Pete Seeger never stopped singing — or fighting for justice. Just last month, he turned up at the Beacon Hebrew Alliance to explain why it was important to join the town’s Martin Luther King Day celebrations.
If you move to Beacon, or even think about moving to Beacon, someone will tell you that this is where Pete Seeger lived.
When I moved to Beacon, a town of 15,000 on the banks of the Hudson River, I knew where Pete’s house was before I knew where the hardware store was. But before I knew him as a neighbor, I knew him as most people did, as as the icon, the figure that Bruce Springsteen called “a living archive of America’s music and conscience.”
It was shocking to realize that the icon Pete (who was known to everyone as Pete), was also the old man on line at the post office, on Main Street, at the riverfront.
Ellen Gersh, the cantor at Beacon Hebrew Alliance, grew up in Beacon and has known Pete for her entire life. She met him as a child because her grandfather was friends with Pete’s father-in-law and then later, she got to know him through music.
“When I was eight or 10 years old, we were on a class trip to the Clearwater (Revival) and he heard me sing and invited me to sing at the Sloop Club,” she said. “The meetings were on Friday nights and that was a conflict [with Shabbat], but my father said I could go to the first half and then needed to go to services.”
As counterintuitive as it may be, when you see Scarlett Johansson’s Super Bowl ad on Sunday, promoting a product that lets you make carbonated drinks at home, try to see through bubbles and think about the future of the Middle East.
There is nothing wrong with the product itself. Under normal circumstances, I would buy SodaStream and recommend it to my friends. But the circumstances under which the product is made are not normal. And because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is such an anomaly, as much as I may like Scarlett (and seltzer), I will not buy SodaStream, not until it moves its headquarters away from a West Bank settlement.
But before I discuss bubbles, a few words of clarification are in order. My organization is staunchly pro-Israel. Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of Israel’s peace movement, is a Zionist organization, proudly committed to Israel’s security and wellbeing. I love Israel and I’m worried sick about its future as a democracy and a Jewish state.
It is because of my love for Israel that I don’t buy products made by companies that are located in West Bank settlements, and that I urge the millions watching the Super Bowl on Sunday to look beyond the luminous actress and the fizz — and to consider the future of Israel and the Middle East.
A new anti-discrimination video campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Justice sends an important social message and packs a powerful emotional punch. But that doesn’t mean it’s enough to do the enormous job of eradicating racism in the Jewish State. Still, it’s a start.
Discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or religious group, nationality, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation, political views, party membership, personal status or parenthood is a violation of a law passed by the Knesset in 2000.
There is no mistaking what statement the video is making. Filmed in an edgy, ominous style and with a soundtrack that wails a heavy metal-style acoustic version of Hatikvah, it shows various instances of the discrimination against minorities that happens on a daily basis. Children on a basketball court tell an immigrant boy to go home to Russia. A white mother stops her preschool-age son from playing with a black boy on the playground. A Jewish woman prevents a Muslim woman and her daughter from sitting next to her on a bus. A bouncer won’t allow a black young woman to enter a nightclub with the cool kids.
The text accompanying the images warns that one kind of discrimination can lead to another, often worse, kind. A refusal to play with a boy could lead later on to preventing him from going to school, or refusing to give him a job. Not making room on a bus for a girl could lead to eventually refusing to rent her an apartment.
These scenarios have not been pulled from thin air. These kinds of things really do happen daily in Israeli society. It’s rather astounding — not to mention maddening — to think that Jews, who suffered not so long ago from the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws, would need reminding as to where discriminatory behaviors can lead.
Bill de Blasio meets Elvis meets HBO in this week’s Jewish News Quiz – which also includes some Jews. We promise.
A schoolgirl listens to language class on November 4, 2002 in Jerusalem. / Getty Images
An Israeli high school teacher faces dismissal after a student complained that he expressed radical “leftist” views in the classroom. In a letter to Education Minister Shay Piron, 12th-grade student Sapir Sabah accused Adam Verete — who teaches philosophy in the small northern Israeli town of Kiryat Tivon — of saying the IDF is “unusually brutal” and uses rhetoric in class that disparages the state.
Since news broke, Verete has received threats to his life and other forms of slander and incitement, for which he has filed a complaint with the police. It didn’t help that former MK Michael Ben Ari — a right-wing Kahanist notorious for his Jewish supremacist and incendiary views — posted Sabah’s letter on his Facebook page, immediately turning the issue into a public left-right political battle. Sabah herself has in the past argued in class that all Arabs should be thrown into the sea and also called Verete a traitor, adding that treasonous citizens like him are punished by death. No one from the school has condemned her hate speech or her incitement against Verete, instead chalking it up to “her opinion.”
In what can only be described as a modern-day Israeli McCarthy-style tribunal, administrators from ORT — the non-profit network of state-subsidized schools that employs Verete — held a hearing last week with him to discuss the allegations. Portions of the audio recording of the hearing released on news sites reveal a hostile group of administrators uninterested in getting to the bottom of the issue, or in discussing the boundaries of democracy and critical thinking in school.
Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson is taking heat for her decision to represent SodaStream, an Israeli home beverage company that operates in the occupied West Bank. Cartoonist Eli Valley offers his own unique graphic take on the controversy.
Milan — Today, many European countries — including Germany, Italy and the UK — are observing the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day. What makes this particular Holocaust Remembrance Day peculiar in Italy is the fact that quite a few public intellectuals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have called for its abolition. Well, that and the fact that three pig heads have just been sent to three major Jewish sites in Rome, in an apparent mafia-style attempt at intimidation.
Among the public figures explicitly calling for the abolition of Holocaust Remembrance Day are Elena Loewenthal, a renowned Jewish writer who just published the pamphlet Contro il Giorno Della Memoria (Against the Day of Memory), and Giuliano Ferrara, a devoutly Catholic conservative pundit who wrote a much discussed editorial on the topic last month.
The utility and raison d’être of Holocaust Remembrance Day have often been questioned since it was established in the early 2000s. Allow me to sum up the main arguments most commonly presented against this day, in an effort to better explain why, no matter how flawed it may be, I’m still convinced that Europe needs Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Bill De Blasio and his family celebrate inauguration as New York mayor. Like predecessors at Gracie Mansion, liberal and conservative alike, Hizzoner is hewing a pro-Israel line.
(JTA) — New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, drew some attention last week with his remarks at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee event. “Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio isn’t the first New York City mayor to see the job this way.
New York City mayors have been outspoken defenders of Israel since its establishment — and of the Zionist cause even before that.
They have visited Israel, called for American aid, opposed arms sales to Israel’s enemies, snubbed visiting foreign leaders who were hostile to Israel, and criticized U.S. presidents on Israel-related issues.
Want to know who stands where on Iran sanctions? We’ve got the answer — at least for the 10 Jewish senators.
Of course, it’s never quite that simple. See below for the fine print.
Senators who had signed on as co-sponsors are listed as supporters of the bill. Senators who have spoken out publicly against the bill are listed as being opposed.
Similarly, senators who have not gone on record on the issue but have refused to sign on as co-sponsors, despite the massive lobbying effort to reach more than 60 co-sponsors, are also listed as being opposed to the bill.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is in a category all his own. He signed on as a co-sponsor, making him a supporter of the bill. However, he also says he is opposed to bringing the bill to a vote. That makes him an opponent of what the bill’s supporter’s want.
A woman prays wearing tefillin in Jerusalem/Getty Images
Must, should, or can observant Jewish women wrap tefillin, or not? This well-worn question was recently revived thanks to the two Modern Orthodox high schools in New York — SAR and Ramaz — that have tepidly embraced female students who wish to wrap tefillin publicly in their schools’ prayer services.
In an email circulated to parents, students and board members, Rabbi Kenny Schiowitz, Ramaz’s Talmud chair, offers an internally contradictory five-point bulletin that makes his distaste for the practice clear. On the one hand, women are not obligated to wear tefillin (point 1) but nevertheless receive the benefit of having performed a mitzvah, or commandment (point 2). But in the very next breath he argues they should not be encouraged to do so and perhaps even discouraged from doing so (based on his “proof-text” in point 3), and “taught that they do not need to wear tefillin to lead Jewishly-religiously meaningful lives” (point 5). The schizophrenia of the letter is demonstrated by the head of school’s hopeful sign-off to “see more people observing more mitzvot.”
Which is it? Is women’s observance of this mitzvah a religiously suspicious act destined to shame Torah and undermine halakhic (Jewish legal) commitment? Is it merely religiously tolerable, the isolated province of a few outliers on the religious bell curve? Or is it the natural, proper response to the times in which we live, possibly even mandated by our changed social circumstances?
Sanctions bill sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez addresses AIPAC annual policy conference, Washington Convention Center, March 5, 2013. / Getty Images
In American politics, do Jewish voices count more on Israel than others? Should they? And who’s counting? UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, for one, who called on his Washington Monthly blog for readers to lobby their senator against a new Iran sanctions bill especially “if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.” The anti-Zionist writer Phil Weiss responded that Kleiman’s appeal proves that, on this issue, “we [Jews] are 5/3 of a man, to reverse the old voting fraction of black people.”
Weiss has picked an obnoxious analogy. Even those who talk about Israel as an “apartheid state” rarely have the chutzpah to include Washington D.C. in the supposed ethnocracy. But Weiss is also wrong in a more interesting way. Talk of how much Jews count is hopelessly naïve, because in fact, American foreign policy — in many areas — responds far less to mass demographics than to small, committed ideological elites.
Why is that? First of all, American Jews don’t care much politically about Israel. Most feel emotionally attached to Israel, but in 2012, only four percent considered it their most important political issue, classing it with sleepers like the environment and immigration. Nor is our apathy atypical: Americans just don’t care much about foreign policy. Less than ten percent of us vote primarily on foreign policy. When asked what is the most important issue facing the country, we show no interest in other countries (well, a little when people leave them to come here). Government, policy, and media elites love to talk about an increasingly globalized world, but most Americans think of foreign affairs as politically remote and irrelevant.
A young woman prays wearing tefillin on April 11, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. / Getty Images
On December 8, 2013, SAR High School principal Rabbi Naphtali Harcsztark permitted students Ronit Morris and Yael Marans to lay tefillin in the school’s daily women’s prayer group, allowing them to do so within the school building. While this is the first time in its 12-year history that SAR High School has faced this issue, SAR Academy, the associated elementary and middle school, has had female students who lay tefillin. So has Ramaz, another Modern Orthodox high school in New York.
I began laying tefillin when I was a seventh grade student at SAR, over thirteen years ago. Unlike in the case of Morris and Marans, the SAR administration barred me from praying with tefillin in the school building, and excused me from praying with my class. Instead, my prayer took place in my living room, before I left for school.
As a result of not being able to pray daily with the rest of my classmates, I missed out on a lot. Announcements were regularly made at the end of services, and I missed them. Students celebrated bnei mitzvah during services, and I missed them. I missed class jokes about the boy who always hit the ceiling when he did hagbah, the lifting of the Torah scroll, or the boys who (flirtatiously?) handed their tefillin to the girls for re-wrapping at the end of services. I missed the camaraderie of praying with my peers.
After graduating from the eighth grade, I attended Ramaz High School, where another student, Shifra Mincer, also began to lay tefillin. Shifra and I were excused from morning services, and prohibited from laying tefillin in school. However, there was one exception to this rule: Tuesday mornings.
Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Blau speaks at a Jewish school in Berlin. / Getty Images
When you package it right, even a plot against pluralism can be made to seem progressive.
In Israel, government ministers spanning from left to right have advanced legislation that will end the country’s dual Chief Rabbinate, under which there are two religious figureheads, one Sephardi and one Ashkenazi. Instead, if the Knesset approves the bill, there will be one.
“In a state where there is only one President, one Supreme Court president, one Prime Minister and one chief of general staff, there is no way to justify the doubling of the position of chief rabbi,” reasoned Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Smooth talking, but this doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The President, Supreme Court president, Prime Minister and army chief have set political, judicial and defense jobs. Religious leaders are an entirely different matter — they are meant to lead, inspire, and uplift. And to do that in a country where people come from a broad range of religious traditions, giving at least a nod to this by having more than one Chief Rabbi makes perfect sense. It means that at least the two main ethic groupings have a figure on the top level of the state rabbinate.
A Swedish punk rocker with a swastika tattoo. / Getty Images
I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville, Tenn. On my recent trip there, I had every bit as much fun as I suspected I would. But I also saw something that made me gasp out loud.
Downtown, I stumbled upon a tattoo shop. Being a person with tattoos (controversially, a Jew with tattoos), I decided to stop in and do some pricing. Perusing the flash art wall, I saw the typical assortment of symbols, animals, sayings, suggestive cartoons, etc. Then a particular design caught my eye: an eagle’s head with a swastika inside it.
I wondered how I could actually be seeing this. I had been enjoying my trip so much, and this was casting a cloud over it. Do people actually come into the shop to get that terrible symbol inked on them? I wanted to go and say something to the shop staff members, who seemed extremely friendly, but since I was more or less a stranger in a strange land I decided it was best to keep mum.
Back home I told several people about my experience, and they were all appalled. After all, even though bigotry and hatred can happen anywhere, they definitely should not be catered to. I “liked” the company’s page on Facebook so that I could post on it to let staff and patrons know how I felt. My feeling — and hope — was that the design was due to ignorance, since the Jewish population in Nashville is not at all like New York City’s.
Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. / Getty Images
As a Canadian Jew, I often feel a twinge of envy on Martin Luther King Day. I’m envious of larger-than-life heroes who succeed in uniting a nation around issues that are so blatantly about justice versus bigotry that almost no one can today publicly disagree. I’m envious for symbols like Rosa Parks, and for American rabbis, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who were able to join these freedom seekers while “praying with their feet,” as Heschel famously described his act of solidarity when he marched in Selma.
Today, it seems, the issues worth fighting for when you’re a Canadian Jew who expresses her political Jewish identity largely in terms of attachment to Israel are not nearly as simple. This can make the idea of praying with one’s feet a lonely exercise. As I write this, Israel is hosting an official visit by my prime minister, the Jewish State’s best friend among a sea of leaders who are increasingly critical of Netanyahu’s policies.
Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper mention anything to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, about the hundreds of Africans whom Israel is holding in open-air prisons, in contravention of the international refugee convention to which Israel is a signatory?
Many would of course argue that separate water fountains, Jim Crow, voter suppression, and back-of-the-bus laws in pre-civil rights America have nothing to do with the current asylum-seeker quagmire in Israel. But many others would say that there lies but a short road from one to the other.
I also wonder whether Prime Minister Harper will suggest to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, that the many laws that still exist in Israel — laws that effectively discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel — should be changed.
The latest in the Nicolas Anelka-Deuidonné-quenelle affair is that another apparently nonsense word has been inserted into the fray.
“Zoopla,” the English real estate website and jersey sponsor of West Bromwich Albion has decided to end their sponsorship of the Midlands soccer team due to the failure of management to act on the matter of player Nicholas Anelka having performed a neo-fascist quenelle salute in their December 28th game against West Ham United.
Inaction appears to be the order of the day, as the English Football Association (FA) was should have already made a decision regarding Nicholas Anelka’s performance of the quenelle, allegedly an inverted sieg heil salute created by the French player’s friend, anti-Semitic comedian and political provocateur, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. While the FA tends to take its sweet time in adjudicating allegations of racism - it took them two months to determine that Chelsea captain John Terry had called Queen’s Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “black c**t.”
The sport’s anti-racist watchdog, Kick It Out, has also complained about the sluggishness of the FA’s response and Zoopla, one of whose owners is Jewish, has tried to force the issue by first saying that Anelka should not be allowed to wear a Zoopla-branded jersey, and later announced they would not be renewing their contract with West Brom.
From Zach Braff to Downton Abbey to rye bread and herring. It’s not as big a leap as you might think!
REASONS TO LOVE:
1 — It’s delicious. What Jew doesn’t like seltzer?
2 — It’s eco-friendly, saving massive amounts of otherwise virtually indestructible plastic waste.
3 — It could feasibly pay for itself.
4 — According to MSNBC, it’s the largest job provider for local Palestinian workers.
5 — It comes in invigorating Energy Drink, tipsy Happy Hour Cocktail and relaxing Diet Tea flavors.
REASONS TO HATE:
7 — It has fraudulently used the “made in Israel” label on its products when, in fact, they were made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
8 — It is also arguable that it doesn’t pay for itself unless you “regularly buy name brand can soda and pay full cost for it.”
9 — According to WhoProfits, it was guilty of worker exploitation until the workers’ rights organization Kav LaOved got involved. It also takes advantage of Israeli policies that make it cheaper for it to be across the Green Line, in occupied Palestinian territory.
10 — SodaStream is located in Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete civil and military control of the IDF. That means Palestinian entrepreneurs, business owners, and industries face significant barriers that force them to turn to the settlements for employment.
11 — It also comes in Kool-Aid. And they want you to drink it.
Nicolas Anelka, center, celebrates a goal before flashing the anti-Semitic ‘quenelle.’ / Getty Images
It has been almost three weeks since West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated scoring two goals against West Ham United by doing the quenelle, the reverse Nazi salute popularized in France by comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Yet Anelka remains unpunished. He continues to play, in fact. Albion’s then-head coach Keith Downing refrained from condemning him immediately after the soccer match, and in the days that followed the club itself held back as well. Albion instead released a clumsy statement, which acknowledged that the quenelle “has caused offense in some quarters.” Albion “asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.”
But for the Jewish community — including the owner of the club’s shirt sponsor Zoopla — in the United Kingdom, it is the lack of response from the Football Association (FA) and anti-racism campaign organizations like Kick It Out that has disappointed and caused upset.
Chile’s El Palestino soccer club recently raised the ire of pro-Israel groups when it decided to redesign its team jerseys, replacing the numeral one with a one-state map of Palestine. Because they show the entire map of Israel as Palestine, these jerseys effectively erase Israel, making it seem like the state doesn’t exist.
In a blog post last week, I asked how the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Anti-Defamation League can condemn these jerseys for using a one-state map, while staying mum about the fact that the Jewish National Fund does the exact same thing on its charity collection boxes. The ADL hadn’t gotten back to me by the time the post went up, but they’ve since emailed me this response so that I can update Forward readers on their stance. Here goes:
There is no comparison between the JNF blue box and the team jerseys worn by Chile’s “El Palestino” soccer club. The Chilean team’s shirts are a highly politicized form of incitement which negates Israel’s existence, while the JNF boxes have a representation of the internationally recognized country of Israel.
Huh. It’s hard to know how this explanation is supposed to defuse the idea that there’s a double standard at work in certain pro-Israel groups when it comes to one-state maps. As far as I can tell, though, three claims are being made here. Let me try to unpack them.