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Archive for the ‘Pursuit of Peace’ Category

It’s been a while since I’ve had enough clarity of thought to “think aloud” here regarding Israel.   Preparations for Passover, and especially the effort to sort out an effective “reform” of my family’s Haggadah, stalled me somewhat.   My inclusion of alternative passages suggested separately by Rabbis Arthur Waskow (Shalom Center) and Michael Lerner (Tikkun Magazine) prompted some very interesting conversations at table, but left me looking for something different.

It wasn’t long before I crossed paths with Carol Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children, published in response to Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza.  My encounter with Churchill’ remarkable piece has given me much to work with, and numerous projects are now underway, in various stages of research and progress, and which will find their way here eventually.   They have occupied me nearly entirely, with news of Israel’s internal difficulties and elections the backdrop for work.

It’s often difficult to know how, as a Reform  Jew, a Diaspora Jew, to respond to Israel’s internal affairs.   Obtaining reliable information and sound opinions is usually my first and principal response, and for these I always begin with the Magnes Zionist.  Lately Shamai Leibowitz’s blog,  Pursuing Justice has also inspired me – a human rights lawyer, Leibowitz’s most recent efforts to publicize the case of Ezra Nawi, jailed Iraqi Jewish human rights activist under prosecution for his opposition to the demolition of Palestinian homes.

So I’ve been stewing, and wondering what to say (again).  And then I stumbled on the work of limbo (blog and on flickr).  I think he’s from Tel Aviv.  I wish I knew more.  I’m speechless in the face of his work on the separation wall.

This Rains Smells of Memory:

in continuation of this storyline, or any storyline for that matter, we turn to become vulnerable to the times. these are the anytimes. the end of the world comes and goes, it seems, on a regular basis.

that said, this chapter, or episode functions as the embodiment of the signs of things to come- a telegram or bottle rocket from elsewhere, that in clumsy dialect is telling us that we must overcome.

the times are happening in real time.

the naturally inevitable dynamics of every fear, hope or premonition we could ever have.

and as we feel the times rising upwards like a flood, were standing here knee-deep with our fingers crossed while we hope-fully plea, “we’ll be after everything someday”.

this rain smells of memory. memories creating themselves in real time.

and so its written in the usual but eerily accurate headlines, its written all over our weary faces.

tattooed on our eyelids so when we sleep we are speaking dreams of elsewhere, and subtly and secretly confessing our desperate love for our busted surroundings, and anything or anyone inhabiting them;

and so in that same clumsy, but very eager dialect, we speak a born-again stutter, “the times wont save you, your embracing of them will.”

this exhibition holds nothing but a reflection of where we are now, and offers us nothing but the suggestion of adaptation and (re)adjustment to the current tides.

this is a binding burden, and we’re all in this together.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised:  a minor proof of human existence on a wall bearing so much of it

This is for the Heavy Hearts Knee-Deep in Worries:  “haven been overcome by toungue-tied times, minor orchestras mend together the tune and in a clumsy accent play: ‘please believe'”)

Impatient Barricades

I believe.  I hope.

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Israel’s use of white phosphorus on Gazan civilians is thoroughly documented.  It is beyond question.  It is nauseating.  So now it’s time to process the facts.  It’s time for unequivocal and undiluted public criticism.

I’m turning to Henry Siegman (director of the US Middle East Project in New York, currently a visiting research professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America) and two of his recent essays:

  1. Israel’s Lies (London Review of Books, January 2009), and
  2. The Great Middle East Peace Process Scam (London Review of Books, August 2007)

If a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine is to be achieved, it can only follow from universal acknowledgment of the truth of the awful tragedy of Gaza and the realities of official Israeli policies regarding Palestinian autonomy.  The last time I checked, American Jews were still part of the universe.  We simply cannot publicly claim to want peace but support Israel’s avoidance of it.  It’s time to put up or shut up.

Until then, how dare we sing “Lo yissa goy” in a place of worship, or anywhere else for that matter.

If you aren’t sickened by the evidence, you should be. If you aren’t ashamed, you should be.  If you haven’t spoken out, then speak out!

Then sing for peace.

Lo yissa goy el goy cherev, Lo yilm’du od milchama
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

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The shelling has stopped.  There’s ceasefire, or ceasefires.  After the nauseating devastation of the past few weeks, I want to do something in response to ceasefire.  To preserve seven fragile days’ quiet.  There’s so little to contribute from one pair of hands, one computer, one home, on this side of the world.  Except more art.  And another vigil.

I return to the hand.  My hands.  The Chamsa / Hamsa / Khamsa hand, hand of Miriam, Marjam or Fatima, shared icon of fortune.  For me, the hand is a symbol of peace and friendship.

One hand outstretched each day, ready for relationship.  Eight days a week, this week, for peace.

(left to right):  1.  Susan Hajjar’s crochet Chamsa pattern; 2. my own double-knitted Hamsa leaf pattern (both on their way to the TikkunTree); 3. transparent (glue) Hamsa; 4-8. copper and alloy foil Hamsas.
(additional images of the Hamsa Vigil here).

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Start by praying for peace.

Then do something about it.

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Music and the Obama campaign have occupied me entirely for weeks.
There’s been chant and sacred music in synagogue for the spate of services for holidays that fill the Jewish calendar at this time of year (Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah to come), and choral rehearsals for an imminent series of performances Berlioz’ dramatic symphony, Romeo et Julette (1839).  And there have been long hours in the campaign phone bank, recruiting legal professionals and others to volunteer as poll monitors on election day, and hours and hours of data entry alongside friends and family to generate the lists for other phone bank and canvassing efforts.

Sometimes the rush of the schedule eclipses the basics.  What a special surprise to be reminded why I fill each day this way when I recently crossed paths virtually with an old friend, one with whom I share both musical and political commitments.   Jim Papoulis, a friend from high school (so long ago), is a musician and composer in NYC working in and recording a wide variety of musical idioms in his studio at Amphion Music.  With his late wife, Stephanie Martini, Jim established the Foundation for Small Voices, through which his music has contributed to the empowerment of children internationally.  Jim and musical colleagues big and small have produced an anthem in support of Barack Obama that captures the importance of political participation even – and especially – for children, whose young voices communicate powerfully their need for the change the Obama campaign represents.

Jim’s work includes numerous inspirational songs for children, gospel-infused anthems like Stand Together and When I Close My Eyes, dance-inspired works like Oye, and complex pieces like Panta Rhei (“all things are in flux”), based on the philosphy of Heraclitus (also a favorite of mine) (listen here to the performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York on PBS’s From the Top ). Visit Jim’s Listening Booth to hear these and more, and consider making contribution to the Foundation for Small Voices, to continue the peacebuilding work of its founder Stephanie Martini.

Thanks Jim (and Caryl, Claire and Demitri), for sharing your special vision of the change we can believe in.

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G’mar Chatima Tova
(may you be sealed in the book of life


Arthur Szyk, “Shalom”
The Hebrew on the Torah in the illustration is ‘ V’ahavtah L’rayahkah Kahmokah’ (Love your Neighbor as Yourself) (Lev. 19:18). One hundred years before the Common Era, Rabbi Hillel taught, ”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah: The rest is the explanation; go and learn.” Talmud Bavli Tractate Shabbat 31a.  (source)

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I’m still trying to understand how a Jewish woman can call her Palestinian neighbor a whore (sharmouta) (this now famous episode documented by B’Tselem, Israel’s principal source for information about human rights):

It’s a bit confusing, since she was in full possession of her faculties, was not provoked in any way, and acted under the watchful eyes of military authorities.

So I did a bit of scouting on Orthodox Jewish views about women, and stumbled across a videotaped Yahrzeit (funeral) address by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, on virtues of the Jewish woman (have a look here). The hall was full, even overflowing …. with men and boys. But not a woman in the crowd. I’m confused, since the rabbi’s address appears to honor an illustrious female member of the community.

No reason to be confused by concerns about gender equality or the absence of women from the funeral. No reason to be concerned, or as the rabbi says, “confused by Exile”, unable to distinguish darkness and light. No reason to be concerned about such trifling matters, when the women were busy at home fulfilling the three most fundamental mitzvot (obligations) of Jewish family life: lighting ritual candles, keeping the kitchen kosher, and maintaining family purity by producing future generations. And wearing skirts.

As far as this Reform Jewish woman is concerned, Jewish fundamentalists – male and female – are certainly entitled to live as they please. Judaism is, in my opinion, a pretty big space, one that can be filled by a very wide variety of theologies, philosophies, and approaches to practice. My concern is the way in which the ultra-Orthodox have come to define Judaism publicly, and how they treat (or rather mistreat) their non-fundamentalist neighbors, Jewish or not; Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox are notorious equal-opportunity aggressors, abusing non-Orthodox Jewish women on Jerusalem’s buses (watch here) and stoning Modern Orthodox drivers that pass by after sundown on Friday (NPR report here, and another here), as well as routinely terrorizing non-Jews in the occupied West Bank (B’Tselem report here). Even more problematic is how Jewish fundamentalism has infiltrated non-Orthodox philosophy and values, driving most current approaches to Zionism (the Magnes Zionist is a refreshing exception) and impeding reaching a just peace in Israel (such as described here regarding Gaza, or here regarding ultra-Orthodox militias preparing to fight Israeli military efforts to remove settlements).

So wIth all due respect to the rabbi, I maintain that I’m not confused. I know the difference between light and darkness, and right and wrong, and justice and injustice. Even if I do wear pants.

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