Posts filed under ‘Media’

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

By Dann Denny
331-4350 |


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.


Hanukkah begins amid anti-Semitic incidents; unity events planned Dec. 2, 2010

Editorial: Be relentless in pursuit Dec. 1, 2010

Windows broken at Jewish student centers; scriptures vandalized Nov. 30, 2010

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, 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

December 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm 1 comment

What the F**K is Social Media?


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March 20, 2009 at 7:06 pm Leave a comment

Cool website (and even cooler interview of me)

Menachem Wecker edits and hosts a fascinating website about relgion and art called Iconia: Wherever faith meets art. I ‘met’ Menachem on twitter and he subsequently asked if I’d like to be interviewed (I made the mistake of telling him my wife was an artist… guess he assumed I knew something about art). Of course I said yes! The following is what’s posted on his fine site.

Rabbi Aaron Spiegel is information technology director for the Center for Congregations. According to his bio on the CFC, he has served several congregations in South Florida, has a B.A. in comparative theology from Union Institute & University, ordination from the Rabbinical Academy of Mesifta Adath Wolkowisk, and is a D.Min. candidate in congregational studies at Hartford Seminary. I “met” Rabbi Siegel, who is a “transdenominational rabbi,” on Twitter, where his handle is @rebaaron. (Image courtesy of Rabbi Spiegel.)

MW: Your blog “Ma Hamatzav?” (site) describes you as a former pulpit rabbi and a rabbi at the Hillel at Butler University, and the CFC site calls you “transdenominational.” Most people have enough trouble keeping Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, etc. straight. What does it mean to be a transdenominational rabbi?

AS: I wish I could claim that I made it up but alas I’m not that creative. Trans – beyond – denominational is just that, beyond the movements or denominational tags. While I have great respect for each of the movements and their historical significance, I believe we’re now in a period in which their relevance is severely diminished. It used to mean something when someone said ‘I’m a Reform Jew’ or ‘I’m Conservative.’ Most Jews, particularly those younger than baby boomers, have little or no attachment to these monikers. In some cases, the labels are seen as negatives. I like to refer to myself as a Reformativadoctionist. Or in other words, I’m confused!

MW: You are one of very few rabbis that I have found on Twitter, and I’ve spent a lot of time looking. I see you do information technology for CFC, and have written on congregations and technology. Why do you think there is such an aversion to new media in the rabbinate, and why do you think you’ve managed to overcome that?

AS: I can easily answer the second part of the question – my first career was in information technology (starting in the late ‘70’s, early ‘80’s) so I’m a techno geek at heart. As to why rabbis have an aversion to technology I can only speculate.

Rabbis are still trained as scholars. There is little in the way of ‘practical’ leadership and management in rabbinical school. Technology, at its best, is a tool to lead and manage. I’m oversimplifying, but without an incentive to use these tools, i.e. it’s what the secular world uses to communicate, rabbis often see them as irrelevant.

I will contradict somewhat your statement that I’m the only rabbi on twitter. I’ve now found another four or five of us. I’m also seeing rabbinical students on twitter as well. I should also point out that though the numbers aren’t exactly proportional, Christian clergy have the same problem adopting technology tools in their ministry. Many find themselves doing so because their congregants are forcing them. I just did a survey on congregational use of social networking (link) and the responses were interesting. Most of the respondents were church leaders and while most agree these tools are important for maintaining relationships and communications, very few are actually adopting the tools.

MW: Your Twitter profile includes: “technologist, motorcyclist, sailor, cigar smoker, renaissance man” and “friend o’ bill(stein).” I won’t even ask about the first list, but who is Bill Stein?

AS: It’s an inside joke!

MW: As a technologically-inclined rabbi and husband of a painter, you must deal with art and design a lot. What sort of religious role can the arts play in a transdenominational setting?

AS: I’m not sure art is much different in a transdenominational setting than in any of the liberal Jewish movements. Jews have been and are great supporters of the arts. We have data that Jews give to the arts disproportionally to non Jews. I believe that Judaism is a religion of aesthetics. Judaism appreciates beauty and values individual expression.

In his book Congregations In America, sociologist of religion Mark Chaves (link) reported from the findings of the first National Congregations Study that Jews had a higher proclivity to the arts than non Jews – so I’m not making this up!

MW: Are there subject matters that are off limits to a Jewish artist — whether nudity, idolatry, or heresy?

AS: I don’t think so. Nudity is one thing and I do believe there’s a line between tasteful nudity and pornography (though I can’t tell you what it is). Regarding idolatry and heresy, I’m not sure there’s much chance for either.

It’s very difficult to define idolatry in Judaism. The commandment against idolatry was written (or channeled by God if that’s ones beliefs) during a time when idols were still common. Judaism doesn’t anthropomorphize God nor even hint that God has human characteristics. The prophets and later thinkers like Maimonides all stated that humans don’t have an adequate language with which to talk about God. Therefore we use the human language we have to describe God and ascribe attributes to God that we can grasp. To depict God as an old man with a long white beard isn’t depicting God – it’s merely depicting our idea of God, albeit a limited, human depiction.

The same goes for heresy. What’s heretical about depicting God? Judaism is not like Islam or some Christian sects who hold an image of a prophet or saint as sacred. They’re just pictures.

MW: Who are some of your favorite Jewish artists and works? Do you think there is a such thing as Jewish Art?

AS: I do believe there’s such a thing as Jewish art. It’s art created by Jews that has some kind of Jewish influence. In the visual arts I’m a big fan of Chagall. I do like some of his famous pieces (like the stained glass) but my favorite works are his attempts at creating a Bible. While one can see his Eastern European influences, he also showed he was very influenced by Christianity. Some of the pieces show the Bible stories from a Christian understanding of the Hebrew Bible rather than a Jewish interpretation – it’s fascinating to me.

I love the photography of Roman Vishniac, especially his photos of Eastern Europe before the Shoah. The illustrations of Arthur Szyk are amazing. One of my prized possessions is a Szyk Haggadah (link) which my parents bought me and my two brothers when we were kids. I still use it at our sedar to bring the story to life. But of course, my favorite Jewish visual artist is my wife! (site)

If we include authors and websites as art (which I do) the list is too long to name. There are some outstanding young Jewish authors like Dara Horn (site) and Michael Chabon (site). I love new ventures like Nextbook, Jewcy, Jewlicious, Zeek, and Heeb Magazine. I give special mention to the new website G-dcast (link). In music, there are some outstanding artists like Craig Taubman, Josh Nelson, Joshua Nelson (yes, two different people), Rick Recht, Matisyahu, JDub Records, etc who are bringing Jewish music into the 21st century.

MW: How much is Jewish art on the radar screens of American Jewish communities? Are Jewish educational institutions doing enough in your mind to engage the fine arts, as opposed to literature and music?

AS: I won’t speak for Jewish educational institutions (because they have problems that almost preclude them from worrying about art!), but I think art is very much a part of the ethos of the American Jewish community. As I mentioned in the previous question, I think there’s a ‘new crop’ of exciting projects – in print, on the web, and music. I wouldn’t yet call it mainstream, but only because the mainstream is slow to shift. Ten years from now I think (hope) these will be the mainstream.

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February 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm Leave a comment

Monty Python antisemitic? John Cleese tells all…

January 26, 2009 at 6:11 pm 2 comments

Uncle Jay reviews 2008

December 31, 2008 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

Web X.X

I’m attending a conference on Web 2.0. Earlier this year I posted an article on Cyberculture that included a great video clip from Michael Wesch of Kansas State University. After nearly 10 hours of conference, Wesch’s 4 minute video clip makes more sense than anything I’ve heard. Sometimes, simple is just better?!

October 6, 2008 at 9:15 pm Leave a comment

Ann Who?

By now, anyone who is awake and aware of current events has heard about Ann Coulter’s current blunder. Coulter made the mistake (or maybe not) of going on Donny Deutsch’s show, Big Idea. Deutsch, by the way, handled Coulter wonderfully. If this were a daily show – Jon Stewart vs. a guest duke it out – Deutsch clearly won.

However, Coulter still caused harm. She claims that Jews are “unperfected” unless they become Christian. While she tried to explain this as a benign statement and not meant to offend – it isn’t, and it did.

As my Quaker brother Brent Bill wrote on his blog:
“What do you call a woman who goes on television dressed like a sluttier version of Britney Spears, spewing venom about anybody she disagrees with, confusing being a smart-ass with being funny, and spouting things completely against Jesus’ message?A ‘conservative Christian.’ At least that’s what Ann Coulter said about herself yesterday on The Today Show. True conservative Christians like Billy Graham must be so proud.”

Another pastor friend of mine was less kind about his comments. He said “Coulter is a NAZI with less class!”

Why isn’t the Jewish community responding to Coulter? To date, the only communal response is from the National Jewish Democratic Council. They’ve started a “Stop Coulter” campaign, urging those in the media to stop interviewing her. I agree with them and signed their petition, but I’m sure it’s a move that’s preaching to the choir. This message won’t reach those who believe Coulter’s statements, whether publically or, in most cases, privately.

I think we’re all too stunned to marshall our forces in response. There are those who believe any response gives her the publicity she seeks. They may be right so I will offer a personal response – ouch, that hurts!

Added 11/9/07 – too funny!

October 15, 2007 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

A Day Without Jews

Bill Maher at his best!

June 20, 2006 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment