Tag Archives: Jewish

Hannukah Without the Taliban

In a country occupied by a Western power, the locals are faced with a choice. Some have opted to reconcile their own traditions with those of their occupier, borrowing from Western ways that open the path to philosophy and science, and integrating themselves into a wider culture. Others fiercely resist, waging a bitter and bloody war not only on the occupier, but also on those in their own community who seek to collaborate or integrate with the occupiers who are denounced as defilers.

If this were contemporary Afghanistan-Pakistan, you’d know who was whom, right? But before you bite into that latke or sing the dreidel song, you may want to consider that in Judea in the second century BC, the Taliban role is played by the Maccabees. And it is the Maccabees, of course, who are lionized in the Hanukah tale.

In fact, they pretty much invented the holiday… Continue reading

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Israel is 60, Zionism is Dead, What Now?


Israel at 60 is an intractable historical fact. It has one of the world’s strongest armies, without peer in the Middle East, and its 200 or so nuclear warheads give it the last word in any military showdown with any of its neighbors. Palestinian militants may be able to make life in certain parts of Israel exceedingly unpleasant at times, but they are unable to reverse the Nakbah of 1948 through military means.

Israel is here to stay, and its citizens know this — which may be why they appear to more indifferent to the search for peace with the Palestinians than at any time in the past three decades.

The curious irony of history, though, is that while the Zionist movement managed to successfully create a nation state in the Middle East against considerable odds, that movement is dead — the majority of Jews quite simply don’t want to be part of a Jewish nation-state in the Middle East. And so the very purpose of Israel has come into question. Jewish immigration to Israel is at an all-time low, and that’s unlikely to change. In a world where persecution of Jews is increasingly marginal, the majority of Jews prefer to live scattered among the peoples, rather than in an ethnic enclave of our own. That’s what we’ve chosen. So where does this leave Israel?
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Of Matzoh Balls and Mythology


Guest columnist: Uri Avnery. On the day of the first seder, the legendary Israeli peace campaigner Avnery mailed out a fascinating piece deconstructing some of the “Exodus” mythology, and examining its nationalist purposes. I’m glad he’s agreed to me republishing his work. Pesach is a time of asking questions, of course, and I’ve always wondered about the implausibility of some aspects of Jewish history as it had been passed down to me: Just look around you at the seder table, and ask yourself, do these people look like they could be descendants of the residents of Biblical Judea? And remember, we’re told that this is a pretty closed bloodline; it’s a heritage supposedly passed on genetically through Jewish mating. Well, just look around the table and ask yourself, did the Judeans actually look anything like this? Continue reading

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Who Owns Passover?

Passover is a time of asking questions, and I have a few. This year, though, the furor that surrounded Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and his sermons that dared to suggest that this Christian nation may actually be earning God’s wrath and damnation for some of its behavior, reminded me of an issue I’d first encountered in South Africa: The idea that the Passover/Exodus narrative of the Hebrews’ flight from Pharaoh and slavery doesn’t belong exclusively to any tribe, but is a universal tale of freedom into which suffering people everywhere are able to insert themselves. And also that even if your forebears were victims of injustice, you’re quite capable of being a perpetrator of injustice.

It was easy to see how little our Jewish genetic lineage did to make us really Jewish in the South Africa of my youth, where every Passover, we sat around seder tables singing, in a barely understood Hebrew, of the days when we were slaves, while the black women who lived in our backyards under domestic labor system not that far removed from slavery, carried in steaming tureens of matzoh ball soup and tzimmes. We may have convinced ourselves that our DNA entitled us to claim this story as our own, but it was abundantly clear that in the South African context, most Jews had thrown in their lot with Pharoah, while the Israelites were working in their kitchens.

The mantle of justice associated with the Toraha prophets, it seemed to me later, was nobody’s birthright; it had to be earned.
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Learning From Arab Jews

Guest Column: David Shasha, the founder and director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York, is one of my favorite weekly email reads. (You can subscribe, too, by contacting him directly.) Arab and Jew are not mutually exclusive categories. Quite the contrary. Anyone who tells you, as so many “pundits” do in this society when trying to explain the Middle East, that “Jews and Arabs have been fighting for thousands of years,” is speaking from ignorance. The idea of a conflict between “Jews” and “Arabs” is really only as old as modern political Zionism, and really only took on a generalized form in the second half of the 20th century amid the trauma that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel. Jews and Arabs had, in fact, lived together for hundreds of years in the Muslim world, and many Jews have always considered themselves Arab.

David Shasha makes the case that this branch of Judaism, what he calls the “Levantine Option”, is tragically silenced and excluded from the mainstream Ashkenazi and Zionist narrative that dominates discussion of the Jewish experience. He argues that while the Ashkenazi tradition was both heavily influenced by Western Christian traditions and also, because of persecution, evolved a far more narrow, insular “shtetl” outlook on Jewish identity. By contrast, he argues, the Sephardic experience, in the “convivienca” of Moorish Spain and the Arab lands in the Islamic golden age actually has much more to offer Jews looking for an expansive, universalist version of their identity in a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan world. It’s fascinating stuff: Read on!
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