Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'judaism'

Mostly Pesach

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 25, 2017 @ 3:46 pm PDT

Some more clearing out of the news chum. This collection is mostly Pesach (Passover) Related, with a few articles at the end that are more peripheral:

Passover

Peripheral

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Attitudes Towards Israel

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Mar 03, 2017 @ 4:58 am PDT

Here’s a provocative question: Does one always have to agree with what the government does if one loves the country? Did those Conservatives that hated President Obama and his policies during his administration love America any less? Do the Liberals who currently opposed President Trump and his policies hate America? I think the answer is clear: Americans can disagree with the government and their policies with loving America any less.

So why is it assumed that American Jews must agree with everything the Israeli government does if we are to support Israel?

Some discussions with my daughter have brought this question to my mind. She has gotten involved with the #IfNotNow movement. This is a movement that is putting pressure on American Jewish institutions (such as AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to end their support for the Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories (such as Israel’s construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza). They are organizing a protest against AIPAC at the end of March here in LA, and my daughter asked if I was interested. I looked at their principles, and they seem reasonable: ending support for the occupation, celebrating Jewish diversity, speaking publicly, and being non-violent. While writing this up, I found this interesting article on their protest last April. With all of this on my mind, two articles that came across my RSS feeds and news reading struck a resonating note, and prompted this discussion.

The first was an article from the Jewish Journal on a Bernie Sanders speech at J-Street: In this speech, he pointed out that one could sharply criticize the Israeli government’s policies and be pro-Israel. He also blasted President Donald Trump for retreating from a commitment to a two-state solution and not speaking out forcefully against anti-Semitism and bigotry. He laced his call to urge Israel to adopt more progressive policies with appeals to progressives to embrace Israel as a Jewish homeland. As Sanders said, “We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American.  We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel. We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim.”

The attitude that Sanders is protesting is one I’ve seen from members of my congregation; I’m unsure if it is the leadership’s view. There are those in our congregation who are enamored of the views of Prager U (i.e., Dennis Prager’s site, which, like Trump University, isn’t a real university), and who seem to believe that every Muslim is an extremist, and every Muslim is taught from birth to hate Jews and hate Israel. I think the response to the recent vandalism attacks in St. Louis and Philadelphia have demonstrated the opposite: it is the Muslim community that has helped the Jewish community rebuild; in turn, the Jewish community has helped rebuild mosques in the US. If anything, I think the recent attitudes in the US have strengthened Jewish-Muslim relationships in a way that benefits both communities. Muslim veterans are even offering to defend Jewish sites. Yet there are many that refuse to see this.

The two communities can live together in peace, and have done so in the past when extremism and hatred is not in the picture. That’s not the case now. A subset of Palestinians and many in the Palestinian leadership are opposed to Israel’s existence in any way, shape, or form, and they are doing whatever they can to make Israel look bad in the eyes of the world, to provoke Israel to attack them, and to put civilians on both sides in danger. Israel isn’t helping them by building settlements in disputed areas, or through how they respond to attacks (although no one expects them just to sit silently). Meanwhile, misinformation is fed out to supporters around the world, inflaming attitudes as opposed to calming attitudes.

This brings us to the second article: from the NY Times on “Liberal Zionism”. For those unfamilar with Zionism, it is the desire for a Jewish Homeland — a Jewish-majority state where Jews will be safe. It was advanced by Theodor Herzl back in the early 1900s, and led to the Balfour Declaration in 1919 that artificially created many of the states in the Middle East out of former Ottoman Empire territory as British and French protectorates. Zionism and the Holocaust in WWII is what led to declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. Opposition to Zionism, by some, is viewed as equivalent as opposition to Judaism; many antisemites hold the belief that Zionism is racism. Zionism is what drives much of the policies of Israel: the goal of maintaining a Jewish majority in the state of Israel so as to preserve Israel as a Jewish state. In many ways, this is similar to opposition to immigration here in America: there is fear that as the Hispanic population grows, America will lose its character as a “Caucasian” (i.e., European-based) nation. This fear has driven many to support Trump (it is not a fear that I personally have).

The opinion piece in the Times talked about the growing alliance between Zionist leadership and politicians with antisemitic tendencies (such as Trump, Bannon, and his followers). The author believed this alliance had the power to transform Jewish-American consciousness for years to come. It talked about how, in the last few decades, many of America’s Jewish communities have grown accustomed to living in a political contradiction. On one hand, a large majority of these communities could rightly take pride in a powerful liberal tradition, stretching back to such models as Louis Brandeis — a defender of social justice and the first Jew to become a Supreme Court justice — or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched in Selma alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On the other hand, the same communities have often identified themselves with Zionism, a political agenda rooted in the denial of liberal politics. Specifically, it is the traditional Zionist policies that have pushed down rights for the Palestinians, and has supported the Israeli government’s occupation (which ties into #IfNotNow).

Here’s an interesting quote from that opinion piece:

But despite sympathy and solidarity with Israel — or better, because of it — any Jew who remains committed to liberalism must insist that nothing in Jewish history can allow the Jews to violate the rights of other ethnic and religious minorities, and that nothing in our history suggests that it would be wise for us to do so.

This is all the more true because by denying liberal principles, Zionism immediately becomes continuous with — rather than contradictory to — the anti-Semitic politics of the sort promoted by the alt-right. The idea that Israel is the Jews’ own ethnic state implies that Jews living outside of it — say, in America or in Europe — enjoy a merely diasporic existence. That is another way of saying that they inhabit a country that is not genuinely their own. Given this logic, it is natural for Zionist and anti-Semitic politicians to find common ideas and interests. Every American who has been on a Birthright Israel tour should know that left-leaning Israelis can agree with America’s alt-right that, ideally, ”Jews should live in their own country.”

The opinion piece seems to be arguing for a different form of Zionism: a form of Zionism that preserves Israel’s character as a Jewish state without having the hatred for Muslims and Arabs; a form of Israel that is officially Jewish while still ensuring the rights of other religions to practice. Can this be done? One need look no further than many Commonwealth nations such as the UK and Canada. Officially, they are Christian nations, but they permit free practice of religion. There is no reason that Israel couldn’t remain a constitutionally Jewish state even with a population that included large numbers of Muslims and Christians. Judaism, as a religion, accepts that there are other religions in the world that are practiced; Progressive Judaism accepts that there are many valid paths to God — a believe that goes back to the Noachide laws that are the basis for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

I found an even longer piece on Liberal Zionism in Tablet, but it is unclear if it is the same LZ as in the NY Times piece. In particular, the piece goes back and forth between Liberal Zionism and Liberal Nationalism, but only giving loose definitions of Liberal Nationalism. There are no definitions of LZ or clarifications of the differences. As for Liberal Nationalism, it defines that as follows: “liberal nationalism takes the natural tendency to clump together and infuses the resulting communities with democratic ideals.” But having read through the article a number of times, I can’t figure out their point, other than their form of Zionism is opposed to Trumps’ form.

The desire to maintain the Jewish character of the state of Israel is the real Zionist notion. One way to achieve that is the two-state solution: segregating Palestinians into their own state, and Jews into another. As we’ve seen, that is fraught with tension. Trump’s latest opening of an idea of a one-state solution has different tensions: how do you preserve the Jewish nature of a democratic state if you have a voting public that is equal under the constitution and Islam is in the majority. There are many untested ideas, from two-states sharing one-territory (cooperation on secular issues — roads, highways, etc.) to a constitutionally Jewish state with freedom to practice religion (the UK model), to an Islamic state. But, as with replacing Obamacare, it is a very complex issue. If it wasn’t complex, it would have been solved by now.

This all made me curious what ARZA’s attitude on all of this is. ARZA is the Association of Reform Zionists of America — basically, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm. They are opposed to illegal settlements and the regulation bill, yet still believe in the two-state solution, stating: “However, given demographic realities in the region, one democratic state between the Mediterranean  Sea and  the Jordan River would eventually bring an end to Israel’s character  as a Jewish  State. The alternative, Israel’s rejecting democracy,  should be unthinkable.” I also found an extremely interesting piece on the ARZA blog from December by Liya Rechtman:

As a Jewish Israeli-American, I believe that the same standards apply to my American patriotism as to my Zionism. That is to say, protesting and criticizing Israel is an act of love and necessary for the continued viability of the Zionist project.

I am writing now from my favorite café in Jerusalem. I am here between meetings with my editor (about a piece I’m working on the uniqueness of Israel as a physical place) and my anti-Occupation collective. I am deeply committed to the vision of the Association of Reform Zionists of America to connect American Reform Jews to Israel and build the Reform Movement in Israel, and I stand with If Not Now when they protest Jewish institutions that refuse to stand up against the Occupation. These actions and affiliations are not in contradiction with each other but in concert.

I am not the same kind of Zionist as my parents, but I am a Zionist. I am a Zionist in that I care about the future of the Jewish people, and our future is inextricably intertwined with the Jewish State. I am a Zionist in that I am a feminist and therefore I believe in the specificity of space, and that the material, tangible world matters. I am a Zionist in that I believe in the right of all peoples, including the Jewish people, to self-determination.

Reading through all of this, whereas I had feared our approaches might be different, we seem to have come around to the same place in the end.

 

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The Message He Sends

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 20, 2017 @ 4:00 pm PDT

I’ve been sitting around this afternoon wondering what I might post. I didn’t have enough random news chum, and I wrote up the show from yesterday. Then I saw a headline and a rant welled up that touches on a number of things from this weekend. The headline?

Vandals target historic Jewish cemetery in University City

University City, MO, is a suburb of St. Louis. It is actually where my mother grew up; we have relatives buried in a different Jewish cemetery in the city. This is on a day when we’ve yet another round of threatened (at least, we hope they are only threats) bombings of Jewish Community Centers around the country.

Presidents are supposed to lead; to represent American values. One value is the right to practice your religion. This, after all, is why homophobic Christian bakers insist they can’t bake a cake for a homosexual, right? Trump wants to defend that right. This, after all, is why Christian-owned Hobby Lobby wants to deny insurance coverage for contraceptives, even for workers whose religion permits them to use contraception? Trump wants to defend that right.

So where is Trump on this issue? Where is he insisting that antisemitism is un-American?

Anyone?

He gets questions at a press conference asking for a statement on increased antisemitism in America, and he responds that he has Jews in his family — how can he be antisemitic? Remember the days of “But I have a black friend?”

Further, he wants to ban people from entering this country — excuse me, be suspicious of them — just because of their religion, Muslim. But he wants to permit extra Christians to come in from those countries. His Secretary of Education wants Federal Tax Dollars — my Federal Tax Dollars — to flow to Christian religious schools and out of the public school system.

We all know you set an example and send messages by what you say. President Trump has demonstrated that aptly, by trusting opinion pieces on Fox News over fact from government agencies, by claiming that science is an opinion, and that independent journalism is un-American. We know these messages are bullshit, but they have been said over and over and over and have become a conspiracy theory. We all know that Conspiracy Theories can’t be disproved, and a large segment of the country now believes the conspiracy and will not be convinced otherwise. (And why should they: we’ve lost the ability to teach critical thinking)

But you also set an example by what you don’t say, and what you do without saying it? President Trump, by not condemning attacks on individuals and institutions based on religion, is condoning it. President Trump, by instituting a Muslim ban — excuse me, extreme Muslim vetting — is condoning religious discrimination. He is letting fear rule the country, just as fear kept Jews from safety during World War II, just as fear put Japanese in internment camps at the same time. By not saying anything, he is demonstrating the worst of America.

Further, those in rural areas are eating it up. Remember, much of rural America is heavily Christian. They may never have met a Jew or Muslim in person, and their only knowledge is from TV shows, movies, and the news. Jews tend to live in larger cities, because of the nature of Jewish worship and practice. Muslims are often the same — in areas with sufficient population to support a mosque. How likely is that in a city under 25,000. So these people believe what they are told: if TV says they are bad, then they must be bad. Ask yourself: how does our media portray minority religions? Now think about what we must do to battle that impression, and why it is even more important for our President to stand up and be Presidential, to say: This is not America. America respects all religions: all religions are welcome here, and no religion, including “no religion”, is favored by the Government.

Mr. Trump: Again, you are failing to lead. If you can’t do the job, resign and let someone who can do it.

[ETA: Finally, on 2/21, he condemned the threats against the JCCs and antisemitism.]

P.S.: Presidents are also supposed to work to support all states and all the people in the country, even those that may oppose him. That’s part of the job; no President is universally loved (not even Reagan). So what has Mr. Trump done to California? He cut the allocated funding for Caltrain to electrify. This makes it more expensive to run the trains, increases operating costs, retains older equipment decreasing ridership, and keeps us tied to polluting fuel. All because he doesn’t like a state. Watch out, other urban areas. You might be next (while he lines his personal pockets every time he goes down to Mar-a-Lago).

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Trump and Religion

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Feb 16, 2017 @ 11:27 am PDT

userpic=trumpYesterday, President Trump met with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and with a simple question related to antisemitism, it again brought the issue of Trump and Religion again to the fore. Here are a few topics related to the subject that have caught my eye over the last few days:

  • Trump and Antisemitism. Yesterday, Donald Trump was asked, by an Israeli reporter, a straightforward question about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” since his election. His response? A rambling response about the extent of his electoral victory, that included the following: “As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.” Reading this, two things struck me. First, just like right after the election when there were a number of antisemitic incidents by his followers, he did not take the opportunity to strongly condemn antisemitism — and indeed, religion-based hate crimes. It was similar to his tone-deaf response on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day where he failed to acknowledge the major target of the Holocaust. Second, the “As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends…” struck me as a “Some of my best friends are…” line. Many remember when “Some of my best friends are black” was an excuse for racism — if I had a black friend, how could I be racist. Having a Jewish son-in-law does not make Trump not antisemitic: he can still hate the group while still liking a few individuals. After all, how many Conservatives have a few liberal friends but hate “libtards” (and vice-versa)? [ETA: It should also be noted that Trump tends to shout down reporters who ask him about antisemitism]
  • Trump and a Christian Resurgence. The Jewish Journal has an interesting article on Trump that strikes a few chords similar to my article last week on Trump and Apocalyptic Visions. The article notes that the anti-Muslim sentiments of the new administration are one head of a two-headed beast. The other head is a political agenda forged by a coalition of conservative Christians that is closer than ever to achieving its vision of a “Christian nation.” This linkage between anti-Muslim and “pro-Christian” policies is revealed in the executive order, which couples a thinly veiled ban on Muslims with a thinly veiled preference for Christians from predominantly Muslim countries seeking refuge in the United States. It is a sentiment I’ve seen from a few Conservative friends, who are spreading the word that the most prosecuted minority in Muslim countries are… Christians. That notion is lifted directly from the Christian right, which has long promoted the idea that Christians are a — indeed, the most — persecuted minority. It dovetails with the belief that Christians are being subjected to religious persecution in America by intolerant secularists, which has joined the claim that liberals turn a blind eye to the persecution of Christians by Muslims. Both are staples of the worldview that drives Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and architect of his immigration policies. This is all part of a plan forged between Trump, Bannon, and the Christian Right to bring the US “back to” being a Christian Nation (something the White Nationalists love).
  • Muslims and Jews – A Surprise Alliance. With all this hatred for Muslims, and the fights between Arabs and Jews over Israel, you think Jews and Muslims would hate it other. You would be wrong. There are alliances between Muslims and Jews in a number of areas. One I particularly support is the alliance of HIAS, which just supported the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees. This was last Sunday; I participated in the meeting we had at Temple Ahavat Shalom. There was a large rally held in parallel in New York; Jews have also been fighting for Muslim refugees right after the executive order. The underlying notion here is that Jews have often been refugees because of their religion, and that is the case with many of the Muslims coming to the US. Whereas the Christian Right portrays Muslims as a unified group, and thus how could these be refugees when they are all Muslims, they forget why the Puritans came to America — because they were hated by other Christians. That’s the same reason Quakers and Catholics and many Christian groups came to the US: because other Christians kicked them out. It is why there is religious freedom in America. In this case, there are two main divisions within the Islamic world: Shia and Sunni, and the more militant and violent group is kicking out and conducting genocide against the other group. Jews recognize this, and that is why they are saving lifes, going back to the commandment from the Torah to “Welcome the stranger”. There are additional coalitions forming, going back to 2015 when the American Jewish Committee began work with the Islamic Society of North America, when presented with FBI data showing a stunning 67 percent rise in hate crimes against Muslims.  This spurred the formation of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, or MJAC, a group of 38 high-profile business leaders, government officials and others. The nonpartisan council aims to combat discrimination with engagement at the highest levels of government. The desire to bridge Muslim and Jewish communities has intensified since the election, as both religious minorities express concerns over a White House in which presidential advisers like Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller have been accused of having white supremacist ties. Another group, called MuJew Antifa, protested Wednesday in response to Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This group is opposed to what they view as facist occupation and actions by Israel against Palestinians (one report connects them to the Antifa group who incited violence at the recent protest against a Breitbart editor at UC Berkeley, although other accounts attribute that to a different Antifa group). MuJew Antifa says its goals are “to strengthen ties between our communities, to support each other in a time of hate and to forge a united front against fascism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

 

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News Chum Stew for 170114: Theatre, Judaism, Feminism, and Zombies

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jan 14, 2017 @ 8:12 am PDT

To close out the week, a tasty news chum stew, wherein I pull out the chunks and provide commentary to chew on:

  • Dealing with Ticket Scalpers. Ken Davenport had an interesting commentary on the ticket resale market, triggered by the news that Hamilton in London is going to a ticketless system — instead, you swipe your payment card for entry. I have a number of problems with this — primarily, that it hurts legitimate patrons. Things come up in life, and occasionally you need to change your tickets to a different date — but they are non-refundable. You bought the tickets — you should be able to give them to a friend (possibly being reimbursed for cost), or donate them to a charity; these anti-scalping measures seem to prevent that. As for Cameron Macintosh and Hamilton, it is a very bad idea. Not only does it disenfranchise those with cash — who are often the younger audiences we must get into theatre, but how often had you had to ice a card due to fraud and replaced it with a new card and new number.  Unfortunately, it is a fact of life: when you have a limited highly desired product, there will be a secondary resale market.
  • Steve Allen Theatre Going Away. I received some sad theatre news this week in a mailing from the Trepany House Theatre Company: In Summer 2017, the CFI-LA building and the Steve Allen Theatre inside will be torn down this summer to make room for new condos. CFI-LA confirmed this in their latest newsletter: “CFI has accepted a favorable offer on the property where the Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles now resides, and this vibrant and active branch is expected to have a great new location by the fall. This is a positive development for CFI–L.A., which will mean a brand new home for the community, and the resources to keep it thriving.” This is sad — the Steve Allen Theatre was home to Meeting of Minds (which was created by Allen), and the memory of Allen is too important to disappear.
  • Jewish Feminism and Brotherhood Privilege. Soferet Jen Taylor Friedman created Tfillin Barbie a few years ago. In response to Mattel releasing a set of Barbies in all shapes, colors, and sizes, Jen has created an Intersectional Barbie Dream Minyan “because Jewish feminism shouldn’t be only for white girls.” I love the copy Jen wrote; here’s the first paragraph to give you an idea: “Maybe some of them are Sephardic and some are Maghrebi and one is an adult convert and one was adopted and converted as a child. One of them has blue hair. One of them has red hair, and one of them has red highlights. Nobody in this minyan ever says “But where are you really from?” or “But surely you weren’t born Jewish.” Some of them are what Mattel calls “curvy.” Some of them are short.” I especially the last sentence: “In principle, Kens are welcome in this minyan, but today they’re outside fixing breakfast, which is why you can’t see them.” That’s the men’s club for you. Always fixing the food in the back. I’ll bet they are using a BBQ.
  • Body Positivity and Modeling. If you’ve been reading here recently, you know I’ve been talking about body positivity. Perhaps it is because I find all people beautiful and enjoy watching the diversity (especially of the opposite sex) — and people are at their most beautiful when they are happy with themselves. That’s why I supported The Nu Project and its message. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a recent interview with Emme on the A-Plus blog caught my eye. In particular, I appreciate it when she said, “It’s not a hidden, hushed conversation anymore. Every day, women are showing themselves in all forms of dress (or undress) on social media where you would NEVER [have seen] this in the ’90s. A revolution of female strength and power — thin, medium, and curvy — is at hand. It’s a time to feel blessed to be in! It begs me to say men also are gaining from this liberation. Body image and self-esteem are not only a woman’s trip. Men are on it and dealing with very similar issues, but feel ashamed to speak up about it. The eating disorder clinics are full with young men, fathers, and boys — reflecting the phenomenon today.” This all goes back to the key line from my favorite musical, Two Gentlemen of Verona: “You can’t love another without loving yourself.”
  • Rights and the Backlash . Have you ever been somewhere where a group that was in the minority started exerting their rights, and the members of the formerly privileged group started fighting back? Did this fighting back often progress to violence against the minority group, disturbing images, and even more disturbing behavior? Was the end conclusion something you liked? I’m not talking about Donald Trump here (although I well could be); rather, my cousin has brought to my attention a very interesting article about the situation in South Korea between women and men. Feminism is rising in South Koren, and a deep-seated misogynist backlash is coming out (just like the “white privilege” backlash after #blacklivesmatter). It’s getting ugly. A really interesting article, well worth reading.
  • The Zombies of Penzance. Don’t you just love that title. The Zombies of Penzance is a new musical that is about to have a reading and a staging in St. Louis. I just love the description, and look forward to this being staged in LA: “In The Zombies of Penzance (subtitled At Night Come the Flesh Eaters), according to press notes, “Major-General Stanley is a retired zombie hunter, who doesn’t want his daughters marrying the dreaded Zombies of Penzance (for obvious reasons). According to documents found with the manuscripts, Gilbert and Sullivan finished work on The Zombies of Penzance in mid-1878, but their producer Richard D’Oyly-Carte refused to produce it, calling it vulgar, impolitic, and unchristian, and in one letter, ‘an operatic abomination, an obscene foray into the darkest of the occult arts.’ In a letter to his cousin, Gilbert expressed his deep disappointment, writing ‘I fear the walking dead shall be the end of me yet.’ Until now, music scholars had been baffled by that reference. After a battle that almost ended the partnership, the team reluctantly agreed to rewrite their show, and in 1879, D’Oyly-Carte debuted the much more conventional, revised version, The Pirates of Penzance, which added the characters of Ruth and the policemen, and eliminated all references to zombism.””
  • Genealogy and Personal Information. Genealogists have a hard problem — especially amateur genealogists. You want to share the information to get the most knowledge about your family tree, and you want to be able to research online, but you have to be careful about exposing PII (personally identifyable information). There’s loads of PII in genealogy: addresses, mother’s maiden names, birthplaces, school dates and locations, and such. You’ll see why that is a risk when you think about all those password questions you get. This has come to the forefront of people’s attention with a story going viral on Facebook about how one genealogy site has scraped public databases to get addresses, and has published them for free. This has everyone up in arms, but they are forgetting one fact: this is information that was already PUBLIC. If someone was stalking you, they don’t need this site to do it. The information is easily discovered with a bit of Google-fu. Still, you can opt out if you wish. I likely won’t bother: I was in my last house 10+ years, and this house 10+ years, and am easy to find. [Not to mention that of all the Faigin’s out there, I’m not in their database. Cousins are. I’m not.]
  • Housing Style. I live in a single-story ranch house. But what makes such a house a “ranch house”. What is “Cape Cod”? Here’s a handy guide on personal housing architectural styles. What type of house do you live in?
  • Gluten-Free and Fads. Lastly, an article that explores the question: Is gluten-free more than a fad? By that, the real question they mean is: Should gluten-free be for more than just celiacs? These other folks are known as “PWAGs;” in the medical jargon: “people without celiac disease avoiding gluten.” [Note that this is a very different thing than a PAWG, so be careful when you search, although a PWAG can be a PAWG]. They’re often stigmatized as faddish foodies or placebo-addled hypochondriacs who don’t understand the science behind a serious health problem. According to a new study published this month in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, their number tripled between 2009 and 2014, while the number of cases of celiac disease stayed flat. The article notes that there is growing evidence that severe gluten sensitivities exist outside the realm of celiac disease; further, researchers simply don’t know how many of the people following a gluten-free diet may actually have a legitimate health complaint.  It notes how many PWAGs (glad I didn’t mistype that) find relief in a gluten-free diet, and people still aren’t sure why.

 

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Being Jewish in Trump’s America

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Jan 06, 2017 @ 2:34 pm PDT

With the election of Donald Trump, the issues of being Jewish in American have been propelled to the forefront of our consciousness. There are loads of concerns: the strong diversity in approaches to Israel (I shall set aside for now who is right and who is wrong there), the pandering to the “Alt-Right” crowd and the implicit encouragement of their philosophy, the stated desire track and potentially subjugate people based on their religion, and the increased predominance of Christian views and morals in the law enforced. Here are three recent news articles that touch upon these concerns:

  • Jew-Hatred in the Open. Unfortunately, Trump’s election has emboldened the Jew Haters in America. We’ve already heard about antisemitism on the rise in the mountain states, and how a Chanukkah menorah was twisted into a swastika, but just this week there were incidents closer to home: the signage for Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati was attacked. Home, in this sense, because the attack was on the founding institution of Progressive Judaism: HUC — the college that trains Rabbis and Cantors and other professionals for Reform Judaism around the world. Rabbi Jeff Salkin talks about why this was such a heinous act: the specific symbolism that an attack of this form on this institution surfaces. On the one hand, it is good that we can now see how much hatred there is of the “other” (i.e., non-white, non-Christian, non-normative) in American. On the other hand, my God, there is so much hatred of the …. in America.
  • The Trump Card. One thing that was guaranteed by this election, whether Clinton or Trump won: there would be a Jewish In-Law in the White House. Chelsea Clinton married a progressive Jew (I don’t recall if she converted); Ivanka Trump married Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew (she converted). The junior-Trumps have just picked their house and synagogue: the “power couple” will attend TheSHUL, a Chabad synagogue just a seven-minute walk from their new 6,700 square feet, $5.5 million six-bedroom mansion with five wood-burning fireplaces. The congregation is led by Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who has offered little on his potential new congregants, telling The Forward, “I haven’t commented and cannot comment on who might attend our synagogue. That is our policy.” A Chabad congregation, as opposed to the Modern Orthodox congregation that folks had been expecting (Kesher Israel). Chabad has its good points and its bad points, and will be less likely to push a progressive agenda as might be found in a Reform Congregation. But the exposure and attitude will be good; it is unknown what influence this will have on the administration.
  • Religious Law. What is known about Trump is that he harbors suspicious about Muslims; one can surmise what he might say if an expert in Sharia law was elected to the bench. One can also surmise that he would have less problem if an evangelical who was expert in the Christian interpretation of law was elected (in fact, he seems to want to propose someone like that for the Supreme Court). One wonders, then, what his take is on the election of Rachel Freier, the first woman from Judaism’s ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community to be elected as a judge in the United States. Freier is a real estate lawyer who volunteers in family court and in her community, where she even serves as a paramedic. She won a three-way Democratic primary and the general election in a swath of Brooklyn that includes the heavily Hasidic Borough Park neighborhood. At her swearing-in ceremony, she both vowed to uphold the Constitution and pledged to illuminate the Hasidic world for her new colleagues. It should be interesting to see her judgements from the bench, especially when the law conflicts with Orthodox teachings.

 

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Thanksgiving, America, and Antisemitism

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Nov 24, 2016 @ 5:27 pm PDT

userpic=schmuckToday is Thanksgiving day — a day when, in America, we share what we are thankful for. One thing I am thankful for in this country is the freedom to practice my religion, as well as the freedom to not have others force their religion on me. I hope that, in years to come, I can continue to be thankful for such things.

However, what has happened in 2016 has given me some reasons to doubt. Today’s news chum brings together a collection of articles I’ve seen related to this doubt. Part of me said, “Don’t post this on Thanksgiving”. Another part of me said that it was important to do so, precisely because being thankful for something doesn’t mean we should be complacent about it. We have numerous freedoms in this country for which we are all thankful. We must fight for these freedoms every day; the forces that want to take them away make it a constant struggle. So let’s fight, so that we can continue to be thankful for what we have (and not be remembering what we have lost).

Let’s start with a post by Mayim Bialik, who wrote a letter to her haters. This was in response to her posting “a very disturbing article reporting that the New York City Memorial of Beastie Boys frontman Adam Yauch had been desecrated. All of the Beastie Boys were Jewish, and Yauch’s memorial had swastikas and pro-Trump graffiti scrawled all over it.” In it, she writes:

I’m going to state this very plainly, America: many people in this country are racists. Many people think that the Nazi party was correct and they are part of organized organizations that seek to continue the pledges of the Nazi party for white supremacy and the elimination of minorities. Is it 50% of this country? Absolutely not. Is it enough that we should be concerned? Absolutely.

She goes on:

Don’t you think it’s time we stop pretending, America? We have problems. If you are not one of the problems, that’s great. And I’m going to keep posting about things like this to as many people as I can. Not because I’m a celebrity. But because I’m a citizen of this country. I’m the granddaughter of immigrants. I am a Jew. And I am offended and disgusted that people are doing things like this while so many of us don’t want to believe it’s really happening.

But that’s just one example. A few days ago, CNN actually reported a debate on the question “Are Jews people?”. Here’s what Boing Boing said:

Here’s us, suggesting that media people stop using the cutesy term “alt right” to describe Sieg Heiling white supremacists. But they’re already moving onto panel discussions on whether Jews are people.

Would you ever think such a discussion would be on CNN? But it’s there, because Trump’s election has emboldened the white supremecists who make up the euphemistically-titled “alt-right” — and Trump has gone so far as to appoint someone they see as a leader, Steve Bannon, to be a chief advisor.

The Forward explored the question in a different way. There, they looked at the reaction that ensued when Mike Pence was addressed by the actors of Hamilton, reading a statement from the producers, writer, and actors. They asked: “What if this had happened at Fiddler on the Roof?”:

Picture this: It’s a lovely evening at the Broadway Theater and “Fiddler on the Roof” is nearing its finale. Soon, the little village of Anatevka — beset by pogroms and the disruption of tradition — will be little more than a memory. Some will try to adhere to the old ways, others will try their luck with America and assimilation.

The lights go down, then come back up. Applause clatters through the theater, then Danny Burstein, the actor playing Tevye, steps forward and tells the audience that Vice President-elect Mike Pence is in the house. Burstein silences the boos, then reads from a prepared statement:

“We, sir, we are the diverse America, who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Burstein says. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”

What would the reaction have been?

Would the actors had been booed? Would there be demands for an apology? Hamilton was a target because it has “the efftrontery to present unapologetically a vision of a wholly diverse America. It’s an America where founding fathers engage in rap battles, and employ the sort of language that the president uses in the locker room but finds filthy when others use it, particularly those who come from different backgrounds and have different visions of America than he does. “Hamilton” represents what America truly looks and sounds like today”. Trump voters want it back where it was in 1964. The Forward continues:

What if there really was a #BoycottFiddler movement? What if Breitbart News declared the “Fiddler” cast to be “whiny Jews?”

A new sense of fear would right now be coursing specifically through the Jewish community, the same way it is coursing through African-American, immigrant and LGBTQ communities; it would be the same fear that is both chilling and galvanizing artistic communities throughout the country as we see grim portents arising from a president-elect who demands safe spaces for himself and his followers and none for anyone else.

Given the reaction of Trump followers, should we be worried about safe spaces for Jews?

By the way, if you think you can leave the US to be safe, think again. The Jewish Journal is reporting that Francois Fillon, a leading contender in the upcoming French presidential election, suggested Jews do not respect French law. He talked about how the French are fighting Muslim sectarianism, and “We fought against a form of Catholic sectarianism or like we fought the desire of Jews to live in a community that does not respect the laws of the French Republic.” If they come to register and restrict the rights of Muslims, what religion is next?

Let us be vigilant about increased antisemitism — and more importantly, remember that we are in a common battle: that racist attacks on any group for a religious, racial, gender, or sexual characteristic is an attack on us all. An opinion piece in the Washington Post from over a year ago opines:

America is unique in Jewish history because the social construct of power and oppression in this society came to be based more on skin color than on religion or ethnic identity. Because of that, along with the best of American values and our own hard work, we now find ourselves as another privileged white ethnicity. Despite our only good intentions, we are — all of us — full participants and beneficiaries of the American evil known as racism.

The brilliance of being Jewish, though, is that we stubbornly refuse to fit into any social construct of power or oppression. We are simply Ivri’im, people from “somewhere else,” people who struggle with God and justice, who demand that the rest of the world does, too, and see every human life as sacred because we are all in the image of God. And the truth is, we have never belonged to one race alone. The Torah tells us that we left Egypt with the “erev rav,” with a mixed multitude of peoples. Around the world there are Jews of color, Asian Jews, Jews of all kinds. The idea that Jews are white is not only ridiculous, it’s offensive to who we really are! Yes, societies like America come along sometimes and give us privileges and powerful labels like “white.” In America’s racist social construct, Jews are very much white people, but we must never again think of ourselves that way — it’s time for us to opt out of that racist paradigm, because we are Jews.

Imagine what we and our children could be like if we associate our Jewishness with an essential statement against racism and discrimination. Even though we and our children have benefited from the best schools and jobs and housing that whiteness affords, we can be the ones to challenge the system from within. We can be the ones who change business practices, housing codes, policing, correctional facilities, social policies, unequal schools — motivated by our values and our Jewish historical experience. Indeed, so many progressive leaders in this country have been Jews (including some Jewish founders of the NAACP), motivated exactly by this vision. But so many more of us need to own our real power, which is not our whiteness, but our Jewishness, our Torah and our tradition that motivates us to remember the stranger, for we were strangers in Egypt; that calls on us to lift up the cause of all those who are oppressed.

We must all work together to ensure that what we are thankful for this year is not taken away in the coming year: the freedom to practice our religion, the freedom from other religions and their values being imposed on us by the government, the freedom to marry who we want, the freedom to control our bodies and our minds, the freedom to speak against power when we see injustice, and the freedom to fight for justice. We need to make it so next year we can be equally thankful.

 

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The Oldest Echo Chamber

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Nov 08, 2016 @ 12:54 pm PDT

userpic=angry-dogWe’ve just come off of a far-too-long immersion in the echo chambers of the Internet. We’ve hidden in our Liberal or Conservative cocoons, reading our news sources, looking at our favorite satire site, being gullible enough to fall for our fake news sites, and listening to our friends extoll the virtues of our views. We’ve also poopooed or discounted their news sources, found their satire sites not funny, wondered how they could have such fake news written, and gotten to the point of defriending those that disagreed with our view. We probably believe that these chambers are the fault of, and started with, Facebook.

A recent discussion with a FB friend reminded me that’s not the case, as we delved into one of the oldest echo chamber battles of the Internet: the legitimacy battle between Reform Judaism and Orthodox Judaism (which were once referred to as RCO battles, including Conservative as trying to straddle the middle — and hence the term Progressive is used as a catchall for RC). For those unfamiliar with these battles, you could likely find something in the legitimacy battles between Protestantism and Catholicism — which was permitted to call themselves “Christianity”. Of course, we all know how well that turned out, and how accepting different Christian groups are of other flavors of Christian groups.

But the RCO battles are classic echo chambers, and mirror quite heavily the divide we see politically today. Many (but not all) Orthodox groups exist in an insular news vacuum: they tend to read only Orthodox-approved media, move in Orthodox circles, and have little exposure with the theology and current approaches of the more progressive movements. Note that I did not say they don’t have exposure to Progressive Jews. They’ve met a few in their lives, and have read about them in their publications, and have extrapolated from there what they believe the entire Progressive movements to be.

Is it better on the Progressive side? Do Reform Jews, with their supposed pluralism, accept the Orthodoxy? Some do. Others are in the Progressive echo chambers that portray Orthodoxy as rigid, insular, and unchanging. Their image of Orthodoxy comes not from participating in their communities, but from portrayals in movies and the occasional Chabadnik they met while in college who forced them to wrap tefillin.

Each side extrapolates from a small number of instances what they believe the whole to be. They don’t realize that there is a range of practice and belief within both, as well as a range of acceptance (spoken or silent) of official doctrine. Doesn’t this sound like politics? Haven’t you heard “All liberals are…” or “All conservatives are…”? Further, there is belief that each side aligns 100% with particular political views. I’ve seen Orthodox write that all Reform Jews are Liberals or Marxist or Socialist, and I’ve seen Reform Jews who believe that all Orthodox Jews are of a political Conservative bent. Of course, this is utter nonsense — there is a range of political views of both, and the official organs (movements, synagogues) are carefully non-political to retain their IRS status.

Why am I reminding you of this now? Simple. For over 15 years, I maintained a mailing list that attempted to eliminate the echo chamber — that operated under the supposition that we could talk to each other with respect. We could accept that the different movements had studied and come up with their own path to the divine. Even if we might believe the movement as a whole was on the wrong path, we did not discount the individual. We believed that if we operated in a way that respected the individual, what they had to say, and their right to say it, we might be able to understand our differences. This required the ground rules be applied to both sides. It was hard work, but we did it. We were able to discover that although we still had significant doctrinal differences, there was a lot that was the same. We all rested and worshipped on Shabbat. We lit Chanukah candles. We came together and told our story on Passover. We worked to make the world a better place, as we saw it. We maintained that respectful dialogue.

As we close down our precincts, and the noise from our various echo chambers die down, I urge you: remember this example. Treat those with whom you’ve disagreed with respect. Understand that we were seeing different paths to the same goal: a stronger America. Understand where we agree (which is probably in more areas than you think). Realize that the person you might think is trash due to their political views is the loved child of someone, the parent to someone else, a sibling, and possibly someone’s partner. They work and love and cry and try to make sense of this crazy world, just like you do. They try to do what they believe is right and moral.

Let’s figure out how to heal.

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