Monday, March 24, 2008

Good News For The Jews

Finally some common sense out of a major Jewish denomination.

The Reform movement, at least in the U.S., has decided to approve inter-marriages.

They have decided to view this inevitable phenomenon of diaspora Jewish life, not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

I read about this in Haaretz , where the sub-headline called it "The most daring experiment in the history of the Jews." While I am not sure it ranks that high, it is certainly the most significant - and positive - development in organized Jewish life in the past several decades.

This is really a welcome development. As the article points out:

"If they raise Jewish kids, it's a Jewish family. It's not the parents who
are important, but rather their choice regarding the next generation."

Two Boston-based studies radiate cautious optimism regarding the possibility
of bringing mixed families into the Jewish community. A more general study of
religion in the United States, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also has
contributed to the sense that mixed marriages are more an opportunity than an
obstacle to the American Jewish community.

The study, which identified religious mobility as an integral part of American life, found that more than 40 percent of Americans change their religious affiliation over the course of their life. When disregarding people who shift between different denominations of Protestantism, this figure remains at 30 percent.

... conclusion: A welcoming, vibrant congregation will attract mixed families. This means that the community's overall message must also change: from "It is important to marry a Jew," to "It is important to raise Jewish children." After all, the first
message has long been doomed to failure. About half of young Jews marry outside
the community.

Not only may this approach improve the demographics of Diaspora Jews, it is both more sensible (and menschlekeit) and more consistent with "living in two civilizations" - which is what Reconstructionist Judaism - the denomination I am affiliated with - has long advocated.

Now, if only Canadian branch of Reform Judaism would adopt this approach!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reflections, on a Sunny Day

Today is a bright sunny day and the crisp light is reflecting off the mountains and the plains of white bright snow. Everything looks like a digital photograph with the contrast enhancement set too high. The snow is beginning to melt and spring is in the air. I decided to go for a walk.

As I walked down my street I noticed some people walking with palm leaves. “Odd”, I thought in passing. When I turned the corner onto the main street, I saw dozens of people, mostly Filipino or South American, standing in front of the Catholic Church with lulavim.

“Oh, they’re are celebrating Sukkoth”, I said to myself. I smiled at the thought. At that moment I felt a sense of commonality with those Catholics.

“Happy Holiday” I said to some as I passed by (resisting the urge to say “Chag Sameach”).

“Yes, Happy Holiday” they said back to me – deliberately and slowly and looking me in the eyes. They where sure that I was a kindred soul.

Later, in front of the bank, a pan-handler (still young, tall, skinny as a rail, stubbly beard, blond hair, and very bad teeth.) asked me for some change. I gave him a dollar.

“Mind if I ask you something,” he asked.

“Sure,” I said.

“Are you Jewish?”.

“Yes,” I said: “Why do you ask?”

He explained that all Jews are successful. Many are great doctors and lawyers and he loved the Jews in show business. Rob Reiner is Jewish! His mother’s cancer doctor was Jewish, and he was been really good for her. That doctor had a number tattooed on his arm, and once he asked his mother about it, and she told him that it meant he had escaped from a concentration camp, but his mother said never to stare at the number, or mention it to the doctor, because Jews don’t like talking about that. I nodded my head indicating that that was probably good advice.

He continued, telling me that many Jews are great lawyers too. He had been in jail, and his lawyer was Jewish. But he had done a good job for him. Could have been in jail longer. Could have been worse. And Harry Rosen (local men’s clothing chain), he is Jewish too. And so is Ben Stiller, and Seinfeld, and lots of great actors. All Jews are successful you know.

I assured him that was not true: some Jews where not successful. He looked sceptical.

“Why did you ask if I was Jewish?” I said. “Do I look successful?”

“No,” he said. “But you have the same eyes as Dr Sugarman, at ‘The Clark’ [the major local mental health and addiction institute]”

I said goodbye, and as I walked away he continued: “Thanks for talking. Hope your not offended about talking about Jews. My mother said Jews are sensitive about that. Sure is a nice sunny spring day.”

As I passed the church, most of the crowd was gone. There was a lulav discarded on a snow bank by the sidewalk.

I have no idea what all this meant. But it seemed important, and I thought about all the rest of the way home.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sober Analysis

The photo above, shows members of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva displaying the blood soaked tallitot of victims of last week's shooting. It reminded me of similar pictures of Palestinians waving the blood stained clothing of victims of Israeli killings at those large and angry funeral processions we see on TV. I was always disgusted by those displays of blood: as if it was some sort of badge or honour. I always thought, "What kind of people would do that?"

The article below gives some background on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, where last week's killing of 8 students took place. It appeared in yesterday's Haaretz. I have reproduced it in full. For those who don't know much about Mercaz Harav, or Gush Emunim or the Religious Zionist Movement, it may be enlightening.

The last paragraph is the most poignant

The killing at the yeshiva is heartrending. No one deserved it. The innocents in Gaza and the victims at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem were all an unnecessary sacrifice. They have already paid the highest possible price. Their families and those around them will probably adopt even more radical positions now, and so we will be led into another round of endless bloodshed.

The sad irony is that Hamas and the Religious Zionist movement (as exemplified by Mercaz HaRav) are mirror images of each other. And each is effectively in control of their sides actions towards the other.

Heads to the right
By Gideon Levy
Haaretz, 9 March 2008

It is still unclear whether the terrorist who entered the Mercaz Harav yeshiva on Thursday night and killed eight of its students knew exactly what place he was entering. But the thousands of people who walked behind the coffins on Friday knew very well. "The flagship of religious Zionism" was the common expression used, the "holy of holies"; there was even a hyperbolic comparison to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in terms of sanctity. Some of the praise of the yeshiva is certainly well deserved, and nothing, of course, can justify the horrible killing of young boys in a library. Still, it would be appropriate to recall, even at this difficult hour, what this yeshiva has brought forth. <

Mercaz Harav is the flagship of the last group in Israeli society still operating in the realm of ideas. Religious Zionists are the only group, aside from the ultra-Orthodox population, whose members are willing to lay down their lives for the collective and its worldview. It is a group that responds faithfully to its leaders - a group that even has leaders - and idolizes them. It is also a fairly homogeneous group in terms of its thinking: Some 80 percent of its members define themselves as right-wingers. None of this is true of Israel's complacent, individualist secular public. And so we end up with a minority, 12 to 15 percent of the population, whose influence in certain areas is crucial and far exceeds its own relative size.

No one can explain in depth the magical powers of extortion this group has obtained. Nor can anyone ignore the damage it has caused the country. Without the settlement enterprise, peace might have reigned here already; without the Gush Emunim movement, supported by successive Israeli governments, there would be no settlements; and without the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there would be no Gush Emunim. This institution, then, was the cradle of the settlement enterprise and its driving force. Most of the students killed in the terrorist attack were second-generation settlers. It should be said again, clearly and unequivocally: Their killing was a criminal act. (An unusual personal comment: On Friday I said in a radio interview, among other things, that the Mercaz Harav yeshiva was a fascist institution; right-wing circles spread a rumor on the Internet that I had said the slain students were fascists. This is not true. In any case, if my comment about the yeshiva offended people in their grief, I wish to express my sincere sorrow and apology).

From Mercaz Harav emerged the rabbis that led the vilest move in Zionist history. Most of the delusional right-wing perpetrators and the mongers of hate for Arabs came from this flagship. Religious leaders such as Rabbis Moshe Levinger, Haim Druckman, Avraham Shapira, Yaakov Ariel, Zefania Drori, Shlomo Aviner and Dov Lior, all idolized by their students, raised generations of nationalist youths within those walls.

Rabbi Lior, for example, head of the Council of Rabbis of Judea and Samaria, ruled in 2004 that the Israel Defense Forces was allowed to kill innocent people. How do these words sound now, after the attack in Jerusalem? Is the permission ours alone? Back then, Lior ruled that, "There should be no feeling of guilt at the morality of foreigners." He decreed that the Knesset could not decide to evacuate settlements, and that soldiers were allowed to refuse the order to evacuate settlers. Rabbi Druckman made a similar ruling.

In 2002, Rabbi Aviner, another graduate of the yeshiva, called for the execution of Israelis who refused to serve in the military. Back then the refusal came from left-wingers, of course. Aviner also ruled that war casualties are no cause for national grief, and he called for the abolition of Yom Hazikaron, the annual day of remembrance for fallen Israeli soldiers. He compared the road map peace plan to the appeasement of Hitler and considers the evacuation of settlements an "illegal crime."

The same yeshiva graduated Hanan Porat, one of the founders of Gush Emunim and one of those who returned to Gush Etzion. Another alumnus, Rabbi Levinger, beat him to it with the Jewish settlement at the Park Hotel in the heart of Hebron. These are the prominent figures that have emerged from this radical seminary and that is their legacy. From here they preached the application of different laws of morality and justice than the universal ones; yes, where the chosen people is concerned, there is such a thing.

With all the changes religious Zionism has undergone - from the time the Mizrahi movement joined the Zionist Congress, through its existence as a moderate stream that deftly managed to combine religion and modernity, to its transformation into the source of Israeli nationalism - the movement has managed to retain an exalted, inexplicable standing in Israel's largely secular society. There are still very many secular Israelis who view the religious Zionists, the students of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva and the West Bank's so-called "hilltop youths" as a group of pioneers committed to noble values, as the pillar of fire advancing before the camp. Even those who deeply detest the Haredi public reserve a warm spot in their hearts for religious Zionism, the very group that has inflicted more calamity on us than all the Haredim put together.

The killing at the yeshiva is heartrending. No one deserved it. The innocents in Gaza and the victims at Mercaz Harav in Jerusalem were all an unnecessary sacrifice. They have already paid the highest possible price. Their families and those around them will probably adopt even more radical positions now, and so we will be led into another round of endless bloodshed.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Anger !

Yesterday I was angry.

I was angry at photo above.

Angry for the dead Yeshiva students. And for the wounded.

Angry for the Jewish people, who have to put up with this shit.

Angry at the Palestinian who pulled the trigger. – Did he think his need for revenge was worth the innocent lives he took?

Angry at the people who sent him. – Did they think a few more dead Jews would soften our hearts? That it would make Israel more likely to trade land for the promise of peace? Or that Israelis would just give up and “go back to Europe”.

I was angry at the photo above

Angry that Jewish blood is spilled on a holy book.

Angry that the photo evokes the holocaust, and every anti-Semitic pogrom in our history

Angry that the photographer who took the photo, knew that. That’s why he took it.

Angry at the Toronto Star, who knew what it evoked, and printed it.

Angry at the Rosh Yeshiva, who linked these killing to the 1929 killings in Hebron.

Angry at the Rav who linked these killings to Purim and to Amalek.

Angry at all those who interpret these killing as just another example of how eternal anti-Semitism always and everywhere wants to kill Jews.

Angry at those who think none of this is our fault. That it's just the way the world is and alway has been. The only solution is to be strong, and to kill them before they kill us.

I was angry at the photo above. Where was the photo of the blood soaked Koran from Gaza?

Angry that suddenly all the Jews have forgotten last weekend.

Angry that Israel killed 125 Palestinians in Gaza last weekend: approximately 40 of them civilians: “collateral damage.” Did we think that more dead Arabs would soften their hearts? That it would make Hamas more likely to trade land for the promise of peace and quiet? Or that Palestinians would just give up and settle for the status quo.

I was angry at the photo above.

Angry at the Palestinians who celebrated it: who cheered and fired into the air in the streets of Gaza.

Angry at the Jews of Jerusalem who chanted “Death to Arabs” (Mavet La’Aravaim) outside the Yeshiva where the killing took place.

Angry at the Hamas leaders who blessed this "noble operation".

Angry at the Rabbis who say this killing is a warning from God, telling us not to negotiate away Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Angry at the Israeli Jewish Knesset members who blame these killings on Israel’s Arab MKs, and promise to “get rid” of them.

Angry at the brother of the killer, who says he is proud his brother died a “martyr”.

Yesterday I was angry at everyone who was angry.

Angry at everyone who never looks at the fault within; who never thinks that maybe - just maybe - "the other" side is reacting to "our" actions; who thinks force, and only force will bring "the other" side to heal; who thinks that "them" killing "us" proves that "they" are animals, but "us" killing "them" is OK – understandable since "they" understand nothing but force - that "they" are brutal animals.

Angry at everyone would believes that "our" dead – who study and believe that God gave the land 100% to "us" and that "we" should never give it up – are holy martyrs; while "their" dead who study and believe that God gave this land 100% to "them" and that "they" should never give it up – are deranged lunatics bent on war in defense of wrong headed principal.

Angry at everyone who values land more than peace.

Angry at everyone who screams for revenge; who wants to meet force with more force, death with more death;

Angry at everyone who refuses to talk, to give something to get something, to compromise, to try something new, to learn.

Angry at everyone who screams at "them", and give his own side a free pass.

Yesterday I was angry.

Today I am mostly sad.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the West Bank ...

According to a press release from Badil:

Since the beginning of 2008, over 200 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have become internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of home demolitions and evictions. As Israel continues to expand Jewish-only settlements and related infrastructure Palestinians are left with nowhere to go.

Since January 1st 2008, the Israeli army demolished the homes of and evicted from their lands 208 persons in the occupied West Bank. Over half of those who have been forcibly displaced are registered refugees with UNRWA. Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley (Area C), many of whom have already been displaced a number of times since the 1948, have been especially targetted. The home demolitions and evictions have affected the communities of al Baqaa (55 persons lost their homes on 2 January), Furush Beit Dajan (39 persons on 3 January), Fasayil (83 persons on 3 January), Jiftlik (one person on 3 January) and Jahalin Bedouin (30 persons on 16 January). Livestock and personal belongings were damaged because some families were not given time to remove them. While many families were able to seek temporary shelter with family and friends, some slept outside during some of the coldest winter nights in years. More families (Al Baqaa and Jahalin Bedouin) are at risk of imminent displacement as further demolition and eviction orders are pending.

Is this illegal and immoral? Don't all governments have the right of eminent domain to seize land for the public good. Don't all governments have the right to clear public lands of squatters.

No. Governments of occupation do not. They are not the government of the occupied people. They do not represent them nor have their interests at heart. They are merely temporarily hold in the land until its status can be settled.

But Israel, does not behave as an occupier. It behaves as if it is already the legitimate governmnet of the areas. Trouble is, it acts as the governmnet of only some of the people, and has only the interests of some of the people - the Jews - at heart. Palestinians in the West Bank can neither vote for this government nor can they expect it to act in their interests nor protect their rights.

Israel can not have it both ways. Either it acts like a legal occupation power, denying the local population the vote, but at the same time not expropriating land or expelling people, nor diverting natural resources, nor engaging in major construction initiatives, nor moving its own people into the territories; or it can annex the West Bank and give all it residence a vote. To claim to rule all the land, while representing the interests of only some of the people, is the essence of apartheid. If Israel want to stop being called an apartheid state, it should stop acting like one in the occupied territories.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Talk, For God's Sake !

As I predicted in my previous post, Israel's heavy bombing did nothing to stop Hamas rocket attacks. Indeed Hamas upped the ante, and lobbed 50 rockets into Israel, including at least 5 Grad missles into Ashkelon.

Israel has now lauched a mini invasion. Today's score: 61 Palestineans killed - at least 21 civilians - and 2 Israeli solders killed too.

There is no military solution !!!

Hamas has offered to talk. Why not take them up on it

See more info here, here, and here.

Is this a radical idea? No. Most Israelis are ready for this move. The March 1 Haaretz, reported that -- "Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit. Less than one-third (28 percent) still opposes such talks."