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Written Testimony of Kenneth S. Stern

Nov15

by: Kenneth S. Stern on November 15th, 2017 | Comments Off

WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF KENNETH S. STERN

Executive Director

Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation

Before the

UNITES STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

November 7, 2017 Hearing on

Examining Anti-Semitism on College Campuses

 

Dear Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and honorable members of the Committee:

My name is Kenneth Stern. I am the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, which works to increase understanding of hatred and antisemitism, and how to combat them, with a particular emphasis on college campuses.

I have also taught a full semester class on antisemitism at Bard College as a visiting assistant professor of human rights, where I am currently a fellow of its Center for Civic Engagement.

I am honored to have been invited to speak with you today.

Antisemitism has been around for thousands of years, and it is no surprise that it appears on our college campuses too, as do all other forms of hatreds and prejudices.

The questions before the Committee today are multi-faceted:

1) How do we understand antisemitism on campus?

2) How is it manifested?

3) What works to combat it?

4) What might, despite the best of intentions, make the problem worse?

I began working on issues of antisemitism in 1980s, when I was a young lawyer in Portland, Oregon involved with politically progressive cases.

While protesting the 1982 War in Lebanon, I was shocked to hear antisemitism from some of my progressive colleagues. They seemed not to care that they were vilifying Israel in terms reminiscent of how members of the white supremacist Posse Comitatus – who used to hand out antisemitic tracts around the Multnomah County Courthouse where I practiced – demonized Jews.

I began working as a volunteer with the Oregon Jewish community on issues of antisemitism, and in 1989 joined the national staff of the American Jewish Committee as its antisemitism expert, where I worked for the next 25 years. The campus was part of my portfolio.

One of my earliest projects – at the height of the hate speech code craze in the early 1990s – was to research effective ways colleges and universities should address bigotry. With the help of the late Brooklyn College President Robert Hess, I convened a group of college presidents to advise my research, and wrote a monograph that was a blueprint for action. I then trained over 200 presidents around the country on this topic1 . The key points were: do not violate academic freedom or free speech; speak out with your own voice strongly and promptly against bigotry; punish conduct where appropriate; review curriculum; train staff; survey how students perceive the climate on campus.

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Our Own Crimes Are Worse than Those of Our Ancestors: Yes, Slavery Was Bad, But Did You Know You Just Killed 32 Million Muslims?

Sep27

by: Kevin Barrett on September 27th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

René Girard devoted most of his life to exploring one of the darkest secrets of human nature: scapegoating. It seems we have a pervasive tendency to offload our own evil (and the guilt and shame that accompanies it) onto the Other.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the stories we tell about history. Every community tends to downplay its own crimes and exaggerate those of its enemies. To take one example: My Armenian friends have described what happened to their community during World War I as a holocaust of millions of innocent civilians who were killed for absolutely no reason other than vicious Turkish bigotry. But during my month-long speaking tour of Turkey in 2010, I learned that many Turkish intellectuals held a different view. They argued that Turkey was invaded by Russia, that Armenian communities helped the Russian invaders mass-murder Turkish civilians (triggering admittedly horrific reprisals), that the Armenian version of the genocide is exaggerated, and that all the civilian victims of World War I war crimes, including Turks and Armenians, were victims of the insanity of war, not the evil of one particular community.

These same Turkish intellectuals also argued that far more Muslims were murdered in the ethnic cleansings in the Balkans during the years before World War I than Armenian Christians were killed during the war. (We have all heard of the Armenian genocide, but few Americans know about the ethnic cleansings of Muslims from the Balkans.)

Along with telling self-serving war stories, we sometimes offload historical guilt by blaming our benighted ancestors for evils that we, their modern enlightened descendants, no longer commit. The current hullaballoo over slavery is a prime example. By scorning “evil slaveholding Confederates” or “evil slaveholding Founding Fathers” we deem ourselves their moral superiors. But what if we are committing worse crimes without even knowing it?

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Oh Crap! I’m Triggered Again, Part One

Aug20

by: on August 20th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Holding steady when the ground is moving is normally part of my stock-in-trade.People often ask me for something to help put their own fears into perspective. Usually I am willing and able to oblige. Mostly I try my best to see the bigger picture, and mostly that effort pays off.

But not now. I was staying more or less centered until a few days ago when something caught me off-guard. In the middle of a conference call, I got a text message carrying information that turned out not to be true, that the Barcelona terrorist who mowed down 13 lives like grass had been heading for a kosher restaurant on Las Ramblas, hard by the assassin’s abandoned car. It was an intense activation, hard to control despite my wish to hold to decorum, despite the fact that everyone on the call had been talking about their fears for their own communities’ and others, their responses to the nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville and the havoc they wreaked. When I rang off, a bit of research led me to conclude that the location of the car was likely a coincidence, that even though ISIS hates Jews, the attack did not target us directly.

Ashamed, I apologized to my colleagues for spreading false information, then gave myself a talking-to. Oh, crap! I’m triggered again, and not only that, but right now I am super-susceptible to recurrence.

I borrowed the title of this series from a shrink who offered it as a way to call in the awareness and acknowledgement that start to diffuse reactivity. You know what I mean by reactivity? I’m talking about that rush of terror or fury or both that overwhelms brain and body when something pokes its finger into an old wound, flooding the inner world with elicited memory, elicited pain.

Do you want to know why I was so easily and massively triggered by a stray rumor?Let me suggest four readings. First: Eric Ward’s important essay “Skin In The Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.” This piece was written by a non-Jewish African American who has studied and worked against white supremacist movements for many years. He exposes in detail how “antisemitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism,” how it is the cornerstone of their racist ideology, and how this is often neither understood nor believed despite ample evidence.

I read Ward’s piece when it was first posted to Political Research Associates’ site at the end of June, six weeks before white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” inspiring one of their number to use his automobile as a weapon, murdering Heather Heyer and injuring others,.

When you’re done with “Skin in The Game,” read “Jewish Fear, Love, & Solidarity in the Wake of Charlottesville” by Jonah S. Boyarin, published on the Jewschool site a few days after the events in Charlottesville. Among many other closely observed depictions of fear, love, and solidarity, Boyarin writes:

Jewish fear is the recurring silence from non-Jews about the explicitly, particularly antisemitic language and behavior of the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. It is seeing, with rare exceptions, only Jewish friends of mine posting on social media when Jewish cemeteries are vandalized or when the Boston Holocaust memorial was destroyed this week for the second time this summer.

Jewish fear is if we bring up our struggle to non-Jewish comrades, we will be gaslighted and shamed into silence, because structural antisemitism functions by portraying us as conspiratorially, greedily powerful despite our repeated vulnerability to structural, white Christian male violence.

Third, read Michael Chabon’s and Ayelet Waldman’s “Open Letter to our Fellow Jews,” enacting our tradition and imperative to rebuke injustice within our community:

Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.

Finally, if you have the bandwidth for one more, read Danica Bornstein’s account of struggling to reconcile two identities, the provisional social category of whiteness and her lived experience as a Jew:

What I’m trying to say here is that the privilege that accrues during the good times is very much real, and I am not denying or hiding that. It is also true that the privilege is provisional, and can be revoked, and becomes the very thing that is used against us when the shoe finally drops.

It overwhelms me trying to explain this history and how both of these things live inside my body: the very real privilege but also the very real and repeated experiences of expulsion, scapegoating, genocide, and terror. I talk about the part that is easier, but then I end up feeling very alone.

None of these writers is identical to each other in approach, style, content, or the way they position themselves in the story, but they are all telling parts of a meta-story that has shaped my experience.

In the context of this big story of Jews in the USA, when I tell myself, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” I am reminding myself that despite the intense feelings I’m experiencing, I’m not truly in it alone. I’m reminding myself that I’m not alone despite the fact that so many of my colleagues on the U.S. left are quite happy to hang a label reading “white” around my neck and never hear another word about why that might not sum up the experience of disbelonging for a first-generation American whose earliest memories were explanations in halting English of why I had so few living ancestors and so little knowledge of those who had survived, and of being chased home by Catholic kids when they got to the part in catechism about Jews killing Jesus, and whose recent memories are crowded with experiences of being an acceptable target, a handy “buffer group” for multiple racial categories.

I’m reminding myself that even if I am once again attacked from both right and left for having the audacity to take the space to tell this story and the willingness to risk this self-exposure, I am not alone.

And why must I remind myself so insistently of this truth? The trajectory of all traumatic activation is the same. The person who is triggered is propelled toward extreme isolation, often into an intolerable loneliness that obscures or precludes the actual antidote to white nationalism: connection, reciprocity, collaboration, respect, generosity across lines of difference.

From what I see, my story rhymes with much of the current state of things. The white nationalists gathering in Charlottesville, Boston, and many other places overwhelmingly share certain characteristics: pale skin, male gender, Christian heritage. None of these is intrinsically the generator of evil, but the giant chickens of power and domination their possessors have birthed have been marching home to roost for a long time, lusting to punish the rest of us for daring to live our freedom. In the face of this long march, so many people I know are displaying the signs of extreme reactivity grounded in trauma: believing the inner voice that says no one else can know my suffering, no one is truly on my side, I can’t trust anyone who fits different categories of race, religion, gender, orientation, even generation. So many are locked in just this combat with would-be allies: whose perspective matters? Who has earned the right to have a say? Who understands the urgency and seriousness of the threats? Who has the capacity or right to glimpse what it is to live inside my skin?

What do you do when elicited trauma pushes you into a dark corner? For me, many things can help in the moment. Music, a walk, or a distraction—anything that disrupts reactivity long enough to allow the fear chemicals to dissipate.

But you know what helps me the most? When compassion opens a door between my heart and another person’s; when neither of us needs to slot the other’s story into a hierarchy of oppressions, judging if it deserves equal dignity or goes on the dismissible pile. When we hear each others’ stories without turning away, when we open our arms to each other. When we join together to rebuke injustice and call in the beloved community.

I’ve been thinking about trauma a great deal over the past year because it is one of the subjects of my current book-in-progress. Even if it weren’t, I’d still be thinking about trauma today because laying fresh damage on the site of old wounds seems to be our national pastime. Every day, I have to remind myself to stay aware enough to say, “Oh crap! I’m triggered again,” because without that awareness, the past prevails.

When I am triggered, my capacity for rational thought is greatly diminished. This is bad news not only because of the immediate suffering it catalyzes, but because the thing that helps me most to release trauma-induced reactivity is staying aware that I am activated. Keeping part of my thinking mind free to be an observer allows me to begin distinguishing past from present. I begin to remember that the loud voice in my head—the one telling me I’m all alone in an uncaring world and they want to kill me—is not the voice of reality, the objective truth, but the over-amped voice of old pain.

My grip on my composure remains tenuous. In Shabbat services yesterday morning, we talked about the Torah portion for this week, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17). A short way into the text, we read this exhortation about how to treat the conquered who worshipped false gods: “Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.”

Aha, I thought, the Confederate statues! You get to a fresh start by wiping out the symbols of an abhorrent belief system. My mind reeled into the slam dance that’s been playing over and over on my inner soundtrack. But wait, that’s what ISIS leaders thought they were doing when they demolished the Bamyan Buddhas! (See this compendium of pictures and links for images of that and many more examples of monuments toppled). On the one hand crashes headlong into on the other hand. Both tumble into the mosh pit of my brain. I try to blink back the tears and steady my breathing, knowing that unless I can resolve this state of hyper-susceptibility, I will be cycling through that dance every day, perhaps every hour.

Coming next in the “Oh Crap! I’m Triggered” series: Free Speech Slamdance.

Odetta and Dr. John, “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”