This week, I traveled from Israel to engage in discussions with Jewish community leaders and activists in Southern California. As a proud Israeli Zionist, I work to promote the flourishing ties between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. I came here as an Israeli who celebrates the link between our proud history and a present filled with unmatched innovation and growth, the Israel of the City of David, King Solomon’s Mines and the “Start-Up Nation.” A state of pioneers and the warriors.
There was no clean knockout when New York Times columnist Roger Cohen faced off against some 400 members of the local Iranian Jewish and Bahai communities last week, but spectators were treated to some vigorous rhetorical sparring and nimble footwork.
Calendar Girls picks and kicks for March 1 - 7
Diary of activities at LimmudLA.
Thank you. That's the profound message of this column: Thank you. The instigators, organizers and volunteers who brought Limmud to Los Angeles last weekend deserve our gratitude for challenging one of the long-held orthodoxies of the L.A. Jewish community: There is no Jewish community.
As I wrote here three weeks ago, I am a supporter of CAMERA and its mission. They do good work. But I believe they were taking the wrong tact in trying to tell a local church with a long history of support for Israel and Jewish causes whom it should and shouldn't listen to. CAMERA and I disagree on only one thing: tactics.
The fifth annual Oseh Shalom-Sanea al-Salam Peacemakers Camp is an outgrowth of the Bay Area's many Jewish-Palestinian dialogue groups founded by Len and Libby Traubman of San Mateo. It was held Oct. 5-8, this year with an emphasis on youth and those already working in numerous peace and coexistence organizations. Groups like Combatants for Peace sent representatives, as did the village Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, which consists of equal numbers of Arabs and Jews.
Luckily, Judaism can hold its own in this wild ride -- because it already has a very big "buffet" that can appeal to a wide range of different tastes. We get in trouble when we focus on only one part of this buffet as if it's the whole thing. That smells like dogma. If we can display all the spiritual, cultural, mystical, intellectual, historical, ritual, artistic and communal courses of the great Jewish feast -- and invite Jews to partake in its many delights -- maybe the new generation will stop dismissing or trying to "upgrade" Judaism, and, instead, will explore what's being offered until they find something that turns them on.
Limmud was founded 25 years ago in England, where each December more than 2,000 people gather for a five-day conference. In the last six or seven years, the Limmud model has spread around the world, with conferences in Russia, France, Canada, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Australia and New York.The goal of LimmudLA, slated for Febrary during President's Day Weekend at the Costa Mesa Hilton, is to bring together the broad spectrum of Los Angeles Jewry to experience the richness of Judaism through intense days packed with the arts, shared meals and conversations, and a quirky and diverse offering of text studies, lectures and workshops. At Limmud, all the teachers are participants, and many of the participants are teachers, so everyone learns from each other.
"Numbers don't keep me up at night; Israel keeps me up at night," Eisen said. "I'm worried about the security of Israel, and I'm worried about the apparent decline in attachment on the part of American Jews to Israel. This literally, from time to time, keeps me up at night."
She was absolutely right. Movements don't start with specifics or 10-point plans. They start with people meeting up and talking. Ideas are generated, plans are made and one day, action is taken. It's a slow process. This is where Reboot is now. Perhaps from this generation -- prompted by leaders like Levin -- an articulate minority will emerge and point the Jewish community in a fresh direction, just as Heschel and Herzl did many years ago.
Sokatch is the founding executive director of Los Angeles-based Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), a nondenominational group dedicated, in his words, to "connecting Jews to the critical social justice issues facing our city, such as criminal and economic justice and interfaith dialogue."
Is it possible for Los Angeles Jews and Muslims to talk to one another, to share peacefully at the table?
This is the question that some leaders of both groups locally are asking themselves.
On Monday, the three heads of the leading Jewish seminaries tackled this question, as well as the challenges of teaching a new generation of Jews in an hourlong plenary session that stepped outside the overriding focus on Israel at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly.
An Open Letter to Ramona Ripston.
Published plays -- especially those in anthologies -- tend to be dismissed by the casual browser as specialty items, of interest only to students of theater history or to actors in search of audition material. Ellen Schiff and Michael Posnick clearly had something else in mind when they compiled their lively new collection, "Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays."
The evening had three acts. First came ritual. Taubman and Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, another co-sponsor, lit the traditional Havdalah candle, woven together from three wicks.
The aim of the conference is to make a positive contribution toward resolving religious conflict wherever it arises. According to the Jewish representative of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Andre Azoulay, "the word of God has been kidnapped." He added that it's no longer enough for religious representatives to watch from the sidelines as religion is used by those who preach hatred.
After a visit to Moscow, Hamas leaders claim "the wall" of diplomatic isolation Israel is trying to build around the newly empowered organization is collapsing.
But Israeli government officials say they are still confident that the international community will cut off funds to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and back Israeli moves for a second unilateral pullback from Palestinian territory.
Caroline Baron, the film's producer who worked with Hoffman on "Flawless" and has known screenwriter Dan Futterman and Miller for a number of years, said that all films present challenges, but that from the outset, she had "100 percent confidence in Bennett as a director and Phil as an actor."
Having an open dialogue -- about things like rap music, Xbox games or Polly Pockets -- is essential for raising moral and ethical children. Creating the stage begins in infancy. There are no guarantees about the results of our parenting efforts, but there are ways we as parents can tilt the odds in our favor.
At the Islamic Center of Southern California, each table had a word. There was "family," "social action," "prayer," "rituals" and "holidays." Participants were asked to move to the table that reflected how they viewed their faith.
The exercise was part of the second annual Jewish/Muslim Dialogue organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics. About 120 people participated in the program, which included a screening of three clips from a new documentary that emphasizes ongoing cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The sound and feel of Broadway's "Rent" are intact, even while the music assumes a slightly edgier rock core, and some dialogue is spoken rather than sung.
Jewish leaders have vowed they will work to combat any rise in racial tensions following the London bombings, amid fears that the attacks may lead to increased anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The age of terror, it seems, has sprouted an era of dialogue. A host of conferences designed to bring together East and West are cropping up everywhere.
Never before, perhaps, have so many talked so optimistically about so serious a problem. But behind all the words is one unspoken disagreement that may imperil any chance for progress.
My direct encounter with this optimism took place at a high-profile get-together, the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar, in mid-April. Organized by the Qatar government and the Brookings Institution, the conference was packed with more than 150 scholars and leaders from all sides who diligently discussed both the needs and the means for achieving democracy, reforms and renaissance in the Muslim world. Strikingly, there was hardly a Muslim speaker who did not tie the implementation of such reforms to progress toward settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
You have to hand it to those Presbyterians. Their leaders know what they want, and they won't be deflected by things like logic, fairness or the well-being of people in the Middle East.
The last time my name appeared in The Jewish Journal, I had just been dubbed the "Milken Idol" for winning a public-speaking contest with what The Journal termed a "stirring pro-Israel speech" that called for "Zionist solidarity."
The Israeli-Palestinian issue is intensifying the fall-semester buzz at Duke University this year.
In Israel this week, televangelist Pat Robertson inveighed against giving territory to the Palestinians, claiming that the goal of Islam is to "destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat.
7 Days in the Arts
As a Los Angeles Unified School District teacher of world issues for seniors in Los Angeles, I began yesterday's class by playing a taped interview of Michael Moore talking about his movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11." I had suggested that the class go see the film, so we could discuss it.
In response to these unprecedented overtures, some in our community have called for ending all dialogue with Presbyterians. I believe that is exactly the wrong response. What we need is a renewed dialogue that would occur on two levels.
At one point in the Taper Forum play "The Talking Cure," Sigmund Freud warns the young Carl Gustav Jung not to needlessly stir up the enemies of psychoanalytic theory.
Claire Luce Booth, the wife of the owner of Luce Publications, reported a frank conversation with a Jewish friend. Booth said, "I must admit being positively bored by all this talk of the Holocaust and its constant repetition of Jewish suffering." The Jewish friend replied, "I know just how you feel. I feel exactly the same way about the Crucifixion."
Each would like to see the other's story go away. But neither will go away. Golgotha and Auschwitz, the Crucifixion and the Holocaust, remain the dybbuk of our culture. They must both be confronted and understood.
In 1947, a group of parents led by Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez of Westminster fought to end California's segregation of its Latino school children. Their suit came to the attention of the state's governor at the time, Earl Warren, who went on to hear the Brown case as chief justice of the nation's highest court.
From my own experience and from the reports in The Jewish Journal, it is evident that it has become more and more difficult to plan for a dialogue between fellow Jews on the subject of Israel -- much easier to organize a discussion between Christian and Jewish leadership or even between Islamic and Jewish representatives.
Recently, I came across a story about a man who made the "unforgivable" mistake of missing his wife's birthday. When the wife expressed her anger, the quick-witted husband responded, "Sweetheart, how do you expect me to remember your birthday when you never look any older?"
If only that were true, and we could find the secret elixir for everlasting youth, we would all be happier. Although some French winemakers would like us to believe that imbibing one glass of French wine each day will do the trick, most of us realize that, considering the alternative, aging is a blessing.
7 Days in the Arts
It has been a great year in Jewish studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU). The program enjoys surging enrollments.
A week ago, the path to peace seemed bright following the formal launch of the "road map" peace plan at a summit in Aqaba, Jordan.
We would always say that we were the ambassadors of love and happiness, causing people to smile as they passed by us, the chemistry almost touchable.
"Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life" (Miramax, 2003), the autobiography of Noor Al Hussein, Queen of Jordan, has been on The New York Times Best-Seller List for six weeks now.
The recognition will be a blessing to Pakistan and to Pakistanis. Frankly speaking, it will be the first time that our self-proclaimed guardian -- the Pakistan army -- would make a wise decision; the right move at the right time.
In the past two years, a soundproof curtain has descended on dialogue between individuals in Israel on the one hand and Gaza and the West Bank on the other. Without the possibility of interchange, it is but a small step to collective demonization of the other.
If Palestinians and Israelis are linked by anything, it seems to be fear and mistrust.
Now a one-of-a-kind social experiment has stepped into the void, attempting to pierce the soundproof curtain. Not between politicians. Not between delegations. Not between professional groups. Not between celebrities.
With supreme -- and perhaps naive -- faith in the common man, a local group has come up with a scheme to allow Palestinians and Israelis a first step in one-to-one contact: giving them the opportunity to talk.
Jewish lobbyists say that when the Republicans take control of the full Congress in January, they will need to respond more to legislation they oppose rather than help craft laws that fit with their priorities.
Letters to the Editor.
These days, the dialogue is on hold -- though once again organizers are trying to revive what's left of years of intermittent effort.
Attempts at creating a viable relationship between representatives of some 600,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslims in Southern California go back almost as far as the 1948-49 war between Israelis and Arabs, and, as the headlines show, have reflected the fortunes of peace and war in the Middle East.
I have written about Yitzhak Frankenthal before, and I will no doubt write about him again, because the man has the gravitas to say just about whatever he wants about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
Frankenthal is one of a distinct minority of Israelis and Arabs these days who are engaged in dialogue with their political adversaries.
All evening Taumisha Freeman sat dutifully, listening to the story of the Exodus out of Egypt, tasting matzah ("It needs salt"), reciting the plagues, without any expression. It was hard to know if she was bored or if, given the fact that she had never been around anything Jewish before, it was just too strange to be here at this intergroup Passover, sponsored by the Pacific Southwest regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.