Posted Claire Barer
I`m walking down the streets of Paris with a cream cheese and salmon bagel in my hand. Yesterday`s hangover - conversation with my husband - comes back to me like a flash: he told me one of those stories about his mom (unfortunately my step mother!). She is the perfect example of “Kvetschen”* : single German women who always have problems without solution. Her mother died year ago. She belonged to the same type except that she’d lived in Germany during the Holocaust. She managed to escape Germany by joining Belgium and then came to France.
As you can see, my family is inseparably bound with what happened during WWII. But all the Jews are, aren’t they? Of course, I think that it’s a part of our identity. As well as Israel? The candelabrum? Bagels?
Everyone has his own definition of what “being a Jew” means. Therefore you get a different one from a French, an Austrian or an English person. It will differ between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Left alone inside and outside the Jewish community… Being a Jew is a very big problem! Another one! Like Facebook, psychoanalysis or relativity… Other famous Jewish concepts!
Every concept is based on reflection, theory and, of course, history. Let’s imagine a woman. In her thirties, green-eyed, wearing a little black dress with a red pashmina covering a stylish hairdo. She’s waiting at the front door of a synagogue and she’s smoking a cigarette on a freezing Friday night. It’s time to drive back home, to have the familiar chicken Sabbath soup. I’m not sure that she thinks of her great grandma who ran out of grilled chicken for want of cash and Kosher food stores in 1946 Romania. But still, this 30 years old woman will have a special dinner on Sabbath night. She also has three children who regularly return from holydays on Jewish youths movements camps ; a husband involved in Jewish renewal in the French community, and friends currently entertaining a blog concerning Jewish pop culture, too.
Like everyone else, she is unique. But, contrary to everyone else, she knows that she has something special about her, because she is Jewish. Maybe it is the way she eats ,or maybe they are the songs she listens to, like “Sound of Silence” she has just downloaded on youtube, maybe it’s in the way she felt when she heard about the liberation of “Guilad Shalit”.
Today she has the choice she did not have yesterday :.the possibility of choosing which way she wants to live her identity. Today, the concept of a “Jew” is more personal and various than it has never been before. The Holocaust is in the memory of every Jew , and will remain there. But Jews are still alive! And everyday small fragments are added to the one million pieces puzzle of the Jewish history.
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November 25, 2011 | 6:45 am
Posted Katarina Rudolph
Global Jewish Identity- Utopia?
Does something like the universal Jewish identity exist ?
There are Jewish communities around the world and they definitely aren’t the same.
In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for example, you can see four different kind of synagogues from different countries and different epochs. These synagogues, which are the part of the permanent exhibition, were constructed as smaller models of the four types of synagogues from the places where they had stood before. There are two European models: an Italian and a German (Ashkenazi) one and – on the first glimpse – two more unusual kind of synagogues: an Indian and a Suriname. Obviously these prayer houses vary a lot in architecture and use of colours, because they were highly influenced by the cultural environment in which they were built.. Each of them is really unique and beautiful, but they also have similar symbols such as David star or Menorot. This example shows the versatility of Jewish communities – the possibility to adopt to the environment without forgetting their own roots and traditions.
So when we think about Jewish identity, things that come to our minds, are first of all the Jewish symbols, traditions, prayers and really important ones : Jewish holidays. The Jewish calendar is full of feasts, which are either based on biblical stories (e.g. Pessach, Sukkot) or on Jewish historical events (e.g. Channuka). Each feast has developed special customs , so there are special prayers and sometimes even specific food and clothes.
The Jewish holidays are celebrated all over the world and even Jews, who consider themselves secular, are eager to follow some of the Jewish traditions and rituals. It is celebrating the feasts at the same time for the same reason, that creates a belonging-to-the-Jewish-people-feeling (This, in my opinion, is totally independent from, whether you believe in Jews are the chosen nation or not.).
Another point is, that Jews, who live in the Diaspora still learn and pray the same ancient (sometimes slightly renewed) Hebrew prayers. The Torah reminds the believers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. So, even if Diaspora Jews never have set a feet to Israel, most of them feel a strong connection with the country and have the desire to visit it at least once in their lives.
The security fever is one more component for being a Jew – not necessarily in times of war – because Jewish communities all around the world often are required to have high safety systems. So it is quite usual to see security guards or policemen, video cameras and sometimes even detectors around synagogues, Jewish Museums or Jewish and Israeli institutions and organizations buildings.
Some Jewish communities are better connected to their (non-Jewish) surroundings and some of them are rather isolated. But most of the time they are quite well connected within their own circles. Isn´t it clear that these Jewish communities consider themselves part of a bigger, global community?
And how a small nation as the Jews could have survived over 2000 years in the Diaspora, (just being one of the minorities in the countries they lived in) if there didn`t exist something like a Jewish identity that is the same, wherever life brought them?
Statistics say that nowadays there are about 13.428.000 Jews living around the globe, from which over 57 per cent are living in the Diaspora. But every year thousands of Jews from all over the world decide to make Aliyah (to immigrate) to Israel.
So, even if the concept of a global Jewish identity might not be easy to grasp, it isn´t an utopia.
November 25, 2011 | 6:41 am
Posted Dana Hadadi
Yoram Kaniuk, the author of ‘Adam Resurrected’ (Adam Ben Kelev), has recently applied to the court of Israel with the request to delete “Jewish” from his ID and in the Population Registry, as it was turned down by the Ministry of Internal Affairs . His request was accepted, mainly due to his appealing petition, in which he explains that the choice of religion should be the free choice of a man. This historical precedent is somehow revolutionary to the state that was established on the religious background..
On the other hand, in quite distant Hungary, Jewish Community Federation in Budapest appeals to its citizens to add “Jewish” under: religion in the Population Registry.
http://www.enismagyarzsidovagyok.hu/az-legy-aki-vagy/ (watch the video, it’s sweet)
After years of depression suffered during communist regime, the Jewish community in Budapest flourishes regained freedom to practice their religion, and now they want to declare it proudly, as if they were fighting for the honor that was taken away from them long time ago.
First observation of those events, close in time, but far away in geographical conditions might show a contradiction. Two different ideas of Jewish concepts- European Jews wishing to strengthen connections with their religion, by having it legalized it in their documents , and Israel Jews trying to cut off from it in their everyday reality. Nevertheless, both tendencies show, that the core of those two ideas is rooted deeply in the principle of the freedom of choice, and I couldn’t find any more appropriate way to describe the manifest of Judaism in one’s life. These two different concepts tell the stories of two different Jews in the Diaspora or two different Jews in Israel, where people are simply born in - general educational system, constant media feedback, whatever is a Jewish surrounding. A wise friend of mine told me how she sees it: “You learn you are a Jew in two ways: either you define yourself as one, or you become one by the other’s definition of you”.
And this is how I see it: Judaism is a life style, a state of mind, culture, friends with the same common bizarre and lovely customs, only you can be excited about, or magic full of misterious symbolic objects. (preferably shiny ones J). Also, sharing some unique dangerous codes of the Hebrew language (ma ze ma ze), sharing an unexplainable hazardous attraction to Israel, hating your friend’s synagogue just to have something to talk about, celebrating exhausting family dinners on holy days flooded with gossip, and at last but not least, enjoying a segregated taste-less sense of humor and internal jokes. (I’m just kidding, Jewish comedians are the best).
I wouldn`t appeal to a Judaism in ones genes, blood ties, or any of these darvinistic ways of sorting that brought the holocaust into our lives once again, as well as I wouldn’t like spread out the ideas like these to give the others scientificl tools to defind me.
My “half Jewish” friend tells me how cold a conversation at a Shabbaht dinner in the community can get, when suddenly her companions realizes she is not “pure Jewish”. I know these harsh looks, and awkward sighs. These are the same looks and sighs I get when I tell a (non Jewish) European that I was born and raised in Israel.
November 25, 2011 | 6:37 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
Starting out. The new place, the new ideas and more fears that expectations. Perhaps this certain moment is the best one to engage in a new enterprise. When I first heard of Jewrnalism I thought the idea is as brilliant as needed and expected both from the Jewish community and non-Jewish people. I felt I could be the target. Getting to know a new place, which for me means Cardiff, is always related to getting to know its history, roots and very often tragic moments. The question is, are there any Jew-related issues here? Of course, the easiest way is to google it, youtube it and finally like it on Facebook, but…
Wandering around the city you do not see explicit signs of the Jewish presence here, but you can easily guess, that they must have been here. For those, who are not very familiar with the city’s location, I would just disclose a secret: Cardiff used to be a huge harbor, which means a lot of travelers, merchant and trade. Therefore, the river Taff, that touches the land and reflects the skies over the Welsh capital must have been a witness of Jewish people coming to work or live here. Bustling in the harbor, goods being brought from distant lands, ring a bell, isn’t it? Following the thread to the end, it is easy to find that there used to be a vivid community of so called “port Jews”. The specifics of their settlements was different, that the one of Jews in Amsterdam for example. We don’t talk here about the refugees looking for a place after the Inquisition and staying in diasporic connections. It seems that the Jewish life in Cardiff or rather on its seaside was mostly business-oriented.
Let’s come back to the present days. The recent developments has transformed the city’s bay into an organism that has nothing to do with the traditionally perceived harbor. It was the largest regeneration project in the UK over the last years. That is not bad, if we have a look at the testimonies. In the 1939, Howard Spring would describe the port area (that used to be called Tiger Bay) as “a warren of seamen’s boarding houses, dubious hotels, ships’ chandlers smelling of rope and tarapaulin… children of the strangest colours, fruit of frightful mesalliances, staggered half-naked about the streets… It was a dirty, smelly, rotten and romantic district, an offence and an inspiration…” .
Looking for at least the particles of the spirit is pointless – Cardiff Bay, as the area Spring was describing, is called now, is the city’s most vibrant and modern part. The Jewish footprint has been erased just as all the artifacts left by the ‘Chinks, Dagos, Lascars and Levantines’. The area that used to be compared with Hamburg, Shanghai or New Orleans has died in order to rebirth. Unfortunately, the port Jews has not been commemorated. Where are than, the signs of Jewish presence? Have they been erased for good and non-traceable any more? This will be explored very soon and the Cardiff’s United Synagogue seems to be offering a wealth of information on that. Does the Rabbi know more about the port Jews in Cardiff? This is to be checked soon!
 Cesarami D. Port Jews: Jewish communities in cosmopolitan maritime trading centres, 1550-1950, London, Routledge 2002.
 Spring H. Heaven Lies About Us: a fragment of infancy, New York, Viking Press, 1939.
November 24, 2011 | 3:35 am
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
Have you ever heard about the National Rebirth of Poland (NRB)? Perhaps not, but it seems that the organization is receiving a lot of hype right now. The reasons are simple: the more scandalous you are the more they talk about you. However, there is a second layer here, dangerous, I’m afraid.
Living outside the country you were born in sometimes can make you a bit ‘immune’ to the information about the homeland. Parties are changing, taxes are sometimes going up, sometimes down, but as long as there is no war in the air, you do not follow the info-websites so eagerly. Recently however, a news hit the headlines. The organization has registered two controversial logos for their official use. The first is the celtic cross and the other, called by the organization ‘Sodomizing forbidden’ is an antigay symbol used many times by the organization. Who are those people, who catch attention through pretty peculiar activities?
The National Rebirth of Poland, ‘is the oldest Polish nationalist organization after WWII. Development of NOP (in Polish: Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski) from the day of raise (Nov. 10th, 1981)’ you can read on their website. This is followed by the history and finally the aims: ‘NOP attaches special importance to education of militants and sympathizers organizing training cycles on social and political issues, economy, religion and history. NOP is an ideological movement, however, for legal convenience, from 1992 is registered as a political party by the District Court in Warsaw and National Electoral Commission.’ For many it conveys a picture of a organization that has strong mindset but keeps it in the safe framework. The problem is that the reality is significantly more complex.
Firstly, the people who are engaged in the movement are very radical not only in their opinions but in their behavior as well. The recent events that have taken place in Warsaw during the manifestations on the Independence Day, are one of many examples. Secondly, the strong, homophobic inclination is being exposed more often and the campaign to recognize legally ‘Sodomizing forbidden’ logo was it climax. Unfortunately, the campaign proved to be successful. From now on the obscene sign can be exposed at any public space. The excuse is that the political organization (and this is how NRB is officially seen) can appear through its signs wherever they feel it is appropriate. The tool of ridiculing a minority used is a hideous play whose goal is stigmatization and humiliation. The overlaying myths are being produced in scope of so-called ‘safeguarding of traditional values’.
The process of unfolding the NRB’s discourse shows further groups that are within the interest of the organization. Among them there are Jewish individuals and communities. In one of the articles published on the official NRB’s website the author claims that the International Holocaust Remembrance Day established by the United Nations had a very precise aim. It was a cover-up for the politics of genocide that Israel is exercising against Palestine. What is more, the article underline Zionistic imperialism embodied in politics, economy and territorial struggle. This situates the organization close to their counterparts such us Forza Nuova in Italy, Movimento Social Republicano or the British National Party. Since the negation of Holocaust is forbidden by law, the hatred towards Jews is under the vestiges of alleged economical power of the Jewish lobby or international problems of Israel.
The direction of the path that NRB is following is sadly sullen. The strong nationalistic approach, eccentrically radical mindset and the language that is located far away from the civilized political discourse should cause concerns and anxiety of any minority. Gay people, Africans, Jews, Muslims, migrants, physically challenged. It is hard to predict who will be next, but the fact that the state is not openly against has nothing to do with the freedom of speech and democratic rules. The increasing urgency to act against the discriminatory statements instead of being blocked has been legitimatized. The further alliances will be happy to join the radicals and than the movement may be just to big to handle…
The NRB’s official YouTube channel:
Here you can find the whole array of registered logos that NRB can use:
November 23, 2011 | 1:34 pm
Posted Pavel Pustelnik
The Interfaith Week that Has Happened Somewhere Else
The idea of bringing believers of different faiths to one place and giving them chance to talk and share is fabulous. As long as this happens. The Interfaith Week in Cardiff might have taken place, but do not ask me where.
‘Interfaith Week arrives!’ shouts the website of the Cardiff University Students’ Union. The program was full of events: from down-to-earth tasting of different foods to panel discussion. I was really looking forward to taking part. Finally the Monday when everything was supposed to start arrived. Together with a friend we went to check the venue, but there were no signs, no people around. What made the situation worse, the date displayed at the chaplaincy that was supposed to be the venue differed from the one on the website. Gorgeous. Instead of getting to know the differences between Sikhism and Baha-I we had a walk. Not bad, but not entirely satisfying our appetites.
The second day seemed to be equally important: ‘Informal inter-faith chat’. Probably a chance to meet new people, having tea, thinking of what we could do together. I was almost feeling the cozy atmosphere while heading to the venue. How bitter the disappointment was… Welcoming atmosphere was reduced to an advertisement on the door: ‘The Inter-faith chat postponed. We are at the lecture in the National Museum Wales’. That is really brilliant, but who are ‘we’? And postponed to when? I felt as if someone was playing dirty games with me. Again, I had an evening bike-ride, listened to calming music of Olafur Arnalds, but did not feel richer in any inter-faith experience.
Some people ‘Third time is a charm’. I arrived at 1:00 pm sharp and presented myself with the most wonderful smile I could produce to people who have been playing with me for the last three days. Rang the bell. An absolutely stunning blond female student opens the door and smiles millions of times nicer than me. ‘I’m saved’ I thought. ‘Well, interfaith group, they might be somewhere around’ she said. We went upstairs and downstairs, but apparently they decided to be very interfaith closed and did not appear at all. I was offered a tea in the Anglican chaplaincy. Well, kind of interfaith, but not exactly what I was expecting.
November 22, 2011 | 8:55 am
Posted Dana INT.
Being offered to take part in Diversity tour Hungary in Budapest I realised immediately this will be a right event for me to attend. It took place in a venue which is well recognized with the left wing liberal guild of the Jewish community, the one that carries upon its flag to support any group that feels itself deprived regarding its expression in the conventional crowd of the majority. The seminar was lead by the two guides - a French woman and an Italian girl. Except me, and an Israeli anthropologist giving lectures at the University , all participants were Hungarian.
In the city very liberal in advocating pluralism where I come from, Tel Aviv, I used to be quite active in the queer scene. This community’s voice is known to be loudly heard among the locals. Over here, in Budapest, this part of the population didn’t come to my mind that often, since in the scope of my duties towards the Jewish youth whom I work with, I mainly stressed their hunger for the general quest for their own Jewish identity.
It came to me as a surprise that Judaism seems contradic gay`s lifestyle, when coming to combine the two: being a gay and also being a Jewish, and as a simple woman I was not aware of these challenges they offer to our society.
Most of the gay people I knew were fighting their way out their sexual closet without need to handle what it means to them to be gay in a Jewish environment, naturally, because in Israel this Jewish environment is given, and secularity was the conventional way.
The question of how we should be involved when it comes to perserving identities that are not directly related to the group we assign ourselves with is a basic human question waiting to be asked whenever the civil rights’ topic is being discussed.
Do we interfere with women being exported to slavery work around Europe because they are women, even if they are not from our country? Do we join the protest of Roman’s in the state where we live, even though they are of a different ethnic group? Do we deal with legalization process of expanding rules to the benefit of people with other sexual orientation then us?
It is very hard to find a motivation to liberate ourselves - first, outside the little bubble of our community’s need first. We trust those weak groups to struggle for their demands, because what the hell do we know about being a woman on trafficking, a Roman being assaulted or a homosexual wanting to marry his/her love. We don’t. As non-Jews don’t know how a Jew does want to live his life in the Diaspora. But it is necessary for us to know, to listen and to spread out. Being active by becoming aware, you might learn something about yourself, about your place in the world. It is your responsibility.
For further interest on this topic you might as well search for the 2nd season of ‘Srugim’- a TV series produced in Jerusalem dealing with a young gay religious guy.
For further info about the seminar and to its blog:
November 22, 2011 | 7:54 am
Posted Dmitri MacMillen
Days after arriving in France for my student exchange, I was unexpectedly shaking the hand of a literary and political inspiration by the name of Grossman. No, regrettably not Vassily Grossman’s, whose epic Life and Fate I continue to grind through, but David Grossman’s. The appearance of the Israeli novelist, serving as a “prologue” for the literature festival Bibliothèques idéales was awaited with immense expectation in Strasbourg, the open-doors event itself flanked by the city mayor and witnessed by a near-full Cité de la Musique et de la Danse. For the past two decades, Grossman has established himself as Israel’s best-known writer and among the foremost novelists of the modern age, translated in over thirty languages and read the world over. Equally recognised, however, are his efforts as a political activist, effectively harnessing his influence to speak on matters of peace and social justice, whether through his richly themed novels or participation in Peace Now alongside fellow public intellectuals such as Amos Oz, or as lately observed, addressing the “Tentifada” demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem.
The “rencontre” began on a rather lighter note, Grossman initially asked of his credentials as a rap songwriter, having recently penned lines for Israel’s most popular rappers through his rhyming of slogans from over 120 Israeli bumper stickers, the musical product subsequently topping the national charts for over a year. The focus soon shifted to his latest novel, To the End of the Land, a work tracing the trajectory of Israel since 1967, through the eyes of the mother of a fallen soldier in the army. Inspired by the loss of his eldest son during the war in Lebanon five years ago, it has received plaudits as his finest insight yet into the psyche of modern Israeli society and its evolution over the past decades. When it was first proposed to him by the host of the event, that the novel was essentially one concerning the geography of Israel, Grossman agreed, synthesising it as a mirroring the path he explored from the north of the country to its south. While doing so, he realised the land was “just earth” and only temporary, upon which “all wars and quarrels were a waste of time” and a more normal way capable of being understood. The book, he further suggested, was a clash between two cultures, those of the envelope and what happens within the country. The former consists of the machinery of the army in “delivering the message,” so critical in forging a national metaphor of a “suit of armour, without a knight, without a person within.” Contrasting with this, lies the vitality and dynamism of its individuals whom Grossman strives to “keep alive,” most evidently in the form of the novel’s central figure Ora, who upon predicting the imminent delivery of the announcement, flees across the terrain of the land in search of her her former lover Avram, the secret father of her deceased son.
When discussing a work so poignant for its very author, the host could not but allude to the very announcement Grossman himself had to presence, drawing gasps from several in the audience previously unaware of this. Grossman said he had begun the novel three years and three months prior to the final days of the second Lebanese war, and upon the fulfilment of Shiva, returned to writing it. The experience led him to reaffirm his attachment to writing, an act granting him “a way of being in this life,” and strengthening his characteristic commitment to the themes of the “neighbourship between life and death…the need to document it…and how they are intertwined.” Seconding the host’s assertion that the novel was a secular prayer, he claimed that more and more people were becoming detached from ideology and finding refuge in literature. Asked of the role Ora plays as Jewish figure, he hinted at her mediating between two layers, one that of the Hamatzav, or the “situation” of constant bleeding for hundreds of years, which though having broken her family, she continues to infuse with warmth and significance. When nearing the end of the literary discussion, and unsurprisingly in France, the host could not help but enquire about the sexuality prevailing throughout the novel, and whether it at all reflected the author’s own autobiographical experiences. Quipping that all his fiction does inevitably become autobiographical , Grossman more morosely put it as representing the high voltage nature of Israeli society, and its inherent wholeness, vitality, sensuality, emotions, youthfulness and fear of death.
Having implicitly addressed the themes of war and peace throughout the analysis of To the End of the Land, Grossman was asked to provide a commentary on the social protests in Israel, of which he has emerged as a prominent supporter. Describing it as an “intriguing, exciting phenomenon,” he believed awareness of the developments in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria had been critical in prompting Israelis from all walks of life to camp in the nation’s streets. Marvelling at how after 44 years of deep-seated polarisation within society, the protests had emerged as a unifying force, rekindling a sense of solidarity, mutual responsibility and equality for so long absent, he accepted that for now it was best to put aside the politics and allow the country to “recover.” Nonetheless, he was hopeful that the demands for equality and dignity would lead to political results, and not necessarily ones concerned with the internal socio-economic imbalances. Queried whether the left was capable of playing a part in this all, he said its vast unpopularity, summed up by its nickname “leftovers,” had deterred the protesters from directly associating themselves with it. But neither had the right, Grossman argued, provided any vision or positive policy for the past years, thus allowing a vacuum of real leadership to emerge of late. The nature of Israeli politics, for so long revolving around security, would now evolve, he hoped, “these ideas [those of the protests] those that will allow societies to live.” Our role, he concluded, ever so important at this stage, is to “insist there is an alternative…that we are not doomed to reality… that life is not one catastrophe to another.”
And then he scuttled off, only to quickly re-emerge at the Cité’s entrance to sign his books for the outgoing audience. Leaflets printed by a Jewish-Muslim association in Strasbourg, in support of the upcoming bid for Palestinian statehood at the General Assembly, made their way around, its political message however feeling somewhat eerily out of sync with the nuanced and measured potency of Grossman’s own calls for peace. As I remarked to him, in gratitude for his signing of my newly purchased copy ofVoir ci-dessous: Amour, the English title of which I cannot seem to trace anywhere, it appears as if only figures such as himself are capable of so poignantly understanding the complexities of Israel.