Yiddish Curses for Republican Jews

  • May you sell everything and retire to Florida just as global warming makes it uninhabitable.
  • May you live to a hundred and twenty without Social Security or Medicare.
  • May you make a fortune, and lose it all in one of Sheldon Adelson’s casinos.
  • May you live to a ripe old age, and may the only people who come visit you be Mormon missionaries.
  • May your son be elected President, and may you have no idea what you did with his goddamn birth certificate.
  • May your grandchildren baptize you after you’re dead.
  • May your insurance company decide constipation is a pre-existing condition.
  • May you find yourself insisting to a roomful of skeptics that your great-grandmother was “legitimately” raped by Cossacks.
  • May you feast every day on chopped liver with onions, chicken soup with dumplings, baked carp with horseradish, braised meat with vegetable stew, latkes, and may every bite of it be contaminated with E. Coli, because the government gutted the E.P.A.
  • May you have a rare disease and need an operation that only one surgeon in the world, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine, is able to perform. And may he be unable to perform it because he doesn’t take your insurance. And may that Nobel Laureate be your son.
  • May the state of Arizona expand their definition of “suspected illegal immigrants” to “anyone who doesn’t hunt.”
  • May you be reunited in the world to come with your ancestors, who were all socialist garment workers.

October 24, 2012 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Why You Need to Embrace Relationship Based Engagement

reposted from a 5/21/12 guest blog for Darim’s Jew Point O’s series on networks, http://darimonline.org/blog/why-you-need-embrace-relationship-based-engagement

Synagogue 3000 just released a report entitled “Reform and Conservative Congregations: Different Strengths, Different Challenges.” The report could just as easily been entitled something like “Synagogues are Fading Into Obscurity,” but that would be a little too provocative. The data is clear; the institution best positioned to provide the full richness of Jewish life is becoming irrelevant for most American Jews. More disturbing is that our research shows some 70% of young Jewish adults, those between the ages of 23 and 39, have no connection to the established Jewish community (synagogues, Federation, JCC’s, etc.). While many in the Jewish world talk about Jewish continuity and protecting the future of American Judaism, most of the proposed solutions have had little effect. The good news is we’ve also learned that this majority of young Jews are very interested in Judaism, just not the way we’re offering it.

While most in the congregational world talk about outreach, Synagogue 3000 learned that this moniker has a negative connotation. Outreach says, albeit subtly, “I’m reaching out to you so you can come to me and have what I want to offer you.” The community, particularly those young, single Jews who are our potential future are saying, “no thanks.” Instead of outreach Synagogue 3000 changed the conversation to engagement. Learning from the church world and community organizing, Synagogue 3000 created Next Dor (dor is Hebrew for generation) – an engagement program. Participating synagogues agree to dedicate a staffer, most often a rabbi, whose primary job is to meet young Jews where they are – physically, spiritually, and emotionally. These engagement workers are charged with finding young Jews, be they in bars, coffee houses, local gyms, etc., and finding ways of engaging them in conversation to create relationships. Relationships create trust, which creates other relationships, which creates opportunity for real engaging conversations about life and what Judaism has to offer. One of the key points is that this engagement and these relationships are l’shma, for their own sake. Synagogue membership is not the goal – connecting Jews to Judaism is.

While the goal is engaging young Jews in Judaism, several of the Next Dor partner synagogues are discovering tangible benefits. Next Dor D.C., a project of Temple Micah was one of the first adopters. Rabbi Danny Zemel, a proponent of this engagement model before Next Dor existed, knew that Temple Micah needed to engage this unaffiliated and disaffected population. As a Next Dor pilot synagogue, Temple Micah hired Rabbi Esther Lederman as their engagement worker. A big part of Esther’s job is having one-on-one meetings with young Jews, usually in coffee shops. Now in its fourth year, Next Dor D.C. has gone from one-on-one meetings to regular Shabbat dinners at Esther’s home to annual free High Holy Day services for young adults, led by Esther and Michelle Citrin. The results – young Jewish adults are joining Temple Micah.

Some have dubbed this approach “relational Judaism” which seems something of an oxymoron. Judaism is at its essence (at least in my opinion) all about relationships. Unfortunately, congregations have focused on other things like supporting infrastructure, b’nai mitzvah training, and programming. More than the first two, the focus on programming is the irrelevance linchpin. Rather than engaging Jews in what’s important in their lives, synagogues program based on anecdotal information. When numbers fall the default synagogue response is to seek better programming rather than forming relationships with members, finding out what’s really important in their lives, and being responsive to their needs. Interestingly enough, while Synagogue 3000 envisioned the relational approach targeting young Jewish adults, the Next Dor communities are discovering it works with everyone.

Is your synagogue willing to form relationships with people who might not become members? Is your rabbi really willing to “be known” by synagogue members? What are your biggest obstacles to moving from a program-based community to relationship-based? Relationships, it’s all about the relationships!

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is the CEO of Synagogue 3000. The report was the result of Synagogue 3000’s participation in FACT (Faith Communities Today), the largest and most comprehensive surveyor of faith communities in the United States.

September 11, 2012 at 9:39 am Leave a comment

Do We Stand Together? American Jewish Identity and Voices of Dissent

by Lilah Shapiro

original article posted at The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School

In a recent article in the Jewish Weekly reflecting on the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, a woman is quoted as saying that she envies Israelis because they have a country in which human life is so valued that they are willing to trade thousands of accused criminals to ensure the return of one man. The terms of Shalit’s release, coupled with the recent campaign for Palestinian state recognition by the United Nations, and last month’s UNESCO vote, have generated a renewed feeling of immediacy and urgency within the American Jewish community regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations and Israeli policy. Amongst American Jews there is a widespread interpretation and assertion that the brokering of Shalit’s freedom stands to remind the world of that which is special and unique about Israel as a state founded on and ruled by Jewish values. But this line of reasoning is tenuous. While the Shalit deal has allowed Jews to publicly celebrate the extraordinary value placed on human life by Judaism and, in turn–so the argument goes–Israel, it has also invited comparisons of the Israeli government’s treatment of its Jewish and Palestinian populations. Does Israel (and Judaism) place high value on all human life, or on Jewish life in particular? It is striking that many American Jews, who take great pride in their cultural relativism, outspokenness, and social justice orientation in other realms of their life, do not pose these and other important and self-defining questions. Rather they remain silent or stand firm in their public endorsement of the party line. This raises the question: Why are American Jews reluctant to publicly vocalize any critique of Israel?

I am not taking a political position, that is, I do not adopt a pro-Israel or pro-Palestine stance, although I acknowledge the likelihood that some may attempt to infer one. Instead, my interest is in the negotiation of American Jewish identity vis-à-vis Israel, in particular, highlighting the potential identity conflicts and dilemma that may arise for American Jews who are in the minority and are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. It is with more than a fleeting sense of trepidation that I write this piece. As scholars we are trained to analyze and deconstruct, making sense of and critiquing complex and often potentially controversial subjects. As a Jew, however, I cannot escape the overwhelming sense that I am treading where I should not go, and that many could find what I write to be, at the very least, the violation of a taboo and, at worst, profoundly dangerous.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the American Jewish community was far from unified on the subject of Israel. American Jewish leftists were deeply and vocally opposed to Zionism on ideological grounds, as they stood in opposition to all forms of nationalism. Other segments of the Jewish population were concerned that overly visible support of Israel would lead to suspicions regarding Jewish loyalties. Finally, on-going conflicts and negotiations over Jews’ racial status and acceptance into hegemonic American society figured into the Zionism debate.  The call for Zionistic support hinged on the notion that all Jewish people were somehow fundamentally connected and that this connection existed on a deeper, more primal (possibly biological) plane than that which is engendered by shared practices. Given that Zionism could act to confirm the Jewish people as a “race” unto themselves, and that Zion was often linked to non-western and exotic locales and cultures, there was a concern that, as a movement, Zionism could possibly undermine what was perceived as a Jew’s tenuous position in white America.

In the time since the end of World War II and the formal establishment of Israel as a nation-state, the debate and discourses of dissent surrounding all things Israel have virtually disappeared within the American Jewish community. Somehow, over time, an unmitigated and unconditional support of Israel, at least publicly, have become a fundamental component of being Jewish in America. But do American-Jews in truth uniformly maintain such unwavering and uncritical support of Israel? Many have written about the conflicts within the American Jewish community over whether, how much, and how vocally to aid African Americans prior to the civil rights movement. The arguments vary in their detail, but generally concur that in the early part of the twentieth century the liberal Jewish sensibility generated a desire to ally with African Americans, with whom many Jews identified as a co-suffering minority. However, the need to not complicate and threaten their own status within majority American culture prevented American Jews on the whole from publicly acting on this impulse. Currently, the situation of the Palestinian people has created a similar dilemma for many American Jews. However, the risk for those who harbor Palestinian sympathies is not that their status within American society may be called into question, but that they will face criticism and ostracism from their fellow Jews. To support the Palestinian cause challenges and undermines one’s status as a Jew.

A recent poll conducted by JStreet, a political organization that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, reveals deep conflict and contradictions regarding the Palestinian question within the American Jewish community. The poll respondents, a predominantly ideologically liberal group, indicate that they overwhelmingly want the United States to take an active role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, however support for such involvement drops to 44 percent when public criticism of Israel and Israeli policy is factored in as a variable. To some extent this may be a generational issue. Recent research by sociologist Steven M. Cohen on behalf of the Jewish Theological Seminary found that current rabbinical students, while exhibiting feelings of a salient and strong bond with Israel, on the whole have a more nuanced understanding of Israel’s standing and policies in the Middle East than do their older, ordained rabbinic counterparts. Similarly, the JStreet poll shows that younger American-Jews are less likely to believe that the United Nations treats Israel unfairly and are more inclined to support the notion of the U.S. voting in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state. These sets of findings notwithstanding, there is little to no discourse on a wide-spread, public level that allows for the discussion and dissemination of this counter-narrative, even among the younger generation. The prevailing message is that Israel is at risk and that criticism and public debate will complicate and exacerbate the danger. All Jews must be steadfast and resolute in their support of Israel, firmly conveying that “we stand together.”

Without question there is a real threat to the safety and integrity of the state of Israel originating from some sections of the Arab world. Without question the seeds of anti-Semitism still, and undoubtedly will continue to, flourish in some corners of the world, both in America and abroad.  However, American Jews today enjoy a level of unprecedented success, security and stability.  When the “American” half of the identity hyphen is highlighted, American Jews frequently and productively engage in debate and critique regarding the positions and practices of their own and other governments and peoples. They do so freely, without concern for how such dialogue might impact their status, safety, or identity as Americans or Jews. When the “Jewish” portion of their identity comes into play, however, a different approach is engaged. On this one issue, the subject of Israel, a culture of fear seems to continue to hold considerable sway and, as a result, there is an expectation that support of Israel is absolute and unquestioning. For many in mainstream Jewish culture, the slightest critique of Israel, even a potentially constructive one, is construed as an anti-Semitic attack. In this context, the labeling of a person or commentary as “anti-Semitic” acts as a powerful tool to delegitimize content and, more importantly, the individual. Many Jews, regardless of personal views, choose to silence their voices rather than face potential devaluation in the eyes of their community.

There are preliminary rumblings of discontent seeping into the popular American Jewish imagination. The 2008 founding of JStreet suggests that, perhaps, a public dialogue of counter-opinions is taking shape. Some in the popular press are beginning to introduce the possibility of a critical conversation, arguing that such discourse can only serve to strengthen the Jewish people and the position of Israel. This indicates that there are some who are willing to publicly promote a position that one can be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian rights, critical of aspects of Israeli policy, and still be a valuable and productive member of the Jewish collective. However, JStreet’s current membership represents, at most, only three percent of the American Jewish population and, further, those who publicize such positions are still most often faced with a barrage of criticism and vitriol from within. Most in American Jewish society continue to perceive an overwhelming message that American Jews are not only expected, but required to project “rock solid” and “wall-to-wall” support for Israel. Put simply, for the majority of the American Jewish populace, unwavering support is seen as a foundational element not only of being an American Jew, but of being a good Jew. These themes are among the most dominant in the American Jewish master narrative. If there is little-to-no safe space to publicly express a counter-opinion, one is left to wonder about the identity implications for those who are not comfortable with the current expectations and available normative roles. For now, they are left out of the story.

References

A. Butler-Smith, “Diaspora Nationality vs. Diaspora Nationalism: American Jewish Identity and Zionism After the Jewish State,” Israel Affairs 15(2), April 2009.

S. M. Cohen, “JTS Rabbis Then and Now: The 2011 Survey of JTS Ordained Rabbis and Current Students,” Jewish Theological Seminary, 16 September 2011.

J. J. Goldberg, “Conservatives reject call to leave Israel out of campaign,” Forward, October 27, 2011.

JStreet, National Survey of American Jews, July 2001.

E. Goldstein, The Price of Whiteness (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

G. Gorenberg, “Anti-Dissent Disorder,” The American Prospect, June 6, 2011.

A. Pickus “Gilad and Me,” The Jewish Week, November 1, 2011.

M. Walzer, “American Jews and Israel,” Dissent, Spring 2011.

Lilah Shapiro is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago and a Junior Fellow in the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion. Her dissertation is entitled “Driven to Orthodoxy: Jewish identity, narratives of achievement, and family dynamics in American-Jewish culture as motivations for Teshuvah.”

November 17, 2011 at 9:42 am Leave a comment

Steve Jobs and the Cult of Apple

Benjamin E. Zeller
originally published in Sightings, by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School

Steve Jobs, legendary co-founder of Apple (né Apple Computer) died this month at the age of 56. Immediately a series of memorial shrines sprung up at Apple Stores around the world. Images of such shrines—and that is certainly what they are—reveal personal messages, flowers and other gifts, candles, homemade artwork, and images of Jobs. Jobs’s death is not the first to inspire celebrity memorial shrines, nor will it be the last. But it reveals something profound for those of us who study religion in the public square. Apple is much more than a company and Jobs much more than its founder and CEO. These shrines are not simply secular memorials. They are religious memorials, and there is a religion of Apple, with Jobs functioning as its charismatic high priest. Adherents even call it that—“the cult of Apple” or “the cult of Mac,” referring to Apple’s Macintosh computer platform. Regardless of the negative connotation now associated with the term, “cult” is clearly a subtype of religion, and has been understood as such since the days of sociologists of religion Max Weber and Ernest Troeltsch, who popularized the terms. Today scholars prefer the term “new religious movment” to refer to such recent, small, and alternative religions.

Type the term “cult of Apple” into a search engine (perhaps on an iPhone or Macintosh) and you will be greeted by over sixty million hits. That is more than Scientology, the Unification Church, and the Hare Krishna movement, the “big three” new religious movements combined. You will find that of these sixty million search engine hits, many come from blogs, opinion columns, and websites by dedicated fans of Apple and its wares. Creators of these websites treat their Apple products and their relationships with them in a quasi-religious manner, as something approaching what theologian Paul Tillich called an “ultimate concern.” They approach Apple and Jobs with reverence, and envision the company and man as paragons of ideals such as ingenuity, individualism, and progress. Many other websites are run by detractors of this phenomenon, seizing on the negative connotations of the word “cult” to deride Apple enthusiasts as smug group-thinkers brainwashed by their now deceased charismatic leader.

There are certainly other examples of popular culture religions—the memorial cults of Princess Diana or the living cult of Oprah, as Kathryn Lofton’s recent book Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon reveals—but there is something particularly religious about the cult of Apple. Its religious nature derives from the qualities with which its proponents imbue it, such as individualism, progressivism, and creativity, as exemplified in the “Think Different” of Apple’s advertisements, which featured images of the Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, Jim Henson, and others. In Apple’s words, the company represents “the crazy ones, the rebels, the troublemakers.” These are powerful ways of defining oneself, particularly within individualistic American culture. The religion of Apple becomes a symbol of such individualistic self-expression and rugged idealism.

The death of Steve Jobs clearly affected many members of the cult of Apple, as was evidenced by the creation of the memorial shrines. Rather than dismiss this phenomenon, scholars of religion in the public sphere should take it seriously. The loss felt by Apple enthusiasts was real. That is because they have invested in their relationship with Apple as a company and an ideal, and Jobs was the human face of that ideal. A sign left at the memorial outside the flagship 24-hour Apple Store in Manhattan featured a message deeply revealing of Apple as symbol. “Keep Thinking Different,” it declared. Other notes amplified that theme of the cult of Apple as representing a form of individualistic self-identity and definition. Another thanked Steve for “changing the world for good.” Many of the messages followed the latter theme, emphasizing Jobs as a prophet of technology who changed the world for the better. For adherents of the cult of Apple who created these shrines, Apple as an ideal and Job’s innovation in particular represented a world-changing and -shaping force. They mourned his death just as followers of any other prophet or messiah would.

What are we to make of these interlinked phenomena of public mourning, the corporation as quasi-religious ideal, and computer products as forms of molding and defining self-identity? The most important message is that the thing we call religion exists and operates well outside of the boundaries of church, synagogue, and mosque. Though it is easy to find examples of quasi-religious religion outside the churches—consider Gary Laderman’s work on pop culture religion in Sacred Matters, or David Chidester’s similar research in Authentic Fakes—the case of Apple is special. Its proponents talk about it as a religion. Fans call themselves “evangelists.” It functions to provide ultimate meaning and a way of defining oneself with reference to powerful ideals. In other words, the religious emotions of devotion, gratitude, and bereavement felt by the adherents of the cult of Apple are real. Their quasi-religious sentiments and practices are real. In the contemporary world, the products and symbols of a corporation can do real religious work.

Benjamin E. Zeller is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Coordinator of the Religion and Philosophy Major, and Director of Honors at Brevard College, a private liberal arts college in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. His academic website is http://www.nrms.net.

October 20, 2011 at 10:04 am Leave a comment

Deploring vandalism, local Muslims tell Jews: “What happens to you happens to us”

http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/stories/2010/12/03/news.qp-5337667.sto?1291408818

By Dann Denny
331-4350 | ddenny@heraldt.com

12/3/2010

It was a tiny gathering — 11 people huddled around a table in a small room at the Beth Shalom synagogue — eating cookies, sipping hot tea and talking.

But the five Muslims who had come to express their support and solidarity Thursday afternoon to a Jewish community that’s been shaken by a half-dozen anti-Semitic acts of vandalism in recent days — and six members from the Beth Shalom congregation who agreed to meet with them — spoke with palpable passion.

“We are very moved and grateful to all of you for making this visit, but we’re not at all surprised,” said Beth Shalom member Madi Hirschland. “We know the Muslim community is one of great compassion.”

The visit was prompted by recent acts of vandalism targeting the Jewish community — including the tossing of eight Hebrew texts into toilets and several rock-throwing incidents at the Chabad House Jewish Student Center, Helene G. Simon Hillel Center and other Jewish facilities.

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For many Muslims, the acts conjured up memories of similar incidents aimed at Bloomington’s Muslim community. After someone threw a firebomb through a window of the Bloomington Islamic Center and set fire to a copy of the Quran in 2005 — and after local Muslims received death threats following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — Beth Shalom was one of several local faith congregations that reached out with supportive letters, visits, meals and vigils.

“We learned compassion from you,” said Muslim Abdul Sinno. “We think of you as wonderful neighbors. What happens to you happens to us.”

Yusuf Nur, one of the Muslims at the gathering, said it was unfortunate that it took a series of hateful incidents to prompt the meeting between members of the two faith traditions.

“We need to be more proactive and work together as people of faith to educate people,” he said. “These acts of hatred come from ignorance.”

Zaineb Istrabadi concurred, but wondered if some people could ever be enlightened. She said she recently received an e-mail asking her if it was true that a Muslim had to kill a non-Muslim in order to go to heaven.

“We’ve already done a lot of education and some people still don’t get it,” she said. “What’s been happening most recently is one or more persons in Bloomington going bananas.”

Beth Shalom member Deb Allmayer said in addition to education, “We need more opportunities to interact with one another. That helps erase the barriers.”

Hirschland said though she is deeply saddened by the recent incidents, the outpouring of support for the Jewish community from Muslims and Christians has been a refreshing antidote.

At one point in the meeting, Sinno asked the Jewish members in the group how the Muslim community could help Beth Shalom.

“You’ve already helped,” said Perry Metz. “You have touched us with your compassion and your presence here today. When something like this happens, you wonder, ‘Does anyone else care?’ You have given us your answer very clearly, and it means a lot to us.”

Nur said it’s imperative that tolerance be extended to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“Actually, we need to go beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect,” he said.

Paul Eisenberg, president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, could not attend the meeting because he and his family were on their way out of town to celebrate Hanukkah with relatives. But he heard about it.

“The meeting is very heartening,” he said. “There are many, many Jews and many, many Muslims in the U.S. and abroad who don’t get along, but in Bloomington we have a much different situation.”

Faiz Rahman, president of the Islamic Center, could not attend either, because of teaching commitments at Indiana University. But he was encouraged that the meeting took place.

“There is a view that Jews and Muslims are at each others’ throats, but in Bloomington that is certainly not the case,” he said. “This is our chance to show solidarity with the Jewish community that is being attacked, not because it’s politically correct, but because it’s the right thing to do. The members of the Jewish community are our neighbors and friends and colleagues.”

Rahman said it’s ironic that the recent acts aimed at hurting the Jewish community have in fact triggered an outpouring of support for that community.

“There’s always a silver lining to bad acts,” he said. “When bad things happen, good people show their spirit, and let others know they will not bow down to the forces of evil.”

Bloomington United calls for signs, blue Monday 

Bloomington United, a grassroots campus and community partnership dedicated to promoting diversity and responding to incidents of hatred, is encouraging people to download two PDFs at the website iuhillel.org, print them out and display them in windows.

The first states “Bloomington United in Diversity” and the other is a menorah.

The group is also asking everyone to wear blue Monday in solidarity with the Jewish community.

Other acts of kindness: Two clergy offered to have members of their church stand watch during Friday night services at each of the local Jewish communities.

A Christian lit a Hanukkah menorah in her window and asked other non-Jewish friends to do the same.

A Christian couple living in the Beth Shalom neighborhood offered to help with security by driving by the synagogue throughout the day.

A member of the Muslim community asked that a group might light Hanukkah candles with Beth Shalom members.

Radio call-in show about incidents

Today’s WFIU Noon Edition, starting at 12:06 p.m. on 103.7 FM, will be a call-in show that will focus on the recent incidents aimed at the Jewish community.

The station also has other frequencies and streams over the Internet. See http://indianapublicmedia.org/radio.

December 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm 1 comment

Will Social Media Save the Jews?

Uhm… no. Probably not. So says Jewlicious… I agree!

 

November 28, 2010 at 8:51 pm Leave a comment

Facebook, Twitter or both? http://bit.ly

Facebook, Twitter or both? http://bit.ly/bnf6Pl

November 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm 1 comment

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