Sari Nusseibeh in his office at Al-Quds university / Haaretz
Dear President Lawrence:
By this letter I am resigning from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis. While I appreciate that you were willing to reappoint me for another term, I do not feel my service on that board is compatible with your suspension of Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the President of Al-Quds University, from that board. In addition, in light of your suspension of Dr. Nusseibeh and of Brandeis’ relationship with Al-Quds, I will not be making further donations to Brandeis. My reasons, which I am making public, are set forth below.
On November 18, 2013, at your direction, Brandeis suspended its longtime partnership (since 2003) with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university located in Jerusalem, Palestine. At the same time, you suspended the President of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibeh, from the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, a board on which I also serve. I profoundly disagree with both of these actions. I believe that you have seriously harmed important exchanges that offered at least some hope for better understanding among the Brandeis and Al-Quds communities. As a result of your precipitous action, you have also besmirched the reputation of President Nusseibeh, a well-known scholar who has spent his life working for a peaceful solution between Palestine and Israel.
While I feel that your decision requires me to take these actions, I do so with some reluctance, because of my long association with Brandeis. As you are aware, I was an alumnus of Brandeis from the 1960’s and attended during the time of the civil rights movement and the beginning of the Vietnam War protests. The school began to open my eyes to liberal and progressive politics. It was a place of intense discussion and debate with professors like Herbert Marcuse and speakers such as Malcolm X, Allen Ginsberg and Paul Goodman. As I said when Brandeis gave me the 2006 Alumni Achievement Award, “Those years really changed my life. It’s clear that Brandeis is where I became an activist.” In 2006, I was also appointed to the advisory board of the Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life which is involved with the Al-Quds relationship.
My understanding of the background to your actions is informed by a report requested by you and issued by three Brandeis faculty who visited Al-Quds a few days after the November 5, 2013 rally which ultimately precipitated the chain of events that led to the suspension of the relationship with Al-Quds and of President Nusseibeh from the board. I note that you suspended President Nusseibeh before you even received the report.
(Haaretz) — Jerusalem Day, we’re told, celebrates the reunification of Israel’s eternal capital, symbolizing “the continued historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem.” It’s a moment to remember that, as Prime Minister Netanyahu once said, “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart.”
So we’re told, and so the vast majority of Jews in Israel and abroad believe. Jerusalem is our heart, our soul – a small, holy spot on the map around which everything else revolves. So we’re told.
Except that it’s a lie. “Jerusalem” – as currently constituted, featured on maps, and represented by Israel’s government – is not eternal. It is not undivided. And it is certainly not holy.
The geographic location to which Jewish hearts have turned for millennia is small, corresponding roughly to today’s Old City; the holy part – the area on which the Israelites were commanded to establish a resting place for the Divine Presence – is more modest still, consisting of the Temple Mount. When we stand before the Western Wall, or orient ourselves toward it in worship, we’re weaving our prayers and longings with those of all Jews, reaching across miles and years and touching the core of that which holds us in community.
Zionism stems from that faith experience, but is not identical to it. Zionism is a modern idea, a nationalist movement which, like all nationalist movements, centers on a shared language, culture, and land. That’s why Uganda was nixed as an alternative – because the Jewish people’s shared land is anchored by our holy city.
(JTA) — Rabbinic tradition teaches that when God spoke at Sinai, the world was silenced — birds did not sing, breezes did not rustle leaves in the trees. Out of that profound silence came the word, and were the world silent again, for even an instant, we could hear the everlasting echo of God’s voice.
In one way that is a beautiful metaphor for the holiday of Shavuot. Among the holidays, it is “silent” in that no custom imposes itself on our imagination. There is no sukkah, no seder. It slips by, for many Jews, almost unnoticed. Yet the echoing voice makes it the central moment in our history. On Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, the establishment of the Jewish covenant.
The rabbis tell us that the Torah is the ketubah between God and the Jewish people. A ketubah is sometimes called a wedding contract, but it is better called a covenant. It enshrines sacred obligations. Jews are a covenantal people; we are bound to one another and to God by the idea of everlasting, mutual obligation. Sinai was the chuppah, and Shavuot is our anniversary.
On our anniversary we recall what made us a people. It is customary to stay up at night to study on Shavuot in order to demonstrate symbolically that we stand at the ready to receive the Torah. It is also a signal of acceptance and of passion.
Our tradition advises us to read the Torah as a love letter. One who receives a letter from a beloved reviews it again and again, searching each word and clause for significance, noting what is said and what remains unsaid. We read the Torah with the lens of the lover, dwelling over each word, unwilling to set it aside, certain that to study it once more will help us understand.
The Book of Ruth is read on this holiday because Ruth took upon herself the Jewish tradition in full. She accepted, as a true convert must, both the people and God. Israel embraces more than the individual’s relationship to the Divine; we are bound to one another. When Ruth declares to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people and your God my God,” she epitomizes the covenantal message of mutual interdependence, past and future, the dual covenant of faith and of fate.
There is a custom to eat dairy foods on Shavuot, given for a variety of reasons, including the inventive idea that the laws of kashrut were unclear before the giving of the Torah and eating dairy was therefore less complicated. It may also be tied to the idea of eating lighter fare, which makes it easier to stay awake for the tikkun. Symbolism and practicality are at times symbiotic in ritual life.
The great Saadia Gaon taught that we are a nation only by virtue of our Torah. For a people dispersed throughout the world, the Torah was the one precious possession — containing our history, our values and our practice — that bound us one to the other. Shavuot is the moment that made us who we are. We celebrate, on this holiday, our relationship to God and to one another. As we hold the Torah aloft, we also celebrate our identity as Jews, eternal people of the covenant.
David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and the author of the forthcoming “David: The Divided Heart.”
Herring, hummus and the Pope: Together at last.
Israeli Jewish youths fix a menorah in Jerusalem’s Muslim quarter / Getty Images
There’s a received wisdom that in Israel, everyone is polarizing, and that with a right-wing government and stalled peace process, Arab citizens are feeling increasingly antagonistic towards the state. But a new survey suggests that this isn’t the case.
There has been a rise in the percentage of Arabs who recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. In 2012, 47% of Arab citizens accepted this, but in 2013 — the figure just released — this rose to 53%.
The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates
In the Hebrew tradition prophets cry out in the wilderness in part because their audience tends to be uninterested in the message. If the people were ready, after all, they wouldn’t need a prophet. “The prophet faces a coalition of callousness and established authority, and undertakes to stop a mighty stream with mere words,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote. “The purpose of prophecy is to conquer callousness, to change the inner man as well as to revolutionize history.”
Last week, The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates published “The Case for Reparations,” a remarkable piece that in many ways calls to mind Rabbi Heschel’s portrayal of prophetic literature: Facing a coalition of callousness and established authority, Coates offers “mere words,” with the intent of revolutionizing history. How might an American Jew respond?
Tasked with considering “The Case for Reparations” from a Jewish perspective, however, I must first make some disclaimers: I’m not a rabbi and don’t by any stretch represent all Jews or Jewish opinion. Furthermore, Coates and I have known each other online for several years, via his blog; I’m a long-time member of his commenter community. I’m not objective.
Yet for all that, the Jewish space opened by Coates’s words is, to my mind, inescapable. At base, “Reparations” is a call for collective action in response to collective injustice, a demand for “the just return of honest industry,” and an insistence that “a delinquent debt [cannot] be made to disappear if only we don’t look.” These ideas resonate with the Jewish experience at every level — in our prayer, Scripture and history.
(JTA) — If Likud Knesset member Reuven Rivlin gets elected next month to succeed President Shimon Peres as Israel’s next president, don’t blame Reform Jewry for withholding its applause. While Rivlin is thought of as an elder statesman and voice of reason within the Likud party, he hasn’t had the kindest words for America’s largest Jewish denomination.
In 1989, Rivlin accompanied Israeli Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, then CEO of the Israeli Religious Action Center, to a Shabbat service at Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, N.J. Regev told JTA that Rivlin “was most friendly” during the visit.
But speaking to the press, Rivlin lambasted the synagogue, and Reform Judaism, in an interview that appeared in Yediot Aharonot, a leading Israeli paper, and then subsequently in “Erev Shabbat,” an Israeli haredi paper, on April 19, 1989.
Here’s what Rivlin had to say about his Shabbat experience at Temple Emanu-El, along with a visit to another Reform synagogue:
As a Jew who does not observe 613 commandments and perhaps not even 13 commandments, I was deeply shocked without any limit. I discovered what kind of worshiping group was in front of me, such that any connection between it and Judaism didn’t even approach reality. I felt as if I were in a church.
I was completely stunned. This is idol worship and not Judaism. Until now I thought Reform was a stream of Judaism, but after visiting two of their synagogues I am convinced that this is a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism. Total assimilation. Their prayer is like a completely Protestant ceremony.
In Haaretz today, former Union for Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie recalled the incident, as well as a 2007 meeting he had with Rivlin in which Rivlin would not commit to calling Yoffie “rabbi.”
Regev, now CEO of Hiddush, an organization that advocates for religious pluralism in Israel, says Rivlin still has work to do when it comes to respecting non-Orthodox Jews.
“In terms of religious pluralism, he has not demonstrated empathy or understanding of world Jewry,” Regev told JTA.
March of the Living participants visit Auschwitz in 2009 / Yossi Selliger
This year, I made the difficult decision not to join my high school classmates on March of the Living, an organized trip that takes students to Poland’s death camps and then on to Israel. But it wasn’t until I read Meg Bloom Glasser’s opinion piece, which laments the new 9/11 Museum’s approach to memorializing, that I fully understood why.
The word Bloom Glasser uses is “spectacle.”
“I have been reduced to a spectator in the cheap seats,” she said, convinced that the new Manhattan museum has filched from her any and all control over the memory of her husband, who died in the attacks.
“Spectacle” is just the right word for March of the Living. The most recognizable features in a March of the Living photo are the locked arms, the bright matching caps and shirts, and, most prominently, the Israeli flags — all decked out, right on the train tracks into Auschwitz.
The in-your-face, Israeli-flag-waving flashiness at the camps is disquieting because it represents Israel — in a seemingly innocent way — as a beacon of perfection in the Jewish world, and as something that is in need of everyone’s protection at all times. The hidebound nationalism is a bit much.
But Bloom Glasser captures my disillusionment through a sharper lens. “[9/11] may have been a public loss” — the Holocaust, too, is one of the most mourned public losses — “but… rather than honoring the lives lost, the museum just seems to exploit those deaths to tell a bigger story.”
Lewis Wolff owns the Oakland Athletics, a team that prides itself on building championship contenders while spending much less money than its competition.
After missing out on the playoffs for several years, the A’s returned last year and are off to a great start this year as they are leading their competitive American League West division.
The Forward’s Raphael Gellar spoke with the eccentric owner and discussed his passion for sports, his relationship with his rabbi, the Hollywood hit ‘Moneyball’ and what makes general manager Billy Beane so special.
(JTA) — Pope Francis is bringing along not one but two Argentinean rabbis on his trip to the Holy Land.
The pope’s close friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka is well known. Skorka even wrote a book with the then archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Skorka told JTA that he would be with the pope “all the time except, of course, at the private meetings he will hold with the different dignitaries.”
But he will be joining the trip a bit late.
“Since the departure of the Pope from Rome will be close to Shabbat, I will only meet with him on his arrival to Bet Lehem,” Skorka wrote to JTA in an email.
But the other Argentinean rabbi traveling with the pope — Rabbi Alejandro Avruj — will accompany the entire trip, starting in Jordan and then going to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and to Israel, though he won’t be as close a papal traveling companion as Skorka.
Avruj will be making the journey with a Catholic priest, Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, with whom he has worked closely since the 2001 Argentinean economic crisis. The rabbi and the priest together manage the Shalom charity project, which brings daily meals to hungry children in Buenos Aires.
“I met Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, at a shantytown in Buenos Aires. Bergoglio was the boss of my teammate Pepe and he came with us to bring food and recreational activities to the kids,” Avruj told JTA.
Like Skorka, Avruj developed a friendship with Bergoglio. The future pope participated in a 2012 Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony with Avruj, who later invited him to help light the Hannukah candles at the synagogue where he served.
(Haaretz) — It is too early to jump to conclusions over the identity of the shooter in Satruday’s terror attack at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
And still, it’s hard to avoid the initial impression that the pattern fits other anti-Jewish attacks, locally organized and without the backing of a terror group. Most likely carried out by local Muslims - like the attack carried out by Mohammed Merah, a young French-Algerian, in March 2012, where four Jews were killed outside the Otzar HaTorah school in Toulouse (and two French soldiers in separate attacks). Merah, aside from his brother, acted on his own without collaborators.
In recent years there have been multiple intelligence reports of Hezbollah cells planning attacks in Europe against Israeli and Jewish targets - such as the attack on a bus in Burgas, attributed to Hezbollah, where six were killed. While it’s too early to rule out the Lebanese organization, shooting-attacks are not Hezbollah’s MO, they prefer to use bombs. In addition, Belgium, particularly Brussels, with its European Union headquarters, is thought to have a relatively high level of security, certainly relative to Bulgaria.
The fact that the target was the museum, the only building affiliated with the Jewish community in Brussels which does not have regular security, indicates a certain level of advance planning. Two hundred meters away is a synagogue where in 1982, a Palestinian gunman opened fire on Jews leaving Rosh Hashana prayers, wounding four. On the other hand, before we know the identity of those killed and wounded, the fact the attack occured on Shabbat, when less Jewish visitors could have been expected at the museum could indicate a lack of sophistication on the attackers part.
Planning a black tie event can be time consuming. I mean, what wine does one serve with pulverized human remains?
I really feel for Mike Bloomberg and his staff. First off, it took 12 years to clean up the crime scene. And now that the space was somewhat presentable, a group of September 11 family stragglers threatened to get in the way of set up.
Fortunately for Mike’s staff, the 9/11 families backed down as victims of hideous crimes often do. They left somewhat peacefully and, once the riff-raff were no longer in sight, Mike’s event planners were able to decorate the 9/11 museum for their elaborate event.
Now make no mistake, these bigwigs are do-gooders. These selfless patrons are the reason we rabble were allowed a free pass on opening night. It is the others, the paying crowd, they got screwed. And these party animals were going to party like it is was 2000.
The only elephants in the room were the shadows of the beautiful men and women who died so Mike and his Conde Nast pals could have their gala affair. Knowing that they could be standing in the same footprint as one of the 11 murdered pregnant women did not put a damper on their festive evening.
Watching horrifying tapes of Nazi executions can tell us a lot about the authenticity of a video depicting the killings of two Palestinian teens in the West Bank
While studying Yiddish in Lithuania during the summer of 2008 my fellow students and I visited Ponar, the site where 100,000 people, including nearly an entire branch of my family, were murdered in mass shootings.
Visiting the scene of such an incomprehensible crime committed on an industrial scale I became aware of the physical details of how the killings were carried out. After reading (and translating) accounts from survivors I found that I still could not visualize what had occurred so I sought out videos of similar massacres committed by Einsatzgruppen, mobile SS killing units. During the following fall I saw nearly every such film that is available, as well as films of war-time atrocities in El Salvador. At the time I was considering studying forensics in order to work with criminal investigations of war-crimes. I soon realized, however, that I wasn’t psychologically cut out for such work.
My experience with viewing films of shootings did, however, leave me with a well-trained, albeit non-expert eye that I use to critically evaluate films of disputed incidents. One thing I’ve learned watching films of such material is that the human body reacts to the trauma of a gunshot wound in a wide variety of ways. The Hollywood stereotype of a person being shot and keeling over like a felled tree is just that, a stereotype. It does happen. But people also sometimes run and suddenly collapse after being shot. People sometimes twitch involuntarily after being shot. And in a few instances I’ve even seen a person be shot, fall, catch himself with some apparent coordination and then lie still shortly thereafter.
Since the filmed deaths of Palestinian teenagers Nadim Nawarah and Muhammad Salameh, on May 15 during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bitunya were released to the public many people have commented on social media that the films must have been faked because such a display of coordination is not possible. Among them is Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, the founder and director of the Vine and Fig Tree Project, a religious pro-peace organization.
(JTA) — Evil twins make frequent appearances in the cheesier sorts of movies and television shows, yet tend to be less common in state politics. But not according New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Silver has never lacked for chutzpah, but he appears to have taken it to Olympian heights with his most recent dodge. In March, the New York Times published a long article documenting the decades-long efforts by Silver and his now-disgraced former ally William Rapfogel, through a group called the United Jewish Council, to keep slum-cleared blocks of the Lower East Side empty for decades, rather than have them be rebuilt and repopulated by non-Jews who might dilute the political strength of Silver’s Jewish base. It didn’t paint a pretty picture of Silver, who came across as scheming, duplicitous and self-interested.
But wait! said Silver’s office. It was all just a misunderstanding. According Silver and his allies, the United Jewish Council was represented by another Sheldon Silver, and it was he who took all of these dastardly actions that just happened to prop up the power base of this Sheldon Silver.
And, in fact, there was another Sheldon Silver — Sheldon E. Silver — and he did work as an attorney for the UJC. It was the evil twin! (Perhaps the E stands for evil!)
Only Sheldon E. Silver — a transplant from Minneapolis who eventually joined Chabad, moved out to Brooklyn and passed away in 2001 — only worked for UJC for a few months. And reporter Russ Buettner dug back through the documents, made a few phone calls, and found that Sheldon E. Silver directed precisely none of the many actions taken by the UJC to block the redevelopment of the Lower East Side. Those were taken by, you know, the other Sheldon Silver. The Speaker of the Assembly. The guy who was lying.
Anyway, read the whole thing.
Unless…it was the other other Shelly Silver! Stay tuned…
Judaism — it’s a big religion; America — it’s an even bigger place.
But one man — one brave, self-sacrificing man — has taken upon himself the weight and burden of serving both constituencies, of being just the Jew that this country needs, of being: America’s Rabbi.
I’m sorry, did I say “one man”? I meant “five men.”
There are five American men (and yes of course they’re men) currently laying claim to the title of “America’s Rabbi.” Five, can you believe it? Why, that’s as many books as we have in the Torah! We’re going to have to add a chapter to our Holy Scriptures, or at the very least create a field guide, to sort them all out.
So allow me to present to you: A Field Guide to “Rabbis, America’s”
A woman gestures at a Jerusalem demonstration to help agunot / Haaretz
We’re familiar with the stories of recalcitrant husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, a religious writ of divorce, effectively preventing them from remarrying. But less discussed is the heart-wrenching experience of women whose husbands are alive, but unable to interact with them in any way.
The Israeli city of Safed is known for its religious conservatism, but it has just come up with a massive innovation in Jewish law. While a husband’s consent is generally needed to approve a divorce, the Safed Rabbinical Court has just made an exception.
A man who has been in a coma for seven years following a motorbike accident has just been divorced from his wife, a 34-year-old mother of one, Haaretz reports. She believed that he will never regain consciousness, and wanted the opportunity to remarry.
Pennsylvania’s Tom Wolf is a JCC macher, but is not Jewish / Flicker: WolfForPa Campaign
(JTA) — In his coverage of last night’s primary elections, Slate political reporter Dave Weigel mentioned an odd fact: Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania’s newly crowned gubernatorial nominee, has given so much to his local Jewish community center in York, Pa., that many reporters assumed he was Jewish. Only he isn’t.
So why is a non-Jewish businessman one of the biggest donors to his local JCC — so big that, in the midst of a gubernatorial campaign, he’s also co-chairing the JCC’s new capital campaign?
There are a couple parts to this answer. One is that Wolf and his family have deep roots in the York community — in fact, one of the York’s boroughs, Mount Wolf, is named for Tom Wolf’s great-great-grandfather — and he’s been a generous donor of time and money to local civic life.
The second part is that the York JCC is one of a number of JCCs around the country where the membership is majority gentile. (I wrote about this a few years ago for the Forward.) In these communities, the Jewish population is too small to support a decent JCC on its own, so the local leaders have decided to actively recruit members from outside the Jewish community. The Jews get a nice big JCC (and I can attest that the York JCC is very nice, even before its newly planned expansion) with lots of Jewish programming, and the non-Jews get a nice gym and another good local preschool.
So, in that light, Tom Wolf’s JCC donations make sense — he’s just supporting another York civic institution, the way his family always does.
There’s one more twist to the story, though: Tom Wolf, the man so many people believed was Jewish, just beat out Allyson Schwartz — a woman who is, in fact, Jewish — in the Democratic primary race for governor.
Still from a video produced by anti-miscegenation group Yad L’Achim
Imagine this: You’re a young guy in Israel. Scrolling through Facebook, you see the profile of an attractive Jewish girl. She seems interested in finding a date, so you send her a message. She writes back! The two of you make plans to meet up in person next week. When the big day arrives, you show up at the appointed spot, excited and nervous. You hear a sound behind you and turn around, expecting to see the beautiful girl. Instead, a bunch of guys pounce on you and punch your lights out.
The reason? You’re an Arab, not a Jewish, Israeli.
Welcome to Jews Against Miscegenation, a far-right group of male teens and 20-somethings who pose as Jewish women on Facebook to bait and lure Arab “predators” into the open and then beat them up.
These young men made headlines in the Israeli press today after they were indicted at the Jerusalem District Court. Police were able to identify and catch them, thanks to a security camera mounted at the site of one of their attacks.
It’s a relief to see these youths finally taken into custody — not just because their actions are racist (mere Arabness is enough to get you targeted) and sexist (women clearly can’t be trusted to choose for themselves), but because reports over the past few years have suggested that Israel’s police and municipal governments were actually supporting and funding these bigots.
We often think of historians as dry academics walled off in their ivory towers.
But the level of concern about the health of historian Jonathan Sarna, who is hospitalized in critical condition after collapsing, shows that Sarna is something special.
Sarna, a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, is not just a deeply knowledgeable and engaging historian. He connects with people — students, historians, laypeople and, dare I say it, journalists.
As my colleague Josh Nathan-Kazis pointed out in a conversation this afternoon: “He’s a historian who steps out of the bounds of the academy and makes himself accessible to answer questions and engages in the world. Professors who do that are rare and valuable.”
I learned firsthand of Sarna’s value during my first months at the Forward, in 2011, when I started investigating a story about George Washington’s lost 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island.
Sarna was the inspiration for that story after I heard him mention the letter’s importance — and the fact that it appeared to be lost — at a Limmud conference in Britain. Sarna was also my guide throughout the story’s reporting, directing me to source materials and to other important documents of the day.
Since then, whenever I have had occasion to delve into American Jewish history, Sarna has become the first person that I turn to for sources, citations, guidance and inspiration.
Sarna is more than a walking encyclopedia of the American Jewish experience. He is a part of what makes American Jewish history vibrant and vital.
That’s why so many people wish him well right now.
The controversial new bus ad.
Pamela Geller is at it again. Her new set of black and white posters on Metro buses in Washington, D.C. declare: “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s In the Quran. Two Thirds of All U.S. Aid Goes to Islamic Countries. Stop Racism. End All Aid to Islamic Countries.” An accompanying photo shows Adolph Hitler meeting with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem during the Mandate period.
Geller is known for her inflammatory ads. But I admit that this one makes me think.