Category Archives: Anti-Semitism

Report Back: Hope Not Fear

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[H/t to Flesh is Grass for encouraging me to post a write up of this event]

I recently attended a talk by Edgar Bronfman and Beth Zasloff at Congregation Beth Elohim. The event was held in the sanctuary. Since it has been under construction for a while I had never seen the inside. Take a look:

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The focus of the discussion was Bronfman and Zasloff’s recent book, Hope Not Fear. I have not had an opportunity to read the book but the description sounded interesting:

After a lifetime of fighting the persecution of Jews, Edgar M. Bronfman has concluded that what North American Jews need now is hope, not fear. Bronfman urges North American Jewry “to build, not fight. We need to celebrate the joy in Judaism, even as we recognize our responsibility to alleviate suffering and to help heal a broken world. We need to understand Judaism as a multi-faceted culture as well as a religion, and explore Jewish literature, music, and art. We need to understand our tradition of debate and questioning, and invite all to enter a conversation about our central texts, rituals, and laws. We need to open our book anew, and recreate a vital Judaism for our time.”

Through a reexamination of important texts and via interviews with some of the leading figures in Judaism today, Bronfman outlines a new agenda for the Jewish community in North America, one that will ensure that Judaism grows and thrives in an open society. He calls for welcome without conditions for intermarried families and disengaged Jews, for a celebration of Jewish diversity, and for openness to innovation and young leadership. Hope, Not Fear is an impassioned plea for all who care about the future of Judaism to cultivate a Jewish practice that is receptive to the new as it delves into the old, that welcomes many voices, and that reaches out to make the world a better place.

The sound was very low but I was in the third row so I was able to make out what they were saying. Rather than a formal presentation, this was a conversation between the authors and Rabbi Andy Bachman.

Rabbi Bachman’s questions moved between biography, philosophy and action. Why was Bronfman drawn to this topic? How can one be Jewish and not believe in God? How are his ideas received in the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox communities? Why does he think we are experiencing a Jewish renaissance?

I am especially moved by Mr. Bronfman’s perspective on intermarriage:

At one time in my life, I thought that the high intermarriage rate was just awful. Then of course you start to think further, and, slowly, if you meet enough people who are thinking differently, like those I write about in my book, you begin to learn that this could be an opportunity; not the end of the world but maybe the beginning of a new path. We need to change the attitude and education of Jews. Instead of trying to force them to fall out of love with someone, let us try to help them fall in love with Judaism.

As most regular readers know my wife and I are an intermarried couple. She is Hindu. Intermarriage is a big concern in both communities. Not at all Jewish congregations (Rabbi Bachman married my wife and I) nor at all Hindu temples (we had our ceremony in Chennai officiated by a pandit from the Arya Samaj). Nevertheless, it is still a highly contentious issue.

Unfortunately I some of Mr. Bronfman’s answers a bit vague. For example, Bronfman wants to create a more inclusive Jewish community (who would disagree with that?). Yet he provided no concrete examples on how to achieve this beyond a vague call to challenge the divisions of the denominational system. I suspect there is more on this issue in the book but I still wish he had let the audience know of successful endeavors in this regard.

Another thing, in place of the synagogues that exist in America today, he would like to see much more small-scale local synagogues rather than large congregations. While he did not mention it, I think this is how things are in Israel. It seems like every neighborhood has a synagogue and some have more than one. But a big difference between Israel and the U.S. is the majority of the population is Jewish in Israel. Therefore it makes sense to have lots of small shuls. Here in the U.S., the Jewish population is generally spread out. The shul is a place to bring the people together and foster a sense of community. Yes, there are large concentrations of Jews in neighborhoods like Borough Park but that is far and away a minority situation in the U.S.

I still plan on reading the book and may post a review at some point.

Samuel Kassow: Who Will Write Our History?

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Trinity College History Professor Samuel Kassow discusses his recent work, Who Will Write Our History?: Rediscovering a Hidden Archive from the Warsaw Ghetto on C-SPAN 2’s “Book TV” program.

Click here to watch the video.

From the Book TV website:

Samuel Kassow recounts the efforts by Polish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of amateur and professional historians, the Oyneg Shabes, who worked secretly from 1940 to 1943 to record Jewish suffering and subsequently hid thousands of records prior to the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. This event was hosted by the Tenement Museum in New York City.

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Hope Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance

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[H/t Congregation Beth Elohim]

This is happening at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn tomorrow night (7:30PM). I have not read the book but it sounds interesting and it is always a joy to hang with Rabbi Bachman. Maybe I will see you there?

From the website:

In Hope, Not Fear, internationally renowned philanthropist and community leader Edgar M. Bronfman proposes a new direction in Jewish life for the open societies of North America–a direction in which Judaism will not merely survive but will in fact flourish. Arguing that the Jewish future cannot be grounded in fear of anti-Semitism and intermarriage, Bronfman reexamines important texts and interviews Jewish leaders to identify a new course for revitalizing the faith and community.

Rabbi Bachman will moderate the discussion.

For more information about the book, please click here.

On A Roll: Zionist Conspiracy Forces Charles Freeman Out

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The International Zionist Conspiracy is on a roll. Charles Freeman will not chair the US National Intelligence Council. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair accepted Freeman’s decision “with regret,” according to a terse statement put out by his office.

Freeman has become the subject of a investigation by the DNI inspector-general.

Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had come under fire from several members of Congress for statements criticizing Israel and appearing to side with China against democracy advocates. The legislators, who included members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, also questioned his business associations with the Chinese government and a think tank, the Middle East Policy Council, funded in part by Saudi money.

Freeman released a statement that included this gem:

I do not believe the National Intelligence Council could function effectively while its chair was under constant attack by unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political faction in a foreign country.

Of course he is referring to “neocons,” “Likudniks,” “Zionists” or some combination thereof. It seems like the three terms are synonymous these days, especially in some circles.

The usual anti-Zionist suspects have leaped into action in defense of Freeman, proudly expressing their opposition to the power and influence of the evil lobby. This is from a post at Muzzlewatch:

In the immediate aftermath of Chas Freeman’s decision to step down from consideration as top intelligence analyst, there is a lot of finger-pointing about who is to blame.

There is no doubt that there was a campaign led by former AIPAC operative Steve Rosen to discredit Freeman because of reasonable statements he has made about Israel and US foreign policy.

Read More:

Contentions: J Street Defends Chas Freeman. Pope Still Catholic.

Contentious Centrist: Chas Freeman Affair and more here.

Loads of posts at TNR’s The Spine

The Weekly Standard: Freeman’s Analytical Incompetence

ZioNation: Freeman versus “hardline” Jews

We Have Lost an Important Voice

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A.L. introduced me to Steve Cohen’s “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic” a few years ago (2003?).  I enjoyed the wit and humor of “That’s Funny…”, a rare commodity in political tracts. More importantly, Cohen, a man of the left, identified a uniquely left-wing version of anti-Semitism and sought to combat it. That he wrote “That’s Funny…” two and a half decades ago (1984) and the pamphlet still stands the test of time makes it all the more impressive. At least it does for me. I did not recognize the prevalence of anti-Semitism on the left until 2001.

Looking for an excerpt, I found this and thought it neatly encapsulated many of the issues we are still dealing with today:

Left anti-semitism has gone through two distinct, if related and overlapping, stages. The first coincided with the establishment of the modern socialist movement itself, at the end of the 19th century. Here, the particular mythology of Jew as finance capitalist took root within important sectors of the emergent socialist and industrial labour movement. This was crucial, as it meant that socialist practice had a tradition of anti-semitism almost from its birth. The second stage developed around the question of zionism—particularly after the war which created Israel in 1948. A significant feature of contemporary socialist practice is, on the one hand, the expansion of zionism to equate it with world imperialist domination and, on the other hand, the reduction of the entire Jewish experience to equate that with zionism. It is a combination of the conspiracy theory with that of collective guilt.

Quite clearly, anti-zionism is not in itself anti-semitic. However, much of what the Left poses as anti-zionism is transcendental: it relates neither to the struggle of the Palestinians nor to what the Israeli state is actually doing. Rather it is concerned with ascribing world power to zionism and holding all Jews in the world responsible for this. Left practice presents as anti-zionism something which is neither about zionism nor about Palestinian liberation, but is about some alleged responsibility of Jews on a global scale. This is anti-semitism.

I did not know Steve and, like Ben at Zword, I suspect I would have disagreed with him and he with me on quite a few things (for example, the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism).  Regardless, whether you consider yourself on the left, right, or center, we have lost an important voice.

My prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.

Read more:

Bob from Brockley

Engage

ZWord

Zombietime: “Globalize the Intifada”

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Zombietime provides a comprehensive roundup of peace anti-Jew rallies around the world:

On January 10, the war between Israel and Hamas became a global conflict. No longer confined to the Gaza Strip, the fighting spread to cities around the world: what were billed as “anti-war” demonstrations from Los Angeles to Copenhagen and beyond were in fact overtly pro-Hamas demonstrations, and on Saturday, January 10 there was a unprecedented eruption of violence and extremism in dozens of European and American cities, surpassing anything seen at anti-war rallies in recent years.

Read it all here.