Difficult times lie ahead for North American Jewry, as antisemitism rears its ugly head. As Debora Lipstadt points out, Jews are now under attack from the radical Right, from the radical Left, and from radical Islam.
In past times, the only redeeming feature of antisemitism was the way in which it at least galvanized unity in the Jewish People, against these threats. No longer. Not when Israel is so tortuously involved.
On the Right, anti-Semites argue their kosher credentials because they support Israel. Richard Spencer may be keen that “Jews will not replace us” in the United States, but at the same time is a supporter of Israel and even calls himself a “white Zionist”. Backers of President Trump will likewise point to his support of Israel to rebut condemnation of his friendship with antisemites.
The Right would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I support Israel. I may hate Jews at home, but I like them in Israel.
On the Left, Israel is also a painful part of the equation. New congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, argue the evils of Israel together with their support for the Jewish community in the States. Sarsour even led heart-warming fundraising campaign for victims of antisemitism in Colorado and Pittsburgh.
The Left would seem to be saying – I cannot be an evil antisemite, because I fight local antisemitism. I may hate Jews in Israel, but I like them here in the States.
Unfortunately the current Israeli leadership does not make this dilemma any easier for Diaspora Jews. Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to make common cause with those such as conspiracy theorist President Orban in Hungary and the Polish leadership that supports Israel while denying its role in the Holocaust.
It would seem that Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken sides in this “choice” between Diaspora Jew-hatred, and Israel hatred.
How does your soul respond?
by Robbie Gringras
The political awakening of students throughout the land following the Parkland shooting, has surprised and inspired many. Whether or not the subject is on their curriculum, every Jewish educator knows that Gun Control is a topic that their students are interested in addressing. As such, we have an opportunity. Our students are motivated, excited, engaged!
What contribution might educators make at this time?
I would suggest that one contribution – among many others – might be to equip our students to fight their good fight without them losing sight of the shared humanity and shared citizenship of their opponents. How can they maintain their righteous passion and drive, and at the same time hold on to a sense – despite it all – of a United States of America? How can our classrooms provide space for disagreement and struggle, yet make sure that opposition does not turn into hatred?
We would suggest that the Gun Control debate revolves around four fundamental questions that our students would benefit from exploring:
How do we stay safe?
What makes us American?
How can we be free?
How do we relate to our territory?
Our students who are demonstrating and campaigning for gun control probably do not need to even check their answers to these questions. Even without asking we might assume that it is clear to them that safety will come from gun control laws applied more consistently and broadly than ever before. They probably know that being American is about liberty and tolerance, and not about being the shame of the world due to its gun violence. They presumably wish to be free to go to school without armed guards (or teachers), and they know that only the US has such a crazy attitude to guns, and that those who do not live on the coasts think totally differently about this and that they are wrong.
So far so unsurprising. Where these four questions come in useful is in enabling the liberal learner to understand the “other side”. The “other side” of this gun debate would argue that one is safe from bad guys and from bad governments when one owns a gun of one’s own – the more powerful the better. They might argue that the Constitution is the sacred heart of what makes us American, all amendments included. Freedom for them would be meaningless if the State took away their right to armed self-defence, and the right to defend one’s territory – especially one’s home.
In assessing these two sets of answers (and of course there are many other possible combinations of answers), the student may emerge with two conclusions. First, “I totally disagree with them. They are totally wrong, and I shall do all I can to achieve what I believe,” but also: “I understand that we both share four fundamental concerns. This is what binds us. Our different attitudes to these shared concerns are what make us opponents in our shared endeavor to get better answers to these fundamental questions.” The latter conclusion can and should live together with the first.
Funnily enough, if you end up managing to draw your students into this conversation on gun control through these four questions, you might find your class is delightfully prepped to talk about Israel, too!
For the penultimate line of Israel’s national anthem, Hatikvah, contains four words that map very neatly on to these four questions your students will have explored: To Be (safety) a People (national identity) Free In Our Land (territory) – Lihiyot Am Chofshi B’Artzenu – להיות עם חפשי בארצנו. Pretty much every aspect of Israel you might explore with your students are about the same four fundamental concerns – for safety, collective identity, freedom, and land – expressed through these same four questions.
For more about these Four Questions in Israel Education, take a look at Makom’s work with 4HQ.
In some professions, facts can indeed be your enemy.
It makes sense for politicians to argue over facts, and even hope to suggest alternate ones. Because for a politician facts are valent. There is either a “good” fact, or a “bad” fact – one that supports or weakens their agenda. Same goes for many other professions. I’m sure that when tobacco producers found out that smoking was bad for one’s health, they found this fact to be deeply troubling. TV dramas are full of “bad” facts: Throughout that HBO crime/court series “The Night Of” you are constantly left struggling with the idea that this kid must not tell the truth. The facts are against him.
But an educators’ job is to make sure that facts are neither friends nor enemies. Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
Facts are there to be gathered, the more the merrier.
And Israel Education in particular, forces us to embrace a fact-filled existence.
Because Israel is a “subject matter” so vibrant and complex that it can no longer fit into a straightforward narrative. There is no way we can only teach about Israel through her towering heroes, when some awkward myth-busting anecdote is waiting to be found online. We can’t only teach the woes of Israel as a Haredi-dominated theocracy, when Tel Aviv still exists. We can’t only teach about Israel being the safe haven for the Jewish People, when evidence of dangerous enemies calls this into question every day. Something contradictory will always crop up.
These contradictions, these complicating facts, these endless annoying and endearing anomalies, are what makes Israel so fascinating and dynamic. And as such, they become the educator’s magic dust. The fascinating truth about Israel, is that it is always going to be infinitely too broad for one person to grasp. When this is one’s educational message, then facts are not our enemy.
This is not to say that the educator’s only job is to overwhelm the student! But once freed of one’s exhausting “guard duty” against uncomfortable facts, we can focus on what is most important: To act as the “Guide for the Perplexed” by offering frameworks for the student to make sense of what threatens to be babble, and to build Israel into the Jewish identity of the learners.
The online version of this article is abbreviated. To see the full text, hover the cursor over the lines in bold, and a text box will appear.
We need to talk about Israel.
Too often it seems that our conversations about Israel are either too cerebral to be meaningful, or too passionate to be intelligent. We need to be able to bring both our heads and our hearts to bear. This is no easy task, as we face at least three challenges.
Tent or Tank?How can we easily delineate the parameters of the tent, making it a Middle Eastern kind of tent – that has defined edges, but that is open to all sides?
Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Yekutiel Alpert, from the old settlement in Jerusalem, was the “Mukhtar” of a few neighborhoods before the establishment of the State. Here he describes his first walk to the voting station (the list he refers to in this piece was the United Religious List. Imagine today’s Jewish Home, Shas, Yahadut HaTorah, and Yahad running together on one list, where the commonalities are greater than the differences.)
“At 05:35 in the morning I awoke, and we got up – my wife, my brother Rabbi Shimon Leib, and my brother-in-law Rabbi Netanel Saldovin, and my son Dov. After we had drunk coffee, we put on our best Shabbat clothes in honor of this great and sacred day.
“For this is the day that the Lord made in joy and happiness. For after two thousand years in exile or more, and one might even say from the six days of creation to this day, we have never been honored with a day such as this, that we may go to the elections of the Jewish State, and blessed be that we have lived and existed and reached this time.
“… I and my wife and my brother-in-law went to vote at HaHabashim Street, with our State of Israel identity booklet in our hands. In great and awesome joy we walked that short distance, and all the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself. There was no limit to my joy and happiness.
All the way I walked as if dancing at Simchat Torah with the Israeli Identity booklet in my hand as the Scroll itself.
“The caretaker brought the ballot box, and the Chairman called to me and said, “And thou shalt glorify the elderly”, and that since I was the oldest one there, that I would be the first to vote.
“With a thrill of the sacred and awe of the holy I handed over my Identity booklet to the Chairman, and he called out my name from the booklet. The deputy Chairman noted down my name, and gave me the number one. He passed me an envelope and I entered the second room, where all the paper slips of all the lists were laid out. And with a trembling hand and emotions of sanctity I picked up the slip with “Bet”, the United Religious List, and placed it inside the envelope I had received from the Chairman.
“I returned to the voting room, and showed everyone that I had only one envelope in my hand.
And then came the holiest moment of my life.
“And then came the holiest moment of my life. A moment that my father did not live to see, nor did my grandfather. Only me, in this time, in this life, was honored with this sacred and pure moment. Praised be me, and praised be my portion. I made the “Shehechiyanu” blessing, and put the envelope in the ballot box.
“I shook the hand of the Chairman, the deputy Chairman, and all the other committee members, and left the room. I waited in the corridor for my wife, for she was second, and my brother who was third, and after him my brother-in-law who was fourth to vote, and at 06:28 we went home, and I went to pray. A great festive day.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before Congress has stirred up a great deal of conversation and controversy. Several communities in the United States have decided to turn this into an educational opportunity, and have arranged a public screening with a post-speech discussion.
We were asked to create a discussion guide – here is it!
- We recommend that you provide refreshments, and that you print out the guide in full size and color (click here to download the US version – tabloid/ledger – and here for the A3 version).
- At the end of the speech, have everyone sit round tables with no more than ten people at each table. The discussion sheets should be on the table as “place mats”.
- We would recommend that you tell everyone to take 5 minutes to go through the questions on the place mat on their own in silence, and only afterwards share their responses with others in their group.
- You might wish to assign a facilitator to each table, to help all voices to be heard. Please do stress that the questions do not intend to “lead” anyone anywhere! They do not expect or “draw” any particular answer – all answers are welcomed. For more, please feel free to look at this on “Provocative Facilitation”.
The Structure of 4HQ
The structuring of the questions is according to what we call 4HQ – the Four Hatikvah Questions. These are the key building blocks of a Jewish discourse about Israel – from the penultimate line of the Hatikvah National Anthem – To be a People, Free In Our Land. This ancient and universal aspiration can be divided into four essential questions that address survival (To Be), Peoplehood, democracy (Free), and questions of place and Zion (In Our Land).
We would suggest that a Jewish conversation about Israel is not complete unless it touches on all four of these essential questions. Quite often, as issues become more complex, some questions overlap – hence the central question on the place mat addresses both issues of survival and of Peoplehood.
For a 500 word summary of the 4HQ idea, please go here. For a short video explaining 4HQ in the context of Israel’s elections, go here (you might even choose to screen the video as an introduction).
Contact us to find out how you can become a 4HQ community… Makom@jafi.org
We present a translation of Shay Charka’s moving and insightful tribute to satirist, writer, journalist, politician, and one of the most prominent standard-bearers of Religious-Nationalism, Uri Orbach z”l. His passing was mourned across the political spectrum.
This tribute first appeared in Hebrew in Makor Rishon.
We created a brief informative slideshow on the nature of Women’s involvement in the democracy of the Zionist movement, and in Israel – including comparisons with other countries, and specific details on the 2015 elections. Feel free to make use!
Click on the Slideshare icon (above right) to reach the download button.
This is the way the elections promises line up so far. With over a month to go, it is interesting to see where Israeli politicians are putting their mouths, so to speak.
As we know, election campaigns are generally focused on persuading the floating voter, and so parties often talk less to their home crowd and more aim to impress newcomers. As such, this laudable open source initiative is revealing. The chart above is taken from the ongoing google sheet, to which the public is invited to report politicians’ promises.
In terms of our 4HQ approach, we can see that the vast majority of the promises live within the People/Free areas. 35.5% of promises address economic welfare issues, 13% talk about lowering the costs of housing, and another 2.4 % talk of medical care. Add to that the face that nearly two-fifths of the coalition demands (which make up 20.2% of all promises) also address socio-economic issues, this means that well over half of all election promises made are on what in Israel are known as “chevrati” – socio-economic issues.
Only 6% of promises would fit into the security/peace deals category, compared with 11% of promises addressing corruption and good government. About a third of promised legislation addresses Jewish People issues, such as conversion, the rabbinate, and Haredi conscription to the army – round about 6% of all promises.
So according to promises so far, here is our 4HQ chart of election promises!