Crossposted with Shalom Rav

I’m back from the national J Street Conference in DC and its been a whirlwind. There’s so much to tell, but I’m not sure I can do it any better than the myriad of bloggers who have already weighed in. For your reading pleasure, I recommend the missives from the good folks at Jewschool and the Velveteen Rabbi’s thorough session transcriptions. Also worthwhile: Adam Horowitz’s insightful piece in Mondoweiss and Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam. Wade through all of those and you can consider yourself an honorary conference participant.

My proverbial two cents:

There is no denying that this was a milestone event for the American Jewish left. In a breathtakingly short amount of time, Jeremy Ben-Ami and his cohorts have rallied the “Pro- Israel, Pro-Peace” troops in an undeniably impressive show of force. For years, this message has been languishing in the hands of too many small groups that did little but wring their hands at the institutional strength of AIPAC. The American Jewish left is clearly ready to play with the big boys now.

Even before the conference began, however, it became obvious that it would not be a simple matter to gather the various progressive Jewish factions under a single tent. I was personally disappointed when J Street ominously bowed to pressure from the right wing press and rescinded its invitation to poets Kevin Coval and Josh Healy, who were scheduled to perform at the conference.

Now that the conference is over, it’s even clearer to me that this will be J Street’s greatest challenge: can it be a “big Israel tent” for the progressive Jewish community as well as a political lobbying force that must necessarily hew closely to its two-state solution talking points?

The JTA viewed this challenge in largely generational terms:

Older conference goers appeared to be virtually unanimous in expressing support for a two-state solution, calling themselves Zionists and saying that while they back more U.S. pressure on the parties, they reject cutting aid to Israel if it does not accede to U.S. demands.

But a number of delegates under 40, especially college students and recent graduates, appeared to be much more equivocal on the idea of two states for two peoples. Some were hesitant about identifying as Zionists, and some were open to the idea of making U.S. aid to Israel conditional on progress in the peace process.

Whether this divide is strictly generational or not, I can attest that it was clearly apparent from the very beginning of the conference. While virtually everyone I spoke to agreed that the conference was remarkable and often inspiring, I also heard widespread frustration that the content of most of the sessions revealed nothing particularly new.

Over the course of the three days, we repeatedly heard professions of love for Israel, concern over the endangered “Jewishness” of the Jewish state, and expert analysis of the peace process. But for many in the crowd, it seemed that the conference was most galvanizing during the relatively rare and unscripted moments when presenters and participants delved more deeply into the inherent injustice of the situation on the ground.

Indeed, this dynamic was apparent from the very beginning of the conference. During Jeremy B-A’s opening words, for instance, it was lost on no one that the only applause he received was when he acknowledged the suffering of Palestinian children. This kind of energy played out in notable ways over and over again. I can’t help but wonder if by pitching a wide tent, J Street has unwittingly opened a Pandora’s Box that will not easily be closed back up.

For me, the most unabashedly diverse and honest sharing of ideas occurred during the “bloggers lunch.” Interestingly enough the session was not officially sponsored by J Street – and given the free-wheeling nature of the opinions expressed it was to their credit that they allowed it to take place at all. (In a much-discussed Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Jeremy B-A defended his decision thus: “Come on Jeffrey, I’m letting them have a room for lunch.”)

Therein lies J Street’s genius – and its challenge.

Originally published in the Huffington Post prior to conference.

This weekend, J Street, a new Jewish “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” PAC and Washington-based organization is holding its first national conference. The two of us, along with another artist, were to perform and read poems at several sessions during the conference. Specifically, we were invited to lead a workshop on how culture and spoken word create democratic spaces that sift through difficult issues and ensure a multiplicity of voices are heard: and how that can be used to open up the Israel/Palestine debate. Instead, we have been censored and pushed out of that very debate.

This week, some right-wing blogs and pseudo-news organizations latched on to various lines of poems Josh wrote and churned the alarmist rumor mill saying that hateful anti-Israeli poets are keynote speakers at the J Street conference. This is not surprising. The radical right-wing, including the growing Jewish right-wing of this country and abroad, hates complex discourse, especially when it brings to light truths they seek to systematically deny. The Weekly Standard, Commentary, and their AIPAC-influenced brethren have been attacking J Street for weeks, scared that the conference will bring together the majority of American Jews who do favor a more rigorous peace process. When they found Josh’s poems and took lines out of context, they had the perfect straw man: the Van Jones to J Street’s Obama. Again, this is not surprising.

What is disappointing, and troubling, is J Street’s response in caving to this sort of McCarthyism. The executive director of J Street called us to say “I know what I’m doing is wrong…but there are some battles we choose not to fight,” before canceling our program, and disinviting us from the conference. This accommodates their red-baiting and is the wrong response. Rather than give in, which only emboldens the right and legitimizes their attacks, we need to stand up for our principles and engage on that front. Van Jones is another perfect example: after the Fox News venom became too much and he resigned last month, the radical Right hasn’t stopped attacking Obama, or more accurately, the alternative, progressive voice they fear he represents. The Right stands by its politics, and practices solidarity with their allies. Too often the Left doesn’t. And that’s why we often lose – on health care, on global warming, and on Israel/Palestine.

For the second time in two months Kevin, who is Jewish, has been told not to come to a Jewish conference because of what he will say about Palestine and Israel. This past August, the evening before the International Hillel Conference, conference planners said if he were to read poems about Palestine, they’d rather not have him. Today, Josh, who is Jewish, has had his name thrown into a mudslide of blogs and hate emails. All this because we are practicing the Jewish maxim of the refusal to be silent in the face of oppression, anyone’s oppression.

One of the key teachings of Judaism is the insistence on wrestling with and debating ideas. There are a thousand years of codified arguing, recorded in the Talmud and Midrash, over the meaning of the stories in the five books of Torah. Jews debate everything. There is the old adage, “when you have two Jews in the room, you have three opinions”. Our families cannot come to agreement about what constitutes a deli as opposed to a diner. (A deli must have pickles on the table with poppy seed rolls, etc….)

But when you try to talk about Palestine there is silence. When you talk about the role the United States plays in supporting Israel and its military coffers, there is no room for discourse. If you bring up Palestinians’ right to return to land they were forced out of, or mention that this past January over 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilian, were killed in Gaza, there is no room to speak in Jewish-centric spaces in this country.

There are many reasons why this trend of censorship is disturbing. We believe in democracy, in the right to speak and be heard and in the right be disagreed with. We are disheartened and outraged by the lack of democratic discourse in the American Jewish community and within the country as a whole.

Why are we scared of what will come from an honest conversation? What do we have to lose, or discover, or admit to if we question the policies of Israel or America’s support of its government and military? It can be unsettling for one’s worldview to unravel, the intricate web of white lies and half-truths pulled apart. This can be disconcerting for generations of Jews who have accepted the propaganda of a chosen people and the acting out of geostrategic nightmares via military might.

Kevin works at a Hillel for Hashem’s sake! He is charged with the task of addressing why so many young Jews are distancing themselves from the religious and cultural practice of Judaism. This is one of those reasons! American Jews are told at shul to repent for our sins, but silenced if we bring up the sins of the country that acts in our name. We need authentic, honest discourse in the American Jewish community. It must start today and it must be about Palestine and Israel.

So, we are searching for a minyan—a crew of progressives and progressive Jews to build and connect with. We want to have a conversation. Not wait for the conversation to be dictated and have borders and walls built around acceptable topics, but to have a conversation determined by us, Jews That Are Left, that are on the Left. A conversation that is honest and open and genuinely reclaims and considers our progressive past as well as forges the future world. A conversation engaged in the work of tikkun olam for real, the work of repair and healing and wholeness.

Contact: Progressive American Jews where you at? Holla at us! For real: Let’s reshape the conversation. Let’s build a minyan, a coalition of progressive Jews and gentiles who want what is just and right for ALL people and all people in Israel and Palestine.

For more context, here’s an interview that Josh with Haaretz, and a statement/response by the third poet, Tracy Soren.

Shministim Letter: Senior’s Letter 2009-2010

30 Oct 2009 In: Israeli Occupation, military service, Youth

We, the undersigned young women and men, Jews and Arabs from all parts of the country, hereby declare that we will toil against the occupation and oppression policies of the Israeli government in the occupied territories, and in the territory of the land of Israel, and therefore refuse to take part in actions related to such policies, which are carried out in our name by the Israeli Defense Force.

We are all community activists and contribute in various ways to a variety of sectors in the Israeli society. We believe that contribution, cooperation and volunteerism are a way of life, and should not be limited to just two or three years. Our conscientious objection stems directly from our volunteer experience, from the values we believe in, from our love of the society that we are a part of and in which we live, from our respect of every human being, and from the aim of making our country a better place for all of its inhabitants.

The occupation creates an unbearable actuality for the Palestinians in the occupied territories. The checkpoint policy, land annexation, the building of the apartheid wall, paving of roads for Israeli’s only, settlement projects, and assassinations – all these have been sowing destruction in the West Bank for over 4 decades. The siege on Gaza and the prevention of importing materials, including basic food products and humanitarian aid, undermines the basic minimal living conditions of Gaza’s residents. We cannot tolerate such a reality.

The claim put forth by the spokespersons of the government and the army, that the continuation of the occupation arises from security reasons, has no substance. No country that has fought for its independence has ever been defeated by military means. The suffering of the Palestinian people and their subjugation is the cause of violent resistance. Israel’s public will never be safe as long as the Palestinian nation is under occupation. There is no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – only peace will ensure life and security for Jews and Arabs in this country.

The Israeli government frequently boasts that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East”. The occupation is a complete contradiction to this claim. Can a government that controls the lives of millions of people who did not take part in elections be called a “democracy”? Can military rule of a civilian population be considered anything other than a dictatorship?

The Israeli Army claims that it is “the most ethical army in the world”. However, time and again reality proves that occupation and ethics cannot stand together. When young armed men are sent on policing missions in the midst of occupied disenfranchised persons, when the government attempts to repress the struggle of the disenfranchised for independence by force – the stage is set for the injury of civilian population and committing of war crimes. Those who carry out such actions are not “exceptions” or “bad apples”. The occupation is the cess pool from in which such actions fester. The occupation has led the Israel Army to breach international treaties, UN decisions, and recommendations of the international court, and even Israeli law, time and again.

Settlement policy is racist in principle. In the name of a Messianic ideology, it has created a reality of apartheid in the West Bank. Disenfranchised Palestinians and privileged settlers live contrastive lives side by side. Settlers participate in the election of the government that administers their affairs, while the Palestinians live under military rule. Settlers enjoy social security benefits, and economic benefits, while Palestinians live a life of poverty and enslavement. Settlers are tried under Israeli law in Israeli courts, while Palestinians are tried at military courts with out the basic right of a fair proceeding. Any human opposed to racism finds this reality repulsive and untenable.

There are those who claim that we are objectors, although the Israeli government is the most consistent objector – in objecting to peace. The Israeli Army is not a “defense force”, but an aggressive occupation force. The Israeli government does not extend an olive branch, rather it upholds violent nationalism.

The occupation is a continuous crime against Israeli society. Employment of Palestinians under slave conditions in the Israeli job market causes a deterioration of conditions for all workers in the market and brings about a violation of their rights. Instead of investing in social budgets, the Israeli government has been investing for more than 40 years in the building of villas and by-pass roads in the settlements, in order to alter ground reality. The warped norms and the violence that young soldiers confess to in the territories have permeated the green line, and are expressed in a rise in violence and racism throughout Israeli society.

Out of sense of responsibility and concern for the two nations that live in this country, we cannot stand idle. We were born into a reality of occupation, and many of our generation see this as a “natural” state. In Israeli society it is a matter of fact that at 18, every young man and woman partakes in military service. However, we cannot ignore the truth – the occupation is an extreme situation, violent, racist, inhuman, illegal, non democratic, and immoral, that is life threatening for both nations. We that have been brought up on values of liberty, justice, righteousness and peace cannot accept it.

Our objection to becoming soldiers of the occupation stems from our loyalty to our values and to the society surrounding us, and it is part of our ongoing struggle for peace and equality, a struggle whose Jewish-Arab nature proves that peace and co-existence is possible. This is our way, and we are willing to pay the price.

The Undersigned,
Members of the Seniors’ Letter Group 2009-2010

Doing the Right Thing

7 Oct 2009 In: Israel, Media

Are you a Jewish Journalist, looking for a free conference?  Desiring to hone your “objectivity-o-meter” skills?  Want to connect with the latest and greatest Pro-Israel politicians on the scene?  Looking to get the inside poop to scoop the competition?  Want to learn how to “deconstruct negative press, identify bad press, and generate [your] own good press on behalf of Israel”?

Well, apparently, there’s a conference out there where you can scoop all the poop you desire.

Really, it’s quite the opportunity, just read the email they sent (listed below): “Led by seasoned journalists and politicians, the conference is open to all students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate university who are in some way focused on PR, journalism, or writing.”

Wait, what? “In some way focused on “PR, journalism, or writing”? That’s odd, I always considered PR and journalism entirely different beasts, opposing even.

Maybe that’s why neither of these controversial statements appear on the “Do the Write Thing” website, found here.  Instead, they’re written in the email blast.  Now, if Hagshama and the Office of the Prime Minister (the co-sponsors of this affair) want to host yet another PR-filled, highly subsidized pro-Israel ra ra session, zei gezunt, go in health. 

But come now, let’s be honest.  This is not about “addressing issues of [objectivity]” in the media, as written on their website.  It’s about lauding pro-Israel rhetoric to one’s heart’s content while enjoying free (or highly subsidized) room service.  And, sadly, as usual, it’s about silencing voices of dissent with a PR, echo-filled chamber, and nothing to do with journalism.


Appendix A, The Email:

From: Michael Friedman (Hagshama) [
Sent: Friday, October 02, 2009 12:51 PM
Subject: Into Journalism and meeting Israeli Officials? Read this!!


Do the Write Thing (DTWT) 

Nov 8-10 at the UJC’s General Assembly (GA) in Washington DC

Focused on journalism, DTWT is a heavily subsidized three day conference at the GA that gives participants behind-the-scenes access to some of Israel’s and North America’s most influential politicians and journalists. Students are taught how to deconstruct negative press, identify bad press, and generate their own good press on behalf of Israel. Led by seasoned journalists and politicians, the conference is open to all students enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate university who are in some way focused on PR, journalism, or writing. 

Expenses covered include: three nights in a five star hotel, materials, and most meals. You only need to pay for travel to Washington, DC. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet high-ranking officials and network with a “who’s who” of the Jewish world.

Applications, due Oct 10th, 2009, are now being accepted at

Below is an interview I did with Sherri Muzher. Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist, a freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN). The interview is reposted with permission.

“…the mere notion of an Arab Jew, as some Mizrahis identify today themselves, is close to unthinkable in most mainstream media and consciousness. But the divide is not painful simply because it is denied. There is a history of political, economic and cultural oppression of Mizrahis and, as relatively recent scholarship establishes clearly, much of these elements are present to this day.”

When the late Egyptian president and Pan-Arabist Gamal Abdel Nasser led the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, it may surprise people to know that it was the Egyptian singer and Mizrahi Jew Leila Murad who was chosen as the Revolution’s official singer. Murad was chosen over the much loved Egyptian singer and darling of the Arab world, Umm Kalthoum.

The reality is that Mizrahi Jews a.k.a. Arab Jews have played important roles throughout Arab history.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Mizrahi Jewish journalist and activist Mati Shemoelof. He and other Mizrahi Jews issued a special letter to the Arab/Muslim world this past summer — not only talking about their shared history but also to realize the positive message set forth by Pres. Obama earlier this year in Cairo, Egypt.

The Interview

Sherri Muzher (SM): Before getting into the letter, “A New Spirit: A Letter from Jewish Descendents of the Countries of Islam,” I was hoping that you could describe what being a Mizrahi Jew has meant to you and how has it shaped your outlook throughout your life?

Mati Shemoelof (MS): Being a Mizrahi Jew is a personal family matter, as well as a political issue. It is part of other identities I hold. Also to be Mizrahi Jew is part of my social struggle to change the values that stand in the covenant/treaty between the state and the society. Because Mizrahis are still oppressed, it is my task to fight against discrimination and look for a multi-cultural consciousness. I look for new structures that will create more tolerant ways to handle the diverse Identities in the Middle-East.

SM: Mizrahi Jews and Sephardic Jews. What is the major difference since both are Middle Eastern Jews?

MS: Sephardic Jews originated in the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. This subgroup of Jews includes mainly the descendants of Jews expelled from Spain under the Alhambra decree of 1492. The Sephardic Jews are part of the Mizrahi Jews. The term “Mizrahi” means (in Hebrew) “East” and it is part of a powerful mechanism of classification.

Mizrahi Jews are historically Jews of Middle-Eastern descent whose families, in most cases, immigrated to Israel from Arab countries. They form about half of the Israeli Jewish population. The painful reality of Israel is the division within the society between Ashkenazi Jews (of European descent) and Mizrahis. This reality often goes unnoticed by outside observers, who naturally focus on the more violent aspects of Israeli political reality and the division between Jew/non-Jew which the Israeli state draws.

In fact, in the mainstream of Israeli discourse there has long been a systematic avoidance/denial of this division, maintaining – as is perhaps “demanded” by the core of Zionist ideology and its ongoing nation-building project – that the Jews are a distinct people and that Israeli Jews have a unified ethnicity and a shared history.

Indeed, the mere notion of an Arab Jew, as some Mizrahis identify today themselves, is close to unthinkable in most mainstream media and consciousness. But the divide is not painful simply because it is denied. There is a history of political, economic and cultural oppression of Mizrahis and, as relatively recent scholarship establishes clearly, much of these elements are present to this day. More »

The following drash/sermon was given during Yom Kippur at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.

I love being Jewish. I always have. From the moment I knew I was Jewish, I found a home in the prayers, larger-than-me concepts, values and sense of community that were infused in everything we did. I was aware, however, that I was different from my peers. For most of my time in Jewish day school, I was the only one I knew with lesbian moms. My identity as a child of Lesbian parents, some of us call ourselves queerspawn, remained separate from my daily life as a Jew.

My family joined Sha’ar Zahav, and I immediately knew this was a place where my worlds could merge. My Jewish community became the one consistent place where there were mirrors for my family structure. I felt at home. I was able to explore my Jewish identity because I could put aside the pressure of defending my family. I knew that I belonged here amongst Jews, even if others would not see my family that way.

People who know me often comment on how Jewish I am because of my consistent involvement in Jewish community. People who don’t know me often comment on how Jewish I look, because of my fair skin, brown wavy hair, and sizable nose. In other words, here in this community, I pass as a Jew.

Because of the diverse ways we create our families, many of my fellow Jewish queerspawn do not share my Ashkenazi features. They may have sperm donors of color, they may be raised in multi-racial or interfaith families, they may be adopted. Our families are complicated – queerly created in all meanings of the word. And it is not a new phenomenon that Jews of color do not pass as I do in American Jewish communities. My whiteness is a privilege I cannot deny.

Today’s Parshah, Netzivim, describes our people in all its diversity and in detail not previously used in the Torah. We read about the end of our wanderings in the desert, standing at the banks of the Jordan River, about to cross as a people without our leader. Here, we read about Moses giving us the last covenant before we set out on our own, reminding us how we should act as a people. Our covenant is given on the condition that we work for the interest of the community, which is, in turn, our own self-interest. We are all standing at the banks of the river, commanded to think beyond ourselves. All of us – the leaders, elders, children, people of all genders, the stranger, those who labor for our needs, and those who are not here physically or spiritually –

We stand here today, just like we stood before on the banks of the Jordan River. A large group, embarking on a journey into a new year, waiting to see if we will cross over the river into the joyous land of a renewed year in the Book of Life. Just as we were then we are now, standing as a community, unsure of the future but still making personal covenants to do our best to take care of each other and ourselves.

Who may be standing here, but feels like a stranger? My Jewish community is a safe place for me, but that does not mean it is a safe place for every queerspawn. Our community is built with so much care and intention for our families, but it still may not be comfortable for all of us. Particularly, Jewish multi-racial families like mine and Jewish families created through trans-racial adoption may struggle with this conundrum. When is it important to believe that love makes a family, and that love is colorblind? And when is it also essential to remember that love is not always enough to shield our families from racism? What can we do, as family and community, to alleviate the pain brought by our own ignorance? I know we have the capacity in our hearts and in our mouths to make change in our community.

I recently had a conversation with a local Rabbi about his concerns in serving young people with Queer parents through the B’nai Mitzvah process. He was upset that he didn’t know the polite way to ask about the students’ family history to determine if they were, indeed, Jewish. The rabbi was worried that when these students left the bubble of the Bay Area, they would need tools to verify their place in the Jewish community.

Our families are complicated, unique, and so, incredibly holy. The ways we are Jewish are equally complicated. What happens when a child of Lesbians is raised to be a Jew, but the birth mother is not Jewish? The child’s mother is Jewish, because she has two. Why must the child be reminded that, in our society, her lack of shared genetics undermines the authenticity of her Jewishness? That the people she knows as her parents are not validated as real parents by our tradition? What happens when our beloved tradition is entrenched in homophobia and heterosexism? I know I raise complicated questions, but we are used to this. There are no easy answers to questions about queerness. Or Judaism, for that matter.

I began to explain to the rabbi that for many of our families, a piece of paper will not be enough to convince others of our Jewish identities.

That total ease and acceptance through the B’nai Mitzvah process will go much farther for youth with families like mine than a certificate verifying Jewish identity through birth or conversion. We need Jewish community where we don’t need to defend ourselves at every life cycle event. A strong Jewish identity fostered in a loving community is a tool more powerful than any other. I encouraged him to rethink the importance of those supposedly essential questions, rather than looking for sensitive language. In this case, we need love above all else.

And sometimes love is blinding. We want to believe that loving and accepting community is all we need. Because of our love for our family and community members, it is painful for us to see them struggle, and we unconsciously do not see their pain. It is easy to forget that even fierce love is not enough to keep racism, ableism, heterosexism or transphobia at bay. We forget that even if we create a community free of homophobia, we have not built a community immune to all other forms of discrimination. And we forget that mirrors for our experience in our family may not be the mirrors other family members need. Both my sister and I need other Jewish Queer families in our lives, but I must be aware that my sister is a Jew of color, and she needs different support in our community than I do. She moves through the Jewish world with greater barriers. My love for her cannot blind me to that.

On Yom Kippur, we mimic the Parshah – standing together in prayer while deep in personal te’shuvah. Today, I repent for those times when I ran ahead, forgetting that some of my peers cannot navigate with the same ease; forgetting that although we all stood there together to receive the covenant – a promise of prosperity – we are not all able to claim it here and now. Young Jews of color are still forced to explain their families in a place we believe is free from that pressure.

Te’shuvah is a reflection and returning, not to the same place again, but to a new place; a transformation. Today is a day of great grief for the past year, but also of renewal for the next. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the difficulty of building a community for all. There are too many hurdles. I grieve over the mistakes and opportunities I missed in the last year to be a good ally. And I grieve over the opportunities our community has missed to check our racism.

Our portion for the day gives us a gift; a reminder that we are capable. Moses reminds us that being true to the covenant, and being responsible to all people within it, is within reach. It is not in the heavens for someone to bring to you, it is not across the sea for someone to bring to you, it is within reach, in your heart and in your mouth.

I know the power to change my community is within me. It is not fair for me to wait for my queerspawn peers to demand attention. This year, on the holiest of days, my te’shuvah is to confidently move forward with love, do my part to recognize our diversity instead of ignoring it in the name of love, and to be vocal about how we have needs beyond those of other Jewish kids. I ask you to make the same commitment.

As we renew our covenant today, let us remember how we started as a people together on the banks of the river, and spread to a beautiful Diaspora. We have learned to redefine what it means to be Jewish every moment in every corner of the world. We have done this to take care of ourselves as a people, and to build sustainable Jewish identity amongst oppression, secularism, modernism, and globalization. And I want to remember how we got here as a congregation. We come from different experiences and relationships with Judaism. Many who did not grow up in this congregation came to it from a wandering – we come from places of exclusion to where we can be our whole selves, Queer and allied Jews. We must do what we can so that this legacy will continue. We each must take part in creating a community in which our youth and families can thrive. This year, in this place. We cannot wait.

Ruby Cymrot-Wu is a San Francisco-based activist in the Jewish Community and in the LGBTQ Family Movement.

From my op-ed in morning’s Sunday Chicago Tribune (cross-posted in Shalom Rav):

The actions of the Jewish State ultimately reflect upon the Jewish people throughout the world. We in the Diaspora Jewish community have long taken pride in the accomplishments of the Jewish State. As with any family, the success of some reflects a warm light on us all. But pride cannot blind us to the capacity for error on the part of the country we hold so dear. We cannot identify with the successes, but refuse to see the failures.

As we approach Yom Kippur, I call on America’s Jews to examine the Goldstone findings, and consider their implications. In the spirit of the season, we must consider the painful truth of Israel’s behavior in Gaza, and understand that we must work, together, to discover the truth — and then urge on all relevant parties in the search for peace.

To all whom I have hurt: I apologize

27 Sep 2009 In: Judaism, Yom Kippur

At sunset this evening Yom Kippur begins, the holiest day of the Jewish year. It’s 24 hours of fasting and introspection, and asking forgiveness from our creator.

… and from each other: “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones,” the New Union Prayer Book reads, “but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”

That’s the part about Judaism that makes it tough to practice sometimes. It’s easy to ask God for forgiveness; unless a bolt of lightning says otherwise, it’s probably accepted. But having to individually ask humans is much harder, and humbling.

It’s not a wholly owned franchise of Judaism. During the height of the Catholic church sex abuse scandal, I sat, reporters’ notebook in hand, in the pews of Boston’s cathedral as the embattled Bernard Cardinal Law gave his homily one Sunday, protesters picketing outside. Some ventured into the church when, for reasons of his own if not of Catholic liturgy, Law stated the above concept of forgiveness among fellow humans.

One abuse victim — in fact, one of the most vociferous — perked up to listen, and at the sermon’s conclusion, got into the line for the Eucharist. Other protesters joined him. Suddenly, the cleric to whom most of their anger was directed was giving them the host. Law recognized them and said to each “Pray for me,” and they did. “Walls came down,” abuse victim Steve Lynch said afterward.

True, the truce lasted barely a day and could never erase the victims’ lifelong suffering, but it was nonetheless moving, serene.

Transgressions demanding atonement need not be as serious as having enabled child molestation, and lest we forget our lesser sins, the prayer book enumerates many. “We are arrogant, brutal, careless, destructive, egocentric, false, greedy” — all the way to “xenophobic, yielding to temptation, zealots for bad causes … our sins are an alphabet of woe.”

And if not in actions, then in words, intentional or not.

That last one embarrassingly hits home. After a taping of DNTV not long ago, I left the microphone on while giving editing instructions to Jimmy Bellamy, our multimedia editor. “No, no. Don’t ever do it that way. You have to do it like this…” and so on. The words weren’t very strong, but the tone was, I learned, when playing back the accidental recording.

Jimmy is thick-skinned and can take it, but not so everyone. In another editing job several years earlier, I was surprised to learn a proofreader had quit because, I was told, “She said you swore at her every week.”

“Whaa?” I wondered — until I realized that my weekly greeting (“What the blank is this blank?”) when she would deliver the publisher’s editorial to me had been interpreted personally. Of course I knew what it was, and I intended the remark as a commentary about the publisher, not her. But I failed to let her in on the joke.

Then there are times when this curmudgeonly editor has unambiguously let loose a stream of invective. Apologies to all within earshot.

Sins of words are not limited to those spoken, and I know what I write here carries the power to tear down as much as to uplift. Journalism, I often say, is the one profession where you know someone’s going to have a bad day before that person does. But regardless of whatever my subjects did or didn’t do, if the way I told it was careless or caused pain, I humbly apologize. Even to those who I think should know better: “It was satire!” I cry out when someone misses my point. No matter; they were hurt nonetheless. I am sorry.

And those, of course, are the easy ones. The rest are too personal or painful for public discussion.

“For all that was done
For all that was not done
Let there be no forgetfulness before the Throne of Glory
Let there be remembrance within the human heart.”

Originally Published in Duluth News Tribune

Marriage advice?

26 Sep 2009 In: Israel, Religion

The municipality of Petach Tikvah in reference to Jewish women dating Arabs: “We can’t tell the girls what to do but we can send a psychologist to their home to offer them and their parents advice.” Huh?

Oh, the city also started a city-funded hotline for parents and friends to inform on these Jewish women, who “did not undergo the religious and Zionist education.”

Then why are you sending a so-called psychologist for advice? Send a religious and Zionist teacher, quick!

Are you surprised? You should not be.

Israel only accepts religious marriages in the first place. That means that if two people of different religion or ethnicity want to marry, either one of them converts to the religion of the other, or they have to leave the country to get married elsewhere. Cyprus, anyone?

Check out this website, of an Israeli organization calling for civil marriage in Israel.

I can relate. I’ve been married to my husband twice. The first time the California Supreme Court declared my same-sex marriage null-and-void; the second time the voters passed Proposition 8. This time around the California Supreme Court protected my marriage, but closed the door to any new same-sex marriages in the state. Massachusetts, anyone?

I bet you they do not talk about these pesky problems of civil marriage in the hasbarah campaigns that target the LGBT community. Somehow the theme of marriage equality sounds a bit hollow when even heterosexual couples have trouble getting married because of their ethnicity of religion.

And whatever happened to the law that Uri Avnery had called one of the most revolting laws ever enacted in Israel? The law stated that the wife of an Israeli citizen is not allowed to join him in Israel if she is living in the occupied Palestinian territories. Last I heard, it was under judicial review. I am not sure what happened to it. Maybe the psychologists in Petach Tikvah know.

L’shana tova
Time again, according to the Jewish calendar, to celebrate the New Years by looking inwards.  But we do not simply take account of our individual actions over the last year, we also look at our community’s actions.  Each year on Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur we traditionally recite the Viduy prayer.  No matter our personal accounting, the synagogue’s walls echo with a call for collective forgiveness.  Together, the community chants: We have been guilty, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely… This prayer, coupled with the mournful call of the shofar, or ram’s horn, demands that we each humbly repent for our neighbor’s vices in addition to our own. 

Every New Year we face this religious reckoning which demands us to support each other and to hold our community accountable to itself and to forgive itself.  This year, in the Bay Area, such demands could not be timelier.

Two summers ago a brutal murder in San Francisco by an undocumented youth caused major fallout.  Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco decided, after a tremendous amount of xenophobic pressure, that the only solution to appease this pressure was to weaken its Sanctuary City laws that protect undocumented youth.

Overnight, the city went from one of the most forgiving cities to those youth who have transgressed civil immigration laws to one of the most draconian.  Today, any youth thought to be undocumented and picked up by the San Francisco Police Department for a criminal offense (SFPD) gets transferred without trial to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

For undocumented youth today, the SFPD are their jury, and ICE is their judge.

After over a year of struggle, our community is ready to both forgive and to hold itself accountable.  On October 5, 2009, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee will discuss legislation to allow undocumented youth their day in court.  Under the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Ordinance, only youth found guilty of violating criminal laws can be transferred to ICE.

Righting this wrong will make all Bay Area residents safer by easing tensions between San Francisco’s undocumented community and the police.  It will also restore some justice to an unjust system.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ vote on this Ordinance is scheduled for October 13, 2009.  Organizers expect Mayor Newsom to veto the new law, so having a veto proof majority of eight (8) supervisors supporting the Ordinance is critical.  Today, we have that support, but we need you to maintain it.

Please contact Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell to thank them for cosponsoring this critical legislation that ensures due process for San Francisco’s youth.  Ensure their support by calling or emailing them today.

And after standing with San Francisco undocumented youth, make your voice heard for just comprehensive immigration reform.  Click here to email your President and congressional representatives and make your voice heard today.

Bevan Dufty (415) 554-6968:, cc his aides at and

Sophie Maxwell (415) 554-7670:, cc her aides at,

Sample Text:

As a Jewish community member of the Bay Area and Progressive Jewish Alliance, I thank [Supervisor Dufty, Supervisor Maxwell] for co-sponsoring the Undocumented Immigrant Youth Ordinance introduced by Supervisor Campos.  In the spirit of the Jewish New Year’s which teaches understanding and atonement, the Ordinance is a reasonable measure that ensures due process to children and that restores our city’s reputation for fairness, tolerance and justice.