View All Posts

  • Fish and Bicycles

    17 October 2013

    October 17, 2013

    If you've started reading a NIF News column with that title, you might just be A Certain Age.

    The feminist slogan from the 1970s isn't too familiar these days, and that has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we know that men are worth much more than a pedaling halibut. On the other, the loss of the vociferous feminism of the '70s makes it hard to convince people that the struggle for women's rights is still real, still ongoing, and particularly in Israel, very much opposed by powerful leaders.

    That's one of the reasons we ask you to tell us your stories for the Taking Our Place campaign. We want to honor our grantee Women of the Wall on their 25th anniversary, at a time when their struggle for freedom of religion and conscience in Israel remains complicated and difficult. But we also want you to think about the evolution of women in the American Jewish community, on the bimah and behind the podium and at the table – and not just the kitchen table. So many of you have become leaders in your communities and have given voice to the struggle for an equal place -- and in the past few days, many of you have already told us beautiful and intimate stories. Women and men of all ages are making the case that when women take our place as equals, it strengthens Israel, the Jewish tradition and our vibrancy and strength as a people.

    As we told you, we will publish these stories as a supplement in Ha'aretz and the International New York Times in Israel next month. We will present some in a compilation to Women of the Wall Chair Anat Hoffman at their Rosh Hodesh celebration at the Kotel on November 4. Together, we will remind the religious authorities and the leaders of Israel that we in the American Jewish community have thrived through a growing ethos of partnership and equality, and that Israeli society stands to gain, not lose, by continuing on its own process of securing full participation by women in social, political, cultural and religious life.

    In the social change business, progress is hard and slow. NIF supporters understand that we have been working for women's rights in every sphere in Israel since our inception in 1979, and that in the face of growing religious extremism, we must continue. Please join with us in supporting our sisters in Israel, and click here to contribute to our campaign.

    Naomi Paiss

  • Free to Be

    10 October 2013

    By Dove Weissman, October 2013

    Born in the early 70s, I am a product of the women's liberation movement. I was dressed in baby bell-bottom blue jeans, if anything, and I was always told that I can be and do anything. The lyrics of Harry Belafonte and Marlo Thomas on "Free to be You and Me" informed my perspective of what it is to be a woman, (mother or not).

    "Some mommies are ranchers, or poetry makers
    Or doctors or teachers, or cleaners or bakers
    Some mommies drive taxis, or sing on TV
    Yeah, mommies can be almost anything they want to be."

    You get the point. As a 3rd generation American Jew, the commitment to Jewish values such as tzedakah and acts of kindness were strongly encouraged, but religious practice was more a byproduct of belonging to a Reform congregation where Jewish community was strengthened.

    I recently participated in a service at the Kotel with Women of the Wall. In addition to the WOW activists, religious women praying nearby, police, and onlookers, was my 13 year old daughter, my mother, her women's lib activist friends, and my soon to be in-laws, who are secular Israeli kibbutzniks. Standing there, I felt the complexity and immensity of the moment, all the struggles that made it possible for us to be there, together. Such places of power and spiritual significance usually help us transcend our human divisions. Yet in Israel, the transcendent and mundane are continually engaged in a magnetic dance of duality.

    There is still much work to be done to overcome the inequities of gender, class and race, yet I feel hopeful that my daughter's generation will evolve society to be even more just. After all, they are standing on the shoulders of some mighty strong giants.

    Dove is a citizen of the earth, mother, friend, sister, daughter, lover, artist, health and wellness enthusiast, and occasional writer.

     

    « Back to Taking Our Place homepage

     

  • Freedom

    08 May 2013

    On Monday, May 6, 2013, nine Eritrean female asylum seekers and their 10 children were released from a detention center in Israel. The asylum seekers had not committed any crime, but were facing indefinite detention for entering Israel without proper documentation.

    Read more...

  • From Boston to Jerusalem

    25 April 2013

    From Boston to Jerusalem

    As everyone the world over knows, last week was a very hard week for the Boston region where we are quite unaccustomed to suffering from acts of terror. I live in Watertown, MA, ground zero for the final manhunt for the perpetrators of the bombing and other crimes. The last gun battle, essentially on Kabbalat Shabbat, was minutes from my home. The silver lining to the senseless violence and suffering is the feeling of solidarity and support Bostonians felt. We all used social media to react in real time to updates on the investigation and manhunt. I was personally touched by the outpouring from friends, family, and colleagues from around the world, including from so many of my co-workers, both Jewish and Arab, in Israel.

    However, the aftermath has left us with some issues to ponder that will not resolve quickly.

    First, our cousins in Israel, sadly, have much more experience with this sort of trauma than we do. We got a hint of this as we made the transition from the Boston Marathon bombings, which coincidentally took place on Memorial Day, Yom HaZikaron, to Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, the following day. Annually, Israelis make the shift between solemnity and joy, shared sacrifice and national liberation. With last Monday’s events still fresh, the shift to Yom Ha’atzmaut was particularly hard this year for Boston Jews. Will this added dimension better help us understand the Israeli experience? What will Yom Ha’atzmaut feel like next year for us?

    Second, people are beginning to question whether locking down much of the region was necessary. I personally don’t quibble with the decision. I was glad to have my family close at hand last Friday. And as one NIF board member suggested recently, Boston is really a small town. We all know each other, so it made sense that we would all, in unison, obey the call to stay out of the way as if part of a small town. However, another Watertown family interviewed in Ha’aretz suggested that they could not imagine Israel shutting down a major city to hunt down one nineteen-year-old kid. What is the right balance? Hopefully, we will not have to learn the right answer for ourselves the hard way in the future.

    Lastly, the region felt relief and joy when the surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured. The accolades heaped on our first responders were gratifying and touching to listen to. A friend of mine brought his kindergarten twins to the Watertown police station to thank the police in person. A marathoner walked in at that moment to deliver her medal to show her appreciation. Now that the euphoria is dying down, what implications will last week’s events have on social policy? Will it harden our hearts or open them? Will immigration reform suffer? Will civil rights be curtailed in the name of security? Will we act in kinship with those who endure terror daily around the world?

    All of us in Boston are grateful that chapter one of this nightmare has concluded. The healing process is only beginning. As we look to move forward, it helps me to think of Rabbi Ronne Friedman of Temple Israel’s words at the Boston interfaith service attended by President Obama. Ronne quoted Rabbi Nachman of Breslav who said, “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the important principle is to transcend, somehow, your fear.”

    Stephane Acel-Green
    New England Regional Director

  • From Exclusion to Community

    10 October 2013

    By Charlotte Glazer Baer, October 2013

    In my big Atlanta Conservative shul, I was the best student in my Hebrew class. I had a good, strong voice, knew all the prayers and chants and led Junior Congregation services every Saturday – until I became Bat Mitzvah. After that, I was no longer allowed on the bima. Boys who barely could recite a prayer became the leaders. My father said, "What does it matter? Keep studying the language." He hired Israelis to read Bialik with me. But the exclusion burned in my gut.

    Years later, in Kentucky, my egalitarian havurah changed everything. I was able to take my turn in leading services and in helping others learn. One Shabbat we honored 3 recent bar mitzvahs, and all 6 parents were on the bima. I said as a joke, “Because we’re all up here, you will have to wait a few minutes until we can get the food from the kitchen.” Without a murmur, several men stood up and went into the kitchen to help.

    We all need to make community together.

    After growing up in Atlanta, Charlotte Baer spent time in Lexington, KY and Boston, Mass. She and her husband now live in Washington, DC.

     

    « Back to Taking Our Place homepage

     

  • From exclusion to inclusion

    09 October 2013

    By Helen Stein, October 2013

    In 1995, I traveled to Israel with my (male) research assistant. Our first stop, after we got off the plane and through customs, was the Kotel. We approached the Wall naively, without noticing that my kind was not welcome everywhere. Suddenly I was surrounded by 5 or 6 screaming young Orthodox vigilantes, who made my transgression clear. This was a very bitter moment for me. In my homeland, about which I already had some ambivalence, I was being scolded and castigated for being a woman.

    In June 2013, six years after joining a Reconstructionist synagogue, I made my Bat Mitzvah with a group of other women. We all composed creative liturgy for our service -- poetry, art work, music, guided meditations. All of us were called up to the Bima and all of us chanted Torah. I was wearing a tallit that I had made out of fabric my mother gave me 40 years ago. I felt so proud of my congregation and denomination for its equal treatment of women and for my right to be a full participant in the Jewish religion. I was doing what my mother, raised in Reform Judaism a hundred years ago, never would have dreamed of.

    Helen Stein is a 67-year-old New Yorker and clinical psychologist, who is a proud member of a Reconstructionist synagogue.

     

    « Back to Taking Our Place homepage

     

  • From Hope to Fear

    07 June 2012 by Stephen Slater

    I met George Kulang in 2007, he had heard of the plight of Sudanese refugees fleeing first from genocide, and then racism and state sanctioned murder in Egypt. Like myself, he had arrived recently in Jerusalem. I was part of a group of student activists from Hebrew University, where I was studying for my Masters in ancient Jewish history.

    George stands a head taller than most but weighs far less. Scars mark his face from ritual cuttings done in his tribe. But he looked at me with gentle eyes, and he said, “When I came across the border, I was tired and thirsty. I walked for a long time. Then I saw an Israeli flag, and I thought to myself, I must walk to that flag, because the Israelis are good, they have democracy, they will not turn us away. When I came to the flag, I could see that it was a military base. I walked up to the gate and I called out to be let in. No one answered. I called again. No one answered. Then I went to a nearby tree and sat down. A little while later, a man dressed in a soldier’s uniform came out and gave me a jug of water and a piece of bread. He gave them to me, and he said, ‘Do you know where you are?’ I said, ‘I am in Israel.’ He said, ‘Why are you here? I told him. He said, ‘You can’t stay here.’ I said, ‘I can’t go back’.”

    In many ways this exchange captures the relationship between my Sudanese friends and the state of Israel.

    When I asked George what he wanted to do with his time in Israel, he looked at me and replied confidently, “I want to read the Bible in Hebrew.” George is a Christian from the South of Sudan, so the Hebrew Bible is his holy book. Though he could read it in his native Dinka, he wanted to read it in the language in which it was written. This man, who had literally walked out of Africa and across the Sinai, wanted nothing more than to learn the language of his holy text. I too had come to study in Israel in order to learn to read the Hebrew Bible, and was by then teaching it to American and European students. So I agreed to teach him Hebrew. He learned quickly. Due to his knowledge of Arabic, he found many cognate words. “Learning Hebrew is easy,” he once told me with a broad smile. We found a scholarship for him to come to a Hebrew Ulpan. Then, after working for over a year, he had saved up enough money to pay for Ulpan fees on his own. He worked below minimum wage while paying rent and taking care of himself. And every evening he studied. When I asked him what he would do upon his return to Sudan, he said, “I will teach my people Hebrew.” George has since returned to Sudan, but he has not been able to find a job. His country teeters once again on the brink of war with the Sudanese government. Many times while working with George, I was overcome by his hope. His story is filled with many crushing experiences. Though he averted his face to tell me this, his wife and children were killed when the Janjaweed raided his village. That is when he walked out of Sudan. He experienced torture in Egypt, so he walked across the Sinai. He sat in an Israeli jail for months. But every time I spoke to this tall, soft spoken man, I heard hope spring anew.

    These noble and proud Sudanese people now live in fear again. After the anti-migrant riot in Tel Aviv I called a leader of the Sudanese community in Israel to ask him how they were doing. He said, “It has become dangerous for the community, so that we can’t even go out at night. I called one of my friends yesterday, and I said, ‘I have to tell you, make sure you go on the good side of the street. Don’t go in corners.’ My friend responded, ‘Thank you for telling me, But I already know. I didn’t go out from morning to night.’ He added, ‘Visas have been cancelled three months ago, so they are not able to work.” My friend had been working in a hotel before his visa was taken away. Voices for Sudan, a US based Sudanese advocacy group, claims that many Sudanese are now facing starvation in Israel.

    I asked my friend if he feels safe in Israel today. He answered, “I don’t feel safe. I am concerned for my life. You don’t know when you will be taken by the police, arrested and deported. You don’t know how long it will be. We’re living in an uncertain future. We are living in fear. We might be attacked in the street.” To illustrate the point, he went on to tell me, “I have another friend who was beaten up by migration police, they broke his arm, drove him around for a long time, then dropped him on the street. He was lucky to find an American doctor. He almost died. His shoulder is in pain.”

    When I heard all this I told him, “You know this is hard for American Jews to hear.” He responded, “I know it is hard for you to hear. But southern Sudanese find it hard to believe too. When we had never come to Israel, and someone said this or that bad about Israel, we would have fought to say, it is wrong, Israel would never do that. I tell you my friend, the South Sudanese people believe in Israel.”

    On May 24th, at a political rally in South Tel Aviv, politicians egged on a crowd with sayings like, “Sudan is not here.” Soon anti-African violence broke out; migrants were chased through the streets, their property destroyed as they fled. On Monday, the Prime Minister announced plans to quickly expel 25,000 Africans from Israel, and to expand the detention facilities in the Negev to hold the rest until deportation could be arranged. He specifically targeted the South Sudanese and Eritreans for deportation, and has scheduled flights this month and next to send my friends and a large portion of their community back to Africa. Directly following the announcement, arsonists lit fire to an apartment building, trapping 10 Eritreans inside.

    When there is rioting against "foreigners" because they are foreigners, when a building is burned down because it is full of foreigners, when governments declare a mass deportation of foreigners, then we who have been foreigners must speak up. We must speak for the kind of Israel that my Sudanese friends have believed in, a place where all people are safe from harm. Now is the time for a unified voice from around the Jewish world telling the Israeli government that this kind of behavior coming from citizens or from our Prime Minister is unacceptable.

  • From the Mailbag -- "Keep Talking!"

    15 November 2011

    With permission from Mary, we're posting below a note we received in response to Daniel's email update regarding the anti-democratic legislation currently under debate in Israel.

     

    Dear Daniel:
     
    I wish every Israeli and every American would read your stirring remarks. I am always moved. When visitors pick up some books from my coffee table, they are often puzzled by my having books on Israel and its people. I am delighted by such queries. it gives me the opportunity to talk about the struggle of Progressives and the difficulties they face daily. Because of your articulate, persuasive arguments, many find the courage to continue to speak out, and work for the solid democratic aims that will gain the freedoms that will benefit all Israelis. Further, their struggles will bring about greater awareness in the U.S. of the importance of a secure, strong Israel.
     
    I wish that I could donate more; I ache to jump in and say, "How can I help?" It is seldom that I wish I were young, instead of 82 and ailing, but while I'm here, I will always tell people that freedom in the U.S. and other democratic countries is dependent, in part, upon the success of the Israeli Progressive movement. Certainly, the future of the Middle Eastern countries--perhaps all of Asia, may hinge on the valiant, determined people inside and outside Israel, Jewish or not. I am Christian, and to be Christian means, to me, an appreciation of the Hebrew tradition, spiritual, historical, and political.
     
    Daniel, KEEP TALKING!!
     
    Shalom.
    Mary Etta Kiefer