In late November, as part of the Jewish Agency’s Assembly, Makom hosted a fascinating conversation between former UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and historian and writer Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger. Hosted by Yonatan Ariel, the conversation turned out to be a highly-enjoyable and intelligent meeting of two very different intellectuals – one orthodox, one secular; one male, one female; one British, one Israeli.
Along with the heart-felt tributes to Arik Einstein, there has been a fascinating undercurrent of emotional hoarding on the part of some Israelis. Assuming that no one outside of Israel has ever heard of Arik Einstein or any of his songs, they then make a further assumption that it is their job to explain what he and his music meant. Yet after this double-assumption, everything closes down. Writes Israeli-born Liel Leibovitz: “I have nothing to say to you about Arik Einstein. I’m sorry to sound like a prick, but you wouldn’t get it.” It’s an extreme comment, but sums up a prevailing sentiment. Those non-Israelis, they won’t get it.
There is something rather beautiful and also sad about this kind of response. The character and the music of Arik Einstein made its impact in the way the best of art should: Through our hearts. His music touched millions, each of whom received it as if created for them alone. This is the paradoxical magic of art. As a result, when feeling his loss, it is a personal emotional loss that – when we are sad – we sometimes fight to “own”. “You wouldn’t get it,” is a perfect way to maintain the purity and unique authenticity of my pain. To Full Post
Jerusalem has been a-popping with assemblies and conferences. The Assembly of the Jewish Agency for Israel overlapped with the General Assembly of Jewish Federations (GA), which fed into the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency… A real party!
Makom was highly involved in all these gatherings, and as well as working like dogs, we also learned a few fascinating lessons…
1. We were surprised that non-Israelis were surprised that Israelis are engaged on meaningful journeys of Jewish Identity.
Yes, that’s right – a double surprise. At the session we ran at the GA on the Jewish identity of Israelis, we decided to take multi-vocality to its ultimate conclusion. Instead of having a panel of a few Israelis, we invited over 27 Israelis involved in all sorts of different Jewish identity questions, and sat them around small discussion tables. That way everyone would hear at least three different stories. From the head of a Secular Yeshiva, to the leader of a group of Orthodox gay men, to the orthodox woman working for the New Israel Fund. People from the far North, deep South, trendy center. People born in Israel and born elsewhere. All of them engaged and committed to expanding their own and other Israelis’ Jewish horizons. To Full Post
For two years at the turn of the millennium, I would ask this same question at every school I visited in Israel.
Studying Jewish Educational Leadership with the Mandel School, we would go out on field trips throughout Israel. Dialogical alternative schools, Shas schools, Haredi schools, different shades of Orthodox schools, Jewish/Arab schools, teaching colleges – the lot. And at every school I would ask only one question, the answer to which would tell me all I needed to know about the school.
“What does your school do on Rabin Day?” To Full Post
I’ve been doing a lot of HaDag Nahash recently. As part of my work for Makom I’ve been translating the latest album at the band’s request, and preparing translation projections for their show at the opening of London’s new JW3 building. Lots of bilingualising and cutting and pasting.
Then a couple of nights ago I took my daughter to see a gig of theirs, at the outdoor amphitheater in Binyamina. Standing there, bopping and singing with my thirteen year-old as I had done some 11 years ago with my then-fourteen year old son at Limmud UK, I was struck by three thoughts.
HaDag Nahash have been going a long time, they keep getting better, and their work has helped me live and thrive in this strange and wonderful country. To Full Post
This is a follow-up article to the conversation that can be found here. First appeared in The Jewish Week.
Can Jewish religious life be full and fulfilling with no connection to Israel? Must a connection to a concrete Israel live separate from synagogue worship? Should our religious rituals ignore Israel in any way other than the metaphorical, or should it accept that the establishment of the State of Israel affected not just Jews but also Judaism itself? To Full Post
Really interesting article Robbie, but I am not sure one service in one shul in one city is indicative of the trend you identify.
As a rabbi working to inspire attachment and imagination regarding the Jewish past, present and future, there is no doubt that the relationship with Israel is at the heart of the challenge, but it is not the only challenge.
It is true that there is a gap between Israel and the Diaspora, one that is being written about and discussed by the American Jewish community a great deal (in Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, in Rabbi Sid Schwarz’s new book Jewish Megatrends – to name two recent publications.) The gap is political, social, and definitely religious. The image just this week of Israeli police in full riot gear needing to protect women who wish to pray at the Kotel is a painful example of such a gap.
But to decry a spiritual community in New York that is one of the inspiring examples of how Jewish life can be relevant and compelling is not useful, and most certainly is not an example of the “dying of the light.” To Full Post
First appeared in Times of Israel
As the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza maintains its tenuous hold and life in Israel returns to relative calm, we continue to mourn the human casualties of this latest conflagration. But there is another, less discussed casualty of the hostilities, not one suffered by Israelis or Palestinians, but by American Jewish education.
The damage was inflicted in heated battles like the Gordis-Brous controversy that raged in Jewish newspapers and social media outlets, as public intellectuals and private citizens jumped to condemn the positions other Jews expressed about Israel. Caught in this unfriendly verbal crossfire were Jewish educators and their students across the United States.
The adage, “anyone to my right is a lunatic and anyone to my left a heretic” has taken on new venom, and the poison is afflicting Jewish teachers and students.In print and online, Jews on the left have been excoriated as traitors or self-hating Jews, while Jews on the right have been castigated as racists or immune to the suffering of others.
It has not taken long for this kind of toxic language to have a stifling effect in Jewish classrooms, where teachers and students are increasingly wary of speaking about Israel lest they find themselves the brunt of such criticism.
To illustrate, I share with you three true anecdotes about the Jewish educational settings I encounter as a teacher educator and scholar of Israel education.
As rockets were raining down upon Israel, a talented religious school teacher knew she wanted to speak with her students about the situation, and yet she worried about the turn the conversation might take. “When talking about Israel,” she explained to me, “I no longer feel comfortable being the only adult in the room.”
Like sex education teachers who know it is always safer to have another adult witness lest conversations with students be misconstrued, Jewish educators are now carefully monitoring their words about Israel lest they be accused of betraying Israel or Jewish values.
These fears carry a steep price.
When this teacher’s colleague was unable to join her in facilitating a conversation about Israel, she admitted, “I found myself with very little to say when faced with the opportunity to have a class dedicated to talking about Israel.” And so, she continued with her regularly scheduled curriculum and her students did not discuss Israel at all.
Classrooms of students are not even talking about Israel because their teachers are hesitant to enter the fray of a public discourse that is so vitriolic. Educators in a variety of settings are beginning to self-censor to avoid being criticized for their beliefs about Israel.
A Jewish Studies professor recently shared her fears about expressing her opinion about Israel in public forums. “I’m scared of being effectively blacklisted,” she wrote. As a scholar and expert about Jewish topics unrelated to Israel, she is asked to speak at synagogues and organizations of all denominations and political orientations. If she makes public comments about Israel, she worries, “I’m afraid that I’ll be passed over in favor of other speakers.” And so she remains silent.
Any market-place of ideas benefits from a variety of opinions, and we should be encouraging diverse voices, especially among those who teach our youth. But recent public discourse has made no room for civil disagreement, causing skilled Jewish professionals and intellectual powerhouses to shutter their windows.
Perhaps most troubling of all is the story of Dina, a high school junior at a Jewish day school. Born in Israel and raised in the U.S., Dina refuses to even mention the word Israel. This is because, as Dina explained, “Israel is such a touchy issue in our school.” Dina fears being ostracized by peers who disagree with her opinions about Israel. “I know this is terrible,” she admitted, “but I try to avoid conversations about Israel with other people in the school.” She, and classmates of hers who identify with both the right and the left, whisper in hushed voices to trusted adults, but do not speak with one another about Israel out of concern for the social stigma that would come from openly stating their positions.
Many of today’s American Jewish youth and, increasingly, the educators who are most qualified to teach them about Israel, are opting out of the conversation.
This new reality should give pause to all those who care about the State of Israel and the future of its relationship with American Jews. For today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders, and if they are unwilling to discuss Israel – or unable to because those tasked with educating them have avoided the topic – then there can be no lasting relationship between American Jews and Israel.
Creating a more civil discourse among Jewish adults would go a long way towards preventing further collateral damage.
Dr Sivan Zakai is Director of Research & Teacher Education at the Graduate Center for Education at American Jewish University.
On the 29th November observer status was granted to the Palestinian Authority by the United Nations.
Israel’s government has strongly condemned this move, that unilaterally bypasses the already-battered Oslo Accords.
In turn, Israel’s responses to the move of the Palestinians and the United Nations have drawn unprecedented criticism, even from those who did not support the UN’s decision.
Israel now stands more isolated than ever – a phrase repeated so often in the past few years that it deserves further consideration.
What does it mean for our nation to be isolated among the other – seemingly united – nations?
Jewish tradition points us in at least two different directions.
The prophecy of Bilaam (Numbers 23:9), that presents the Hebrews as:
הֶן-עָם לְבָדָד יִשְׁכֹּן, וּבַגּוֹיִם לֹא יִתְחַשָּׁב
It is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
And on the other hand the adjuration from Talmud Bavli (Ketubot 111a):
שהשביע הקדוש ברוך הוא את ישראל שלא ימרדו באומות העולם
The Holy One adjured Israel not to rebel against the nations of the world.
Which approach would seem to be more relevant and applicable today?
Is isolation our fate, or the result of our actions?
What are the existential costs or the benefits of such isolation?