Monthly Archives: January 2010

Why is hummus a problem?: Part one

Bard Student Sarah Stern discusses her relationship to Israel, the American Jewish community and the ever vexing chickpea quandary

By Sarah Stern

The first substantial conversation that I had with someone from my alma-mater, the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, about my participation in the Bard Palestinian Youth Initiative (BPYI), happened in Amsterdam Falafel, in Adams Morgan. It was Thanksgiving, and after heaping hummus on to our meals, and reminiscing about our Israel trip the past semester, I couldn’t help but tell him that I was going back to the region over the summer, but this time, I was going to the West Bank.

I explained the project; a delegation of Bard students travels to my friends’ village in Mas-ha, right over the green line, split by the security barrier, and we run an intellectual summer camp for Palestinian teenagers. We employ the same educational methods used in my three-week orientation to college, a Bard staple called “Language and Thinking.” We free-write (oh, do we free write…), and we talk. We talk a lot. We encourage creative expression, rather than destructive expression, and on the side, we do community service, and take them on excursions into Israel to places like Yad Vashem and the Dead Sea, that are normally very hard to arrange. Continue reading

Back to the Future

By Michelle Albert

Quick, Mr. President, to the DeLorean!

President Obama’s State of the Union Address last night was a look back to the past in order to save the future. Obama began with an economic trajectory, citing the rise and fall of the capitally flush American Empire:

At the beginning of the last decade, the year 2000, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion.  By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade.  Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program.  On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget.  All this was before I walked in the door. Continue reading

A Double Standard?

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Michael Kimmelman’s recent article, “When Fear Turns Graphic,” offered a peek into the process behind making political art, with the recent Swiss pro-minaret ban ads as his focal point.  Unfortunately, for me, whatever insights he hoped to share were overshadowed by a surprising naïveté when addressing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and his condescending tone towards Americans—his readers.

First of all, Kimmelman airily dismissed concerns over Switzerland’s latent racism: “Much predictable tut-tutting ensued about Swiss xenophobia, even though surveys showed similar plebiscites would get pretty much the same results elsewhere.”

Then, he insulted our intelligence by equating the German and Muslim immigrant experience in Switzerland.  “A 46-year-old German (yes, an immigrant himself in Switzerland), he is the father of two adopted children from North Africa although he declined to talk about his personal life.”

Finally, he patronized us by asserting that “it may be hard for Americans to grasp the role [political ads] can play“ in Europe.  “In the subways and streets in America, billboards and posters…are basically background noise.  By contrast, they’re treated more seriously here, as news, at least.” Continue reading

Growth & Expansion

By Caroline Kessler

As Tu B’Shivat quickly approaches, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that some settlements will remain a part of Israel. Naturally, the New York Times is covering it here. Isabel Kerschner gives the often needed backstory of which regions Israel is continuing to settle, where they’ve put building freezes, and where they are willing to negotiate.

What struck me throughout this piece was the tree imagery. Netanyahu used the upcoming, tree-hugging holiday of Tu B’shvat to reiterate Israel’s claim on the Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem. He’s even quoted discussing this during a tree-planting ceremony.

From the article: “Our message is clear,” he said during a tree-planting ceremony there. “We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here. This place will be an inseparable part of the State of Israel for eternity.” Netanyahu will also plant saplings in Maale Adumim and Ariel, other settlements that Israel will keep.

The Palestinians refuse to negotiate until all building development is frozen. The juxtaposition of building settlements and planting trees is an interesting one, and I wonder it it’s made to win the hearts of environmentalists or to prove a point to the Palestinian leadership–you can stop inorganic building, but you can’t stop the organic growth of the state.

One last tree metaphor: Netanyahu said that Palestinian leaders had “climbed up a tree” and “they like it up there.”

Perhaps that’s taking things too far…

Caroline Kessler, hailing from the not-so-charmed city of Baltimore, is an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University.

Jews Up For Grabs

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In advertising the November debate between Alan Dershowitz and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the 92nd St. Y framed it as a discussion over Israeli policy, Iran, and military vs. diplomatic strategies in the Middle East.   Yet it turned out to be a debate not so much about foreign policy, as a fight for the right to represent the Jewish community.   A clash between the old and the new.  Who has the right to speak for American Jews? Can that right extend to more than one group?  And most importantly, (at least to Dershowitz) who has earned that right?

There was, of course, the requisite tussling over J Street’s branding and each of their positions on Iran but the real flashpoint erupted around J Street’s very existence.   Despite its successes in its first 18 months, including being named as “in” on the Washington Post’s “What’s In and What’s Out for 2010” list, Dershowitz dismissed it is a small and unimportant organization.  Instead, he magnanimously offered to fold J Street into AIPAC, thus preserving its position within and without the Jewish community.  Furthermore, he made it clear that AIPAC deserves this distinction because it “has been the standard, traditional organization”—in other words, it has been around longer. Continue reading

JStreet on Forbes Avenue

By Caroline Kessler

All the colleges and universities in Pittsburgh returned for class the week of January 11. As is typical on a Friday night at the Hillel-Jewish University Center, students from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, and a few other schools gathered for services. This past Friday, JStreet sponsored dinner after services, a gesture that held appeal (because of the normally-not-free meal) and drew in a larger crowd than usual. JStreet is the “political arm of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement,” and I put this in quotes because I can only use their words to describe them. That’s taken from their multi-paragraph About Us page of their website.

After we settled in with our plates of dry falafel, shwarma, and salad, Daniel Levy began to speak. He was a charismatic, engaging man with a British accent that made everything he said sound slightly more academic. And among other things, he’s works with the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation. Continue reading

Saviors in the Night

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Those seeking a Holocaust movie rendered in bold strokes of black and white, where the distinction between good and evil is clear and unwavering, will not find it in “Saviors in the Night;” the opening film of this year’s  New York Jewish Film Festival.   Directed by Ludi Boeken and based on the 1967 memoir of Marga Spiegel, this film seeks to tell multiple complex stories at once and where there are no clear heroes.

The film begins with a brief prologue: Deep in the muddy trenches of World War I four young, exhausted men in dirty German uniforms help each other flee to safety in the wake of a gas attack. One of those men is Siegmund “Menne” Spiegel, a decorated Jewish soldier who now, 25 years later, must seek the help of his wartime friends when he and his family are in imminent danger of deportation.  Continue reading

The Jan/Feb issue has arrived!

By Sarah Breger

Check out the new issue of Moment, including our cover story on Jews and Freemasons!

How to know if you’re Jewish…..

By Elayne Laken

The other week, I saw Sarah Silverman perform at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles alongside a panel of other comedians, including another member of the tribe, standup comedian Marc Maron. It was a holiday special in which topics concerning God, Christmas and Hannukah were spoken about liberally among the comics at a round table.

At one point in the round table discussion, Sarah Silverman stated that, “The only reason I know I’m Jewish is because people around me aren’t.” The crowd broke out into uproarious laughter at the ridiculous nature of her claim and I thought it was pretty darn funny too. It seems like a fairly obvious observation – that which is different appears to be so insofar as it’s not the same as what is. But when I reflected upon what Sarah said after the show, it hit close to home in a more serious manner, in light of my experience growing up as a first generation Jew in Canada. Continue reading

Two Sides to Every Story

By Caroline Kessler

Although the barrage of international media coverage on Israel’s war on Gaza seems to have sloped off, more personal coverage has emerged. B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, started a project to give the people of Gaza an audible voice and a visible face. Naturally, the New York Times covered the project, in which 18 young Gaza refugees were given video cameras, instructor and web guidance to document their lives and situations since the war.

The short, poignant videos range from an account of working in smuggling tunnels, to wounded children singing, to a girls’ soccer team. Israeli media rarely shows this kind of humanitarian coverage of Gaza citizens, but this time, they did. Israel’s biggest news web site, Ynet posted five of the videos here, under the heading “Gaza: An inside look.”

The one that gave me chills was called “Into the Light”, filmed by Awatef al-Jadalli of the Al-Bureij refugee camp in Central Gaza City. It shows two young girls who were both injured during the war, one on whom is balancing on rickety crutches. Both of her legs were broken and she has eight stitches. The closing part of this two-minute video is a large group of children singing these words:

We want a field with grass to play on / We are the pioneers of Palestine, alive but not alive, / We ask for your loving help, so we can be like all children

The lilting, minor-key melody was hauntingly familiar in that way that Middle Eastern music often is. If the goal of this project is to show that there is not much difference between Palestinian and Israeli children, then they’ve certainly succeeded.

Caroline Kessler, hailing from the not-so-charmed city of Baltimore, is an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University.