In that moment, we as Jews ask: are we really safe and tolerated here?
In that moment, it becomes a chance for the broader community to act and say 'Yes, you are. Yes, all people are. America is for everyone. Colorado is for everyone. Steamboat is for everyone.'
That moment is quite brief. We hope and pray that Steamboat High School's principal, Mr. Taulman, seizes this opportunity to have a broad discussion with all the students of the school about American values and creating and maintaining safe space for all students. It is important to tackle these issues head on and with great seriousness.
It would be careless, and quite possibly dangerous, to regard this kind of targeted harassment as nothing more than “vandalism.” And we ask that Steamboat Spring High School make a concerted effort to show that intolerance and hatred have no place at their school, and that the purveyors of targeted harassment will have consequences for their actions.
We also call upon the Steamboat Pilot to be aggressive and vigilant in future efforts to cover this type of incident and to give it significant attention. For a significant incident of anti-semitism such as this to receive news coverage a full two months after it occurred is quite disappointing.
Lastly, we ask that all of your readers; thoughtful, intelligent individuals who care about their neighbors, their friends, their co-workers and colleagues throughout Routt County, take a moment to reach out to each other and express their love and respect for each other. Understand that many people who are minorities — gays and lesbians, Jews and Muslims, people of color and many others — have experienced a wave of intolerance and hatred over the past six months.
We are all very different from one another in this world. But our ability to cross ethnic and cultural lines in order to see the things we share in common is the most critical and defining feature of our humanity. In a letter to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, President George Washington expressed his ideal for the citizens of our nation when he wrote, "Happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
Our nation calls upon all its citizens to sustain and defend the rights of liberty and protection of all citizens and to re-double those efforts when circumstances dictate. We hope and pray that minor incidents like these will be handled with all seriousness and a great degree of importance, that every citizen and schoolchild in our nation be allowed to “live under their own vine and fig tree, with none to make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)
(In Peace) לשלום,
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Har Mishpacha of Steamboat Springs congregation
Why 11 guys named Moti playing pub league soccer are probably not the central obstacle to Middle East peace
(Note: this is an article I wrote on the vote of 5/11/17 by FIFA to table a motion by the Palestinian Football Association regarding possible Israeli violations of FIFA rule.)
Wednesday, FIFA brass maneuvered a delay on a vote pushed upon them by the Palestine Football Association that would condemn the Israel Football Association "on Palestinian rights violated by Israel.” That vote closely followed another proposed vote, killed earlier this week, punishing Israel for allowing six teams in Israeli settlements to play in leagues sanctioned by the Israel Football Association at the lower level of the pyramid. The six teams are located in Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel, Kiryat Arba, Givat Ze’ev, Oranit and the Jordan Valley. All of this follows an attempt in 2015 by the Palestine Football Associate to suspend Israel from FIFA for the same issue: settlements playing football.
There are several core issues at play to consider.
First: What exactly is the status of a territory that was captured in war but not annexed to the international community?
Second: If soccer players who live in one geographic state entity choose to play soccer in a league from an adjacent state entity, does that have some manner of binding political significance?
Third: Is the FIFA congress the appropriate place to raise these concerns?
Fourth: If the PFA was successful in punishing Israel for allowing soccer teams from settlements play, what practical impact would it have on the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
My disclaimer begins all of this discussion. I am most certainly going to present my views according to my own world view and experience. I’m a Zionist. I’m a rabbi. I’m fluent in modern Hebrew. I lived for two years in Israel. I’m the grandson of a holocaust survivor. My in-laws are Israelis and live in Jerusalem. I was once a witness to a cafe bombing in Israel (you could say I ‘survived’ a cafe bombing, since I was 300+ meters away, but thats semantics). I teach History of Zionism and Israel at a Jewish day school. I have a BA in Political Science with a focus on the Middle East.
I’m also an unabashed leftist, a supporter of the two-state solution, someone that profoundly believes in Palestinian rights, thinks that settlements are an impediment to peace, believes in an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and that Israel is slowly but surely losing its soul by trying to be a democracy while denying democratic rights to over a million Palestinians in the Occupied territories.
So, my cards are on the table.
The West Bank was captured in 1967 by Israel from Jordan in response to threats from the Gamel Abdel Nasser and the Arab League that they would wipe Israel off the map. Upon its capture, the territory that had previously belonged to Jordan had zero Jewish inhabitants, although Jews had resided in Hebron and other West Bank cities as recently as 1923, when a massacre by Palestinians drove the last of them out. Before then, Jews hadn’t lived in the West Bank since Roman times.
From 1968 until today, a mixed bag of fervent religious Zionists reclaiming ‘biblical Israel’, modern pioneers trying to do a 20th century version of homesteading, and Jewish immigrants who were given financial incentives from the Israeli government to live east of the so-called ‘Green line’ moved into the West Bank. Today, over 400,000 Jews live in territory Israel captured in the June 1967 War. Many feel they are living in some kind of ‘expanded’ version of Israel. Some, like many residents of Maale Adumim just East of Jerusalem, feel they are just living in a suburb of an Israeli city.
(It takes me longer to drive from my house to the Colorado Rapids stadium than it does to go from my mother-in-laws house in Jerusalem to Maale Adumim. That may not be very relevant, but it’s good to know at least for purposes of scale.) Although it may sound odd, some feel like the towns they live in are home, and in the event that Palestine became a state tomorrow, they’d probably stay and hope that their rights as a minority people in a Palestinian state would be recognized.
What all that means is, it’s really hard for anyone, anywhere, to definitively say what the settlements mean for certain, or where a resident of a settlement resides, and whether his travels back and forth across a line create political realities that should be debated in international forums. Sure, for the Israeli government they are a political tool used to pressure the Palestinians in all manner of ways. But if the territory is neither part of a Palestinian state nor has it been annexed by the capturing nation, well, what is it? If it is a captured territory, like, say, Taiwan, but some countries do not recognize its existence, like, say, China, what does that mean?
And what bearing does all that have on lower tier, club-level soccer? If a team in Northern Ireland wants to play in the Irish League, does that have territorial and sovereignty implications? If some folks in the Falkland Islands put together a football club and want to play in a league, do they have to travel to the United Kingdom to get a match, which is 8000 miles away, or can they play in Argentina, only 400 miles away? If they play in Argentina, do they degrade political claims by the UK to the Falkland Islands as the territory’s rightful owners?
Israel has it own complicated and mixed soccer leagues. One of the strongest teams each year in the Israeli league’s top tier is Bnei Sakhnin, from the Arab town of Sakhnin. The town is in Israel proper, but the entire population of the town, and the team, are Arab. If the team wanted to play in the Palestinian soccer league, would that be allowed? Would Israel object on the ground that it was a de facto territorial incursion into Israeli territory by Palestinians? I don’t think such claims would be taken seriously. Sometimes, you just want to join a league. By the way, I don’t think Sakhnin would ever jump from the Israeli League to the Palestinian one. Not because the residents aren’t proudly Arab and in favor of a Palestinian state, but because the Israeli league is much stronger and the players are paid much better. Also, Israel’s Ligat Ha’Al has a spot in UEFA, allowing its teams to qualify for the Champions League and the Europa League.
Another question arises over whether FIFA can or should handle an issue like this which deals with contradict claims of national jurisdiction over ancestral lands. On the one hand, FIFA has the right to determine that a player or a team belong in a certain place and not another. It is FIFA’s rules, for instance, that determine that Qatar cannot pay a billion dollars to Brazil and claim Neymar Jr. and Marcelo as rightful Qataris. It is also up to FIFA to determine whether a team in Crimea belongs in the Russian League or Ukrainian League - otherwise we might reach a day when Poland invades Germany in order to get its hands on Bayern Munich.
On the other hand, FIFA does football, not international border determination. For them to leap into this long running, sometimes violent, usually toxic, and always volatile conflict is probably both exceedingly foolish and terribly naive. If FIFA rules on an issue like this, they invite scorn and derision for playing overeager statesmen while simultaneously opening a pandora’s box of political claims. A country that doesn’t like the way its grievance was handled at the UN will bring it FIFA instead, and suddenly the debate over hand-to-ball has been replaced by the territorial claims of an 8th division club in South Ossetia, East Timor, or some rock in the South China Sea.
FIFA also has a whole host of its own legitimacy problems. For one, an organization in which each country, large or small, gets equal votes is prone to all sorts of shady shenanigans that lead to questionable decisions that may be financially motivated. How else does one explain Mahfuza Akhter Kiron’s election to the FIFA member council over Moya Dodd? Dodd has been a champion of women’s soccer for decades, while Kiron couldn’t name the winner of 2015 Women’s World Cup ( it was the US, guys.) This is the same FIFA that dismantled its ethics committee this week. This is the same FIFA that has had sharp and persistent rumors and accusations that the World Cups in Russia and Qatar were almost certainly delivered because of overt bribery - big fat manila envelopes stuffed with cash, slipped under hotel doors in Switzerland in the dead of night. These are your moral high-ground knights in shining armor; the ones that will champion the Palestinians. All while ignoring the imported slave labor being utilized to build Qatar 2022s stadia. In other words, FIFA doesn’t have any history of making moral or ethical decisions - on the contrary, it makes political and economic calculations. A vote to sanction Israel from a body with 31 Arab and Muslim states would look like politics, and nothing more.
(Also: Syria is a FIFA member in good standing. The Syrian regime has also murdered 38 Syrian soccer players and tortured hundreds more. Maybe FIFA wants to start its campaign for moral right by sanctioning Syria.)
Lastly, will a sanction of Israel have any effect? Probably not. It will be hailed as a symbolic victory for Palestinians trying to turn back the constant efforts of the Israeli government to settle and occupy more territory in the West Bank. They’ll be able to demonstrate that FIFA, today, doesn’t think a soccer team in Kiryat Arba is an Israeli soccer team. But that won’t cause those settlers to move back over the green line so they can play football. It won’t slow or stop Israel’s efforts to build over the green line. It won’t pressure the Israelis to sit and talk with the Palestinians about statehood or peace. If the sanctions were successfully voted on and applied, it most likely would result in the formation of an Israeli Settlement League, which is probably no better for Palestinians than having the settlers play in Israel.
The Palestinian claims here might be right and just - a team in Ariel is playing in Palestine, and by right s perhaps it should apply to play in the Palestinian league. But it’s nothing but puffery and posturing to make an issue this tiny into something so dramatic. There are better ways to proceed to peace.
Originally posted on the Denver JDS Blog, 'The Shofar', December, 2015
It is an odd thing, inheriting the job of a predecessor. You take on the occupational tasks of an individual you may or may or may not know. You do things differently than your predecessor, but you do some of the same activities from day to day. And you come to know your predecessor only in ghostly, passing ways: you can imagine them making the same phone call, or sitting in the same chair, or giving similar council on the exact same issue. But you never really know. You never really know them. You never know how they would do something; whether, in a similar position, they would choose to do things the same or differently than you.
I don’t really know my predecessor, Rabbi Harry Sinoff, at all. His reputation was of being mild-mannered and calm, well-spoken, and extremely intelligent. Before I took the job as director of Upper Division Judaic Studies, I only visited Denver Jewish Day School once, in May of 2011. I saw Harry teach a Talmud class, andmet with him for a day. And then he was off to Houston, and I sat in his chair and had to confront the same challenges and handle some of the same questions he did, each day after.
I do know Harry extremely well in one very odd way: through HIP. HIP, the Hebrew Immersion Program at Denver JDS, is totally unique in the world of Jewish education. No other Jewish day school in North America does a trip to Israel for five weeks to work solely on Hebrew. No other day school goes to the Negev, a region that not only serves as Denver’s ‘sister city’, but also is the epicenter of Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s vision that the Jews must “make the desert bloom”.
Rabbi Sinoff created HIP, and I am forever grateful. In creating the program as he did, he made some bold choices; they speak to a man of great vision. Harry intentionally chose the town of Midreshet Ben Gurion as the base for HIP. He picked it precisely because it was in the middle of nowhere, with very little to do, and very few Americans. He picked it because our kids would be forced to speak Hebrew.
Midreshet Ben Gurion is sleepy little town of around 1,200 people in the Ramat HaNegev region. It has a boarding school, the entrance to an Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) hiking trail, a research institute, an army base, a pizza joint, and a mini-market. It has one lightly-attended shul (synagogue). It’s not a place where you need to worry much about our kids breaking curfew: there’s nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Whenever I arrive, the quiet opening notes of John William’s score to Star Wars play in my head. You know the part: where Luke Skywalker looks out over a blazing duel sunset over a barren desert, and a mournful french horn plays a song dripping with loneliness and desolation. Yeah, that’s pretty much what ‘the midrasha’ looks like. Replace the Jawas with Ibex, though.
The decision to frame the trip as he did is a challenge to the conventional nature of the American relationship with Israel. That conventional view is that you can know a country by visiting its important historical sites. Get on a bus, go to the Kotel (Western Wall), see the Galilee, float in the Dead Sea, eat in the shuk (open air market). Rinse, repeat. This is the model of IST. It is the model of most day schools. It is the model of the Taglit/Birthright Israel trip.
Harry decided to challenge convention. HIP is not about seeing the sights. True, we go to most of those places mentioned. But HIP is not meant to be ‘the school’s trip to Israel’ – it’s meant to be a launchpad for a life-long relationship to Israel. It does two things: first, it builds a student’s Hebrew to the point that they can be part of the experiment that is the Jewish state; to be part of Israel, and not just to be seeing Israel as an outsider looking in. Second, it creates relationships between American and Israeli students, so that Jewishkids from Denver are forever linked to a community of Israelis who will always be like family to them. HIP is not just about visiting Israel. It’s about creating a life-long relationship with Israel. HIP forces students to know Israel and understand it on a much deeper level. Other schools experience a sort-of short course in Israel 101. HIP is an advanced Master Class in knowing Israel.
For all that, I, and every ‘graduate’ of HIP, owe Rabbi Sinoff a debt of thanks. I do my best to keep improving and growing the HIP program. But I see myself mostly as a faithful steward of an extremely successful program, and a program so bold and disruptive that I marvel at the vision and bravery it took to decide to do it that way.
I hope that HIP, which is in its 10th year this year, will go on for many more years, creating Denver Jewish students with an exceptional closeness with the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for many years to come. Those that have gone on HIP are better for the experience. I hope they know that they owe much of that experience to a soft-spoken rabbi named Harry Sinoff.
Originally posted to Jewschool.com, Tuesday, December 17th, 2013
A guestpost from Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
A little more than 130 years ago, at a Cincinnati hotel, a small group of rabbis departed in a huff from the dinner celebrating Hebrew Union College’s first class of ordained American rabbis. There was just too much traif on the menu, and the culinary baccanalia was indicative to them of a Judaism that had just gone too far in an acculturative direction. Shortly thereafter, the Conservative movement was founded. From this point forward, American Judaism would proceed with three very robust and successful movements, with millions of members finding spiritual meaning in three very distinct iterations.
At one point the largest of the three major Jewish denominations, Conservative Judaism has experienced a much-reported slump in recent years; as the Pew survey revealed, only 11% of American Jews identify as Conservative Jews.
Equally as troubling are the falling affiliation rates within the Reform movement. A larger and larger number of Jews are choosing to simply not define themselves within a movement, or to eschew organized religion altogether.
Much handwringing has transpired over the Pew Survey’s results. However, no bold proposal has yet to be laid down, at a time when we the American Jewish leaders need to re-evaluate our direction in the 21st century. So let me make one.
Let’s merge Reform and Conservative Judaism.
Why would you say such a thing?
I’m certainly not the first person to suggest this. The last well circulated discussion of a merger between the two, however, was less mutual collaboration of like-minded souls, and more a suggested hostile takeover. The rabbi who suggested it back in 2004 assumed that Conservative Judaism was doomed to go the way of the dodo, and essentially offered that C. Jews should convert or die. Not surprisingly, this did not begin a dialogue of brotherhood and mutual cooperation.
But there are a lot of good reasons that the two should merge.
1) It would make American Judaism stronger.
2) We are more theologically and philosophically aligned today than ever before.
3) Although there are some real hurdles, it is absolutely possible, from a practical standpoint.
4) And last, it would be a moment for rebooting, rebranding, and rebirthing that might attract many of the Jews who find themselves alienated and adrift from the organized Jewish community.
Better Living through Unity
The fragmentation of an American Jewish community into different sects is a historical fact for 4000 years. From the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Southern Kingdom of Judah, to the Pharisees and Sadducees; Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai to Ashkenazi and Sephardi; we have a history of splitting up. Sometimes it’s necessary, and in other times the division weaken us and spells our disaster.
Everyone is trying to read the latest Pew survey to figure out what it means. Many, I might add, seem to be using it to bolster their already well-worn opinions on the bright or bleak future of the American Jew. I am no prophet, nor am I a demographer. But I find it hard to read the Pew survey as good news. American Jews are attending synagogue less than ever before; Jews are becoming members of synagogues less than ever before. The individual synagogue, and the movements to which they belong, have fewer members, less money, and more of an uphill struggle.
Having a unified front of liberal Judaism: Jews that accept the equality of the sexes; that recognize the equal rights of homosexuals to engage in loving and sanctified relationships; that acknowledge that Judaism changes through time; and desire to put God, Torah, and Israel in their lives; would improve our collaboration, our cooperation, and our effectiveness.
When asked why people join their synagogue, there are a variety of reasons. Usually, people respond that it is where they grew up or their parents or grandparents belonged, or that they liked the pre-school, or the rabbi, or that it is the closest to their house. It is fairly rare to find a Jew who chooses a shul solely on the ideology of the shul. Even more to the point: if you asked 100 Reform or Conservative congregants about the core beliefs of their movement, I suspect that no more than 10 would be able to accurately explain what defines their movement as opposed to the others. If Jews are not joining synagogues for ideological reasons, why are we still separating synagogues by ideology?
A merger between Reform and Conservative would allow for a merger of some of their national organizations in such a way that would cut overhead, eliminate redundancy, expand programming and create a larger resource pool, both in capital and in people. A merged United Synagogue and Union of Reform Judaism. A merged Rabbinical Assembly and CCAR. Conservative Judaism would once again have a college campus presence. The Reform movement could have a robust yeshiva and Gap-year program in Israel, and reach into a deep talent pool of Ramah grads with strong Hebrew skills. The UAHC/Ramah Summer camps would cover more kids in more regions with more special activities than ever before.
And the two could collaborate much more effectively on their international programs, not only in Europe and South America but in the place with the most dire need for progressive Judaism: Israel.
We mostly agree; We even agree that it’s ok to disagree
Reform and Conservative ideology has come a long way since 1885. That was the year that the Reform movement’s ‘Pittsburgh Platform’ rejected the belief in a messiah, the need for a state of Israel, and the components of Mosaic law that lacked an ethical or moral component (like abstaining from shellfish and putting on tefillin). Back then, it made perfect sense for a movement that rejected those reforms, but wanted to be more modern and willing to engage in the modern, scientific and academic world.
For the past two decades, however, the Reform movement has come full circle, embracing more traditional observances. While HUC still churns out plenty of rabbis who do not keep kosher, many are traditionally observant, and HUC is ok with that. When I was a kid growing up in a Los Angeles mega-shul and decided to wear a tallit and kippah to Yom Kippur in 1990, I got a lot of strange looks. In my father’s generation, the venerable Rabbi Edgar Magnin would declare ‘Sir, please remove your kippah in this synagogue.’ Those days are long over.
Meanwhile, Conservative Judaism has embraced things once thought unthinkable. Instrumental music in Shabbat services. Women rabbis. Homosexual marriage. But more importantly, the personal practices of Conservative Jews is virtually identical to that of Reform Jews, not counting the rabbis. Most Conservative congregants do not keep kosher or observe Shabbat in the traditional sense; it has long been observed that the biggest difference between Reform and Conservative Judaism isn’t the ideologies but rather the distance in practice between the rabbi and their congregants. Merging would simply acknowledge the status quo- it is hard to tell a Conservative Jew from a Reform one, in terms of practice.
Both movements embrace a ‘big-tent’ Judaism in which a variety of practices within a certain range is perfectly ok. So why not expand both sides of the tent a little? A congregation in which some folks come regularly, and some do not; some are more stringently observant, and some not at all; some Jews engage in text study and Jewish exploration, and some are more interested in social and cultural outlets for their Jewish life. Not only would all of those things be acceptable in a new ‘Liberal’ movement- most of things already are occurring in ever Reform and Conservative synagogue in the US.
Philosophically, it might be best for both movements to embrace the notion that the individual Jew should choose to do the traditional mitzvot, or not. The new movement could have a halachic and non-halachic wing. Or perhaps this is already unnecessary- both Reform and Conservative Jews are encouraged to perform mitzvot. The only real difference is in the nature of what it means to transgress a mitzvah: is a person who violates a commandment repudiating the entire system? Are they in a Rosenzweig-ian state of ‘not yet’ ? Or did they just not do one mitzvah? The Reform movements1999 ‘Statement of Principles’, calls the performance of mitzvot “the means by which we make our lives holy.” While not ‘binding’, it sure sounds like each and every mitzvah has the potential of being personally relevant and important. The new movement Judaism might do well to adopt some take on this language, rather than assert, as Conservative Judaism has until now, that all mitzvot are ‘binding’ on Jews who, until now, have made no indication that they accept that premise.
Agree or disagree on these matters, both movements would accomplish more tackling these issues together than they would separately.
Can we do it? Yes We Can! (But there are some necessary compromises to work out)
There are clearly a number of questions that would need to be addressed in a merger. How would it affect congregations and rabbis right now? Probably not a lot. Most rabbis and shuls would continue to do many of the same things they already do. In shuls with two or more rabbis, it might affect future hiring more dramatically- synagogues would be more diverse and more able to attract a broader population if it drew rabbis from both sides of the ‘tent’: a Reform and a Conservative.
What would the prayer service look like? Services in some synagogues might change. Synagogues that offer only one kind of service would need an ‘alternative’ minyan, with more English or music, or a ‘traditional’ minyan with more Hebrew. Smaller shuls might have to rotate their services from one week to the next. Many congregations in the US already do some of these things already.
With regard to rabbis performing intermarriages: the new movement would permit rabbis to decide for themselves. Boom. Done. That is the Reform movement policy already, and it looks like Conservative is moving in that direction.
Synagogue kashrut might be a touchy issue. Both movements would have to agree to a compromise. Reform shuls would have to eliminate ‘high treif’- shellfish, pork, mixing meat and milk. Sorry, Temple Sinai of New Orleans, but no more crawfish boils in a merged movement. Formerly-Conservative shuls would need to accept three sets of dishes in their shul kitchens: Kosher milk, Kosher meat, and Kosher-style, with two separate prep areas, strict kosher and kosher-style. For smaller synagogues where kitchens aren’t big enough for this accommodation, they simply keep the kitchens as they are; kosher or not, dairy or meat.
Rabbinical schools wouldn’t have to change at all; HUC, JTS, and AJU could (and ideally, should) keep turning out very different types of rabbis with different skill sets and areas of focus. Congregations would be stronger with a more diverse group of rabbis with very different attitudes towards prayer, Torah, God, and Halacha.
The one sticking point, and it is very large, is the problem of who is a Jew. Reform Judaism holds that one Jewish parent, mother or father, can be Jewish for a child to be considered a Jew. Conservative (like Orthodoxy) has maintained the opinion that a child must have a Jewish mother to be considered a Jew.
I’ll be quite frank in saying I don’t know how to solve this. For the Reform to surrender patrilineal descent would suddenly alienate a significant number of its members; for Conservative to accept Jews of only a Jewish father is a reversal of their halachic view that would be intolerable for many rabbis. Perhaps a compromise could include some kind of ‘affirmation ceremony’, like a conversion, for any child of only one Jewish parent (mother or father). Although this issue is the hardest to solve, the game-changing importance of a merger should encourage us to not allow this difficulty to de-rail the entire endeavor.
A new name for a new era
Both Reform and Conservative are terrible names for movements, and outdated. Starting over together with a new name is a great opportunity to truly clean the cobwebs and develop something that reflects a effort at moving in new direction with a new partner.
Reform Judaism was a kind of cool idea for a name, but really, it has never worked. I don’t think there’s a rabbi in America in any movement who hasn’t nearly lost their mind in the presence of a Jew calling themselves ‘Reformed’. The word Reform, despite the great contributions of Isaac Mayer Wise and Eugene Borowitz in crafting it and defining its parameters, is just a terrible name for a movement, and at this point, it is time to move on. It is a word that implies constant change: something that people, deep down, don’t want out of their religion. It is also a word that implies that the movement IS constantly evolving, which it isn’t. A huge movement like the Reform movement changes slowly and methodically.
Conservative Judaism has always been confused with being a political label, or a term that describes a lack of desire to be interesting, contemporary or innovative, i.e. “we can’t do something radical or out-of-the-box… we’re C(c)onservative!” What a terrible tag to hang on your synagogue. And yes, for those in the know, it stands for a lot more than that. But if you are trying to draw an unaffiliated 20 or 30-something Jew through the door, the name is certainly not value-added. More than a few people have suggested a name change already, such as Covenantal Judaism. That’s not bad, but very specific in its theological implications.
I like ‘Liberal Judaism’ for the new movement. Or perhaps ‘Progressive Judaism’. Both are already used as place-holders for the two non-orthodox movements, so just merge them and make it official. A new name would bring new people in who had written off the old movements because they thought they knew them. A new name might better describe the movement. And a new name would be an opportunity to truly go in a new direction.
Perhaps I am misreading the Pew survey, and Jewish movements are doing just fine. Or perhaps I am mistaken and the Conservative and Reform movements are only in need of some minor tweaks in order to restore their former glories. But I see two strong movements with more in common than the things that separate them, with a chance to build on each others successes and create a stronger movement that would be in the best interests of Judaism. I say let’s merge. We could even throw another banquet. We might want three sets of dishes this time, though.
Originally posted to jewschool.com, Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
By Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
Just in time for back-to-school shopping and your first Hebrew school tuition ACH auto-withdrawal, two Jewish websites have let loose their bloggers to dump on traditional Jewish education.
First, Jordana Horn of Kveller and the Forward wrote this article about why Jewish home schooling is cheaper and better than day school at producing good Jewish kids. Then, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote this op-ed saying that basically Hebrew school is a waste of time, except for the donuts.
Both make some nice points. Rabbi Yanklowitz encourages greater experimentation and use of alternatives to the traditional Sunday-school-bar-mitzvah-prep model. Horn highlights the high cost of day school for the average Jew, which is not a new complaint. I’m all for both ideas.
Still, I have a brief response to both writers. I think I’m well qualified to take both on, because I am both the product of Hebrew school and a teacher at a Jewish day school.
First, picking on Hebrew school is just mean. It’s like ganging up on the slow chubby kid during dodge ball- we all know he should be better, but pelting him with a barrage of rubber balls isn’t going to help. If you want the problem to get better, you will need to spend a great deal of time and energy fixing the problems, not just calling for a drastic demolition of the whole system.
Second, Shmuly uses a pretty tired idea to launch into his assault, namely “I hated Hebrew school and didn’t learn anything, so that means all Hebrew schools are a waste of time and need to be torn down.”
This is pretty facile- “If I didn’t like it, it must be bad.” However, I went to Hebrew school, and I really enjoyed it. In fact, I stayed voluntarily until 12th grade. It helped give me the Jewish foundation that led me to becoming a rabbi and, more importantly, a lifelong learner of Torah. Hebrew school isn’t enjoyed by everyone, but then again, not every kid likes Algebra, and for that reason, we have humanities departments in colleges, and not just engineering programs. There has been a rush to judge education in this country in the past decade- many traditional public school systems have been torn down in favor of charter schools. Maybe this is good, but maybe not. Some think charter schools do more harm than good.
The same holds true for supplementary religious school education. You can have a very bad traditional Hebrew school, but you can also have a very good one. Shifting the community’s investment to the newest, hippest ‘alternative’ program is no guarantee of success.
Ms. Horn’s argument has a whole host of problems. Many were addressed in this thoughtful piece by Helene Wingens. I particularly like her point about Jewish day schools producing Jewish leaders. But I have more to say.
1) Ms. Horn uses the same kind of straw-man argument that Rabbi Yanklowitz uses. “I’m not against day school, per se. I just don’t think that day school is essential in order to raise children who are Jewish and proud to be Jewish.”
Um, nobody said Jewish day school is essential to raising Jewish kids. You’re talking to yourself, there, lady. Still, some (about 83,000 Jewish students) prefer it.
2) Horn makes a pitch for Jewish home school, with a focus on feel-good Jewish activities: Shabbat and holidays, sing songs, have teachable moments. That’s great, but a day school education is much deeper and more substantial than that.
In my school, a graduate who attends K-12 will be: fluent in modern Hebrew; have substantial knowledge of Jewish history over a 4,000 year period; be able to write a Dvar Torah using traditional and modern commentaries; can read a daf of Gemara; and knows the moral, Halachic, and philosophic rationales behind issues like capital punishment, abortion, and who-is-a-Jew. Plus we have Jews of every movement and background, something homeschooling can’t offer. My students are proud to be Jewish. And they come out knowing a heck of a lot, too; knowledge that deepens and enhances their lives as Jews.
3) There’s a big difference between amateurs and professionals, and the results show. When I go watch high school baseball, I know the players are talented and have some skills. But there is a big difference between high school ball and Major League Baseball. Me, I’m a professional. I spend years honing my courses, reading new books on each subject, going to teacher training programs, re-writing my lesson plans and analyzing curriculum with a fine tooth comb.
Home schoolers might be bright, committed and talented, but they also are teaching 7 other subjects, with no professional training. It’s bush league compared to what my staff are expected to know and do. Not everybody wants that level of seriousness in their Jewish education. But for those that do, day school is where it happens.
So please, people, before we sharpen our knives against our local Jewish education programs, let’s chill. Each method of education; day school, Hebrew school, and home school, has benefits; each could use some improvement and investment; and a healthy and diverse Jewish community needs all three to thrive in the 21st century.
Originally Posted to jewschool.com Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
A guestpost from FoJS, Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman
I, like most children of liberal Jewish parents born on the coasts, have long held the first amendment to the constitution to be sacrosanct: just barely below the 10 commandments and slightly higher than a hot pastrami with brown mustard. It is that important. And it was the 1st Amendment ‘Freedom of Speech’ that was always the most cherished of those rights.
But recent events have started to make me question this deep-seated belief. I’ve started to consider whether maybe it’s time we restricted free speech. Let me explain.
I have always thought that the free, unfettered exchange of opinions and ideas was what made America so great: it spawned great writers and thinkers, let creativity and individuality flourish, and is essential to that other great freedom that makes the United States so great for Judaism, the freedom of religion. And of course, those kinds of healthy exchanges of ideas and beliefs, the disagreements of opinion that are critical to the argy-bargy of political life, those are fine. I’m not talking about those.
I’m talking about hate speech.
I first thought about this when reading about an English Premier League soccer player who collapsed on the pitch a year ago; an ignorant racist fan took to twitter and said all the ugly things that ignorant racists do. And Britain gave him 56 days in jail. At first I thought: how can they do that? Thinking about it a few days later, I asked a different question: why don’t we do that?
The incident reminded me of something that I attempt to ignore quite frequently, and I’m guessing you do it too: there’s a lot of really horrible stuff on the internet. From trolls in the comments of your favorite websites to twitter hashtags of despicable hate, I find myself stumbling upon things online I don’t want or need to see. So fine, you say. Don’t read it; move along to another webpage. Don’t read the comments at the bottom of an article on Israel. It isn’t hurting anyone.
Except that it is. Speech is power. Regular, frequent hate speech makes people think such speech is normal, or acceptable. It validates racism and the idiots that spew it. It makes the internet less safe for those of us who want to have real dialogue about serious things. Internet hate speech is like the busted car alarm shrieking over your nice lunchtime conversation- it overpowers everything and ruins the discussion until you just pack up and leave. If I wanted to follow the NBA Finals on twitter, for instance, I have to navigate these tweets about the little boy who sang the Star Spangled Banner. Man, can’t I just go online and read about LeBron versus Tim Duncan?
Hate speech empowers acts of hate. It is for exactly that reason that Germany bans symbols, language or imagery around the Nazis, England has made hate speech a crime, and French Jewish students have sued Twitter for not restricting a recent hashtag, #unbonjuif (‘a good jew’) in which the sentences were completed ‘… a dead jew’, or ‘a burned Jew’, or worse.
Speech, when used for ill, can lead to people doing bad things. American law already recognizes this too: ‘incitement to riot’ is punishable by up to one year in jail. Using hateful speech in conjunction with another criminal act (violence, vandalism, etc.) can trigger additional penalties as part of nearly nation-wide hate crime legislation.
However, both of these examples assumes that taking to twitter and calling someone a racist name is permitted ‘freedom of expression’, while doing it and then punching them in face is a racially motivated crime. It also assumes that racially abusing someone online is harmless, when in reality, it actually restricts free speech: it intimidates religious minorities and people of color, and potentially pushes us out of the conversation in favor of those who say and think whatever they want, no matter how scary or inappropriate it may be.
The freedom to advocate religiously-based hatred played a role in radicalizing the Tsarnaev brothers to attack the Boston marathon. The internet has been a breeding ground for Islamic extremism and White supremacist groups since forever: the ADL and Southern Poverty Law Center have devoted great resources to keeping an eye on these and other hate-speech aficionados. But in all of these scenarios, you can spout whatever anti-gay anti-black whatever, until whenever. But if one, or ten people read your posts and decide to bomb a church or beat up some queers at their school because of something they saw online, the writer is not responsible because, hey, free speech.
Judaism cares very much about the things we say. Two major areas of Jewish law, Lashon HaRa (Malicious speech) and Rechilut (gossip) are expressly forbidden. The Chofetz Chaim, a 19th and 20th century rabbi in Europe, wrote expansively on the concept LaShon HaRa, delineating hundreds of guidelines to teach us how to watch what we say. He was so punctilious that one of his rules was that one should not compliment a person in absentia to someone else, because it may lead the person you are speaking with to disagree with you and say something not nice about them. This is not a frequent problem on the internet sites I most often visit. Another principle that might more directly apply to my question of hate speech and the internet: the Chofetz Chaim maintains that one who is in the presence of ill speech should stop the offender from saying the hurtful thing.
Another example of Judaism’s regard for the importance and power of speech is in the ‘Al Chet’ prayer of Yom Kippur. We strike our chest and recite 44 categories of sins we have committed in the past year. Nine of the 44 are sins of speech. We read this list of sins in the plural tense: ‘we have spoken foolishly’, ‘we have spoken hurtfully’. And by not combating hate speech, perhaps we as an American society ensure that these sins will continue unabated.
Clearly, restricting free speech isn’t something we should take lightly. I’ve read ‘1984’. I see the news about China and Russia imprisoning political dissidents. People have the right to say all kinds of things, including unpopular things and things with which I strongly disagree. But it is hard to ignore that a tiny lunatic fringe has been empowered to use the internet to be really, really awful. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out; I don’t know what the exactly the rules should be, or where the lines should be drawn between something that is mean or distasteful but not something that should be punished or expunged from the web, and something that is a clear act of unacceptable hate speech. I don’t know if would be better to mandate websites like Facebook, Twitter, and the Daily Beast comments section to police themselves more carefully, or whether we should follow the UK’s example and potentially imprison racially abusive offenders. I am saying: its time to seriously consider whether it is OK for anyone to say anything online, while we close our eyes and quickly scroll past it and hope that it goes away.