Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I received an email today from a young woman away at college who I have known for most of her life. She is a strongly identifying Jew, smart, open-minded and open-hearted. She asked me for help in addressing the following statement made to her by a college friend:
“Israel is the aggressor. Israel won't compromise. Israel needs to be stripped of its military because it is using it too liberally. Israel is the bully."
About five years ago it became clear to me that college students, in particular, and adult Jews as well, do not have the background necessary to respond effectively to the kinds of statements that my friend shared with me. And so, I wrote and compiled a document entitled “Facts, Responses and Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” that offers, to the best of my ability, a concise history of the conflict drawing on facts and modern scholarship from a variety of sources.
My goal in writing this piece was to state the most common myths and distortions made against Israel and then to offer the true history behind the claim. (Note: I have not added to this document since April, 2010).
This past year I published another piece in the CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly entitled “The International Delegitimization Campaign Against Israel and the Urgent Need of a Comprehensive, Two-State, End-of-Conflict Peace Agreement” (Winter, 2012).
I referred my college student friend to both of these pieces which can be accessed on The Temple Israel of Hollywood Website under “About Us” and “Clergy.” http://www.tioh.org/about-us/clergy/aboutus-clergy-clergystudy
If you yourself need more information, or you feel your high school and college student children and grandchildren could benefit, then I ask you to refer them to these pieces as a beginning to gaining greater understanding.
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November 15, 2012 | 7:35 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Anyone who has visited Sderot in the south near the Gaza border must appreciate why Israel cannot tolerate the hundreds and thousands of missiles launched indiscriminately by Hamas from Gaza on Israeli cities and settlements.
The Israeli targeted killing this week of Ahmad Jabari, the mastermind of the Gilad Shalit kidnapping and a terrorist responsible for the murder of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent Israelis, is justifiable. Any progressive Jew should be supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas bombs. No nation in the world would do otherwise.
Having said this, understanding context and the risk of unintended consequences is important. Though it is nothing new that Hamas is a sworn enemy of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, the political fall-out for Israel from this operation and anything yet to come from a possible invasion is unknown and cannot be predicted one way or another.
Israel is in the midst of an election campaign. The PA is preparing to introduce a bill into the UN General Assembly to gain recognition of a “State of Palestine” and already has the votes to get it passed. Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to miss opportunities to work towards a two-state solution, most recently when he ignored President Abbas’ statement that Palestine is the West Bank and Gaza and not Israel. President Obama is refocusing (I would assume) on the Middle East after the American election, and has stated his desire to draw down more quickly, if possible, the number of American troops in Afghanistan. He also understands the need to stabilize Iraq, address ongoing issues relative to the “Arab Spring,” tighten sanctions on Iran, maintain a working and productive relationship with Egypt, and figure out what to do about the deadly civil war in Syria.
Another Israeli-Hamas war, even if justifiable, throws a monkey wrench into the mix.
A popular Israeli song from 1977 written and composed after Anwar Sadat visited Israel (“Yehiyeh Tov” - lyrics by Yonatan Gefen; Music by David Bruza) still expresses the yearnings and dreams of Israeli youth who have born the burden of defending the Jewish state for so long. As we read the unsettling news day in and day out, it is important to remember that at the heart and soul of the Israeli people is a yearning for a better future and peace. I believe the same is true of the Palestinian people.
The melody of Yehiyeh Tov is beautiful and the English translation a pale reflection of the original Hebrew. You can watch and listen to David Bruza sing it here (and below).
“I look out the window
and it makes me very sad,
Spring has left;
Who knows when it will return.
The clown has become a king;
The prophet has become a clown;
And I have forgotten the way;
But I am still here.
All will be better, yes -
all will be better.
Sometimes I break
But this night,
O this night
I will stay with you.
Children wear wings
And fly off to the army
And after two years
They return without answers.
People live with stress
Looking for a reason to breathe
And between hatred and murder
They speak about peace.
And all will be better…
Yes, above in the heavens
Clouds learn to fly,
And I look up
And see a hijacked plane.
A government of generals
Divide the landscape,
To what is theirs and ours,
And we know not the end.
And all will be better…
I look out my window -
Maybe it will come,
Maybe it has come,
Yes it has come -
A new day.
Here comes the prince of Egypt.
O how I rejoiced for him.
There are pyramids in our eyes
And peace in his pipe
And we said let’s complete it,
And we’ll live as brothers
And he said let’s go forward.
Just get out of the territories.
And all will be good…
We will yet learn to live together
Between the groves of olive trees;
Children will live without fear
Without borders, without bomb shelters.
On graves grass will grow,
For peace and love,
One hundred years of war
But we have not lost hope.
I look out the window
Perhaps a new day will come.”
David Bruza has been singing this song for 35 years, and vows to continue until there is peace.
November 14, 2012 | 11:01 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The French film-maker Lorraine Levy has told a provocative and moving story in “The Other Son” about an accidental baby-switch in a Haifa hospital during a Scud missile attack in the first Gulf War. A Muslim Palestinian-born baby boy consequently came to be raised in a Jewish-Israeli home and a Jewish-Israeli baby was raised in a west-bank Muslim Palestinian home.
The error was discovered when Joseph (now 18) went for a blood test before entering his mandatory Israeli military service, and his mother, a physician, found that her son’s blood type was unlike either hers or her husband’s. The hospital administration sought out the records and discovered the error, brought the two families together and the drama unfolds.
Many critics found the scenario forced and unlikely. Perhaps! However, the drama poses the existential question - “Who am I?” Am I the product more of nature than nurture, biology than environment, DNA than religion/culture/nationality?
The confusion is palpable for the central characters in the film. The two fathers (played by Pascal Elbe and Areen Omari) first want to hide the newly discovered identities of their sons and bear quietly the pain and confusion to avoid public embarrassment and shame. The mothers (played by Emmanuelle Devos and Khalifa Natour) yearn to hold and kiss their birth sons. The two younger sisters are thrilled to have new brothers. The older Palestinian brother Bilal (played by Mahmood Shilabi) suddenly regards his formerly beloved younger brother Yacine (played by Mehdi Dehbi) as his enemy.
The film-maker avoids spending much time on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in lieu of telling the personal story of two families struggling to comprehend and integrate a new and confusing truth.
Yacine (the Palestinian raised Israeli-born son) standing next to Joseph (the Israeli raised Palestinian- born son - played by Jules Sitruk) says “Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abraham!” thus shining a light on their Biblical familial ties.
Joseph, the best student in his rabbi’s yeshiva who had strongly identified as an Israeli Jew, is now no longer certain who he really is. His rabbi tells him that Jewish identity is a “state” and he can convert, but he is offended and alienated. He tells his mother, “You mean I’m the other one? And the other one is me?...I’ll have to swap my kippah for a suicide bomb.”
He says to Yacine, “I can’t feel Jewish anymore. I don’t feel Arab either. What’s left?”
Yacine muses, “I’m my worst enemy, but I must love myself anyway.”
Both sons are drawn to know their birth parents and siblings, and they travel to the other side. The women’s hearts open immediately. The men, burdened by pride, machismo and hate melt more slowly.
The mid-part of the movie has Joseph and Yacine exploring each other’s worlds and becoming friends. The two young actors successfully play layered characters who wonder about the lives they could have lived and the parents they would have known and not known. Their situation suggests the absurdity of arbitrary divisions defined by religious and national identities.
The question before each young man is who they are and what they will become?
The director allows them to be quiet on screen, to not react explosively, and to dwell in their confusion and crisis that they might find greater clarity and a new way to think and be in the world.
The movie concludes with an act of violence against Joseph by street toughs on a Tel Aviv beach. Both Yacine and his older brother Bilal (who has come around to accept Yacine and Joseph as his two brothers) rush to the injured brother's aid.
In the hospital, Yacine told Joseph, “I called your parents.” Joseph asked, “Which ones?”
I loved this film for the hopeful possibilities it offers for Israelis and Palestinians once a two-state solution is achieved and peace is given a chance – Imshallah/B’ezrat haShem!
November 8, 2012 | 8:05 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Already, many of us are hoping that after President Obama’s inauguration and Israeli Elections this January, President Obama will make a visit to the Middle East, meet with Israelis and Palestinians, and bring a strong proposal for a new round of negotiations leading to a two-states for two-peoples resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Given the strong support that J Street’s 2012 election night poll of Jewish Americans found among American Jews for President Obama’s policies overall and for his approach to the Middle East, Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace, the President should feel confident that American Jews support him as an honest broker.
J Street commissioned three polls to assess the American Jewish vote in 2012 examining voting preference and priorities, as well as opinions on Israel. One poll focused on the national picture. Another focused on the Ohio Senate race, where Senator Sherrod Brown faced numerous attacks on his pro-Israel credentials and affiliation with J Street. The third poll focused on the state of Florida, where right-wing groups poured an unprecedented amount of money into dishonest ads and attack campaigns to try to turn support for Israel into a partisan wedge issue.
The American Jewish community remains a solidly Democratic voting bloc despite tens of millions of dollars spent to move their votes. In 2012, American Jews remained overwhelmingly supportive of President Obama, of Democratic candidates, and of US leadership to achieve a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The J Street Poll found the following:
“Jews hold progressive views on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
• Strong support for U.S. playing an active role to help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, even if it means publicly stating disagreements with the Israelis and the Arabs (69 percent support)
•76% support the U.S. putting forth a peace plan that proposes borders and security
• 72% percent support comprehensive agreement along the lines of the Clinton parameters
It has been suggested that President Obama appoint former President Bill Clinton as a special envoy to the Middle East to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No one has the authority and knowledge that the former American President has, and I, for one, hope that Obama will invite President Clinton’s active involvement and leadership. For a persuasive argument on this point see Bernard Avishai’s recent blog.
As some of my readers know, I am a strong supporter of J Street, the national home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who believe that a two-state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I serve as a national co-chair of the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet because I believe in J Street’s vision and strategic approach to the Middle East conflict. J Street understands (reflecting the views of a majority of Israelis themselves) that unless Israel and the Palestinians find a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Jewish state will lose its Jewish majority and democracy.
This 2012 election showed exceptional success for the J Street vision in the polls. Here are the main results:
All 49 JStreetPAC-endorsed incumbents in the House were elected.
All 7 JStreetPAC-endorsed Senate candidates were elected.
JStreetPAC's challengers and candidates for open seats – elected in 13 out of 15 races (Ami Bera hanging on to a razor thin lead in his race for a Congressional seat in Sacramento would make it 14 of 15.)
Contributors gave over $1.8 million to these 71 pro-Israel, pro-peace candidates for Congress, and, consequently the 113th Congress will have 50 percent more JStreetPAC-endorsed members than are in Congress today. JStreetPAC efforts helped elect Tammy Baldwin (WI), Martin Heinrich (NM), Sherrod Brown (OH), and Time Kaine (VA) to the Senate, and for the first time in its four years of existence, JStreetPAC moved aggressively AGAINST candidates who are “One-Staters” (i.e. against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supporters of full annexation of the West Bank by Israel). Come January the House of Representatives will no longer have One-State Caucus members Joe Walsh, Allen West, Bobby Schilling, Frank Guinta, or Ann Marie Buerkle.
Given the success of the above endorsed candidates, it is clear that J Street chose well and that those candidates enjoy broad support for their positions generally.
It is also clear that the J Street vision is increasingly being embraced at the highest levels of Congress and that both House and Senate candidates and office-holders happily accepted endorsements from J Street.
No longer is the right-of-center policies vis-à-vis Israel and within Israel itself the only legitimate pro-Israel position embraced within the American Jewish community. In this regard, it is time that the 8-10% of the American Jewish community for whom Israel is their number one voting issue – the outspoken, emotional, passionate, right-wing, and deliberately intimidating – be understood as the small minority that it is.
It is clear that it is time that we in the moderate-left of the American Jewish community become equally passionate advocates of our positions.
The polls have clearly said in this election cycle that the majority of the American Jewish community supports the J Street position vis-a-vis the Middle East.
November 7, 2012 | 5:58 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
The poll below is necessary reading for anyone interested in the American Jewish community’s voting behavior in the 2012 election, its concerns about Israel and peace with the Palestinians. The poll puts to bed the canard that the American Jewish community is behaving substantially differently than it has since World War II.
Paste to browser --- https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=https%3A%2F%2Fs3.amazonaws.com%2Fs3.jstreet.org%2Fimages%2FJ_Street_2012_Election_Presentation.pptx
The Gerstein poll discovered that 70% of the American Jewish community supported President Obama and Democrats and 30% supported Governor Romney and Republicans. That is essentially unchanged.
Jim Gerstein is a founding partner of GBA Strategies. For 10 years, he served as the Executive Director of Democracy Corps, a non-profit organization founded by Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum, that conducts public opinion research and provides strategic advice to the progressive community. Prior to his work with Democracy Corps, Gerstein was the Executive Director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation, where he led public education campaigns, congressional visits to the Middle East, and convened Middle East diplomats in the U.S. for meetings with business and political leaders.
The Institute provides financial, organizational, and strategic support for various Arab-Israeli peace projects, including meetings between retired generals from Israel and Arab countries, initiatives with regional business leaders, and dialogues between Jewish and Arab officials.
During the 1999 Israeli Prime Ministerial campaign, Gerstein took a leave of absence and joined Ehud Barak’s U.S. based consulting team. He served as the team’s man on the ground, overseeing polling, paid media, and message development for the campaign. Gerstein has worked on several U.S. political campaigns and has held several key positions within the Democratic Party. In 1992, he worked on the field campaign for Carol Moseley Braun’s successful run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. He later moved to Washington, DC, where he became the Deputy Director for Jewish Affairs at the Democratic National Committee. In 1996, Gerstein worked in the press office for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and then directed the Clinton/Gore campaign for the north side of Chicago and northern Illinois.
November 4, 2012 | 3:48 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
“The Good Girls Revolt – How The Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Work Place,” by Lynn Povich, is a painstakingly researched story of one of the seminal events affecting the rights of women in the American work place in the early years of the women’s movement.
In March, 1970, 46 Newsweek women sued Newsweek Magazine for sexual discrimination in hiring and promotion. Charging that “there seems to be a gentlemen’s agreement at Newsweek that men are writers and women are researchers, and the exceptions are few and far between,” carefully and with resolve these women set out to do something that had never been done before - bring a class action civil rights suit against one of the publishing world's juggernauts.
Katherine Graham, then the publisher of The Washington Post and President of the Washington Post Company (the parent company of Newsweek), when told of the lawsuit asked, “Which side am I supposed to be on?”
The 46 Newsweek women enlisted the legal counsel of the young firebrand attorney Eleanor Norton Holmes who successfully guided the suit to victory and opened not just the publishing business, but the workplace generally, to greater fairness and opportunities for women.
Lynn Povich was one of the ringleaders.
A disclaimer, Lynn is a friend. However, even if she were not, I would recommend this volume especially to young women who were born long after the struggles fought by their mothers and grandmothers. It is too easy to take for granted the opportunities available to women today, even with the inequities, without pausing to consider the scope of the suppression, humiliation and injustice suffered in the past (AMC's "Mad Men" well describes the world in which Lynn and her colleagues struggled). For anyone 60 years and older, we remember those years pre-Feminine Mystique, pre-Newsweek women, pre-Roe v Wade. Much, thanks to Lynn, her colleagues and many others, has changed in the last 40 years, and this book enables us to take stock and be grateful to those women who stuck their necks out.
Lynn began as a secretary at Newsweek and within 5 years (after the lawsuit itself, revealing the good will of its top management) became the magazine’s first woman senior editor. In 1991 she left Newsweek to become editor-in-chief of Working Woman Magazine and managing editor/senior executive producer for MSNBC.com.
Lynn explains how these 46 women came to sue Newsweek and how they “conspired” in the Ladies Room out of fear of being fired.
Neither Lynn nor her colleagues were the stereotypical hard-edged, bra-burning, hard, man-hating women so often dismissed by Rush Limbaugh and company. To the contrary, Lynn and her colleagues were humble and self-effacing, often smarter and more talented than their male counterparts, who wanted Newsweek to be the progressive magazine it prided itself even then on being so they, based on hard work and talent, could progress.
Lynn told this story not only because the case the Newsweek women brought was historic (i.e. the first class action suit filed and won on behalf of women in the American workplace), but because still today there are inequities that need to be addressed, including equal pay for equal work and discrimination against women who choose to become mothers and work.
Lynn writes about the women’s lives (with their permission) who were at the center of this story and what happened to them since. She is candid about herself as well.
Lynn's is a success story, but not all the 46 were successful despite their intelligence and talent. Plagued by prejudice and personal pressures, some became casualties after the struggle.
Lynn shows how changes in the law did not change everything, and she reflects on what needs still to be addressed if justice and fairness are to prevail.
October 14, 2012 | 4:30 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
I will not review Stephen B. Shepard’s fascinating memoir Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital mainly because I do not know enough about journalism or the revolution that has transformed how we receive information since the advent of the digital age to be able to do so. Nevertheless, I recommend Steve’s book not only because he is a friend (I receive no kick-backs for this recommendation – just the pleasure in knowing that some of you might buy this book and gain in wisdom, as did I in having read it), but also because Steve is positioned as few people are in America to reflect authoritatively on what has happened in the past 40 years in print and digital media.
The Editor in-Chief of Business Week Magazine from 1984 to 2004 and the founding Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at City College of New York (CUNY) since 2005, Steve has done and seen it all. He reviews not only some of the top stories during his tenure at Business Week, but reflects intelligently on what is now happening in news and media.
The following are reviews of his book by people who do, in fact, understand Steve’s world, and they speak for themselves:
A Top Editor's Take on the State of Journalism Today and His Prescient Forecast of Its Future
'This is a personal and insightful book about one of the most important questions of our time: how will journalism make the transition to the digital age? Steve Shepard made that leap bravely when he went from being a great magazine editor to the first dean of the City University of New York journalism school. His tale is filled with great lessons for us all.'
'Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Steve Jobs
"This is two compelling books in one: Shepard's story of his life in print journalism, and a clearheaded look at the way journalism is evolving due to electronic media, social networking, and the ability of anyone with a computer and an opinion to make him- or herself heard."
More About The Book - A composite of comments by others
'My personal passage is, in many ways, a microcosm of the larger struggle within the journalism profession to come to terms with the digital reckoning. Will the new technologies enhance journalism . . . or water it down for audiences with diminished attention spans? What new business models will emerge to sustain quality journalism?'
Stephen B. Shepard … helped transform [Business Week Magazine] into one of the most respected voices of its time. But after his departure, he saw it collapse - another victim of the digital age.
In Deadlines and Disruption, Shepard recounts his five decades in journalism - a time of radical transformations in the way news is developed, delivered, and consumed. Raised in the Bronx, Shepard graduated from City College and Columbia, joined Business Week as a reporter, and rose to the top editorial post. He has closed the circle by returning to the university that spawned him, founding the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.
In the digital age, anyone can be a journalist. Opinion pieces are replacing original reporting as the coin of the realm. And an entire generation is relying on Facebook friends and Twitter feeds to tell them what to read.
Is this the beginning of an irreversible slide into third-rate journalism? Or the start of a better world of interactive, multimedia journalism? Will the news industry live up to its responsibility to forge a well-informed public?
Shepard tackles all the tough questions facing journalists, the news industry, and, indeed, anyone who understands the importance of a well-informed public in a healthy democracy.
The story of Shepard's career is the story of the news industry - and in Deadlines and Disruption, he provides peerless insight into one of the most critical issues of our time.
October 12, 2012 | 6:31 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
One of the most important verses in all of Torah appears in this week’s Torah portion B’reishit: “And God said: Let us make the human being in our image, after our likeness” (Vayomer Elohim, naaseh Adam b’tzalmeinu kidmuteinu…” (Genesis 1:26).
Notice that God seems to be speaking to others, but who?
The Midrash imagines this conversation between God and the only other beings with whom the Divine could possibly be talking - the heavenly host, or angels:
“Rabbi Simon said: When the Holy One, blessed be God, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, ‘Let the human be created,’ while others urged, Let the human not be created.’ Thus it is written, ‘Love (Chesed) and Truth (Emet) fought each other, ‘Righteousness’ (Tzedek) and ‘Peace’ (Shalom) combated each other’ (Ps. 85:11). Love said, ‘Let [Adam] be created, because he will dispense acts of love (g’milut chassadim)’; Truth said, ‘Let [Adam] not be created, because he is filled through and through with lies’ (sh'karim); ‘Righteousness’ said, ' Let [Adam] be created, because he will perform righteous deeds’ (tz’dakot); ‘Peace’ said, ‘Let [Adam] not be created, because he is full of strife (k’tatah)"’ … Rabbi Huna the Elder of Sepphoris, said: While the ministering angels were arguing … the Holy One, blessed be God, created [Adam]. Said God: ‘What can you do? The human has already been made!’” (B’reishit Rabbah 8:5)
To review - the angels of “Truth” and “Peace” were against the creation of the human being because they knew that we mortals would lie and fight each other in battles large and small.
The angels of “Love” and “Righteousness” favored our creation because they knew that we would perform deeds of loving-kindness (g’milut chassadim) and acts of righteousness (tzedek).
In the end, God sided with “Love” and “Righteousness” and Adam Harishon (i.e. the First Human) was created.
“Truth” and “Peace” were right, however, because we are prone to lying and fighting, to intolerance of the “other,” hard-heartedness, self-centeredness and small-mindedness. And “Love” and “Righteousness” were also right because we can be compassionate, empathic, generous, humble, and kind.
The story is told that once the Baal Shem Tov summoned Sammael, the Lord of demons, because of some important matter that he wished to command Sammael to do, but Sammael resisted. So the BESHT told his disciples to bare their foreheads to Sammael, and on every forehead, the Lord of demons saw inscribed the sign of the image in which God creates the human being – B’tzelem Elohim.
Sammael was disarmed, and then agreed to do the BESHT’s bidding, but asked humbly and beseechingly before departing, “Oh children of the living God, permit me to stay here just a little longer and gaze upon your foreheads.” (Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber, Book 1, p. 77).
I encounter people every day, some with open and kind hearts, and some self-centered and mean-spirited. This story and the verse upon which it is based (Genesis 1:26) remind us who we are and before Whom we stand. When those before me are kind, generous, inclusive, and loving, I see the words B’tzelem Elohim flowing from their every pore. When they are not, still I search for the sign of God on their foreheads, strive to treat them as if those sacred words are apparent, and I imagine what kind of world we would have if we looked for that sign in everyone we meet.