April 7, 2010
Jewish Group to Glenn Beck: Haik U
If right-wing radio talk-show host Glenn Beck has his way, many American Jews would be abandoning their synagogues. If one Jewish group has its way, Beck will be drowned out by a wave of haikus.
To illustrate the point further, Beck, on his television show, held up cards imprinted with a swastika and the hammer and sickle. Social justice, Beck said, was tantamount to Nazism and communism.
The exception was Jewish Funds for Justice, which last week launched a Web site, “Haik U Glenn Beck,” in which users are invited to respond to Beck — poetically.
“Hurling expensive/coffee at the expensive/TV screen now, Ahhh,” wrote the novelist and Daily Beast columnist Christopher Buckley in one of nearly 1,000 haikus submitted during the site’s first week of operation.
The Beck controversy comes at a moment when social justice, for years a growing — and minimally controversial — area of communal activity, has emerged as something of a dividing line between Jewish liberals and conservatives.
Jack Wertheimer, a professor and former provost of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, sparked a minor uproar last month when, in the March issue of Commentary magazine, he criticized the diversion of community resources to projects aimed at helping non-Jews under the guise of social justice.
More recently, Jennifer Rubin, also writing for Commentary, called President Obama’s Passover message, with its emphasis on a universal social message, “off-key, hyper-political and condescending.” Obama’s “secularized spiel,” Rubin wrote, denies the holiday’s uniquely Jewish message. At the same time, liberal Jewish bloggers sided with the president, arguing that the retelling of the Exodus story is meant to inspire Jews and others to combat injustice.
Such talk, but especially Beck’s comments, are a sign of desperation, said Mik Moore, the chief strategy officer at Jewish Funds for Justice.
“It’s part of a broader assault, in this instance, on faith communities that put social justice at the center of their work,” Moore said. “It stems from a fear that the side that rejects the relationship between Judaism and social justice, that they’re losing.”
It’s noteworthy that the tension between Jewish particularism and wider social concerns should have come to a head around Passover, perhaps the most expansively understood and universally resonant of all Jewish holidays. Passover seders have long been an occasion for interfaith dialogue, and Jewish groups routinely organize seders around such diverse themes as labor rights, children’s nutrition and the civil rights struggle.
Jewish conservatives, for their part, don’t call for Jews to abandon wide social causes altogether, but rather to find a better balance between them and the specific needs of the Jewish community.
“Nobody here is claiming that we need to expunge a universalist frame of reference from our Jewish point of view,” said Jonathan Tobin, the executive editor of Commentary, who asserted that putting Beck and