Forward Thinking

England’s Green Party Has an Anti-Semitism Problem

By Liam Hoare

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At a forum with voters in February, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was asked what she would do to ensure that Jews feel safe in Britain. Bennett rambled on vaguely about funding inter-communal dialogue without even mentioning Jews, indicating that the problem of anti-Semitism was one she had never thought about before.

The Greens have emerged in recent years in England as a left-wing alternative to Labor and the Liberal Democrats, but increased representation has also brought closer scrutiny, including how their commitment to a society free from discrimination relates to Jews.

We’ve known for a while that the Greens have an Israel problem. Their current manifesto includes pledges to halt arms sales to Israel — equating them with Saudi Arabia as a violator of human rights — and suspend the E.U.-Israel Association Agreement, which grants Israel economic benefits and closer scientific and cultural cooperation with Europe.

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Mom Told Strangers Her Holocaust Secret — But Not Me

By Carol Ungar

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One day in 2002, my mother sat down in the living room of her Upper West Side, Manhattan apartment and told her life story to a stranger. The stranger was a volunteer, part of Steven Spielberg’s epic campaign to preserve the life stories of Holocaust survivors. For over three hours the stranger asked questions and my mother answered, a videographer recording it all.

I would have loved to watch it. I had always wanted to know more about my mother and she was so restrained, even stingy with the information. When I was in my teens we took long Shabbos afternoon walks together and I quizzed her incessantly, probably annoyingly, about her past. I’d squeezed out the basics — how she’d been deported from her hometown of Satmar, Rumania, first to an incineration lager (hence her untattooed arm) and later to a munitions factory where she manufactured bombs as a slave laborer. I knew about her liberation by a Jewish Red Army general who bravely kept his soldiers from entering the camp and raping the women. But there seemed so much more to know. Yet when my mother told me about the Spielberg interview, she added a caveat. “I don’t want anyone to see it until after I’ve died.”

I was puzzled but she offered no explanation. “That’s how I want it to be,” she said firmly. My mother was a formidable personality; there was nothing I could do to dissuade her.

It seemed that she saw the video as a radioactive isotope, dangerous and deadly. But why? Did she have something to hide, something too awful for her to reveal in her lifetime? Had she been a collaborator, a kapo perhaps? Or was the secret sexual — was my mother raped, molested, imprisoned in a Nazi brothel? In 1944 she was a beautiful eighteen-year-old, an Ingrid Bergman lookalike. It seemed entirely plausible that Nazis would use her for illicit purposes.

Maybe I was better off not seeing it at all. Maybe seeing it would make me crazy.

Eva Bleier Green / Courtesy of Carol Ungar

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A Better Way To Talk About the Holocaust

By Lior Zaltzman

Did Hillary Clinton Steal Hadassah’s Logo?

By Gabe Friedman

Which is Hillary’s logo — and which is Hadassah’s?

(JTA) — Critics love to nitpick Hillary Clinton’s personal and policy choices, as they have during the recent email scandal and the Benghazi scandal.

This time, however, the critics may have a substantial case against her.

As soon as Clinton’s campaign was launched on Sunday, her campaign logo was lampooned from all sides. Some called it too simple, others thought it looked too corporate.

Some were just confused that it features a red arrow pointing to the right — a feature that seems to contrast the blue and “left” tropes of the Democratic party.

However, no one seems to have noticed that the logo shares an awful lot in common with Hadassah’s new logo, which was unveiled in January.

The logos share the capital letter “H,” the red and blue color scheme, and an angular, geometric style.

But Hillary’s logo isn’t the first Democratic one to resemble a Jewish symbol. Is it just a coincidence that the current Democratic Party logo looks like the Orthodox Union hechsher?

Maybe Hadassah officials are secretly hoping that their organization could get an unexpected PR boost, just as they hoped they would back in 2000, when then-vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Lieberman’s wife Hadassah helped get the name into the mainstream media.

Dear Stanford: Don't Quiz Me on BDS Because I'm Jewish

By Molly Horwitz

Stanford’s Molly Horwitz, running for student senate, says she faced anti-Semitic questioning

I am both a woman of color and a Jew. For much of my life, I struggled to embrace these identities. In high school people told me I was “not a real Latina” while also claiming it was my Hispanic ethnicity that got me into Stanford. I felt both not Hispanic enough and too Hispanic. I was also faced with anti-Semitic comments that made me variously cling to and deny my Jewish identity. Some people would say I didn’t “look Jewish;” others made remarks alluding to the stereotype that Jews are obsessed with money. The anti-Semitism I faced growing up showed me the necessity of taking pride in my heritage, but at the same time it sometimes made me afraid to say I was Jewish.

It was wonderful to join the accepting Stanford community, a community in which I finally felt understood. The diversity of this community allowed me to explore and embrace all aspects of my identity. I am now proud to call myself a Latina and a Jew.

But I know many Stanford students grapple with the same issues as I did. I feel my experience as a member of two different oppressed minority groups — Jews and Hispanics — gives me unique insight into the challenges students of color face at Stanford. I want to help other students of color on their journeys. I decided to run for Stanford Senate primarily to address issues I saw in Stanford’s mental health-care system. One of these issues is a lack of diversity among counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). I was quite excited to seek the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) endorsement because I felt that my Senate candidacy and SOCC had many goals in common. I was ready to work with SOCC.

SOCC decided to grant me an interview. The interview was held on Friday, March 13, 2015, in the basement of the Native American Community Center. I entered the room apprehensive but hopeful. I would leave it shocked and devastated.

Across from me in the room sat eight members of SOCC, who took notes throughout the interview. Part way through the lead interviewer asked me, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” I couldn’t quite process that I had actually been asked this question. Did me being Jewish mean I wasn’t qualified to serve on Senate? Did SOCC doubt my commitment to serving students of color on the basis that I am Jewish? Somewhat stunned, I asked for clarification. The SOCC interviewer responded that she had noticed I talked about my Jewish identity in the application and was wondering how this would affect my decision on divestment.

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The Problem With Jewish-Only Holocaust Trips

By Jessica Lang

March of the Living participants visit Auschwitz in 2009 / Yossi Selliger

(JTA) — The evening before we visited Auschwitz, over pizza with a group of young people in Oswiecim, the town on whose outskirts lies that infamous symbol, one of my students approached me with tears in her eyes.

Tears are hardly uncommon to visitors of sites of mass death. But for this student — a participant in a weeklong trip to Auschwitz undertaken as part of a course on Holocaust history and literature that I teach at Baruch College in New York City — the trip marked her first time on a plane, her first time in a foreign country, and her first time experiencing an academic setting that didn’t involve a laptop and a classroom located at a busy Manhattan intersection.

Unable or unwilling to bridge these two worlds — a crossing of time and space that seven decades after the war’s end enables a group of American students to casually dine with European counterparts at the edge of history’s most notorious killing center — she felt lost, detached from all that was familiar and unsure of what lay ahead.

Students on our trip were a diverse group, self-identifying as Latina, Jamaican, Polish, Israeli, Moroccan, Mexican and American, among others. By day we toured sites essential to a historical understanding of the Holocaust. In the evening we discussed readings connected to the places we had visited. Some students shared their own journals, which joined Primo Levi and Ruth Kluger as texts for analysis and reflection.

The great advantage of looking at the Holocaust in this way is that it eliminates the notion that this history belongs more to one person than another. This democratic take on the Holocaust makes the experience meaningful, even transformative, for everyone.

Typical Jewish teen tours hold themselves to a poorer standard. Confined to Jewish youth, the trips eliminate the diversity of voices essential to ensure that the imperative of remembrance is broadly observed. Aimed principally at Jewish identity building through the Holocaust, they offer a limited rendering of history, narrow in reach.

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The Sham Logic Behind Iran's Holocaust Cartoon Contest

By Lior Zaltzman

Carlos Latuff - Second place winner at the 2006 International Holocaust Cartoon Contest

Let’s face it: When Iran announced it would be holding its second International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in May, it was nothing but cheap provocation. That’s it.

You don’t have to be a cartoonist — as I am — to take issue with this competition.

Iran announced the second contest in the wake of Charlie Hebdo’s Mohammad cartoons. Yes, including the one that was on the issue that came out right after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

This is the second contest of this nature. The first took place in 2006, following the controversial Danish Mohammad cartoons. The entries contained many overtly racist depictions of Jews as bloodsucking, manipulative, inhuman creatures.

Gatto Alessandro/Italy

A lot of them were anti-Israeli, comparing the Israelis to Nazis. Both the first and second place winners compared the separation barrier to a concentration camp.

You cannot say that you have nothing against Jews and do your best to make fun of the Holocaust. You cannot deny the biggest mass killing of Jews in history without drawing (forgive the pun) very clear enemy lines.

This is especially harrowing with Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha’Sho’ah) coming up this Thursday, April 16th.

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What Hillary Clinton Needs To Tell the Jews

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

Now that Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is official, American voters will want to get a whole lot clearer on her policies. For the Jewish community, some of the major questions will revolve, inevitably, around Israel and Iran. And we shouldn’t be surprised if, on these topics, we hear her sounding a more hawkish note than the one Obama’s been hitting for months.

Over at The Nation, editors and contributors seized on the issue of U.S.-Israel relations by calling our attention back to a speech Clinton made to the American Jewish Committee in May 2014. As the Forward reported, that speech “was meant to send a signal to the pro-Israel community, insiders say, that a Clinton presidency would smooth over tensions ruffled by the Obama White House.”

Chief among those tensions? Iran, of course. Here’s Clinton: “I personally am skeptical that the Iranians will follow through and deliver… We will have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away and increase the pressure if need be… From my perspective, we cannot and should not accept any agreement that endangers Israel or our own national security.”

Note that Clinton delivered these words — to the Jewish crowd’s delight — a month before her foreign policy autobiography, “Hard Choices,” hit bookstores. And that book was widely viewed as the unofficial start to her campaign for the 2016 election. Clinton, in other words, was already priming the pump with an eye toward getting elected.

Elected — and funded.

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A Muslim Champion in the Fight Against Anti-Semitism

By Donald Snyder

Siavosh Derakhti

Siavosh Derakhti, a 23-year-old Swedish Muslim, seems an unlikely champion in the fight against anti-Semitism. But Derakhti, whose parents immigrated to Sweden from Iran, has been recognized for his work in combating hatred and bigotry.

When he was 19, he founded Young Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, now known as Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. He worked tirelessly to teach Muslim youth about the evils of anti-Semitism, and has taken mixed Muslim and Christian groups to Auschwitz to show them the results of hate.

In 2012, the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism awarded Derakhti the Elsa Award for leading a vigorous campaign against anti-Semitism in Malmo, a city in southern Sweden where anti-Semitism is rampant.

Malmo, with a population of 294,000, is Sweden’s third largest city. Muslims make up 15% of this population — roughly 50,000 people — and greatly outnumber a shrinking Jewish population. By some estimates the total number of Jews in the area is more than 1,000. Malmo has been called one of the most segregated cities in Europe.

In 2013, Derakhti received the Raoul Wallenberg Award. The selection committee said Derakhti showed “through his actions and determination that one person can make a difference.”

President Obama hugged Derakhti and congratulated him for his work during the president’s 2013 visit to the Great Synagogue of Stockholm.

“When I think of Siavosh, I think of a man who is all heart and always defends the persecuted,” said Mathan Ravid, a member of the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism.

The Forward’s Don Snyder spoke with Derakhti about how his upbringing fueled his drive to establish a relationship between Jews and Muslims in Malmo.

Donald Snyder: When did you first become aware of race hatred?

Siavosh Derakhti: When I was 7 years old. My two best friends were David, a Jew, and Juliano, a Roma. The Muslim kids in my grade school used to pick on David. They used to say “Sieg Heil” and “Dirty Jew” and “Jews to the gas.”

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How To Include LGBT Jews in 'Who Sets the Table?'

By J.E. Reich

Illustration by Anya Ulinich

The Forward recently released the first survey in the “Who Sets The Table?” series, a new, year-long multimedia project that will try to discover “to what degree domestic observance of Judaism still relies on the efforts of women,” as well as the general ways in which the patriarchal structure of religious Judaism influences us today. The project as a whole is highly commendable, but its first installment, “Who’s Making The Matzo Balls?” (results here), which used Passover as its launchpad, excluded non-traditional families — most pointedly LGBT families — with this disclaimer:

We are aware that the scope of this project excludes same-sex, single-parent and other non-traditional families. This was not out of an intent to leave anyone out, but rather that the objective here is to discover how domestic work breaks down among heterosexual partnerships — those direct inheritors of the patriarchy. We invite those in non-traditional families to share their stories in the comments section below and will consider them for publication alongside the results.

Despite the invitation, this logic is inherently flawed for several reasons. It ignores the possibility that same-sex families (and single-parent families, but that’s a topic for another deserving op-ed) are also “direct inheritors of the patriarchy.” It connotes that only heterosexual nuclear families count (enough to be measured in the actual survey) toward the progression of contemporary American Jewry. It suggests that acknowledging the exclusion of a group makes it perfectly okay to go ahead and exclude away. But it’s not okay — it only makes that exclusion even more glaring.

With a basic makeover of the survey, the Forward can take a step toward LGBT inclusion and make its project a complete picture of how Jewish families operate today.

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How Ed Miliband Lost Britain's Jewish Voters

By Liam Hoare

Getty Images

With Britain’s general election just one month away, a new poll of Jewish voters makes brutal reading for the Labour Party and their leader, Ed Miliband.

The poll, published by the Jewish Chronicle, shows that if British Jews were to vote tomorrow (and if we remove undecided voters from the equation), 69% would vote for the Conservative Party, while only 22% would go with Labour. The support in the community for both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats is negligible, each polling around 2%.

To give you some idea of how lopsided this is compared with the rest of the country, the last polling average calculated by the BBC on April 4 had the Conservatives in the lead with 34%, Labour just a point behind with 33%, UKIP with 13%, and the Liberal Democrats trailing on 8%.

Evidently, Labour isn’t the only party failing to capture the imagination of British Jewry. But given Miliband currently has as good a chance of becoming the country’s first Jewish prime minister as not, the overwhelming Jewish support for his rival David Cameron is staggering.

So what’s happened?

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My Hasidic Family Got Into a Passover Fistfight — Over Cake

By Naftuli Moster

Lior Zaltzman illustration

At the Passover Seder, we read about the four sons of the Haggadah, distinguishing them by the things they say. But the wicked and wise sons say essentially the same thing. Both ask: “What are these practices you keep?” The family of the wise son respects his question, while the family of the wicked son punches out his teeth. The difference is not in the sons, but in their families.

Last Passover, I was the four sons. I was wicked among one family, wise among another — and yet I never changed.

I began the holiday at the Hilton in Stamford, Connecticut with my father-in-law’s family. The family is American ultra-Orthodox. They dress modestly, keep the laws and stringencies, but are more worldly than the Hasidic family I grew up in.

Growing up, our customs did not permit any but the most basic ingredients to be used on Passover for boys and girls past bar or bat mitzvah: no pasteurized orange juice or pre-packaged chips or Oberlander’s kosher-for-Passover lady fingers. And with one mother to cook for a husband and 17 children, it sometimes felt like food was as scarce as it had been during Egypt’s famine. But at the hotel, mornings greeted me with cheesecakes and coffee prepared under the strictest supervision.

After the first two days of the holiday, we went to visit my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who were staying at another hotel in Poughkeepsie, where they’d brought a private kosher supervisor to oversee all meals. I packed some of the first hotel’s cheesecakes and rainbow cookies into a matzo box for the young cousins and less stringent relatives. Emblazoned on the box was kosher certification for the matzo the box had come with, and separately we brought a paper with a rabbi’s signature certifying the pastries.

Though my immediate family belongs to Belz, an insular Hasidic sect, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, who belong to Chabad, were always more moderate in comparison. My parents used to discourage my siblings and me from visiting my mother’s family, fearing their bad influence.

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If Nuclear Iran Is So Scary, What About Israel?

By Michael Karpin

Getty Images / Lior Zaltzman illustration

As the web indulges in polemics on Iran’s Preliminary Nuclear Deal, I’m seeing a lot of tweets and statuses asking why Israel succeeded in developing its nuclear capabilities without making the rest of the world nervous enough to prompt a forced inspection of its nuclear installations or threaten it with sanctions — while Iran (and Iraq, and Libya) failed to do so.

This question was also asked among many readers of my recent Forward article, “Revealing Israel’s Nuclear Secrets,” which cited the top-secret report that was declassified by the Pentagon in February, exposing for the first time the actual depth of the military cooperation between the United States and Israel. The report contains details about the development of Israel’s nuclear infrastructure and states that in the eighties, Israeli scientists were reaching the capabilities to employ hydrogen fusion.

So, why did Israel succeed while Iran failed?

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Jon Stewart’s Right: Easter Is Crushing Passover!

By Sigal Samuel

In a Daily Show clip I revisited this weekend, Jon Stewart says that “we Jews are getting our asses kicked” when it comes to holidays. We’ve already lost the Christmas v. Hanukkah competition for kids’ attention. Now Passover v. Easter comes along, and we don’t stand a chance!

After all, Jon says, what would you choose if you were faced with the choice between:

A basket filled with candy and jellybeans — or horseradish still in root form?
Treats brought by a magical bunny — or a bone from a dead baby lamb?
An egg filled with chocolate — or an egg filled with egg (‘cause it’s an actual f—king egg!)?

Yes, that’s right. You’d choose Easter. And who could blame you?

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How an Eritrean Taught Me the True Meaning of Passover

By Madison Margolin

Courtesy of Tekle

Tekle journeyed half a year by foot across the Sinai from Eritrea to Israel. He traveled mainly at night, for fear of getting caught during the day. “It was a matter of life and death,” he told me when I asked him to recount his escape. Without a civilian judiciary or democratic elections, the Eritrean regime mandates indefinite national service in the form of hard labor — paving roads, mining, or agricultural work. Those who flee are considered traitors and risk torture or death by the government. After graduating college, Tekle left his family and escaped alone. Each month, over 1,000 Eritrean soldiers do the same.

Tekle is one of 47,000 asylum-seekers now living in Israel, 73% of whom are from Eritrea and 19% from Sudan. Many live in the impoverished neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, but around 1,700 have been detained, without a trial, at the Holot Residency Center.

Last spring, I tutored Tekle in English at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), nestled in a corner of Tel Aviv’s Central Bus Station. He chose to write his first essay in English about Einstein’s theory of relativity. As a major in library science, Tekle values knowledge and education above all else, but his university degree means little in Israel. He’s lived there now over three years, but never intended to settle there. He works job to job — cleaning the park or bussing in cafes — to save money for his eventual move to Europe, where he wants to pursue graduate studies in applied mathematics. “It is a dream I am working very hard to realize,” he told me.

The author with Yusi, one of the girls she volunteered with / Courtesy of Madison Margolin

I had no particular agenda when I moved to Tel Aviv for five months last year. My choice had little to do with Judaism or Zionism, and more to do with the post-college dizziness of not knowing what else to do. I lived in south Tel Aviv, a short walk away from the Central Bus Station. Outside that cement monolith, a homeless woman always sat picking a scab on her leg, and inside was chaos set to the soundtrack of trance blasting from boom boxes for sale. Flies hovered over green-olive pizza, merchants hustled to sell mobile phone SIM cards, and the variety of languages spoken there — Hebrew, Arabic, Tagalog, Russian, Tigrinya — reminded me that Israel’s population comes from diverse origins.

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Scotch, (Beef) Ribs and Guy Talk at the Man Seder

By Ron Kampeas

Courtesy of Reuven Spolter // A scene from a ‘man seder’ in Oak Park, Michigan

(JTA) — I’m backing my midlife crisis into a tight space near the synagogue entrance, and because this is my midlife crisis – a 2013 blue Mustang – I’m taking my time. No way anybody’s gonna scratch my crisis.

As a result, traffic is backed up onto Seven Locks Road, but no one honks. We’re all cool, as Zen as Jews can get.

The guy directly facing me in the little red Lexus is smiling, our eyes locked. He’s driving his own midlife crisis, and he’s going to let me take my time because he gets it. We’re all Jewish men of a certain age, 500 of us, gathered here at a synagogue nestled among the broad streets and stately homes of this Washington suburb chockablock with lobbyists, lawyers and physicians.

When we were young, in the World Book encyclopedias sold door to door to our anxious Parents Who Wanted the Best, the entries for these professions were accompanied by illustrative photos of men. That world – the one we once aspired to rule and now mock and revile, the one about to die a second death with the final season of “Mad Men” – is gone. We work and play alongside women.

But not tonight. Tonight, March 22, we are here as men: The Beth Sholom Guys Night Out and Seder Summit.

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Take It from a Comedian — Trevor Noah Is No Anti-Semite

By Katie Halper

Trevor Noah / Getty Images

Anti-Semitism is real. The fatal shootings at the Jewish Museum in Brussels, outside the JCC in Kansas, at the Paris kosher market, outside the Copenhagen synagogue — tragic and scary. Four jokes tweeted by Trevor Noah, who will replace Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show? Not so much.

When it comes to themes that spark people’s most irrational, knee-jerk reactions, two stand out: humor and anti-Semitism. But when discussions center on anti-Semitism and humor at the same time, the level of analysis can reach an all-time low.

If Lena Dunham — who is Jewish (on her mother’s side) and born and raised in New York City — got smeared last week for affectionately comparing her endearing Jewish boyfriend to her endearing dog, then Trevor Noah — who is biracial South African — didn’t stand a chance for the things he said about many groups, including Jews. Noah is actually a quarter Jewish (his mother is half Jewish) but that passed most critics by.

Many of Noah’s defenders argue that finding a few offensive tweets is inevitable. And the statistics certainly don’t suggest a comedian obsessed with hating on any particular group or hating at all, really. Among the (at the time of this writing) 8,827 tweets penned by the comedian since 2009, 6 (or .00068%) have been deemed “off-color,” “offensive,” “problematic.” Of those, 4 have been called “anti-Semitic.” That seems like a very low percentage.

But, to be fair, the number of tweets isn’t the only issue. There is quantity and there is quality. Surely if Noah’s 4 tweets had wished death on a certain group, called for genocide, encouraged genital mutilation, or denied the Holocaust, those 4 would be enough, or dayenu.

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The #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah

By Jesse Lempel

Sarah Quinter

The Haggadah insists on being relentlessly current, asking that each year we read ourselves and our struggles into the ancient saga of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. So it’s not altogether surprising that a few young Jewish writers, primarily Jews of color, have compiled a #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement for the organization Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

Still, there is something unusual and startling about this one. Rather than focusing on redemption or the cruelties of the modern Pharaoh (the racist police, in this retelling), the crux of this Haggadah is a blistering indictment of the Jewish community for its lackluster support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its marginalization of Jews of color. “We are descendants of slaves who do not yell back that Moses had a Black wife and Black children and that #BlackLivesMatter to our people whether or not we acknowledge it,” write Sarah Barasch-Hagans and Graie Barasch-Hagans in a passage entitled “After the Maggid: When We Imagine Ourselves Allies.”

The message is clear: We the Jews are sometimes our own oppressors.

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The Black Panthers Haggadah

By Asaf Shalev

The following is a translation of the Israeli Black Panthers Haggadah

With a strong hand, two. And with an outstretched arm, two more.

With great terror, two more. With protests, two more. With banners raised, two more. With hunger strikes, two more.

These, then, are 10 plagues that the Black Panthers from Musrara brought upon the government in Jerusalem, and they are:

  1. The founding of the Black Panthers of Jerusalem

  2. The passing out fliers

  3. The demonstrations, with an effort to keep them peaceful

  4. The chained protest at the Knesset building

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Lithuania vs. Morocco — Whose Jewish Museum Wins?

By Jonathan Katz

Model of a Rabat Jewish bride in her finery / Jewish Museum in Casablanca

I was fortunate enough to travel this month to both Morocco and Lithuania — the former for a class trip, the latter for an attempt to become acquainted with the land of my ancestors, including my ancestral hometown of Panevėžys (Ponevezh). While in each country, I decided to visit the national Jewish museum.

In some ways, the Jewish museums are very different. Morocco’s Jewish Museum is located in a posh suburb of Casablanca, and is fairly small. Lithuania’s Jewish Museum — the “Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum” — is a somewhat larger affair, spread across three facilities in Vilnius pending the completion of a new structure in 2017. Morocco’s is discreetly signposted; Vilnius’ is prominently marked with enormous direction signs on relevant city streets.

Artifacts exhibited at the Tolerance Centre, a part of the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum.

Yet both are state-funded museums, founded in the 1990s during times of change. The Lithuania museum emerged in a post-Soviet state coming to terms with its unsavory past of historical anti-Semitic nationalism and collaboration with the Nazis. The Morocco museum’s founding was one consequence of a wider liberalization following the infamous Years of Lead, which included both political liberalization and the discussion of taboo topics, like the history and culture of Morocco’s Jewish and Berber-speaking communities. Both institutions have been generously funded by donors abroad. Both are part of growing Jewish tourism industries.

In some ways, the museums’ exhibits are remarkably similar: there are the mezuzot, Torah crowns and ornate arks of historical communities. There are the pictures of old communities and art made by today’s community members. Both museums have a curious interest in strange Torah ornaments. But for me, one remarkable difference set these two museums apart.

Lithuania’s museum wants to tell stories. Morocco’s wants to convey situations.

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