Monthly Archives: November 2011

Walking Over to the Other Side of the Pro-Peace Debate

By Scott Fox

Soon after I sat down at my table at a fundraiser sponsored by the local Justice in Palestine chapter, the elderly woman sitting next to me said, “I see you crossed over to the other side.”

What she meant was that I had crossed over to the St. Olaf side of town for the event. Northfield, Minn., has two liberal arts colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf. Carleton is on the east side; St. Olaf is on the west. Even though the two institutions are only a 20-minute walk from one another, it is not too often that students from each school interact.

I could not help but see a parallel between Carleton and St. Olaf and the difference between my beliefs and those of Justice in Palestine. In other words, I could see where they are coming from but it still feels like crossing over to an uncomfortable side.

I am a member of J Street. The conditions in which Palestinians have lived are unacceptable. I even believe that Jerusalem should be divided, as long as Jews have access to the Western Wall. However, when I first found out about Northfielders for Justice in Palestine/Israel, I was hesitant to sign up for the group’s email list. Even though they also advocate a two-state solution, I assume that groups like these are tinged with anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, or just misinformation. Thinking I was possibly being too biased against them, I decided to go to their Palestine Gala Dinner to gain a better understanding.

When I entered the church lobby for the event, I encountered a barrage of posters and pamphlets that were mostly biased in favor of the Palestinians. One poster was calling to “break the bonds” and have the U.S. divest from Israel. One brochure read, “Israel is actually involved in an unremitting and merciless vendetta against the subjugated Palestinian people in order to expel them and acquire their land.” The same brochure did make it clear that not all Israelis felt this way and that people should seek out left-wing Israeli opinions. Overall, the display in the lobbying felt off-putting.

Inside, it was much warmer. The sold-out function had brought in much of the Northfield community, though most of the attendees were gray-haired. Carleton’s Arabic professor and his friends provided Oud music. St. Olaf students dressed in full traditional garb performed dabke dances. Before everyone could eat the delicious spinach pie and mujaddara, Christian, Jewish and Muslim blessings were said. The affair raised money for Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a Christian charity dedicated to helping all Palestinians in the West Bank.

Many of the people there had prior awareness of the complexities of the situation in the Holy Land. At my table, a Lutheran pastor who had led an English-speaking congregation in the Old City of Jerusalem sat next to me. Two young women who had spent a year doing missionary work in Bethlehem sat across from me. The pastor was distressed with Netanyahu but did not place sole blame on any government. He recalled how there was so much optimism for peace when he was in Jerusalem during the 2008 U.S. election. Three years later, he feels that hope has been totally crushed. Feeling the communal spirit and compassion of the people around me, I gained more respect for the group doing what it could to help the oppressed Palestinians.

But the main speaker of the evening, Jennifer Loewenstein, Associate Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, made the event take a negative turn. I supported her fight for human rights but felt she was unfairly harsh and incorrect in characterizing the Israeli government’s policies.

Loewenstein described the situation as a “brutal, sadistic occupation” where Israelis are starving Palestinians, applying a divide and conquer strategy that isolates West Bank towns. She called Israel’s actions genocidal. With walls around Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza and Israel limiting what food can be shipped into Gaza, conditions may be terrible but not genocidal when the Palestinian Arab population is growing at a faster rate than that of Israeli Jews.

Loewenstein also presented a skewed view of Israeli history with less than accurate statements that emphasized Jews taking Palestinian land without mentioning any reasons for why a Jewish state was necessary such as rising anti-Semitism. She stated that the Arab population rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan not only because they felt Jews were taking land that belonged to them but also because they got the worse half of Palestine, describing their portion of the partition as unfertile desert. Actually, the plan gave Palestinians most of the more fertile Northern Israel. Most of the Jews’ portion of the land was in the Negev Desert.

Loewenstein cast blame on Israel’s extremely irrational fear of being driven into the sea even though the Israeli mainland had never been attacked by a foreign enemy until 2006, and its armed forces have always been superior to those of the Arab states combined. But she appeared to forget that Israel’s neighbors invaded the land on its first day of existence, and that Israel frequently faced the threat of attack ever since, and was not always as sure of its military might as it is today. Although Israel has made preemptive strikes in some of its fighting, it was because the threat of an attack was imminent.

“When looking at the conflict, it is two countries saying how much they want peace. But those two countries, the U.S. and Israel, are doing anything in their power to stop it from happening,” said Loewenstein, citing a “military-industrial based economy” in which the U.S’s of high-tech weapons to Israel is extremely beneficial to both countries.

From talking to a few people, it appeared the crowd primarily did not have as extreme views as she does. However, when asking the two young women at my table about whether Loewenstein’s denunciation of Israel was a little too harsh, she said that she was just “preaching to the choir.” At least some of the room supported divestment from Israel, a diplomatic tactic that I feel breaks apart the needed U.S.-Israel dialogue on how to attain peace.

I left feeling a little better about Justice in Palestine groups but remained worried that Loewenstein’s lecture could cause some of the crowd who did not know as much about the situation to leave misinformed. But crossing over to the other side of your beliefs or your town often brings something new.

O Come, All Ye Chosen

Mid-November means that it’s officially pumpkin spice latte and peppermint mocha season at Starbucks. (What, you don’t measure time by the seasonal offerings of national coffee chains? You don’t know what you’re missing.) That also means that it’s time for the Starbucks holiday cups, those red, snowflake-bedecked beacons of wintry tidings. A Moment employee who spends many of her non-working hours lugging her laptop from one DC Starbucks to another, dismayed that the cups teetered into Christmas territory, sent the following email to Starbucks:

I love the seasonal coffee cups – when I was at school in Boston it made the winters a little more festive, and red is admittedly my favorite color. But I was wondering if you’ve ever considered doing a Hanukkah themed cup – maybe in metropolitan areas where there are large Jewish communities? The Jewish people have contributed much to the American ethos and American history – I think it would be a wonderful thing to acknowledge the festive traditions of an American community that has played such a role in our nation’s history. And while certainly not everyone in large metropolitan areas is Jewish, I know a lot of friends of mine of various faiths would be delighted by the idea and the inclusiveness, and it would be a great way for parents to introduce the topic of different religions to their children. Just a thought!

Yes, folks. Coffee cups at Starbucks: this is what keeps Moment employees up at night.

But, look! Starbucks wrote back! Will the Hanukkah miracles never end?

I think that your request for Hanukkah cup is a great idea.  What I am going to do is forward this to our Marketing team for their consideration.

We definitely want to provide items for a wide variety of customers, and we always want to hear what you think would improve your experience with Starbucks.  I appreciate you letting me know how much customers would enjoy this.

Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to improve what we do.

So if you see any blue-and-white, menorah-spangled cups at Starbucks, you’ll know who to thank.

Go East, Mr. President

by Maddie Ulanow

We’ve passed the first two weeks of November, and the 2012 presidential elections are now just a year away. It seems the campaign is already in full swing, and Israel is already an issue on the table; Republicans are scrambling to defend it and place President Obama’s Middle East policies in a bad light, and Obama is similarly grasping at straws to defend himself.

In response to Republican claims that he “threw Israel under the bus” (from Mitt Romney) and that his policies are “naive, arrogant, misguided and dangerous” (courtesy of Rick Perry), the President’s supporters have claimed he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done for Israel, and the President himself gave a highly political, heavily worded speech at the United Nations seemingly designed to pull the Jewish vote back in his favor. Because that’s what a lot of this is about, isn’t it? The Jewish vote.

Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, but that support is now slipping steadily (along with his support from other groups). A May survey revealed that only 12 percent of Jews surveyed viewed his policies as pro-Israel, while after his UN speech 54 percent–a significant jump, but still low. Republicans would love to sway pro-Israel Jewish voters wary of Obama’s policies, particularly in swing states such as Florida.

Amidst all this political back and forth, accusations left and right and a president struggling to maintain his simultaneous image as a light for the Arab world and also an ally of the Israeli democracy, Obama has yet to visit Israel during his presidency.

Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter each visited during their first terms, setting a Democratic precedent. But Obama hasn’t been since he was a candidate in 2008, leading some to wonder if he sees Israel as a mere political tool. According to Politico, the White House says they want to reserve a trip for when “the president can advance the peace process,” but current efforts have fallen to pieces and a 2012 trip risks being seen as a political maneuver–which it is, essentially. In theory, an Israel trip would build confidence amongst the Jewish base and reaffirm his stance as their ally.

In light of the recent news buzz surrounding French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s and Obama’s private conversation, in which Sarkozy called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and Obama responded with unenthusiastic remarks about Netanyahu, Obama needs to go to Israel not just to score political points, but to re-solidify his commitment to a long-time ally. Republicans will no doubt jump on his failure to defend Netanyahu, and the comments cast doubt on unity between Israel and its Western allies. But Obama needs to visit Israel not just to score political points, but to see just what Netanyahu may or may not be lying about. He needs to see the settlements, revisit the rocket-battered villages in the south, meet with members of Knesset and see the situation from the ground before he decides who’s a liar, who’s telling the truth, and who else is just as desperate for political points as he is.

At this point, if Obama doesn’t go before 2012 –which doesn’t seem likely, after his trip to Europe and upcoming tour of Hawaii, Indonesia and Australia–it will seem like a political move. And it will be. But if he wants to protect the Jewish vote, and to truly understand facts on the ground, it is a necessary one.

What Does Kosher Mean Today?

By Scott Fox

Food is perhaps one of the “greyest” aspects of Jewish life today. The Torah instructs us to abstain from ritually impure foods—but what does this mean in the 21st century?

One could argue that keeping kosher is both easier and more difficult than ever before. Today, between one-third and one-half of food in American supermarkets is kosher-certified, an astronomical increase since previous decades. It may seem surprising that so many companies pay for kosher certification (Orthodox Union, the blue label of hekhshers requires fees between $4,000 and $10,000) since observant Jews make up such a small portion of the consumer market, but others like Muslims, vegetarians and those concerned with food allergies are also buying into the kosher market for different reasons.

“It’s easier now than ever before to keep kosher,” says Rabbi Alexander Davis, senior rabbi of Beth El, a Conservative synagogue in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. “It’s really just a question of choices. You can find practically any ingredient with a hekhsher today.”

But in a society with greater choices, many Jews no longer cling to traditional dietary rituals. This can be seen particularly in the Conservative movement, where many believe fewer Jews keep kosher than ever before. Davis infers that earlier generations of Jews were willing to do more to keep kosher, citing a congregant’s parent who grew up in North Dakota and traveled across state lines once a month in order to purchase kosher meat. But Davis estimates that only 20 percent of his congregation keeps strictly kosher in their homes today. And according to the most recent National Jewish Population survey in 2000, only 30 percent of Jews maintain kosher homes.

As an observant Convservative Jew, keeping kosher has often felt like the most essential part of my Jewish identity, probably because it requires the most continual focus. I feel like I can skip going to shul for Shabbat, but not skip out of kashrut for a lobster roll. Going to college 40 miles away from the nearest provider of kosher meat, I’ve become primarily a vegetarian in order to keep up my religious obligation. Of course, by kashrut, I mean my own internal conception of keeping kosher. That includes not asking if certain restaurant dishes contain meat and assuming that what looks like dairy is dairy. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss. I also tend to rationalize eating products without a hekhsher by looking through a food item’s ingredient list and assuring myself that none of them sound like they contain treif even if that’s not really the case. In some ways, kosher is more of a mindset that makes me feel okay about what I eat.

Cost is another factor. As food prices rise and incomes lower from years of economic turmoil, many feel that being kosher is too expensive. The price of kosher food is typically more expensive than regular food, as is buying two sets of dishes and silverware. The price difference is particularly true in communities that don’t have easy access to kosher products. Aaron Rubenstein, rabbi of Beth Shalom, a conservative synagogue in Memphis, said the high cost was definitely a reason for people to avoid keeping strictly kosher homes.

“Some people might be willing to go vegetarian to keep kosher [on a budget],” says Rubenstein. “But for others, it is hard for them to part from meat in their diet. Some people feel that they’re being price gouged and think they should not be buying into the system because someone is taking advantage of their need for Passover food or kosher meat.”

Hazon, a leading Jewish food organization, is helping to make kosher food an affordable option. The group sponsors community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the United States, Canada and Israel. Hazon’s programs provide access to healthy, local produce to connect clients with their Jewish communities. Jewish food banks have also helped those unable to afford food. But those endeavors cannot solve the entire cost problem of kosher food.

But kashrut is about more than just food. Many feel that food is not kosher if the workers, animals or environment are mistreated in the process, even if the food meets all halachic standards. Many became aware of the terrible conditions in slaughterhouses after newspaper articles and a federal government raid exposed Agriprocessors, the largest producer of kosher meat, violating many labor laws, including the use of undocumented immigrants and child labor. Until the federal government raided their plant in Iowa in 2008, about half of the country’s kosher meat came from Agriprocessors. Since the company was forced to restructure after the scandal, their meat prices have risen even further.

The shame of Agriprocessors led the Conservative movement to sponsor the implementation of a hekhsher tzedek. Rubenstein calls the new certification more of an “ethical good housekeeping seal” than an actual determination of whether a product is halachically kosher or not.

But will our generation of Jews continue to keep up this somewhat idealistic obligation that is kashrut as they move through adulthood? Davis is optimistic. “There’s a greater awareness among that generation of the role food plays in our lives,” he says. “I think and hope that, as a Jewish expression of our identity and ideals, eating with consciousness would be more attractive than ever.”

The Goldstone Saga

by Erica Shaps

Every year at Brandeis University there is at least one Israel/Palestine-related event that lights a fire under the campus. My freshman year, it was a well-publicized and well-attended debate between Justice Richard Goldstone and former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold over the contents of the 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (known as the Goldstone Report). To be honest, I remember the speakers’ rhetorical styles better than their arguments. Gold’s voice echoed abrasively, and he came armed with an aesthetically disarming Powerpoint. Goldstone, on the other hand, tried to explain himself calmly in a lilting South African accent. He came across as a gentle Jewish grandfather. Although I disagreed with many of his report’s harshest conclusions, some of which he later retracted, it was impossible to deny that he had good intentions when accepting the mandate. At some point during the debate, I realized I felt terrible for Richard Goldstone.

Justice Goldstone has had an incredibly prolific career, becoming one of the most trusted and respected judges across the globe. The Goldstone Commission played a critical role in even-handedly subduing apartheid-related violence as South Africa began to transition to true democracy. He served as Chief U.N. prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and his efforts were critical in successfully recognizing rape as a war crime in the Geneva Convention.

In spite of this, in many elements of the Jewish community, the judge is now being judged solely based on the Goldstone report. After the report, his own community called him a self-hating Jew and a traitor. It was widely reported that he was initially going to be restricted from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Various media sources reported that he had a hard time sleeping and was under great distress.

In April, Goldstone wrote a Washington Post op-ed in which he expressed regret over some of the Goldstone Report’s conclusions, particularly that Israel killed civilians intentionally. Recently, Goldstone wrote a New York Times op-ed debunking the claim that Israel is an apartheid state. His well-articulated argument against the apartheid claim was particularly potent since he was an anti-apartheid judge in South Africa.

In the wake of these writings, we are seeing the delegitimization and redemption of Richard Goldstone on a very large public scale.

Some commentators are now starting to welcome Goldstone back into the fold of the Jewish community, or are considering “ forgiving him” because of his last two op-eds. Alan Dershowitz, the famed lawyer and Israel advocate who once considered Goldstone a friend, called him a traitor to the Jewish people and stated that the Goldstone Report was written by “an evil, evil man.” After Goldstone published his retraction, Dershowitz wrote an article explaining that Goldstone was moving in the right direction but still “needs to do teshuvah.”

Conversely, many who once lauded Goldstone as a courageous hero now condemn him as a desperate sell-out who is no longer relevant. Some behave as if his last two op-ed articles completely undermine the initial Goldstone Report and his entire body of work. Richard Falk, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights and Princeton professor, wrote that Goldstone had fallen from grace to “this shabby role as legal gladiator recklessly jousting on behalf of Israel” after his New York Times op-ed was published.

I don’t know why Goldstone chose to write his op-ed. But the claim that he did so in an act of “caving in to Zionist pressure” is preposterous. Perhaps he is trying to work toward the same mission he was when he accepted the UN mandate: Pursuing his understanding of justice and truth using the resources at his disposal.

Justice Goldstone’s case reveals some sad human tendencies. When we agree with someone, we quote them endlessly, respect them and use their work to further our arguments and cement our understanding of the universe without guilt or struggle. When we disagree with someone’s conclusions, he is a liar, a traitor, and we are required to be suspicious of his motivations and intentions.  We should be capable of objecting to a person’s work and questioning his or her opinions’ accuracy and validity without character assassinations. I do not agree with all of the conclusions drawn in the Goldstone Report, and think its flaws had some terrible ramifications; I still have immense respect for Justice Goldstone. It is easier to dismiss a person than to dismiss their argument, but for precisely this reason, it is important that we maintain standards of civility in the public discourse.

Rav Kook Meets Jazz

by Matt Ponak

It was a cold wintry day during Hannukah of 2007 when I first met Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein. While I was visiting a professor in the Canadian Rocky Mountains with a few other people, Itzchak  was passing through the area. He led us in lighting the Hannukah candles, took out his guitar, and we all came together in jubilant song and prayer. As we relaxed into the moment and tuned in to Marmorstein’s Kabbalistic teachings on Hannukah, he took out a book of poems. He began to read this poetry, written by Rav Abraham Isaac Kook, and I felt the entire room become alive with joy. Everyone was deeply moved by the words Itzchak read and accompanied with ecstatic movements. After working us all into a spiritual frenzy, Marmorstein announced that he was on his way to New York to record an avant-garde jazz album with Greg Wall’s Later Prophets featuring the poetry he had just read.

This was nearly four years ago. Earlier this month I caught up with Marmorstein via Skype from his Jerusalem home to talk about the progress he had since made. The album that eventually came from Itzchak’s collaboration with Greg Wall’s Later Prophets was called Ha’Orot – The Lights of Rav Kook, on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records. Since the album’s release in 2009, says Marmorstein, “we’ve had two tours in Israel and another in the States and we’re hopefully getting a grant for another tour.” Marmorstein said that in more recent live performances, “lyrics are projected along with images of Rav Kook.  It’s very psychedelic.  It’s a whole show.”

Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein was born in Israel but was living in Canada when I met him. Now in his fifties, he first became interested in Rav Kook in 1981 when he had a mystical experience while reading Rav Kook’s writings at Winnipeg beach. Marmorstein made the decision to set Rav Kook’s poetry to jazz music after years of experimentation with different genres. When he saw Greg Wall’s Later Prophets perform their Tzadik Records jazz album based on the trope of Ezekiel, he approached Wall with the idea to incorporate his music with Rav Kook’s poetry. Marmorstein asserts that Rav Kook’s teachings were meant to be shared universally, and so the album is for people of all ages and backgrounds. Marmorstein says his full-time endeavor is to “disseminate the lights of Rav Kook in all their forms.” He is currently working with a world-wide educational project with Wall called Mercaz HaRayah, The Centre For Jewish Arts and Literacy, which he explains as “learning, translating and teaching Rav Kook’s wondrous writings.”

But who was Rav Abraham Isaac Kook and what were his teachings? Marmorstein elaborates on his experiences with Rav Kook’s teachings in this Tikkun Magazine article and says that Rav Kook’s teachings can be summarized by the following five principles:  (1) Everything is holy; (2) Everything is alive; (3) Everything is one; (4) Everything is good; and (5) Everything is rising, evolving, and elevating. These teachings may be difficult to comprehend without a deeper understanding of Rav Kook’s work, but the Ha’Orot project does a great job of communicating some of these loftier concepts.

The poem Renewal, featured on the album, begins with these words:

Give me, give me
rays of light,
Too much for me, too much
these pits of darkness.

Give me the gift
of purity of thought,
Enough for me, enough
these prisons of confusion.

Another poem from the album, and a personal favorite, called The Whispers of Existence, includes these lines:

All existence whispers its secret to me:

I have life, take please take. . .

And from the splendor of the Carmel and the Sharon,

An abundance of cosmic secrets

Will be heard by the ear of a living people.

And from Eden, song and the beauty of life

Will be filled with holy light,

And all existence will murmur to him:

My precious, behold I am permitted to you.

After receiving Marmorstein’s album in 2009, I have listened to it start to finish at least 200 times. The CD’s beautiful instrumentation adds to and brings out the richness of the poetry. Marmorstein is also currently offering weekly classes on Thursday afternoons at the House of Rav Kook in Jerusalem. When I asked him what message he wanted to share through this project he told me, “The message we want to communicate is that there is this extraordinary sage and that there is this extraordinary musical project that people can bring to their campuses and Hillels.” The music is available on the band’s MySpace page which also includes links to order the album online.

Should We Remove the “Israel Filter” When Studying the Middle East? It’s Worth Trying.

By Leigh Nusbaum

A few weeks ago, my class on the contemporary politics in the Middle East was discussing the domestic future of Syria, particularly when it came to Arab Spring. One of the students asked, “How will it affect Israel?” My professor handled the question much more gracefully than I would have. I was annoyed; I wanted to fire back, “What does this have to do with Syria’s domestic policies?”

Maybe I am a little different than the average Jewish college student who studies the Middle East. I focused more on Arabic than Hebrew. I studied abroad at American University of Cairo instead of Hebrew University. Still, I believe there is a time and a place for discussing Israel’s place in the Middle East, and when the talk isn’t directly about the Jewish state or the conflict surrounding it, it shouldn’t be brought up into the classroom.

The Middle East is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating places in the world. The three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—were founded there. Great empires that have made amazing contributions to society rose and fell there. Today, the region is in the middle of the Arab Spring, where citizens of autocratic countries are taking to the streets to protest the current regimes.

This is where what I like to call the “Israel filter” comes in. This filter is the either conscious or unconscious attempt to steer a classroom conversation towards Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict. Additionally, the “Israel filter,” like its cousin, the “Palestine filter,” can become a platform for the person to voice their views on the conflict or the state itself.

You don’t just see these “filters” in action in the classroom, but also on the news. As I watched my friends protest in the streets of Cairo, most of what I heard from commentators on major U.S. networks was, “How is this going to affect Israel?” and less of “Can the Egyptian People change the system that’s been in place for the past 30 years?” In the end, it’s important to discuss whether or not the Camp David Accords will stay in place, but any event before Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11th did not merit Israel as the primary discussion with regard to the Egyptian protests.

Though Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict are integral part of the study of the Middle East, there are other equally interesting parts of the region worth studying. Be it, the rise of Arab Nationalism, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, or the Iranian Revolution, all are intriguing. While each may have some connection to Israel at some turns in history, these periods are not dictated by their relationship to Israel.

That in itself brings up a conundrum. How can I, someone who is Jewish and who cares about Israel, say that Israel is not the most important part of the study of the Middle East? It is important—most of the wars fought in the Middle East have involved Israel—but purely focusing on the conflict or who has the right to the land in the region limits not only the study of the region but also the college student’s view of the Middle East.

Learning why Gamal Abdul Nasser, the president of Egypt from 1956-1970, was so popular in the Arab World, or why Lebanon is prone to frequent instability, does not run the risk of hindering the student’s learning, but broadens it. The saying of “two Jews, three opinions,” rings true here because it isn’t wrong to hear both sides of the story of 1948 or 1967 or 1979. What matters is that you come to your own conclusion over which version is correct. Sometimes there is no right answer.

At the end of the day, Israel can be an important part of Middle East discourse, but not the only part. It cannot, and should not be the center of every Middle East discussion. If one is interested in both Israel and the Greater Middle East, there are several ways that will lead to a much more productive academic discourse. First, know when is an appropriate time to bring Israel into the class conversation. If there is not a time, then the student should bring up the question after class. Additionally, one of the wisest pieces of advice that someone gave me was, when it comes to the classroom discussion leave your preconceptions and personal opinions at the door. Subjective questions and commentary hinder healthy discussion. It makes the classroom hostile to reason and objectivity. Occasionally, it even alienates the student from others. I have heard stories of Jewish students derisively nicknamed “the AIPAC monitor” behind their backs. It’s not necessarily a nickname to be proud of.

At the end of the day, this is just my opinion, but I know that having removed my own “Israel filter” has helped me learn a lot in the past four years at Brandeis. While the conflict is not necessarily an area I am interested in concentrating my studies on, I do know that it’s an area I want to work in. I believe that I understand what is happening in the region and how or why it affects Israel, because I moved away from studying the conflict and Israel as a whole. I would like to think that broadening my perspective makes me want to work that much harder for bringing peace to the region.

Not So Secular: Jews Occupy Wall Street

by Steven Philp

The Occupy Wall Street movement is populated by the disaffected and anti-religious left–that is, if you ignore the Jews. A recent article by Mitchell Landsberg of the Los Angeles Times argues that counter to much of American history–where faith communities often stood at the vanguard of progressive causes–this particular movement shows the widening gap “between the religious right and the not-so-religious left.”

Landsberg finds evidence of this in his cursory examination of the Occupy L.A. protest, where the only signs of faith communities are a meditation tent and a sukkah. Yet Landsberg gives those short shrift, pointing instead to the lack of organized Christian involvement. He interviews John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron in Ohio. Green bemoans the dearth of Christian representation. “Where are the mainline Protestants? Where are the Quakers?” Green asks. “There’s been relatively little denominational involvement.”

What Landsberg fails to recognize is the  Jewish involvement in the protests that extends beyond a small, temporary structure outside Los Angeles City Hall. Our participation in the movement is organized, pervasive, and–most importantly–inspired by the values of our community. In early October, Jews of all ages came out en masse to participate in the Occupy Wall Street Kol Nidre service. According to an article published by the Huffington Post, several hundred people attended the event in New York, with sister services occurring in other major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, DC. The Wall Street service was sponsored by Jewish organizations such as Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and the Shalom Center; 100 prayer books were donated by the Rabbinical Assembly, the governing body of the American Conservative movement. Daniel Sieradski–one of the event planners–found his inspiration to organize the service from his Jewish values. Paraphrasing Isaiah 58:5–the haftarah (additional reading) for Yom Kippur–Sieradski explains, “You can fast for a day, you cover yourself in ashes, you can wear a sack cloth, but who cares if you are not out there feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, breaking the bonds of oppression?”

Following this event, temporary structures started springing up at protests across the United States as part of a coordinated effort to Occupy Sukkot. Facebook pages were created to arrange for the provision of sukkot, lulavim and other ritual objects necessary for Sukkot observance. Sukkot were raised in cities with large Jewish populations like New York and Los Angeles, and in smaller Jewish enclaves like Seattle and Portland.

The connection between Sukkot and the Occupy Wall Street movement was a natural one. Writing for the Huffington Post, Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu explains: “For the newly or long-time homeless, the sukkah provides shelter. For those in danger of losing homes, the sukkah is a fragile home that nonetheless stands firm. For those who have lost jobs, the sukkah offers a bountiful table for all, old and young.” For eight days the sukkah became a powerful symbol of the Occupy movement, and of the Jewish resolve to stand on the side of justice in the face of adversity.

In a way, the Occupy Judaism initiative has become a movement within a movement. With a Facebook page, Twitter account, and e-mail lists, it has the ability to rapidly mobilize hundreds of Jews, who share the dissatisfaction of their peers while simultaneously drawing inspiration from the Jewish tradition. Even with the diversity of opinion among Jewish participants, this population belies the characterization of the Occupy protests as a secular movement–rather, the character of Occupy Judaism is the distinctly Jewish mix of the spiritual and cultural. Sieradski explains, “I am less concerned about halakhah–Jewish law–and traditional observance than I am about the prophetic character of recognizing the divine in my fellow human being.”

The Rise of Jews in the True North

By Scott Fox

Last week, Canada’s Consul General came to talk at my school (Carleton College in Minnesota) about the importance of the United States’ relationship with Canada. But what actually came across was a recruitment speech for joining our Northern neighbor. To tell the truth, I was nearly convinced as he mentioned the country’s comparatively low national unemployment (around six percent), government-provided healthcare for all and its drive for new immigrants.

I’m not the only American looking to Canada for a brighter future. In 2007, the number of American citizens moving to Canada reached its highest rate in 30 years—and the numbers have only been climbing since.

But what does Canada offer Jews? If you’re a Canada-curious American Jew thinking of heading North, don’t worry aboot the lack of Canadian yiddishkeit. Even though they’re usually overlooked, Canadian Jews have a rich culture and history in North America just like their American counterparts. In fact, Canada is home to the fourth largest Jewish population in the world, only standing behind the United States, Israel and France.

Around 375,000 Jews live in Canada—just over one percent of the national population—and are concentrated in the Toronto and Montreal metropolitan areas. And according to writer Jonathan Rosenblum, 74 percent of Canadian Jews have visited Israel—twice the rate of American Jews.

Canadian Jews experienced a somewhat parallel history as their American counterparts. Jews first came to Canada in large numbers between 1880 and 1930 from Eastern Europe. Most settled in Montreal, but rising Jewish immigration also led to rising anti-Semitism. The city’s French Catholic leadership supported discrimination against Jews in housing and employment, and a homegrown French Nazi movement also flourished in the 1930s. However, after World War II, anti-Semitism declined, and during the Quebec separatist movement of the 1970s, most Jews left for Toronto due to their strong opposition to the movement.

In the realm of entertainment, Jews have been as prolific in Canada as in the United States. Recording artist and actor Drake, one of Canada’s biggest stars, identifies as Jewish, attended Jewish day school and had a bar mitzvah. “My mother is Jewish and we have great Jewish dinners on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” he says.

The most popular sitcom in Canadian history was “King of Kensington,” which starred the late Al Waxman, who was born in Toronto to Jewish immigrants from Poland. Leonard Cohen, whose grandfather was the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, is the Canuck answer to Bob Dylan. And of course the greatest Canadian entertainer of all is Jewish William Shatner.

And much of what we consider American-Jewish humor is actually Canadian-Jewish. Lome Michaels, Eugene Levy and Seth Rogen are among other funny makers who grew up in Canada. Rogen, whose parents met at an Israeli kibbutz, was born in Vancouver and got his start by performing stand-up routines at bar mitzvahs. His early jokes usually revolved around his Jewish upbringing. His hit film, Superbad, was co-written with Evan Goldberg, a friend Rogen met in bar mitzvah class. In another movie, Funny People, Rogen even wears a “Super Jew” t-shirt that has the Superman “S” inside a Star of David. Canadian literature also has its own major Jewish writer, Mordecai Richler, a foulmouthed version of Saul Bellow and Phillip Roth wrapped into Tim Horton’s pancake.

Becoming Canadian wouldn’t even mean shifting your taste buds that much. Like American Jews, Canadian Jews love deli food, but with French-inspired touches. Montreal-style bagels are smaller, sweeter, denser and have a larger hole than traditional New York bagels. Deli meat is also smoked Montreal-style with less sugar and more peppercorns and coriander than American salted, cured meats.

Hearing about the exciting world of Canadian Jewry almost makes me want to say, “Next year in Mississauga!” But I don’t think I can handle the Montreal-style bagel.