The three kidnapped Israelis / Twitter
The kidnapping of three Israeli teens from the Gush Etzion area is especially poignant for us now as it (and please God, their safe return) is the lead story in the weeks leading up to my family’s aliyah in 12 days.
My obsession over the past six months — since we announced to our congregation that we are moving to Israel — has been quotidian: shrinking our possessions to fit into a Jerusalem apartment, finding schools and camps for our three kids, transitioning the work that we have done in Sag Harbor to the new rabbinical team and deciding which of my children’s artistic creations from nursery and kindergarten should be framed.
The existential reasons for moving — “being a part of the most important Jewish project of the 21st century,” the fact that in Israel “Jewish holidays are just the holidays” and that my children will be fluent in Hebrew after months — are part of the greater narrative of our decision to make aliyah that we tell our congregants and ourselves. That Israel is a dangerous place to live and raise a family is the darker underside of the story, which we barely mention.
Natan Sharansky holds up a #BringBackOurBoys sign on behalf of the Jewish Agency / Twitter
What’s in a hashtag?
Soon after news broke about the three kidnapped Israeli teens who went missing in the West Bank on Thursday night, Israel supporters began using #BringBackOurBoys to signal their desire to see the students safely returned to their homes. That hashtag made the Internet rounds with amazing speed. It filled first my Twitter feed, then my Facebook feed, and finally my email inbox.
I wish it hadn’t.
Not because #BringBackOurBoys was quickly appropriated by pro-Palestinian activists who used it to highlight the plight of Palestinian boys detained or killed by Israel — that was predictable enough — but because the Israeli use of the hashtag was itself an appropriation.
I’m talking, of course, about the #BringBackOurGirls campaign launched to help find Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by radical terrorist group Boko Haram in April.
Jodie Rivas, 23, shows scars caused by stab wounds in Nicaragua / Getty Images
What does it mean to be a man in the world? This question looms large in public life, especially on the heels of Twitter’s recent #YesAllWomen campaign — a social media initiative that drew attention to the prevalence of violence, harassment and discrimination against women around the globe. On Father’s Day, it weighs heavily on my mind. This day should serve as a powerful moment for us to ask ourselves and each other, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in the title of his Stanford University lecture series, “What is a Man?”
I am a father of two daughters and a son. Tragically, the likelihood that my daughters will encounter violence in their lifetimes is extremely high, and it fills me with anger and fear, concern and worry.
A few sobering facts: According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35% of women worldwide have experienced intimate-partner violence or non-partner sexual violence; national violence studies show that up to 70% of women have at some point experienced violence from an intimate partner; and more than 64 million girls worldwide are child brides.
Phil Getz, center, relaxes with fellow yeshiva students in Gush Etzion several years ago
Like many students and graduates of Israeli yeshiva, I have been refreshing my computer browser non-stop since Friday morning looking for any sign of hope for the three Israeli teenage boys who were kidnapped on Thursday evening.
For those of us who studied at any of the yeshivas or seminaries in Gush Etzion, the news has particular resonance. According to Haaretz, the teens “disappeared late Thursday night between Kfar Etzion and the settlement Alon Shvut” apparently while hitchhiking near the Gush Etzion junction.
I must have hitchhiked from that very spot several hundred times, not infrequently on Thursday nights, which is a popular night to travel. And so has every other yeshiva student in the area.
We all knew, as I’m sure these teens did, which cars to enter and which to avoid as they approached on the hilly road. Sometimes there were Israeli security forces in the area, sometimes not.
(JTA) — It has been two decades since the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the rebbe whose influence was felt far beyond the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic sect he led.
Within hours after the long-ailing Schneerson, more commonly known as “the rebbe,” died at age 92, JTA reporters visited Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Chabad is based, to report on the scene there:
All along Eastern Parkway, Crown Heights’ main drag and the site of Chabad headquarters, “the sound of tambourines and chants of ‘Melech ha-Moshiach” — the Chasidic movement’s call for the biblically prophesied Messiah — could be heard.”
Meanwhile, in Israel:
Crowds of Lubavitcher Chasidim mobbed Ben-Gurion International Airport, offering to pay cash for any ticket that might get them to the funeral. El Al Israel Airlines scheduled an extra flight on a jumbo jet for some 450 of the rebbe’s followers. But neither El Al nor any of the foreign airlines that serve Israel had other craft they could divert for the thousands who thronged into the departure area.
While attendance at the burial, in a Queens cemetery, was restricted, JTA described the “emotional scene earlier in Crown Heights” as an estimated 35,000 people gathered “under overcast skies” outside Lubavitch headquarters in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rebbe’s coffin:
When the plain pine coffin appeared, the scene became one of emotional mayhem, with women wailing and men pressing forward to touch it. The 350 police who were on the scene could barely contain the surging crowds, and the pallbearers had difficulty getting the coffin into a waiting hearse. Despite the sudden rush to the coffin from the sea of black-hatted mourners, no injuries were reported. The crowds walked behind the slowly moving vehicle, which led them on a processional through the Crown Heights neighborhood. Some 50 buses were waiting to take some of the rebbe’s followers to the cemetery after the procession was over. Among the dignitaries present at Lubavitch headquarters were New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel’s opposition Likud bloc; Gad Yaacobi, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations; Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York; and Lester Pollack and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman and executive vice chairman respectively of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Transgender Jews celebrate Shabbat at a California synagogue
My friend and colleague Jay Michaelson’s op-ed “Include Me Out of This Jewish Community” calls into question the value and utility of “LGBT inclusion” in the mainstream Jewish community. I agree with some of Michaelson’s overarching points that being included in the mainstream without participating in fundamental change lacks meaning. But my experiences working for full equality and inclusion for LGBT Jews for the past 14 years as Executive Director of Keshet have led me to a radically different conclusion than Michaelson’s.
I do not believe that inclusion of LGBT people simply translates to the status quo with queer window-dressing. When LGBT Jews get a seat at the table, we have the chance to change not just the seating order, but the very structure of the table itself.
When a transgender rabbinical student is brought on as the rabbinic intern at a traditional Conservative shul, the look, feel and structure of the institution starts to shift.
When a Jewish film festival turns to a transmasculine Keshet leader who grew up poor to speak on a panel about Israeli women’s films, I see rigid conceptions of gender start to soften.
When a federation hosts a Keshet program and our staff explain why we are putting “All-Gender” bathroom signs up, the Jewish establishment begins to look different.
This month, I will be speaking at several Pride Shabbat services around the country and will challenge the congregations I meet to think critically about who is absent from their community and why; who is seen and who remains invisible. When people remain engaged in these conversations, the gulf between the margins and the mainstream begins to close. I believe LGBT Jews can change the Jewish community from the inside out. It is happening already.
Idit Klein is the Executive Director of Keshet.
Israelis take part in Jerusalem’s annual gay pride parade in 2011 / Getty Images
What do you reckon is the busiest time of year for Tel Aviv’s hotels — maybe the High Holidays? Perhaps Christmas/New Year’s, when America’s families are on vacation? How about Gay Pride Week?
With the annual Gay Pride parade scheduled for this Friday, Tel Aviv’s hotels are doing booming business, and anyone who didn’t book a room in advance is probably out of luck.
The Marker, Haaretz’s daily business section, reported on Wednesday that
Tel Aviv’s Gay Pride parade… is expected to bring 5,000-7,000 gay and lesbian tourists to the city…. Hotel occupancy rates are high, with prices rising accordingly.
… “[Gay tourists] live well and they eat well, in particular they eat healthier,” says Omer Miller, co-owner of [two Tel Aviv restaurants] that fly the pride flag every year. “Gay tourists also leave really big tips. Not every tourist in Israel comes to celebrate; [Pride Week visitors] really come for a week of partying.”
… According to a hotel manager in the city, “It’s the busiest time of the year…. There are guests who made reservations six months ago. I’ve known for three months that I’m completely full.”
City Hall has gotten in on the act, cooperating with local hotels to promote Tel Aviv as a gay travel destination, not least because — unlike visitors who come on pilgrimage — Pride tourists tend to stay in boutique hotels, rent cars and go shopping. Moreover, life on the Mediterranean presents an opportunity for year-round event planning that’s impossible in Europe. If Tel Aviv plays its cards right, folks who visit in June might very well come back in January.
Samer Bisharat, star of Oscar-nominated “Omar,” in Project X / YouTube
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” you’ll immediately be reminded of it after watching the newly released short film “Project X.” The basic plot is the same. Except instead of Jim Carrey trying to erase Kate Winslet from his memory, you get an 18-year-old Palestinian who’s having the memory of his girlfriend forcefully taken from him — by a team of Israeli doctors.
Why are the docs trying to rid the Palestinian protagonist of this girl? Because the memory of her keeps him from doing what they so desperately want him to do: enlist in the Israeli army.
The teen is approached earlier on by an Israeli army recruiter (trying really, really hard to sound like a native Arabic speaker — and failing), who tries to sell him on military service by promising it’ll “open a million doors.” In return for his service, he’ll get “a backbone that no one will mess with.” Also: “Land — land that you’ll own.” Imagine!
Still, the Palestinian resists. And because he resists, he ends up on an operating table, where Israeli doctors who specialize in “brain programming” are tasked with making him more amenable to the state’s demands. They succeed: Stripped of the memory of his girlfriend, who was always telling him that “this is not the way for us,” he ends up a soldier in uniform — with his own people’s blood on his hands.
Dan Cantor, right, isn’t exactly broken up over the political demise of the man who shares his last name.
Not all Cantors are mourning over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s stunning fall from political power.
Dan Cantor, the national director of the progressive Working Families Party, shamelessly celebrated the downfall of the man who shares his last name (and little else).
The GOP Jew’s loss “should not be seen as a referendum on Cantors everywhere — only on right-wing ones,” Dan Cantor said in a statement.
“Progressive Cantors are seeing more success than ever,” the politically liberal Cantor continued. “Eric, this means you’re bringing the barbecue grill to the next family picnic.”
The Cantor nemeses are not related, but both are Jewish. All the more reason to celebrate, according to the WFP leader.
“He’s the only Jewish Republican in congress,” Cantor told the Forward. “Now there are zero – which is better for us all.”
The Republican Congressman lost his seat in a June 10 primary upset by Tea Party favorite Dave Brat.
Jewish Republican Eric Cantor campaigning in 2012 / Nathan Guttman
Nineteen months ago, on the eve of the 2012 elections, I asked the following question in these pages about Tea Party Conservatives and neo-conservatives like Eric Cantor: “Who’s using whom?”
That question may never be answered. But like Dr. Frankenstein, Rep. Cantor has just been killed by the monster he helped create.
The monster, of course, is the Tea Party. For years, Cantor — a conservative, but not an extremist — has been feeding this beast a regular diet of anti-Obama, anti-immigrant, and anti-gun-control rhetoric…when it suits him to do so. Many of Cantor’s Jewish supporters have basically tried to assure us that he doesn’t really mean this stuff, and is only saying it to get elected.
Unfortunately for Cantor, that’s exactly what many Virginia Republicans came to believe as well.
(Reuters) — The shocking defeat of Eric Cantor was dubbed an “apocalyptic” moment for the Republican mainstream as Tea Party populist conservatives showed off their grassroots muscle — and proved virtually no lawmaker is safe from a challenge from the right.
Cantor’s defeat to a political unknown is likely to halt any efforts to craft a House immigration reform bill, as nervous Republicans hustle to protect themselves against future challenges from the right ahead of the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
It could also make Republicans even more hesitant to cooperate with President Barack Obama and Democrats for fear of being labeled a compromiser.
“We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot,” said U.S. Representative Steve Israel of New York, who heads the House Democratic campaign committee.
The victory emboldened conservative leaders who had seen a string of primary losses by Tea Party candidates this year to candidates backed by the Republican establishment, and it could encourage a conservative challenge to Boehner at the end of the year when the new leadership team is chosen.
“Eric Cantor’s loss tonight is an apocalyptic moment for the GOP establishment. The grassroots is in revolt and marching,” said Brent Bozell, a veteran conservative activist and founder of the Media Research Center.
Newly elected Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty Images
Is Reuven Rivlin’s ascendancy to the post of president good news for left-wing Israelis?
Progressives should cheer Rivlin’s election not because he supports equal rights for Israeli Arabs or because he wants to give Palestinians the vote in an Israeli-annexed West Bank, but because his new position in the limelight will help to clarify what should already be abundantly clear: that official Israel’s support for a two-state solution is a farce, and has been for a long time.
It’s true that as president of Israel Rivlin will hold a mostly ceremonial, symbolic position. But figureheads are important in their own way. They telegraph to the world what a country (putatively) stands for — its most cherished values and ideals. When Shimon Peres held the top spot, he made clear the value of the two-state solution. Rivlin, by contrast, will signal the exact opposite message: an undivided Greater Israel is, to him, the supreme and ultimate value.
Immediately upon being elected president, Rivlin swore he’d represent all Israelis — not just the right-wing annexationist Jew crew of which he is a part. But that kind of assurance is completely beside the point. Everyone knows what Rivlin really stands for: a State of Israel in which Palestinians get the right to vote, but give up on the dream of national self-determination in the form of a sovereign Palestinian state.
Israel’s newly elected president Reuven Rivlin / Getty Images
For some reason, whenever a Palestinian (or an Arab American, for that matter) expresses one-state views, he’s accused of threatening Israel’s existence. When an Israeli voices the exact same view, he’s labeled a hawk, a Zionist hard-liner. That’s precisely what happened when Reuven Rivlin, the former speaker of the Knesset and a seasoned Likudnik politician, was elected on Tuesday as the new president of Israel.
Liberal Zionists and progressive commentators were quick to describe his election as bad news, a threat to the peace process and to Israeli-Palestinian relations. But if we take a closer look at Israeli politics and Rivlin’s personal views, we get a different picture.
Rivlin is definitely a vocal opponent of the Oslo accords. He rejects the very idea of giving the occupied territories away. But, on the other hand, he also proposed giving Palestinians Israeli citizenship, full civil rights and the right to vote in a much-discussed Haaretz interview back in 2010.
Just like Netanyahu, Rivlin would like Israel to keep the West Bank. But unlike Netanyahu — whose agenda works to maintain the status quo, making the occupation permanent — Rivlin suggests making the West Bank into part of Israel and its inhabitants into full Israeli citizens. That’s not a minor deviation.
Alexander Imich at 111 years old / Guinness Book of World Records
Ray Bradbury, in his classic 1955 story “The Last, the Very Last,” has a child encounter a 108-year-old man believed to be the last known Civil War veteran. The story, reworked as a chapter in his novel Dandelion Wine, introduces the veteran to Bradbury’s childhood alter-ego as a “time machine” whom he uses to see the events of the past through the veteran’s retellings.
Conducting oral history interviews with Holocaust survivors, I often feel the weight of history as I speak with such “time machines.” But no encounter has so reminded me of the two reincarnations of Bradbury’s story as the afternoon I spent last July with Dr. Alexander Imich, who passed away on June 8 at the age of 111.
Born February 4, 1903 in Częstochowa, Poland (then part of the Czarist Empire), Imich was — like the man in Bradbury’s story — the very last veteran of a war, in his case the Polish-Soviet war of 1918-1919. He was also, as best as I could figure, the very last Jew to have been Bar-Mitzvahed in the Czarist Empire. He was the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor and the last man to have received a PhD in the 1920s. But his advanced age was far from the only reason I had sought him out. As his Wikipedia article states in sterile un-ironic prose, “he was one of the few super-centenarians known for reasons other than longevity.”
I had first heard of Imich when I was 12 or 13. At the time I was fascinated by the paranormal and Imich was — at the age of 98 or so — just beginning another phase of his career in the field. Two years earlier he had founded the Anomalous Phenomena Research Center, which he would run for the rest of his life. As the last active parapsychologist who had published during the golden age of paranormal studies in Weimar Germany, Imich was then, in the early 2000s, regarded as the field’s preeminent elder-statesman.
Although I had long lost most of my interest in the paranormal, I still instantly recognized Imich’s name last spring while pouring over lists of possible interview subjects for the Yiddish Book Center’s oral history project. After getting in touch with him through his great-niece Karen Bogen, Imich decided that he wasn’t “Jewish enough” for the Yiddish Book Center. Despite my best efforts I was unable to dissuade him of the notion. He did, however, agree to let me interview him after I told him about my interest in the paranormal.
Gender-segregated elevator in Jerusalem / Walla
Apparently, gender-segregated classrooms, playgrounds, buses, sidewalks and healthcare centers aren’t enough. Now Israel has gender-segregated elevators.
Yosef Cohen, the owner of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox event venue Armonot Chen, has started divvying up elevator space using a nylon mechitza, with stickers inside and outside the elevator directing men to one side and women to the other.
“There are people who want to guard their eyes on the wedding day,” Cohen explained in an interview with Walla news. “If four men and four women enter the elevator, how will they behave? This way there is a mechitza and this solves the problem.”
Phew! Finally, we can rest easy knowing that Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox couples aren’t going to be canoodling — in groups of eight, no less — on their way up to their friends’ wedding ceremonies! I was really worried about that one for a while, you guys.
The Beastie Boys, Groucho and brisket are all together here. It’s the quiz equivalent of a Reuben!
In her recent editorial, Jane Eisner confronts what she views as the problems with Judaism’s current conversion process — and conversion’s potential usefulness in “sustaining the future” of the Jewish people.
When we speak of the modern conversion process, it’s important to separate social practices from religious mandate. Many of the issues that Eisner notes are social in nature: the stigma of calling a person a “convert” rather than a Jew, the potential shame of using one’s “Hebrew name affixed with ‘son of Abraham and Sarah’ rather than with his (presumably) non-Jewish parents,” and potentially exorbitant fees for conversion classes.
These are issues that may need to be seriously addressed, but they are problems within our own personal outlook and our own sad struggle with the Biblical injunction to “love the convert” — not problems with the mandated conversion process.
What surprises me most about Eisner’s words is the glibness with which she thinks conversions should be performed. As if being Jewish were membership in an exciting club or the latest juicing fad, she suggests that Judaism should be made accessible to everyone who merely “like[s] being [a Jew] and want[s] to pass that along.” In Eisner’s eyes, Judaism is “essentially an emotional decision” — a decision that people can easily make if they want a simple path towards a meaningful life.
But being a Jew means more than just being an ethical and upright person, enjoying a bagel with shmear, and appreciating Woody Allen, Lena Dunham or even Heschel and Buber. And Judaism already offers a potential path for non-Jews looking to live a more spiritually endowed and meaningful life: They can find it in the Seven Noahide Laws and the universal Jewish teachings on the unity of the Creator and the spiritual potential we all possess.
()TA) — Will he refer to Reform rabbis as rabbis? We still don’t know.
Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s front-runner in this week’s presidential election, has signaled recently that should he be elected, his goal will be to embrace non-Orthodox Jewish communities rather than antagonize them.
Rivlin got a boost in the race on Saturday when his main rival, Labor Knesset member Binyamim Ben-Eliezer, ended his campaign due to an emerging corruption scandal. The Knesset will vote Tuesday for the president who will succeed current Shimon Peres and fill a largely ceremonial role as Israel’s head of state.
JTA reported last week that Rivlin, a former Knesset speaker and elder statesman in Likud, called Reform Judaism “idol worship” and “a completely new religion without any connection to Judaism” in a 1989 interview. In 2007, he declined to say whether, as president, he would refer to Reform rabbis by their title.
But in an interview and an Op-Ed this week, Rivlin said that his reputation for reason and tolerance extends to all religious communities. While he would not tell the Jerusalem Post in an interview Friday whether he would refer to Reform rabbis as rabbis, he said he respects religious leaders regardless of denomination. “I respect any person chosen to lead his or her community, and God forbid I invalidate him because he is from one stream or another,” he told the Post. “The President’s Office represents all streams and denominations in society. The job of the president is to bridge conflicts, not create conflicts.”
I think it’s high time we deal with the issue of mamzerut.
I was exposed to the subject as a result of my work as a rabbinic advocate in Israel, working with women who were denied divorces and agunot, women chained to dead marriages. Through this work, I became familiar with a host of issues surrounding mamzerut, defined as one who is born as a result of sexual incest relations prohibited by the Torah or of relations between a married Jewish woman and a Jewish man (married or not) who is not her husband.
Many women who had been separated from their husbands and some who waited years for divorces became pregnant by other men, giving rise to these situations:
• women who had abortions rather than give birth to a child who would be labeled a mamzer
• rabbis who suggested women abort rather than give birth to a mamzer
• women who were sorry they had not aborted children now labeled as mamzers
A woman once said to me, “I waited 25 years for a divorce from a recalcitrant husband. I became pregnant by another man, but I aborted the fetus rather than give birth to a child who would be stained with the stigma of mamzerut. This child would now be 21 today, and he cries out to me, ‘How awful that you aborted me! I wanted to be born and to live!’” This woman is now aging and has no children at all.
A mamzer is forbidden to marry someone considered part of the community of Israel. He or she is permitted to marry only another mamzer or a convert, and the offspring are forever considered mamzerim according to Jewish law, even after 10 generations. While the sages gave theoretical priority to a mamzer who was learned in Torah over a high priest who was an ignoramus, the conventional attitude toward mamzers is closer to what was expressed by a rabbi who asked me: “Would you let your child play with a mamzer child?! Would you let your child sit in school next to a mamzer child?!”
An Israeli observes the Iron Dome system in action / Getty Images
Almost one in two Jewish Israelis think that their country could withstand a substantial decrease in American support.
In a new poll by the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, conducted in the light of U.S.-Israel tensions over the end of the peace process, 44% of Jewish respondents took this view. This is remarkable in itself, given the massive funding that the U.S. provides, and the fact that the most admired defense innovation of recent years, the Iron Dome missile defense system, was made possible by the United States. But it’s particularly remarkable given the domestic political tensions.
The defense establishment is facing large budget cuts, and claiming that this will impact on its ability to perform. And so, the confidence of such a large proportion of the Israeli population at this time that loss of U.S. funding could be sustained is highly odd.
What’s more, if you look only at Israeli Jews who define themselves as right wing, this belief that Israel could dispense with U.S. funding is very dominant. Some 70% of those rightists think Israel could withstand a substantial diminution of American funding.
Yet it’s always the political right that is most emphatic that defense spending can’t decrease — and it’s no different with the current budget cuts. Unfortunately, the poll didn’t ask respondents for names and addresses of those who they reckon will fill the gaping hole that a U.S. funding cut would leave.