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This 2001 Animated TV Show Quietly Celebrated Judaism and Diversity – Alma

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Growing up in the early aughts, I loved watching Braceface. It was an animated TV show that found a special place in my heart and one that my parents appreciated too because it was, according to them, wise. The protagonist, Sharon Spitz, was more relatable to me than any other fictional teenage girl in popular culture. Sharon didnt have superpowers or an appearance befitting a supermodel rather than a junior high student. Her joys and struggles were familiar. She was real, and that realness felt comforting to me as a tween. But it wasnt until I revisited the show in my late 20s that I truly grasped its trailblazing role in portraying diversity and challenging the conventional Jewish tropes.

The show begins when Sharon Spitzs life becomes suddenly complicated by braces with extraordinary electromagnetic powers! The magical element of the show isnt the part I am most interested in revisiting, though Im more concerned about the breakthrough moments of her adolescent life as she experiences puberty, her teenage problems revolving around relationships and striving for independence and of course, the way the show portrayed her Jewish identity.

Sharon is an empathetic junior high student concerned about social issues and animal rights, with dreams of becoming a vet one day. Sharon is the middle child. She lives with her two brothers Adam and Josh and their mother, Helen, while their father, Richard, is usually out of town pursuing a career as a musician. Richard and Helen divorced when the siblings were little. Through their father, Adam, Sharon and Josh are Jewish.

The show peppers its episodes with Jewish moments throughout the series, more than Id ever seen on a mainstream show at the time it was airing live. The Christmas episode Angels Among Us introduces The Spitz siblings ethnicity. Sharon loves Christmas and Christmas-related customs. Shes disappointed when her family doesnt participate in Christmas preparations like they used to do. Everyone is busy except for Josh, who chooses to dive into the familys Jewishness and celebrate Hanukkah instead.

Its clear that actively celebrating Judaism is something brand new at the Spitz house. Joshs disastrous attempt to cook latkes leaves Sharon palpably startled. Since when do you celebrate anything other than Christmas? she asks dismissively. So? We are fifty percent Jewish, Josh replies. We should at least make an effort to see what that sides about. Sharon gets even more upset when Josh proudly proclaims he will abstain from partaking in Christmas-related customs in honor of his new beliefs, causing the two to end up in a heated argument.

In search of the perfect Christmas, Sharon visits her best friend, half-Chinese and half-Italian Maria, whose family combines Chinese and Italian traditions to celebrate together. Much to Sharons surprise, she comes home to her family preparing for Christmukkah. Josh apparently misses Christmas caroling and eagerly joins in when Sharon improvises an impromptu Hanukkah carol: On the first day of Hanukkah my bubbe gave to me, sings Sharon, and Josh concludes: two spinning dreidels and a bagel with cream cheese. Helen is in the kitchen baking Christmas dishes, apologizing for not prioritizing family over work. The family then reunites in the backyard to honor everyones traditions. Josh lights the menorah with help from Helens cousin and recites the blessing encouraged by all gathered around the table.

The show also dives deeper into some of the harder parts of being Jewish. In the episode Grey Matters, Sharon is confronted with her sense of Jewish identity for the first time when her maternal grandfather pays a visit and begins to drop tone-deaf remarks about Sharons friends based on their ethnic backgrounds. After Maria calls Sharon out on her acceptance of his prejudiced jokes toward Maria and her boyfriend Mohammed, Sharon worries that her grandfather may be racist and wonders if growing up as his grandchild made her insensitive to prejudice. Since Sharons Jewish background is no secret, and her friend group is a diverse cast of characters, her friend Dion a gay boy dismisses her suspicions: Youre half-Jewish, half-WASP, your best friends a Chinese-Italian mix, Brocks Black and Im adorable. If you were racist, dont you think youd have a problem with all that variety in your life?

Tensions rise when Sharon confronts her grandfather about his judgmental views about others. My family came from England 300 years ago, and I let your mother marry a rock drummer, he says before adding, and a Jew no less. Sharon is hurt on a personal level. By this point in the series, the show has made it clear to the viewer that while she might not be the most vocal about her Jewish background, Sharon is very grounded in who she is. Helen tries to defend her father, explaining to an angry Sharon that her grandfather has nothing against Jewish people, but coming from a small town, he didnt have contact with other Jews and didnt know what to expect when he met Sharons father. Sharons not satisfied with Helens response. By the end of the episode, Sharon realizes that in spite of her grandfathers big heart, he struggles to approach what he perceives to be a changing world in an appropriate way. Meanwhile, Sharon is accustomed to that world its the only one shes ever known.

Throughout the series, Sharon and her brothers break the popular tropes about what it means to look Jewish. The three siblings inherited different features from both parents. None of them has a stereotypically prominent nose or curly hair their Jewish father is actually blonde and blue-eyed but it doesnt make them less secure about their Jewish identity.

Although Richards connection to Judaism and Jewish tradition is inconspicuous, it plays a somewhat important, yet hard-to-identify, role in his and his familys life. Whenever Sharon gets into trouble, Helen calls her by her full name: Sharon Esther Spitz. The series never clarifies after whom Sharon got her middle name (beloved Bubbe?), but its Jewishness clearly stands out among the familys overall tendency to lean towards WASP culture. Diasporic families often give a common first name to facilitate blending in with the majority, while the middle name highlights the cultural identity, allowing switching between the two when needed. Its never explained why Helen kept Richards great-grandmas Hanukkah menorah. Perhaps Richard didnt want his children to forget their Jewish roots despite the divorce, or maybe Helen, a therapist always concerned about everyones mental health, considered it crucial for the siblings to be able to explore their Jewish heritage.

The show deftly features the challenges of navigating differences in an interfaith family, which the Spitz family handles exceptionally well. Each sibling has a different approach regarding their Jewish ancestry. Josh wants to explore his Jewishness. The siblings patrilineal descent is never raised as an argument as to why he shouldnt, and throughout the series, its never pointed out as less valid. Sharon seems to share Adams indifference to Jewish descent until she feels personally attacked by her grandfathers comments. In a subtle way, it shows that regardless of her observance, Sharon perceives being Jewish as part of her identity.

There are other Jewish easter eggs in the series. One of the Spitz cats is called Moishe. Sharons high school teacher is Mr. Melamed, which translates literally to teacher in Hebrew. Adam has a friend named Isaac Rosenberg. Sharon is voiced by Jewish actress and one of the shows producers Alicia Silverstone. The two share a striking resemblance: both are green-eyed blondes with Jewish fathers (though, unlike Helen, Alicias mother has converted).

Braceface showcased and celebrated underrepresented groups in the early aughts, when diversity in popular culture was close to non-existent. The Spitzs inconspicuous yet unapologetic Jewishness questions the cliches about Jews, reaching out to those who feel less Jewish due to their appearance, patrilineal descent, complex family backgrounds or lost connection to Judaism. The show illustrates that Jewishness comes in all shapes and sizes, and that identity is for nobody but us to define.

Late Takeis a series on Hey Alma where we revisit Jewish pop culture of the past for no reason, other than the fact that we cant stop thinking about it??If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mailsubmissions@heyalma.comwith Late Take in the subject line.

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This 2001 Animated TV Show Quietly Celebrated Judaism and Diversity - Alma

Introduction to Judaism – jewishboston.com

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Introduction to Judaism is a free 21-week course of Lappin Foundation in partnership with the North Shore Rabbis and Cantors Association, designed for individuals of faiths other than Judaism who want to explore Judaism or who are considering conversion to Judaism.

Never miss the best stories and events! Get JewishBoston This Week.

For those considering conversion, please note the following:

Sponsoring Rabbi or Cantor

Individuals who are taking the course for conversion to Judaism are required to have a sponsoring rabbi or cantor. If you need assistance selecting a sponsoring clergy person or for more information about Introduction to Judaism, contact Sharon Wyner at 978-565-4450 or email swyner@lappinfoundation.org.

Tuition

Tuition is free. Introduction to Judaism is funded with generous support from the Morton and Lillian Waldfogel Charitable Foundation and Peter and Maureen Waldfogel.

Zoom links for the classes will be emailed to you prior to each class.

This link will bring you to a printable schedule of class dates and topics.

*For more information, contact Sharon Wyner at swyner@lappinfoundation.org or call 978-565-4450.

Fact Sheet

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Every week on Thursday, 7:30 pm - 9:00 pmFirst event on September 5, 2024Last event on March 27, 2025 * Registration closes on September 5th

CJP provides the above links concerning third-party events for your convenience only. CJP has no control over the content of the linked-to websites or events they describe, and accepts no responsibility for the websites, including any advertising or products or services on or available from such sites, or for any loss or damage that may arise from your attending, or registering to attend, the described events. If you decide to access any of the third-party websites linked to below, you do so entirely at your own risk and subject to the terms and conditions of use for such websites and event attendance. CJP is not responsible or liable to you or any third party for the content or accuracy of any materials provided by any third parties. All statements and/or opinions expressed in the linked-to materials or at the described events, and all commentary, articles and other content provided at the third-party websites or at the events, are solely the opinions and the responsibility of the persons or entities operating the linked-to websites and events. The inclusion of any link on this website does not imply that CJP endorses the described event, or the linked-to website or its operator. MORE

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Radical Islam, fundamentalist Christianity pose a threat to Judaism – opinion – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Like other forms of predatory behavior, there are common motivations that link fundamentalist Islamist terrorists and fundamentalist Christian missionaries. Both actively pursue the Jewish people individually and as a nation. Jihadists aspire to physically eradicate the Jews and their progeny, and missionaries hope to absorb and consume them spiritually.

Predatory Islamists and predatory Christianity are both the epitome of antisemitism.

For over 3,000 years, Jews have outlived dozens of nations who sought to annihilate us. Jews are and always have been a rabble of irritating, stubborn, and argumentative people who much as we would like to be like other nations are destined to be different. We challenge the world and are a challenge to the world, and in our difference and defiance, we pose a challenge to the conventional order of things.

Now, Israel has been physically assaulted and infiltrated on a scale unprecedented in the history of the state. Before October 7, there was hope that Israel could find a workable formula for living among neighboring Arab Muslims and somehow appease the predatory Islamist terrorists among them. But the enemy strives for our total physical destruction. We did not understand predatory Islam.

Israel has also been infiltrated by predatory Christian and Jewish apostate missionaries. They must be like us: kind, generous, and loving, we tell ourselves. But they want to convert our souls. We do not understand predatory Christianity.

And, despite our self-flagellation, some of the world to our amazement, dismay, and confusion rallies to the pro-Palestinian antisemitic cause. They want to disconnect and erase us from our land and the very earth itself. We do not understand the worlds crazed antisemites.

There is something in the collective Israeli psyche that has fostered a lack of understanding and a refusal to acknowledge both the physical invasion of predatory Islamist terrorists and the theological invasion of predatory Christian missionaries.

There is something in the collective psyche of Israelis that does not allow for seeing and acknowledging large-scale movements of triumphalism, dominionism, barbarism, and evil.

WE JUST dont want more trauma. We have allowed ourselves to be deceived into believing that these cultures wanted cooperation, peace, and a non-confrontational life and lifestyle.

Theres a pattern of dismissiveness by Israelis towards the danger of predatory Muslim terrorists on our border and to the religious invasion of predatory Christian missionaries within our borders.

All too commonly, Israelis project their own Western-influenced Jewish logic onto the other, in this case missionaries and Islamists.

We do not adequately understand non-Jewish cultures. We base our understanding on a Jewish mindset and perspective. Understanding the language and culture of the other is essential. As we have seen and may yet still see, relying on wrong assumptions can end in traumatic shock.

It has already ended in a physical traumatic shock. We do not want it to end in a spiritual traumatic shock.

Emotional shock and horror occur when our world or worldview is turned upside down. Grievous loss under any circumstances is horrific and life-changing. The loss of a loved one under any circumstances is horrific.

Imagine the emotional and psychic pain of losing a family member who has been manipulated or seduced to leave 140 generations of Jewish family heritage and peoplehood to embrace an alien theology and forbidden beliefs.

The loss of a child, or a family member, whether by murder or by conversion is the loss of generations of Jewish lives.

We do not minimize the horror of the loss of even one Jew by predatory Islamists, neither should we minimize the horror of the loss of even one Jew by predatory Christian missionaries. It is our obligation to strive to save every Jewish life and to preserve continuity.

LAST YEAR, Dr. Billy Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University, spoke about Christian domination while standing on the steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

He said: We gathered in New York leaders from across the Kingdom of God, Catholics, Protestants, Alpha, the World Evangelical Association, Lausanne, Baptists, Methodists, the Assemblies of God, leaders from all of these different movements, the top leaders. And together we crafted and signed a commitment. It is called the 2033 commitment. You can find it at 2033.earth weve already had leaders from 70 nations, hundreds of leaders saying, that we are committing our life and our energy for the next 10 years to work together, to collaborate together to reach every person on earth with the good news of Jesus Christ...

This year, David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, warned about Islamic domination in a Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs online seminar: For Hamas, for radical Muslims and the Palestinian Authority, they promote as prophetic fulfillment that they are on the way not only to defeating Israel but conquering the world.

A small group of activists in Israel has been writing about and researching the influence of predatory Christian missionaries in Israel and the nature of Israelis, who ignore their activities and impact.

Many in the group have reached the conclusion that Israelis allow and enable missionizing out of personal and fundraising fatigue and ignorance, out of a justification for American political support, out of the frank appeal of receiving income and financing from the multi-billion-dollar evangelical industry, and the relatively low priority of conversionary missionary activity relative to physical jihadist threats.

The shtetl mentality is still in effect after generations of Jews in Europe learned to ignore social friction to avoid violent antisemitic responses to perceived provocations. The spillover is that in Israel the Jews will tolerate just about anything including assaults on their very souls in order not to offend the gentiles and to avoid being labeled as anti-Christian or anti-Muslim.

It is time to fight back not just against Islamic terrorists but also against conversionary fundamentalist Christian missionaries. Both seek to destroy Jewish continuity.

The writer is a medical and rehabilitation psychotherapist from the University of Washington in Seattle, now living in Jerusalem.

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Radical Islam, fundamentalist Christianity pose a threat to Judaism - opinion - The Jerusalem Post

Shema: The Call to Listen to Each Other to Build Brand Judaism – The Times of Israel

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Listening as the Foundation for Repositioning Brand Judaism

Fundamental to any repositioning of a brand is the need to do extensive research and listen to all constituencies and audiences. Often, it is most important to focus on the core usersin our case, us Jews. To successfully rebrand Judaism, we must embrace the principle of Shema: Listen. This imperative isnt just about hearing; its about truly understanding, respecting, and valuing all voices within our Jewish community.

Two Jews, Three Opinions, and the Need to Listen

We all nod our heads in agreement when we hear the phrase, Two Jews, three opinions. We chuckle when we hear the anecdote about the Jew who was discovered after years of living alone on a desert island. His rescuers noticed that he had built two huts aside from the one he lived in. He told the puzzled people who saved him that they were shuls. When asked why he needed two synagogues, he retorted, One is the one in which I pray, and the other is the one into which I would never set foot.

This anecdote humorously underscores a serious reality: the Jewish propensity for dissent and debate. While this trait has fueled vibrant intellectual traditions and resilient communities, it also poses a threat to our unity. A few days ago, JNS reported that 74% of Israelis disagree with the Biden proposal for a ceasefire and hostage exchange. In the US, our youth show increasing anti-Zionistic sentiments. Despite our differences, we must remember the fundamental call to action in the Shema: Listen.

The Shema: A Call to Listen

The Shema is central to Jewish prayer and encapsulates the essence of what it means to be part of the Jewish people. Shema Yisrael Listen, Israel is not merely a command to hear, but a profound call to heed and internalize the teachings and experiences of others.

This directive goes beyond simple auditory reception; it is an invitation to understand, empathize, and integrate diverse perspectives. In the past nine months, our focused research with Gen Z Jews, Gen Z Muslims, the broader Gen Z demographic, and the overall population has provided a wealth of insights. Through participation in numerous WhatsApp groups, Facebook discussions, and direct dialogues, and coalitions of marketers trying to address the issues we all acknowledge, we have been overwhelmed by the variety of opinions, experiences, and emotions surrounding current events, especially the ongoing conflict. We recently began more in depth discussion groups among Jewish parents of Gen Zers and Gen Alphas to listen, understand, and help people feel heard, to discuss ideas and solutions, and to connect people.

Diverse Perspectives and Common Concerns

Our research has revealed a tapestry of perspectives that reflect the complexity of contemporary Jewish identity and experiences. Children raised in Jewish and Zionistic households sometimes express pro-Palestinian sentiments, while friends and educators may offer varying levels of support or opposition. Universities and teachers often resist engaging in balanced discourse, and the loudest voices in media and public forums tend to dominate, overshadowing the nuanced views of many individuals.

Despite these challenges, there is a shared sense of tragedy and a collective yearning for understanding and resolution. The diversity of opinions underscores the need for a platform that can accommodate and respect these differences while fostering constructive dialogue. Instead of focusing solely on the negative aspects of the situation, there is a pressing need to highlight positive actions and solutions that can bring us together. And there are many positive things happening.

Jewish Heart Monitors: A Platform for All Voices

To effectively rebrand Judaism, we thought that we must first create a powerful tool to listen to Jewish consumersJews themselves. The Jewish Heart Monitors (JHM) initiative aims to harness the collective voice of the Jewish community, providing an unprecedented opportunity for individuals to influence the future of Jewish messaging and communal decisions. This isnt just another social platform; its a research panel combined with active engagement and co-creation at the service of nonprofits and the collective cause.

Today, our ideas, initiatives and engagement are often fragmented across various platforms like WhatsApp chats, Facebook pages, and isolated communities. This fragmentation prevents us from achieving the depth and coherence necessary for meaningful change. The Jewish Heart Monitors initiative seeks to address this by offering a unified platform where discussions can thrive, and collective insights can be collected, and solutions formed.

The Jewish Heart Monitors aims to facilitate this by providing a safe space where all Jews, regardless of their political views, nationality, or level of religious observance, can debate, discuss, and disagree on the issues that matter most to us and weigh in on ideas to progress together with structured methodologies and approaches. By creating a platform that codifies our thinking and puts real numbers behind opinions in real-time, we can better understand the collective mindset of our community and be of service to the collective whole.

Donating our voices

This initiative also offers a practical business proposition: Why pay for research when our engaged community is willing to donate their voices? By creating a centralized platform for Jewish discourse and research, we can achieve greater depth and coherence in our communal efforts and offer ideas, feedback quickly and cost effectively mitigating reactivity.

After all, Brand Judaism must be rebuilt on the voices of many to become one.

Robin Lemberg is a globally recognized leader in branding, strategy, marketing, and communications, renowned for her obsession with understanding people and translating that insight into big ideas that simplify complex challenges. Robin has led an expansive career spanning leadership roles at iconic organizations and for global brands such as PepsiCo, Credit Suisse, Interbrand, BBDO TBWA (formerly BDDP), Mercer (formerly Corporate Decisions, Inc) and Disney, and her own consultancy, The Branding Partnership, then XN Partnership. Her strategic thinking informed Effie and Lion awards among other industry accolades. Robin also helped to develop the Disruption methodology and write its launch book while at BBDP/TBWA, which has made a big impact on the branding and marketing industry. In recent years, Robin has combined her marketing expertise with a degree in nonprofit executive leadership to positively impact social issues through the application of marketing principles and strategic planning to international, domestic, and local NPOs. She is on the Board of Human Services in Greenwich, CT and serves as an advisor to other organizations. Robin is also passionate about passing the marketing torch on to Gen Z by inspiring new ways of thinking about strategy to catalyze change. Robin splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Paris and is a proud parent to Gen Z kids.

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Shema: The Call to Listen to Each Other to Build Brand Judaism - The Times of Israel

Is Judaism Nice? The Jewish Truth Bomb [audio] – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Posted By on July 19, 2024

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How the war in Gaza is changing the Jewish summer camp experience for counselors and campers – JTA News – Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Posted By on July 19, 2024

This article was produced as part ofJTAs Teen Journalism Fellowship, a program that works with Jewish teens around the world to report on issues that affect their lives.

This summer, I will be a counselor at the camp Ive attended for the last eight years. Its where I formed my Jewish identity and my love for the community that Jewish values foster. Camp is also where I became acquainted with different opinions on Israel, from Israelis, former IDF soldiers and Jewish day school attendees to American Jews who grew up without a Zionist perspective at the forefront of their education.

At Camp Yavneh in Northwood, New Hampshire, I am tasked with building a summer of joy, learning and communal growth for the campers (chanichim). This is especially important this year, the first camp season following the Oct. 7 tragedies. Some families sending children to camp remain without loved ones, with relatives deployed across Israel, and in communities divided by partisanism.

Given the war, it is inevitable that Israel will be a topic of some heavy conversation at camp. To inform how I approach discussion of Israel this summer, I spoke with camp-affiliated individuals about their concerns and strategies.

Everyone is coming into camp a little on edge and raw because of what a hard year it has been, said Camp Yavneh director, Jane-Rachel Schonbrun. Yavneh counselors are coming from fraught college campuses, active duty in the IDF, and tackling battles over Judaism and Zionism all across the world.

Schonbrun added a training to staff week that gives counselors practice having challenging discussions. With the support of professional facilitators and social workers, the team will talk through approaches to Israel-related conversations.

A bit farther north in Maine, Declan Rowles, 16, will be working at Center Day Camp with campers ages six to eight. Although his kids are young, he still sees potential for conflict in any expressions of extremism that they may display. With little kids it [discourse] does happen, just in a different way, he said. They repeat a lot of what their parents say and they might do that with regards to Israel.

The camp, about a half hour northwest of Portland, focuses on Jewish culture, Israeli games and songs with the help of Israeli counselors. The focus is less religious than other camps. Rowles said that training on healthy dialogue should be a top priority during staff orientation.

Over in Teaneck, New Jersey, Batsheva Perelis echoes my own fears: She worries about how to create a fun and energetic camp environment in a post-Oct. 7 world.

It is another added challenge with all the other obligations that come with being a counselor, Perelis said.

Perelis, 17, began going to Camp Stone, a Modern Orthodox camp in Pennsylvania, as a young child and thrived under the counselors ability to make practicing Judaism a positive and exciting experience for kids.

This summer, she will be returning to the camp as a staff member and will also work at Camp Lavi as a counselor within their Yachad program. Camp Stone embraces Israel as a critical facet of Judaism, more than a secular or pluralistic Jewish camp might, and Perelis supports the unconditional love of Israel that the camp inspires. However, she says that there has to be space for respectful conversation talk about the other side and talk about Palestinian suffering. Camps need to take a nuanced approach, resist group-polarization, and encourage conscientiousness during their pre-summer staff training week, says Perelis.

In the counselor training Perelis received, organizers discussed how many campers have had a traumatizing year. Increased sensitivity and more widespread susceptibility to triggers among the kids makes the counselors use of effective therapeutic tools all the more important.

Education and mentorship plays a large part in the programming at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, New York, where Jonathan Korinman, 17, will be working. As a fourth-year counselor to elementary aged campers, Korinmans role is to drive forward curriculum that is coming from the camp and make sure the kids are having fun, he said. Nyack is a Conservative movement camp north of Manhattan that takes a strong positive attitude towards Israel in its shiurim (lessons) and events.

Outside of camp, Korinman attends the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, a public high school in the Bronx. When the conflict in Israel and Palestine comes up in classes or conversations in school, he learned that If you present your opinions as respectfully as possible, the sense of vitriol and hatred sometimes found in conversations like that tends to dissipate and be replaced with mutual respect.

Drawing from his experiences at camp and school, Korinman expects that camps should talk about Israel in some capacity. If they are taking a position that is very strongly pro-Israel, they cant lay that base and not justify it, he said. Some context and explanation needs to be provided for the stance they are taking. But, Korinman says, while camp provides a strong opportunity for learning, its not necessarily the responsibility of counselors to arm children with the knowledge to defend the state of Israel.

Conversation about Israel is often divisive, especially in an environment which fosters curiosity and values diversity, said Elisha Baker. He is a rising junior at Columbia University with expertise in fostering dialogue and promoting education about Israel. As a former camper and counselor at Camp Yavneh, Baker sees education as a crucial component of counselors and administrators roles at camp. They have an opportunity to bestow skills and knowledge on the next generation of Jewish leaders.

It is the responsibility of the camp to foresee that and prepare the counselors to not just be listeners, but be active participants, moderators, and mediators, Baker says. That role has to start from a baseline of literacy. According to Baker, counselors should prepare by gaining more content knowledge on Israel and camps should be providing resources and guidance to promote this learning.

Camp Yavnehs Schonbrun agrees with Baker that preparation is key. It is important that we approach it head on, she said. If not, it [Israel] is going to come up, and it is going to come up in a less productive and less healthy way.

Speaking with people from across the camp world, I learned that modeling healthy dialogue between campers is a critical part of what I will bring to this summer. As counselors we can help build a habit of openness and willingness to listen by applying these values to everyday squabbles in the bunk along with deeper discussions. I personally struggle with the single sided approach that zionist camps sometimes take when teaching about Israel. My aim is to approach the topic with compassion and humility, focusing on tempering my own knee-jerk defensiveness that so often accompanies conversation about this fraught topic.

I hope campers and peers can follow this example. We all come to camp from different schools and backgrounds, with different levels of observance, and diverse attitudes about Israel. Given the diversity of our community, this summer may be exactly what Jewish youth need: time away from the secular world; to reunite as a community despite our differences, and to flourish in each others strength.

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How the war in Gaza is changing the Jewish summer camp experience for counselors and campers - JTA News - Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Zionism: the End of an Illusion – CounterPunch

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Photograph Source: Hossam el-Hamalawy CC BY 2.0

One of the oddest arguments made by self-declared friends of Israel is that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism. That assertion is comprehensible if the person making it believes that God Himself gave the Jews property rights from the river to the sea butTheodore Herzl and the founders of modern Zionism embraced no such belief. On the contrary, that movements largely secularized leadership defined Zionism from the outset as a form of ethnic nationalism a claim to the same right of self-determination as that asserted, say, by the Irish or the Serbs. The argument, therefore, is that it is antisemitic to deny the Jews (considered as an ethnic community, not a confessional group) the same alleged right enjoyed by the Irish and the Serbs. Forgetting for the moment that only a handful of worlds 3,000 or so ethnic peoples enjoy the right to control a nation-state, the question remains: what does Zionism have to do with Judaism?

The answer is to be found in history rather than in sacred texts. The rise of mass-based antisemitism in Europe culminating in the unimaginable catastrophe of the Holocaust convinced many Jews that the alternative to yielding to genocidaires was to fight them, and the best way to fight them was to command the resources of their own nation-state. Israel was conceived of not only as a means of deterring or escaping would-be Hitlers, but also of ensuring that Jews would never again go helplessly to their deaths or be forced to beg more secure nations to admit them. If the United States and other wealthy nations had welcomed Jewish refugees and survivors in the 1940s instead of slamming shut their doors, a good deal of the pressure to create a Jewish state might have been dissipated. The fact that they did not not even in the shadow of the gas chambers convinced many that they needed to play the nationalist game if they wished to ensure their survival.

This reasoning, however, generated another question . . . and created a dilemma. In the dog-eat-dog world of competing nation-states, nations do not survive and thrive unless they are either isolated and unthreatening or warlike and strong. Given the geopolitical importance of the oil-rich Middle East, the rapid growth of Palestinian and Arab nationalism, and Americas imperial ambitions, it was clear even before 1948 that Israel would neither be isolated nor considered harmless. Violent conflicts between Jewish settlers and Palestinians had been endemic since the late 1920s, and not one Arab state accepted the UNs 1947 Partition Plan. Given the intensity of this opposition, how could a state offering Jewish residents and would-be immigrants preferential treatment become sufficiently warlike and strong to survive?

The answer was suggested by the formation of a Jewish Legion in World War I and a Jewish Brigade in World War II that fought in Palestine and Syria as units of the British army. When the U.S. replaced Britain as the regions dominant power, Israel became an American ally and its armed forces de facto extensions of U.S. military power. From 1948 onward no other client state received anything close to the military and civil aid donated by the leader of the Free World to Israel. Ironically and tragically the state created to establish Jewish independence and security was thus from the outset a neocolonial dependency and imperial outpost of the United States.

This was not a recipe either for internal peace or international security. Since 1945, targeted by rebellious subject peoples and competing great powers, the U.S. has fought five major wars and participated in scores of bloody proxy struggles. According to the Brown University Cost of War project, American wars since the al Qaeda attacks of 2001 have killed 4.5 million people, most of them civilians. In the same period, the State of Israel has fought six interstate wars and three wars in Gaza. It is customary in the West to attribute this persistent insecurity and violence to the malice and fanaticism of Israels Palestinian subjects and Muslim neighbors a partisan explanation that ignores the Jewish states neocolonial origins, its expulsion and oppression of Palestinians, and its faithful service to American and European patrons. Whatever the sources of Israeli insecurity, however, the result over time has been to strengthen the position of hard vis a vis soft Zionists.

Zionism: Hard and Soft

Since the late nineteenth century, when modern Zionism took form, the attempts to combine Judaism with ethnic nationalism have tended to generate three schools of thought. We can call these Hard Zionism, Soft Zionism, and anti-Zionism.

The Hard Zionist school is currently represented by the Netanyahu regime in Israel a right-wing ruling coalition that includes the leading Jewish religious parties, parties representing Israeli settlers in the West Bank, and advocates of annexation of all the Occupied Territories. The perspective that shapes their political views assumes the existence of serious, long-term, irreconcilable conflicts of interests and values between Jews and non-Jews. It also accepts the ineluctable persistence of a neo-Darwinian global environment in which only the most violent groups and nations survive. Since the time of Vladimir (Zeev) Jabotinsky, founder of this school, the implication has been that Jewish survival requires the existence of a state controlled by Jews and capable of dominating both internal and external enemies militarily.

A radical sense of collective insecurity has always been the driving force of Hard Zionism. Jabotinsky considered the Jews a race threatened demographically by intermarriage and social assimilation as well as endangered physically by antisemites. The Odessan leader admired Mussolinis fascistic militancy, dressed his own militia in brown shirts, and called for creation of an Iron Wall of armed force that would protect Israel from inevitable attacks by hostile Arab nationalists. He approved of terrorist violence against the British and the Palestinians, rejected the UNs partition of Palestine into two states, and scoffed at the idea that Jews and Palestinians could coexist peacefully, unless the latter accepted Jewish supremacy in a single Jewish state. Netanyahus father was Jabotinskys secretary, and his coalition still follows his ethnic supremacist line.

Soft Zionism, on the other hand, reflecting its left-liberal origins, began by expressing a somewhat less intense sense of Jewish vulnerability and a somewhat more sanguine view of the possibility of peaceful coexistence with non-Jews. My own family history reflects this perspective. From their home in a New York suburb, my parents learned about the Holocaust from reliable witnesses, tried vainly to convince other Americans that the slaughter was occurring, then worked passionately to establish a Jewish homeland in Israel. Working with Israeli agents like Teddy Kollek, the future mayor of Jerusalem, my father helped to refit an old freighter renamed the Exodus to transport European survivors to Palestine. In 1948 he ran guns to the Jewish army, the Haganah. He and his comrades insisted that Israels real enemy was not the Palestinians or other Arabs, who had been misled by their leaders, but uncaring British colonialists and wealthy, power-hungry sheikhs.

Soft Zionists like my father welcomed the UN Partition Plan and believed that Jewish and Arab workers could live peacefully together under the auspices of a social-democratic regime. Their faith was that Israel could be both a Jewish state and a pluralist democracy and that the need for military dominance would prove temporary. When Palestinians and neighboring Arab nations made war against Israel in 1948, this faith was shaken, but not shattered. During that war, Israeli troops and militias displaced some 750,000 Palestinians and destroyed more than 500 villages. Arguing (contrary to plentiful contrary evidence) that the refugees had left their lands voluntarily, the new state refused either to readmit them or to compensate them for their losses. Israels Jewish majority was bolstered over the next two decades by substantial immigration from the Arab world and from Russia an application of the right of return accorded exclusively to Jews. But after the Six Day War of 1967, the Israelis again found themselves in control of more than a million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The question of how Israel could be both a Jewish state and a democracy was again thrown into question, along with the related question of the deep contradiction between militaristic nationalism and Jewish ethics.

The Soft Zionist answer that emerged over the next generation was to advocate a Palestinian state, one that would not threaten Jewish control of Israel either demographically or militarily. A state occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip (and perhaps East Jerusalem) was always conceived of as a disarmed entity with limited powers that would be compelled as a condition of its existence to accept Israeli military and economic superiority. Not surprisingly, this idea was not popular in the Palestinian street or among groups seeking either to gain equality with Israeli Jews or to expel them from the region. Over the next three decades, a substantial majority of Soft Zionists such as Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres therefore alternated between the carrot of peace negotiations (the two state solution) and the stick of IDF-led warfare against resisters. Over time, the stick became far more prevalent than the carrot.

The high point of Soft Zionist achievement was the 1993 Oslo Accords in which the Palestinians led by Yasir Arafat and his Fatah organization agreed to recognize Israel and live in peace with its citizens, while the Israelis, led by Labor Zionists Rabin and Peres, agreed to recognize the Palestine National Authority and to permit it to rule the West Bank and Gaza by the year 2000. The Accords raised high hopes but failed to deal with a series of crucial issues, including continued Israeli settlement of the Occupied Territories, an asserted right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the status of East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, substantial sectors of both communities, increasingly influenced by politicized religious organizations and leaders, opposed the agreement and rejected further efforts to compromise. Between September 2000 and February 2005 some 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis died in an uprising that Palestinians called the Al-Aksah Intifadah. While organizations like Islamic Jihad and the Fatah Martyrs Brigade organized suicide bombings in Israel, militant Zionists multiplied settlements on the West Bank and vowed never to leave Judea and Samaria. One such ultranationalist, Baruch Goldstein, assassinated 29 Muslim worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994, and another, Yigal Amir, assassinated Prime Minister Rabin a year later.

One year after that, Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister, marking the beginning of the end of Soft Zionist hegemony in Israel. He would rule again from 2009-2021 while the movement of settlers into the West Bank became a flood, and would end by forming the most extreme right-wing government in Israels history. In practice, Zionists of both schools accepted Jabotinskys Iron Wall principle, which seemed to them the only way to secure the existence of a secure Israel with a permanent Jewish majority.Simultaneously, Palestinian groups were learning not to trust liberal Zionist professions of belief in a two-state solution or the bona fides of the Palestine Authority (PA), whose governance activities on the West Bank seemed little more than a fig leaf for expanded Israeli settlement and harsh security measures. Each side blamed the other for the failure of previous negotiations, and the trust that had once persuaded some members of elite groups to deal with each other nonviolently was dissipated.

Netanyahus attempt to keep the Palestinian movement divided by supporting the PAs authority on the West Bank directly and Hamas rule in Gaza indirectly backfired spectacularly on October 7, 2023. Even so, Israelis traumatized by Hamas violence, including almost all the Soft Zionists, united behind his regimes determination to uproot and destroy that organization completely, even if this meant massive destruction of the civilian population. A wave of revulsion against Israels indiscriminate violence in the U.S. and other nations endangered President Joe Bidens chances to be re-elected in November 2024 and led him to blame the Netanyahu regime for using disproportionate force and failing to recognize the need for some sort of postwar Palestinian state.

Although this prescription has a Soft Zionist ring, the new state Biden and Secretary of State Blinken have in mind seems virtually identical to that earlier proposed by the Trump administration and its chief Middle East spokesperson, Donald Trumps son-in-law, Jared Kushner. This would be an entity backed and financed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, ruled by the PA or some equally conservative elite, disarmed, pacified, and committed to helping advance U.S. regional interests against the Resistance Front led by Iran and Hezbollah. The two-state solution thus becomes part of a two-bloc solution for the Middle East, with the Americans controlling the wealthier, more powerful bloc. What sort of state or regional arrangement the Palestinians of Gaza or the West Bank might themselves want was not and is not considered a relevant matter.

The repetitive pattern here seems unmistakable. United States rulers maintain their hegemony in the region by all means necessary, handsomely rewarding states and groups that cooperate and conducting covert or overt warfare against those that resist. When Hard Zionist policies do not provoke serious internal rebellions or interstate wars, the Americans are happy to support leaders like Netanyahu, who treat the Palestinians as unpeople. But when Hard policies produce uprisings or wars that destabilize the region, U.S. leaders, whether Republicans or Democrats, make a Soft Zionist U-turn.

This is exactly what the Clinton Administration did in 2000, when Bill Clinton attempted to hammer out a two-state agreement between Israels Ehud Barak and Palestines Arafat. Those who blame the Palestinians for the failure of this effort do not understand (or dont want to) that what such deals actually offer is what Rashid Khalidi calls a one state, multiple Bantustan solution. The Jewish state defined and defended by Zionists of either school always retains absolute military, technological, and economic superiority over any projected Palestinian entity. The Palestinian statelet is therefore designed to function, in effect, as an administrative subdivision of Israel and an imperial outpost (allied with other satellites) of the United States. Little wonder that so many Palestinians opt instead for a single state solution that would compel the Israelis either to treat them as equals or publicly abandon their democratic pretenses.

The situation recalls a vastly more ancient conflict that I wrote about in a book called Thus Saith the Lord: The Revolutionary Moral Vision of Isaiah and Jeremiah (Harcourt, 2006). There I described the soft imperialism of Cyrus the Great, who liberated the nations made captive by Babylon, allowed Jewish exiles to return to Israel, and promised the world a new era of peace and justice under Persian rule. What a guy!The prophet Isaiah of Babylon was so impressed by Cyrus that he declared him to be Gods Messenger. Even before the Persian leader died, however, it was clear that his empire would have to be maintained by massive force. Cyruss successors were Darius and Xerxes, hard imperialists who pushed the boundaries of the empire deeper into Asia and Europe but found themselves trapped in an increasingly brutal struggle to maintain control over their restive, far-flung subjects (p. 160). As the Prophets recognized, the dream of a just and stable world at peace could never be realized by power-hungry empire-builders.

So it goes to this day. Hard and soft varieties of ethnonationalism are opposite sides of the same coin or, if you like, different gears of the same engine. Their common purpose, like that of a hard cop and soft cop working over a suspect to obtain a confession, is to maintain a dominant elites supremacy and control. When one approach doesnt produce the desired result, the other is called into play; in either case, the unruly suspect is condemned for refusing to accept the inexorable demands of superior power.

Zionism as currently defined connotes Jewish supremacy in Israel, Israeli supremacy in Palestine, and American supremacy in the region. This compels those who advocate the equal dignity of nations and the global solidarity of peoples to move beyond both hard and soft Zionism in order to embrace a more humane and more Prophetic perspective. Call this viewpoint anti-Zionist, post-Zionist, or better yet, radical humanist; whatever the label, it calls us to move beyond the current system of endemic violence to create a world in which the massacre of ethnic enemies and oppression of subject peoples is never permitted not even to save ones own group from an alleged threat of extinction.

The day after the Gaza War and beyond the Jewish State

Left-liberal labor Zionists were still ruling Israel in 1958, when I made my first visit to that country with a group of fellow college students. Liberal or not, most Israelis talked proudly about the Sinai War, a military adventure in which the Israeli Defense Forces, abetted by British and French troops, invaded Egypt and seized the Suez Canal to prevent Egypts President Nasser from nationalizing that valuable piece of European-owned property. Meanwhile, the Labor Party leaders whom we met informed us that Israels great challenge was to remain culturally European and to avoid becoming a Levantine state. After a week of listening to this sort of propaganda, we went to Hebrew University to hear the philosopher Martin Buber denounce the Sinai War, criticize Israeli racism, and call for establishment of a binational state in which Jews and Palestinians would share power with each other and make peace with their neighbors.

The audience for this talk was very small ten American students, their two supervisors, and a smattering of people from Hebrew University. Even so, the author of I and Thou told us he was glad to speak to any audience, since most Israelis considered his views utopian and disloyal. I vividly remember his aura of wise compassion (which I felt much later in the presence of the Buddhist sage, Thich Nhat Hanh), his impassioned defense of the Palestinian refugees right to return to their homeland, and his sadness at being ignored or disrespected by his fellow Jews. I had no clue then but discovered fifteen years later, in Congressional hearings on U.S. intelligence activities chaired by Senator Frank Church, that our leaders on this tour had been dispatched by the C.I.A. to report on the activities of oppositionists like Martin Buber.

Was Buber a Zionist? Certainly, when that term did not imply the existence of a state owned and operated by Jews in their own interests, but embraced the idea later summarized by Edward Said as one state for two peoples. Bubers inspiration was neither the hard nationalism of right-wing nationalists like Jabotinsky nor David Ben-Gurions slightly softer version, but the ideas of the spiritual Zionist known as Ahad Ha-Am (Asher Ginsberg), who insisted that Palestine was never an empty land and declared that it must be shared with existing Arab residents. Buber insisted that Palestine should become a state in which a Jewish community (NOT a Jewish state) could live in peace and security with its Palestinian neighbors under a constitution designed to recognize the integrity and equal rights of each community. Like Ahad Ha-Am, he believed that a nation-state devoted to defending Jewish supremacy against all competitors would inevitably deform Judaism and generate violent resistance.

Others both in Palestine and North America had reached similar conclusions, although for different reasons. Reform Jews organized by Rabbi Elmer Berger and his American Council for Judaism argued that Judaism was a religion, not a political or cultural community, and that Zionism obstructed Jewish assimilation into their own (true) national cultures. At the same time, Jews belonging to certain devoutly orthodox sects asserted that a Jewish state was a contradiction in terms, since a political body ruled by Gods law and pursuing justice and peace could not exist until the start of the Messianic age.

Martin Buber, on the other hand, was neither an assimilationist, a Messianist, nor a nationalist. In his view and that of a group of intellectuals including Hebrew University president Judah L. Magnes and Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, what was needed was a democratic state whose constitution would recognize the communal interests of Jews and Palestinians and their common interests as workers. By the time I met Buber, his organization, Unity (Ichud), had already been bypassed by the Zionist party and rejected by an increasingly nationalist Israeli public. Later, the binational idea was embraced by thinkers and activists ranging from Hannah Arendt and Edward Said to Tony Judt but was opposed both by Zionists and by Palestinian nationalists aiming to construct a single state in which their constituents would constitute a majority.

Even so, the conflicts of the past two decades, culminating in Israels catastrophic war on Gaza, have breathed new life into the idea. That war has delegitimized the Jewish state by revealing the genocidal implications of Zionism. But it also reminds us that militant ethno-nationalism on the part of any group determined to dominate all others leads in the direction of ethnic cleansing and genocide. For further discussions of issues relating to bi-nationalism, see the work of Georgetown University law professor Lama Abu-Odeh and that of Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh of the Open University of Israel (The Arab and Jewish Questions, Legend Press, 2020).

Whether the future of Palestine involves the creation of two states or a single state, and whether the constitution of that state is binational or unitary, it seems clear that Israel as currently structured must be radically transformed. But the fate of this land, and, indeed, that of the entire region, has never been a matter to be decided by its inhabitants, either Jewish or Muslim. The imperial powers control of the region, originally challenged by Arab revolts against the British and French, has been maintained and even strengthened by American/European wars and machinations. From the 1958 U.S. invasion of Lebanon to two wars against Iraq, intervention in the Syrian civil war, overthrow of the Libyan state, covert warfare against Iran, and all-out support for Israel in a dozen regional conflicts, the United States has not ceased to wield its military power to decide who rules and who serves in the Middle East. Equally influential are the bribes in the form of civil and military aid packages that keep obedient leaders in power and marginalize their opponents, and the diplomatic maneuvers that provide temporary settlements favorable to U.S. interests, such as the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel.

As a result, to define the current struggle in the Holy Land as an Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to speculate about possible forms of settlement on the day after Hamas grossly misconceives the real situation, which is that of imperial proxy warfare. The much-publicized differences of opinion between Israels Netanyahu regime and Americas Biden administration are purely tactical (and have not prevented Democratic as well as Republican leaders from inviting Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress.) These leaders strategic goals the maintenance of U.S. hegemony and Israeli military superiority in the region remain unchanged. But if the imperial system in the Middle East is a source of violent conflict, which seems undeniable, how can one talk seriously of a peaceful day after that leaves this system in place?

Understanding the connection between imperialism and war in the Middle East, the late Johan Galtung, one of the founders of peace studies, argued that peace in the region did not depend on a two-state solution but on a six-state solution the establishment of an autonomous regional organization able to stand up to the U.S. and to make collective decisions in its members interests. The guiding principle, in his view, was to connect any possible peace plan for Palestine and Israel to an effective diminution of American power to enable local parties to decide their own fates. A similar argument has been made more recently by Kaye and Vakil in Only the Middle East Can Fix the Middle East: The Path to a Post-American Order.

If the American role in creating, exacerbating, and perpetuating the Israel/Palestine conflict is not recognized that is, if we buy into the fantasy of noble imperialism and the pax americana the day after solutions now being retailed by will prove equally illusory. Each day that the slaughter in Gaza continues makes it clearer that Zionism can never again command the loyalty of Jews dedicated to peace and justice or anyone else committed to the development of a human community. It is long past time for American Jews to get rid of the Israeli flags that so often stand on the bimas of their synagogues and temples. But the American flags standing there should also be eliminated. Realizing the vision of a human community the vision of prophets from Isaiah to Marx means transcending all forms of ethno-nationalism that stand in the way of human development. The point is not to deny ones ethnic and cultural heritage but to overcome the fixation on national (and in Americas case, imperial) identities and to move ahead, out of the flames of the present holocaust, toward species-consciousness.

Originally posted here:

Zionism: the End of an Illusion - CounterPunch

From Oppression to Opportunity – mishpacha.com

Posted By on July 19, 2024

The Rebbe Rayatz shared ideas for making order out of chaos on American shores

After his imprisonment in the Soviet Union and his exile from his beloved chassidim behind the Iron Curtain, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, didn't fall into despair. With indefatigable energy, he left for the United States, to help those left behind, and to galvanize Jews there to forge a Torah society in the New World.

The return of Rabbi Schneersohn to America (he has recently left the country, after less than a years sojourn) would be a gain to the spiritual strength of Judaism here, and would strengthen the ties between the Jewries on both sides of the Atlantic.

Isaac Rosengarten, Jewish Forum, August 30, 1930

Following the Bolsheviks rise to power and the establishment of the Soviet Union, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, known as the Rebbe Rayatz and the Frierdiker Rebbe, valiantly tried to keep the flame of Yiddishkeit and chassidus alive under increasingly adverse conditions.

In 1924, he moved his court from Rostov to Leningrad. Through a sophisticated network of personal emissaries and dedicated chassidim, he maintained clandestine religious schools and Tomchei Temimim yeshivos, as well as shuls, mikvaos, and availability of kosher food. The Joint Distribution Committee transferred funds to the Rebbe that he used to help many individuals and communities survive the Communists draconian antireligious measures.

The Rebbe Rayatzs central leadership role didnt go unnoticed by the government. The secret police raided his home at midnight in June 1927. The Rebbe, his son-in-law Rav Shmaryahu Gourary, and shortly thereafter his secretary Rav Chaim Lieberman were arrested. With his life at risk, an international outcry led to the Rebbes release on 12 Tammuz from prison, and his return to Leningrad.

But under constant police surveillance, his position became untenable. Again with the assistance of an international coalition of Jewish leaders, organizations, and politicians, the Frierdiker Rebbe was permitted to exit the Soviet Union in October 1927. Settling in Riga, Latvia, he attempted to lead and manage the affairs of his followers from across the border.

In 1929, the Rayatz embarked on a long journey, and in the summer he became the first Lubavitcher Rebbe to visit Eretz Yisrael. He then continued through Germany and France, before crossing the Atlantic for a nearly yearlong visit to the United States. The goal of his visit was ostensibly to raise funds for Soviet Jewry and his trapped chassidim, while also engaging in prodigious efforts to strengthen Yiddishkeit in the country, and also gauging the possibility of permanently moving his court to America.

Hailed as a great chassidic leader who had defied the Soviets, he was greeted by Jewish communities around the country. He was hosted by mayors, politicians, and many prominent members of general society, and even gained an audience with President Herbert Hoover at the White House. A prime focus of his trip was to revive the spirit of Jewish observance in an overwhelmingly secular and materialistic landscape. He initiated many projects to further Torah education, Shabbos observance, and taharas hamishpachah over the course of his visit.

In order to get his message out to the general public, he granted interviews to members of the media. The editor of the Jewish Forum, Isaac Rosengarten, was granted this privilege and shared his fascinating conversation with the Rebbe with his readers.

The conversation covered the gamut of American Jewish life, and the Rebbe shared his keen observations as to where and how Torah observance could and should improve in this country. He discussed at great length the need to increase Torah study, Torah education for the youth as well as the adults, even the basic study of Hebrew, the role of the rabbinate in America, and various other topics relating to Torah observance in the United States. He pointed out the great strides made by existing Orthodox organizations in this regard, and encouraged them in their efforts.

(Authors' Note: To maintain the authenticity of this remarkable conversation, we are sharing the complete article in its original form.)

(An interview with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn)

By Isaac Rosengarten

To salvage the disrupted house of Israel, physically disrupted Eastern Europe, spiritually disrupted in America during these troublous post-war days, requires the ability of an unusual type of personage. I heard much of the inspiration of the Lubawitcher Rebbe, of what he suffered in imprisonment and exile for his courageous efforts in organizing the Jewish school system after Russian authorities did their utmost to destroy.

And I learned something of the Habad school of Hasidism, whose followers are spread in every large Jewish community and of which school Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn is the head. I wished personally to meet this great leader of Israel and learn more of his outlook on life and the reason for the great hold which he has acquired on the imagination and energy of the Jews of America in the short time that he has been here. In the interview with him of more than an hour, I obtained some impressions which I felt the readers of The Jewish Forum would be pleased to have conveyed to them. We spoke about the fundamentals of Judaism upon which Jewish life depends for its existence. We spoke about the difficulties in the matter of Sabbath observance, without which Judaism is doomed to disappear.

He told me about an experience of his in Riga, where he noticed that there was Sabbath violation on a large scale. He invited a gentleman who was not a Sabbath observer to form a Sabbath observance society, to consist of those who likewise did not observe the Sabbath. This he did not consider possible. Later he came back for advice three times successively with reference to different types of business ventures.

He followed the advice of the Rabbi, who then spoke to him in the following vein: Is it not strange that you act according to my advice in lines of business that I personally know nothing about: but you have no confidence in me in a matter concerning which I am certain you will meet with success and derive happiness?

Thus the merchant was persuaded to form a Sabbath observing society and labored. until a bank was founded by this Hevrath Shomre Shabbath Society of Sabbath Observers. The Rabbi wished to stress the thought that one person can accomplish much if he will but make the effort.

I was anxious to get the Rabbis views on the method of bringing order out of chaos in the organizational life of the Jews in this country. I was happy to learn that we agreed on this subject throughout, both as to diagnosis and cure.

Rabbi Schneersohn was of the opinion that much confusion arises when all the work of all the phases of Judaism falls on one man. There seems to be too much desire to accomplish big things at one time in every direction. Leaders aim to do everything on a great scale. The problem intoxicates because of its immensity. Work of this kind, as a rule, however, must be begun on a small scale, rather than, as seems to be in vogue here, to have the building first set up and the work of the institution planned afterwards. They set up the cornerstone and the marble columns while overlooking the fact that so long as these things are not in their right places, the structure is not a building.

One group of people should give attention to one problem at a time, he went on to suggest. In this large Jewish community of Greater New York, all the fundamentals of Judaism should not be bunched together for organization purposes. The problem of education is a huge task. Those interested in this problem should come together for this one purpose, and not allow other phases of Judaism to occupy their attention at the same time.

For work on behalf of kashruth, likewise a special committee should be formed, and all those interested should be given an opportunity to cooperate for the solution of the problems of kashruth, which seem to be so many and so complex in this community. The same method should be applied for the organization of work for Shabbath, and likewise for taharath hamishpacha.

To strengthen this last mentioned and much neglected phase of Jewish religious life, a special organization should be formed which would divide its work into two parts: the educational and propaganda work to be done by women only, the fund raising chiefly by the men. But only the women are to be in the leadership of this phase of activity. In the main, in the work of organizing the various activities on behalf of Judaism in America, neither the old men nor the young can render the service most needed, but chiefly those between the ages of thirty and forty-five who have had some experience in the work that they undertake to lead, beruah ha-Torah, in the spirit of the Torah.

How does the attitude towards Torah in this country, I asked the Rabbi, compare with that in the old country?

It seemed strange to him that people do not realize the grace of G-d in allowing them the freedom which they possess in great measure in this country. After spending nineteen and one-half days in prison in a room four and one-half ells by two and one-half, without an opportunity to look into a sefer, he assured me that when he emerged from those narrow walls, he could appreciate the gift of freedom that G-d had granted him; and he wondered at the great freedom here and the opportunities it gives, the opportunities which, alas, are everywhere neglected.

In the old country, who would not grasp every opportunity possible to study? In this country, comparatively little is considered worthwhile outside of laboring for the dollar, on which so much unnecessary time is spent. The average person in Europe each day studies a blatt, a page of Torah, but here, what manufacturer even thinks of it?

That this is a rather strange situation, one can realize by comparing people today with those of the Tannaim and Amoraim (in the days of the development of the Mishnah and the Gemarah). In those days the ignorant, the burim, had more avodath massah, heavy labor, to do. Today there are no burim, and there is no less emunah (faith) than in former days. People are accustomed more to avodath hamoach, brain work.

This is why it is the more so surprising that there is not greater attachment here to the study of Torah. In this country, if the father has not the power to explain the reason for religious observances to his children, he gradually follows the ways of the children even though his emunah, faith, does not become weaker.

In Europe, everyone feels that he himself must do the utmost that can be done for Jewish education, regardless of cost to the material welfare of the individual. In America, they devote themselves chiefly to things material and a very small percentage of what can be done is done for Jewish education. Thousands of children everywhere have no place where to learn; funds fail for the provision of teachers who can provide a deep enough knowledge of Judaism to make it last at least in the minds and hearts of the children.

The attitude towards learning is very superficial. One is expected to know something of everything but a lot of nothing. He felt that too much consideration was being given to secular learning and too little thought to the chinuch hayashan, education in ancient learning Torah. He does not understand the why and the wherefore of the mixture of Torah and chachmah, religious and secular learning. His conception of a yeshivah is, as in Europe, one which devotes itself completely to Torah study.

I shall be glad to have some of your views on education, I suggested.

One of the things that is not often enough borne in mind, he intimated, is that together with the study of Torah, a child should be taught an umnuth, some occupation or handicraft. Emphasis on this phase of education often trains the worker, in all fields and phases of life. Our rabbis of old seem to have given more attention to this than we do today, even in industrial America.

There must be something wrong here also with the method of teaching the very elements of Hebrew. In his childhood, he continued, he was not merely taught the alphabet and the vowel signs. He was also simultaneously taught the sanctity of those letters and of the notations connected with them, in complete passages of the Bible. Each letter was attached to an idea intimately connected with words that convey some of the big ideas of the religion. The content of study was the same as in olden times. Nine Moseses did not have more mitzvoth than one ordinary person today: except that Moses, our teacher, had a deeper grasp of those mitzvoth.

No one in Jewish life today is greater than the (Torah) teacher; but it is the teacher who considers work as the greatest recommendation. He loves most that person who works for hizuk hayehaduth betaharathah, the strengthening of Judaism in all its purity one who labors for the Torah with respect and reverence, aiming to make it function in life today.

Rabbi Schneersohn went on to speak of the rabbi in America. He believes the rabbi should be distinctive, should not be ashamed to wear his tsitsith, so that people passing by in the street would see them, and know that a representative of religion is in their midst. He thinks, also, that inventory should be taken and a record kept by the rabbi of the number of persons gained over to Sabbath observance, to taharath hamishpacha, to donning of tefilin, etc. He fears it is ignorance among rabbis which keeps them from being sufficiently outspoken of their Judaism.

Rabbi Schneersohn thinks highly of the Young Israel movement and would like to see them receiving every support. His best sympathies, however, are with the religious program of the Zeire Agudath Israel, for the reason that the latter does not accept to membership anyone failing to observe the Sabbath, notwithstanding the rule in Young Israel forbidding the election to office of any member who is not a Sabbath observer. The highest pinnacle in Judaism is dath, life according to religious law. He will therefore cooperate with every movement, whether it be Mizrachi or Agudath Israel, to the extent that they occupy themselves with Torah Umitsvoth Torah study and the observance of the religious law. He does not consider himself a leader in the political sense, but a worker in the ranks of Judaism.

It was a rare inspiration to meet this spiritual leader, to gain from his writings an idea of the depth with which he treats psychological questions, to note his suavity and simplicity, and to feel his love for all mankind. Rabbi Schneersohn is always ready to express gratitude for any service rendered, particularly to his people, as notably when received by President Hoover, to whom he expressed the appreciation of the Jew for the great freedom he enjoys in America and this nations high feel his love for all mankind.

This Thursday and Friday, the 12th and 13th of Tammuz, are Chag HaGeulah, which mark the 97th anniversary of the Frierdiker Rebbes release from prison.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1020)

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From Oppression to Opportunity - mishpacha.com

Book review Questioning Belief: Torah and Tradition in an Age of Doubt – The Times of Israel

Posted By on July 19, 2024

In her groundbreaking book Off the Derech: Why Observant Jews Stop Practicing Judaism; How to Respond to the Challenge, Faranak Margolese observed that one of the primary reasons young people leave religious observance is that many of their serious questions about faith and belief remain unanswered.

And for many, its not just that their teachers left them unanswered; they were mocked and shamed for asking them. For many students, asking challenging questions related to Talmud study is rewarded with praise. However, asking legitimate and challenging questions about tradition and faith often results in shame and calling the student a heretic for even considering such a question.

For every student (or adult) who has been called a non-believer for raising legitimate questions, for anyone who has struggled with reconciling events in Jewish history that seemingly contradict science, Questioning Belief: Torah and Tradition in an Age of Doubt (Maggid Books) by Rabbi Dr. Raphael Zarum is the book for them.

Part of the problem in answering questions about belief is that the questioner, even when they get a response, can get a juvenile response or a non-answer. HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein articulately wrote that in the final analysis, the primary human source of faith is faith itself. Yet for those struggling with questions of faith, that might not be enough to assuage them.

What Zarum does here particularly well is to first acknowledge that these questions are legitimate. He then directly answers them, and he does that in an intellectually honest and sophisticated manner, always with a deep sense of empathy for the readers struggle.

The book is organized into three parts, Origins, detailing topics such as Torah vs. science, issues around reconciling Torah narratives with history, Ethics, and how to deal with such issues as slavery, animal sacrifice, and more. And Beliefs, dealing with what believing in God is, arguing with God, and more.

In each chapter, Zarum validates the questions, validating their legitimacy, and then works to respond to them with modern science and philosophy research, including Torah sources, to reconcile most of the problems.

Not everyone, particularly those with a more fundamentalist approach, will be happy with every explanation. For example, the flood narrative in Genesis chapters 69 presents significant issues in reconciling it with archeology, paleontology, and geology. According to traditional biblical chronology, the flood occurred around 4,500 years ago, making many scientific problems more difficult.

Zarums approach regarding the flood is to note that the drama and hyperbole in the story are not meant to be understood entirely literally. He also writes that the story could be read as a regional event that occurred in a limited area in Mesopotamia. The overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is a regular occurrence that occasionally has devastating consequences for local populations.

Once the Flood story is not treated as a global occurrence, many problematic scientific issues it raises disappear. No extra water is needed, the global ecosystem remains intact, and more. A regional flood also overcomes the need to save every land-based life form. Those rescued may have been picked up just those that people were familiar with domesticated animals such as pets, livestock, load-bearing animals, and some wilder ones.

Zarums approach to answering the flood story and everything else in the book combines modern science and traditional Torah commentaries. None of the issues he details are monolithic, and many philosophical problems arise when people believe there is only one approach to the story.

There are, in fact, two tragedies of leaving philosophical questions unanswered. The first is that, as Margolese noted, they frustrate the questioner and thwart their efforts to understand. But these questions are also superb mechanisms for delving into the veracity of the Torah and its stories. The questions are wonderful tools for launching more significant insights. That is why this book is so stimulating and intellectually refreshing. Zarum is no apologist and deals with all of the topics head-on.

On the thorny question of dealing with human slavery, which the Torah allows. Ironically, the 2022 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery from Walk Free, the International Labour Organization, and the International Organization for Migration report that nearly 50 million people live in modern slavery in forced labor. Of which roughly a quarter of all victims of modern slavery are children.

Slavery was a social norm in the ancient world. Rather than simply condoning it, the Torah presents laws that restrict the abuses that it causes. Also, by constantly reiterating the powerful theme of remembering the Exodus, it gradually conditions its adherent to see slavery itself as abhorrent and to challenge its very existence.

Zarum also quotes the late great Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who wrote that the abolition of slavery was, in fact, a partial realization of the ideals taught by the Torah. It is clear to anyone who has studied a bit of the history of the West that the spread of Torah values was a decisive factor in this historical process.

David Goldman writes that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik came from the first generation of Lithuanian Rabbis who confronted the Haskalah on its own terms, studying at the University of Warsaw before his six years of graduate education at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. He was proud that the intellectual rigor and systemic construction of Brisker Torah required no apologies to Western philosophy.

Zarum follows the Rav in confronting these issues on its own terms. Questioning Belief: Torah and Tradition in an Age of Doubt has countless fascinating and thought-provoking questions. Contrary to what many may think about questioning the fundamentals of our faith, these questions will only strengthen you spiritually.

Im a senior information security and risk management professional, based in New York City. I speak at industry conferences, and write on information security, social media, privacy and technology. My book reviews are on information security, privacy, technology, and risk management. My reviews for the Times of Israel focus on Judaism, Talmud, religion and philosophy.

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Book review Questioning Belief: Torah and Tradition in an Age of Doubt - The Times of Israel

Remains of synagogue destroyed by Nazis uncovered in Polish city – Ynetnews

Posted By on July 19, 2024

Remains of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazis in WWII were uncovered during building works in the Polish city of Otwock recently. The workers clearing the ground for a parking lot found the remains of the Goldberg Synagogue's walls and columns.

The structure situated across from the town hall was built in 1927 and could accommodate 650 worshipers. Before the war some 5,500 Jews lived in Otwock.

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Remains of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazi's uncovered in Otwock, Poland

(Photo: Mazowiecki Wojewdzki Konserwator Zabytkw)

"This is quite a piece of history that was hidden there," local historian Sebastian Rakowski told local media. "It was discovered at the beginning of June. We knew that there was a synagogue there, but we didn't know if something was preserved underground since nothing was showing above ground," he said.

2 View gallery

Remains of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazi's uncovered in Otwock, Poland

(Photo: Mazowiecki Wojewdzki Konserwator Zabytkw )

The synagogue was set on fire by the Nazis in 1939 destroying its library and seminary, but its Torah scrolls were saved. The remains will now be transferred to the city museum for further study.

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Remains of synagogue destroyed by Nazis uncovered in Polish city - Ynetnews


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