“Black” has become an idol. Oddly enough we learned that lesson through the making of Selma, a film focused on the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who boldly declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Director Ava DuVernay defended the rewriting of history into what amounts to a black power narrative (mythical kneeling blacks before white cops and all), stating, “This is art; this is a movie; this is a film. I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.” The mainstream media jumped on the bait thrown out by the film’s star David Oyelowo, who declared that ”parallels between Selma and Ferguson are indisputable.” The fact that neither the Academy nor filmgoers fell march-step in line only acted as further proof of the conspiracy against “black and brown people” in Hollywood.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) December 7, 2014
The race war fomented in the rise of the Black Power movement (the nasty “alternative” to King’s civil rights movement) continues unabated. In fact, it has opened on a new front, one that ties racial strife with national security and even international relations. Playing on strong ties to the Nation of Islam, Black Power now has its eye set on the Palestinian territories and places like Ferguson, Missouri, and the like are set to become the next battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making way for the planting of hotbeds of radical Islamic terror.
But, to tell the story of Ferguson and Florida’s black activists traveling on solidarity missions to the Palestinian territories is to exact the same kind of indecent omissions as DuVernay. There are blacks out there who support Israel and who, in fact, draw inspiration from the civil rights movement in doing so. The primary difference between these black Zionists and their Black Power counterparts: They are motivated by Jesus, not Islam.
…in 2006, Cornetta Lane an African American at Wayne State University, even went as far as expressing this support by singing Hatikvah in front of an anti-Israel protester who claimed that Israel was a racist state.When Jewish students asked at the time why she sang Hatikvah, Cornetta replied that her pastor, Glen Plummer, explained that Jews significantly helped out African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and that Jews contributed significantly to both the NAACP and the Urban League, and were advisers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thus, when she saw that there was going to be an anti-Israel rally, Cornetta decided to take this step.
Much like Cornetta Lane, Chloe Valdary has drawn on her uniquely Biblical Christian upbringing and study of the civil rights movement to develop her own brand of Zionist activism. Dubbed “the Lioness of Zion,” Valdary started a pro-Israel student group on her college campus that garnered national attention, turning the college student into a speaker for a variety of Zionist organizations, including CAMERA and CUFI:
The parallels’ between the black struggle during the civil rights movement and the Jewish people today insofar as the legitimacy of Zionism is concerned is staggering. Martin Luther King Jr. [was] a Zionist but more importantly he realized that we must advance our duty when advancing the cause of human rights today. If he were alive today, he would surely be pro-Israel. This is one of the reasons why I am such a staunch Zionist.
Valdary is not alone. Dumisani Washington, a pastor and music teacher in Northern California, has formed the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, an organization “dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people, and people of African descent through education and advocacy.” Raised a Christian, Washington had a strong interest in the Old Testament and Hebrew history at a young age. Growing up in the segregated south, he drew inspiration from the Exodus as well as Martin Luther King:
Dr. King was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people. Many who know of his legacy know of his close relationship with Rabbi [Avraham] Joshua Heschel as well as the Jewish support for the Black civil rights struggle. Many are unaware, however, of the negative push back Dr. King got from some people. Particularly after the 1967 war in Israel, international criticism against the Jewish State began to rise. Dr. King remained a loyal friend, and made his most powerful case for Israel almost 1 year after the Six Day War – and 10 days before his death.
Both Valdary and Washington have raised the ire of pro-Palestinian organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organization that misappropriates black history and depicts black supporters of Israel as the Uncle Toms of the 21st century. Contrary to the Black Power impetus forging the Ferguson-Palestine relationship, Washington has outlined the differences between the Palestinian liberation and civil rights movements, and in an open letter to SJP, Valdary condemned the organization, writing:
You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.
Americans remain blind to these modern day civil rights/Zionist activists because, contrary to the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have been made into a color-centric society by the Black Power movement and its contemporary descendants. Race has become an idol. Black Power has created the mythical “black and brown faces” to be honored through tokens of affirmative action while sacrificing living human beings on the altar of ghetto culture because of the color of their skin. To remain blind to the idolatry of race is to remain blind to the real struggle for civil rights in America, the struggle to be viewed as a human being instead of a race-based demographic or a color-based “minority.” This is the struggle that unites rather than divides us on issues of economy, quality of life, and yes, even national security and the threat of terrorism.
When I started learning Hebrew at age 29, one year before moving to Israel, it seemed daunting. Until then, English was the only language I knew; now, at a relatively late age, I was setting out to learn another one that had a different alphabet, belonged to a different language family, and was overall distant and exotic from the standpoint of English.
Some of the ways in which Hebrew differs from English were indeed hard to get used to, others not so much. What was fascinating was to find how there are different modes of human speech. While the content of what gets expressed is basically the same, the mechanisms for doing so are not. It would be all the more intriguing to learn a third language; I wish I had the time.
In the Gospel of John, we read a story where a group of Jewish Torah teachers and Pharisees (members of a legalistic sect of Judaism) bring to Jesus a woman whom they caught in adultery, asking Him what punishment He thinks the woman deserves. Masterfully — as He always did — Jesus answers the scholars with a simple, yet profound statement: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).
Recently, Newsweek featured a cover article on the Bible in which author Kurt Eichenwald — not a Biblical scholar but a business writer with a clear agenda — lets forth on how Christians misinterpret the Bible. In his piece, Eichenwald throws the first stone, not even pretending to mask an agenda against conservative Biblical scholarship:
They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.
They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.
I lit Shabbat candles this past Friday night for the first in a very long time. I made the decision somewhere between learning that the Grand Synagogue of Paris had closed its doors on Shabbat for the first time since the end of World War 2 and the starling fact that 15 Jewish patrons of the kosher supermarket in Paris huddled in a storage freezer to avoid being executed by terrorists.
Roger L. Simon wrote a compelling piece in the wake of last week’s barbaric attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris. Reading his article I observed with irony that he writes about America’s need for a Churchill. Perhaps, pray to God in His mercy we have one, as we are now surely England with a Neville Chamberlain at the helm. Europe, on the other hand, does not have a Churchill in sight. Europe’s Churchills and their children have fled and are fleeing, some at a breakneck pace. The only Churchill I see on the world horizon is Bibi Netanyahu, which is why he will no doubt be elected to another term as prime minister in Israel, regardless of the deals he may or may not cut with the ultra-religious. Internal politics have to be placed on the back burner when international enemies are this bloodthirsty.
As I noted in the first article in this series, “In the Diaspora, Hebrew was retained primarily as a holy tongue, a language of prayer and sacred study.” But with the onset of Zionist settlement of the Land of Israel in the late 19th century, Hebrew gradually became the official language of the Yishuv, the prestate Jewish community, and then of the state of Israel itself.
That, however, required a good deal of modernization and adaptation of classical Hebrew. The driving force behind that project was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1921), a Lithuanian-born Jew who moved to Palestine in 1881 and—among much other activity on Hebrew’s behalf—produced a 17-volume lexicon of ancient and modern Hebrew, sometimes working on it 18 hours a day.
If Eliezer Ben-Yehuda could see today’s Israel, he would know that his labors were crowned with great success. Hebrew now permeates all dimensions of Israeli life, from scientific studies to street slang.
And yet, with all the modern coinages—many of which originated with Ben-Yehuda himself—Hebrew’s biblical core remains vibrant. It pops up, for instance, in colorful phrases and sayings that are part of today’s Israeli Hebrew.
Being somewhat of a foodie of the kosher variety, I find the online review service Yelp indispensable when choosing where to eat. To be fair to restaurants, Jews can be somewhat discerning (read: picky and somewhat cranky); thus no restaurant I’ve ever read the reviews of totally came off smelling like roses. The best reviews on these kosher restaurants, though, are not from Jews, but from non-Jews who accidentally stumble upon kosher restaurants and all of their quirks. To keep kosher means to abide by certain rules of the Jewish faith. For the purpose of this post, it’s only necessary to lay out those which apply in restaurants:
Milk and meat are separate: In reality, this means in a kosher restaurant they only serve meat or dairy, never both. If you order a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant, one of the items is a “fake” — either the burger is made of vegetables or the cheese is made of soy.
No pork or shellfish: If you’re looking for a shrimp scampi or bacon, you’ve come to the wrong place if you’ve chosen to eat in a kosher restaurant.
There are a lot of Jews: You would think this goes without saying, but in a kosher restaurant, you will find yourself among a lot of religious Jews. Observant Jews are only able to eat in kosher restaurants, which are not nearly as numerous as non-kosher; thus, when choosing a place to eat, Orthodox Jews tend to come in groups as there are few options to choose from.
1. House of Dog in Boca Raton, Florida
It’s somewhat incredible that someone can live among so many Orthodox Jews in Boca Raton and be completely ignorant of what Orthodox Judaism is, and what it entails, but this woman has managed the impossible. I recently visited House of Dog and the menu now has small notes on it to indicate that the bacon isn’t really bacon and that the cheese isn’t really cheese. I shared this review with my husband and we laughed, wondering if the menu was altered because of people like this woman. Outside of what appears to be some latent anti-Semitism on her part, I was also confused when I first saw the House of Dog menu, wondering if it was actually kosher because cheese and bacon were listed without any clarification.
Joseph Bottum is my favorite among Christian writers; I read him religiously, as it were, for a decade before we met, and before he asked me to join the masthead of the monthly magazine First Things in 2009. The fact that he is a close friend, therefore, has nothing to do with my admiration for his work; I have several close friends who write badly, and admire any number of writers whom I abhor as human beings. His Christmas meditation “Angels I Have Heard on High” was a holiday delicacy to be savored. Jody has heard angel voices singing, “high in the wind, across a western meadow frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow.” I wish him many more such blessed encounters.
Jody is now writing Christmas carols, and we’ve been corresponding about the form, from an aesthetic vantage point, to be sure. The great poet of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega, wrote a marvelous song in which the Virgin Mary responds to the glory of angels ruffling the palm trees by asking them to hold onto the branches and quiet down; her child, she explains, is already exhausted by the world’s suffering and needs to rest. The juxtaposition of maternal ordinariness and supernatural splendor is a successful poetic conceit. Christian poets work wonders with angelic encounters, and Lope’s famous Christmas meditation is sublime. One really must read it in the original: with its Romance meter (comparable to our ballad meter) and unrhymed alliteration, the poem bestrides the divide between sublime and secular in technique as well as content.
By pure coincidence, the conversation around the Shabbat table last week at Hong Kong’s modest Israeli synagogue, Shuva Israel, centered on angels as well. Jews sing “Peace onto you, ministering angels” before Friday night dinner, on the basis of an ancient homilectic that two angels accompany a Jew home from synagogue on the eve of Shabbat:
Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,
of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,
of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Note that the appearance of the angels is a scheduled weekly occurrence, to be welcomed, but nothing to get excited about. The odd thing, though, is that the angels are asked to leave. One hears many explanations for this, but I like best the one proposed by the Chafetz Chaim, the leader of observant Jewry in Eastern Europe during the interwar years, and recounted last Friday by a young Israeli rabbi. When the high priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he went in alone–not even an angel dared accompany him into this most holy place. The recreation of the Temple in the Shabbat table of a Jewish home is so holy that even the holy angels cannot abide there; after they have done their job of accompanying us home from synagogue they are politely asked to go away.
The Holy of Holies in Judaism is found in the most ordinary things of life once they have been dedicated to the Holy One, blessed be he. The Shekhinah (the Indwelling of God) resides on the Shabbat table, and in marital relations between husband and wife. Such things surpass the holiness even of angels.
The holiness of the sanctified ordinary, to be sure, doesn’t always make for compelling poetry; as a latecomer to Jewish observance I tend to sniff at the poetic merits of the classic songs sung around the Shabbat table, although some of them, drawn from the Psalms, are hauntingly beautiful.
I have no interest in seeing Ridley Scott’s epic IMAX 3-D meisterwerk Exodus: Gods and Kings. Why would I want to spend money on a “gloriously junky” movie that turns my history into a collection of high-tech special effects laced together by a biased, biblically-inaccurate script? Yet, for however lousy the movie itself might be, it has inspired some interesting commentary on Jewish peoplehood from Emma Green over at the Atlantic. For Green, the film inspired a polemic that highlights the seemingly eternal struggle Jews have with the idea of being called out, that is to say “chosen” by God.
I’ve always found this to be rather asinine as far as ideological burdens go. Most people struggle to find their purpose in life. Jews are born into it. We are here to bring God’s teachings into the world in order to make this earth a better place. This chosen status, this calling doesn’t make us any better than anyone else. It simply gives us a job to do, a role that manifests itself through every aspect of existence, every academic discipline, every profession we’ve ever encountered. Whether we’re religious or not, or politically Left or Right, we (for the most part) are bent on doing our part to make the world a better place. Which is probably why those who hate us the most love to rub our chosenness in our face, intimidating the Emma Greens among us into second guessing our God-given responsibility.
“Second, more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free. As the second version of the Commandment — the one summarized by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy — states, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” In other words, remember that slaves cannot have a Sabbath. In light of this, I might add that in the Biblical view, unless necessary for survival, people who choose to work seven days a week are essentially slaves — slaves to work or perhaps to money, but slaves nonetheless. The millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.” — Dennis Prager, from his fantastic 10 Commandments video series.
So given the success of last week’s discussion about the myriad of ways to interpret the meaning of Genesis 9, the story of Noah cursing Ham’s son Canaan, I’ve decided to start a regular weekly series on Sunday presenting and discussing a variety of Bible-based mysteries.
This week’s subject for debate and inter-faith dialogue: what is the best way to observe the fourth commandment, to set aside one day a week that is holy? Does one particular group or theological denomination have better ideas and interpretations on this subject than others?
While for many of these Bible mystery questions I’ll just pose the question or lean in one direction or another, on this subject I do have a position that I’ve come to embrace more over the past few years that I’ll offer forward today: the seemingly radical approach that Orthodox Jews take to the Sabbath — a whole day of the week, sundown to sundown, of not even driving a car or using electricity and devoted solely to family and one’s spiritual development as a community — is the ideal that everyone should pursue for a whole host of reasons.
I don’t think the American Protestant Christian standard of just going for an hour long church service each week and then treating Sunday like any other day really cuts it.
Next: considering some insights from a book that I’ve been reading, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, and posing some inter-faith questions based on it.
It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.
Editor’s Note: See the first four parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” “Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power,” and “Should You Trust Your Gut or God?“ Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here. Warning: some spoilers about season 3 discussed in this installment.
Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.
Our culture has a seemingly natural distrust of people in power, but that wasn’t always the case. Before November 1963 we put great faith in our political and spiritual leaders. Those pre-’63 figureheads like JFK, Ike and FDR, Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham are still heralded as role models of moral society. Today’s faith is different. We look for hypocrisy and mock it intensely. All spiritual leaders are televangelists skilled in chicanery. Our politicians are now supposed to be our messiahs, and when they fail we as a nation fall into despair and chaos. When did we forget God, and why does it matter that we’ve left Him out of the equation?
Editor’s Note: See the first three parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” and “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The idea of Olivia Pope is one of a woman who trusts her gut instinct so implicitly that she bases her every decision on it. As a result she unwittingly justifies a range of crimes, puts her life and the lives of her employees and friends at risk, and helps terrorists escape the country. Sometimes listening to your gut just isn’t good enough. Which is probably why God provides a wise alternative in Torah: the prophet.
Biblical culture believes that God speaks to human beings. Sometimes this is done in a group setting, like when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Other times this is done on an individual level, as when God called out Abraham, spoke to Moses through the burning bush, and when God speaks to His prophets. Given that God spoke to His priests through the long-ago destroyed Temple, Rabbinic Judaism tends to view prophets as the stuff of biblical history, despite the prophecy of Joel:
And afterward [after the restoration of Israel], I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
The Spirit of God in prophecy, known in Rabbinic Judaism as the “bat kol,” is highly regulated by Rabbinic law and culture:
In any event, the consensus in Jewish thought is that no appeal to a heavenly voice can be made to decide matters of halakhah where human reasoning on the meaning of the Torah rules is alone determinative. In non-legal matters, however, a Bat Kol is to be heeded. …In modern Jewish thought, even among the Orthodox, claims to have heard a Bat Kol would be treated with extreme suspicion and dismissed as chicanery or hallucination.
But is it really wise to always trust your gut?
Still the Best Moral Code
Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.
So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.
Editor’s Note: See the first two parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.
The husband/wife relationship is central to feminism. Historical, first-wave feminism studied matrimony in terms of legal rights. Contemporary, second-wave feminism approaches marriage in terms of sexual and economic power. Biblical feminism seeks to understand the spiritual relationship between a husband and wife, and how that spiritual relationship manifests into physical action. To do so, we must begin at the beginning, with Genesis 3:16:
To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
“Rule over you” is a phrase that sends chills down any feminist’s spine. But, what does it truly mean? A study of the original Hebrew text provides radical insight into one of the most abused verses of Torah:
This brings us to perhaps the most difficult verse in the Hebrew Bible for people concerned with human equality. Gen 3:16 seems to give men the right to dominate women. Feminists have grappled with this text in a variety of ways. One possibility is to recognize that the traditional translations have distorted its meaning and that it is best read against its social background of agrarian life. Instead of the familiar “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” the verse should begin “I will greatly increase your work and your pregnancies.” The word for “work,” izavon, is the same word used in God’s statement to the man; the usual translation (“pangs” or “pain”) is far less accurate. In addition, the woman will experience more pregnancies; the Hebrew word is pregnancy, not childbearing, as the NRSV and other versions have it. Women, in other words, must have large families and also work hard, which is what the next clause also proclaims. The verse is a mandate for intense productive and reproductive roles for women; it sanctions what life meant for Israelite women.
In light of this, the notion of general male dominance in the second half of the verse is a distortion. More likely, the idea of male “rule” is related to the multiple pregnancies mentioned in the first half of the verse. Women might resist repeated pregnancies because of the dangers of death in childbirth, but because of their sexual passion (“desire,” 3:16) they accede to their husbands’ sexuality. Male rule in this verse is narrowly drawn, relating only to sexuality; male interpretive traditions have extended that idea by claiming that it means general male dominance.
One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.
Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.
In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.
Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.
Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.
Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.
Twenty-four percent of married couple families with children under 15 have a stay-at-home mom. Ninety-nine percent of stay-at-home moms in the movies get a really bad rap. Search “Best Movie Moms” and you’ll get lists that include Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Shelly Duvall in The Shining, and more than a few mentions of Psycho. The majority of movie mothers are either widowed or divorced, careerists or working class, alcoholics or impregnated by UFOs. The closest you’ll get to a stay-at-home mom in post-1940s cinema is Kathleen Turner playing the psychotic Serial Mom or Michael Keaton taking on the role so his wife can pursue her career in Mr. Mom.
In fact, outside of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side there hasn’t been a truly admirable middle-class, white, stay-at-home mother on the silver screen in over 50 years. Which is probably why Mom’s Night Out received such a negative critical reception when it premiered last spring. We have been acculturated out of believing in the power and purpose of stay-at-home moms. Yet, the criticisms leveled at Mom’s Night Out for its “depressingly regressive” spirit and “archaic notions of gender roles” were not applied to a similar film about a stay-at-home mom released only two years prior. This Is 40 received mixed reviews, but praise for yielding “…some of [Judd] Apatow’s most personal observations yet on the feelings for husbands, wives, parents, and children that we categorize as love.”
So, what made This Is 40 palatable in a way that Mom’s Night Out wasn’t? Is there, perhaps, a culturally acceptable way to be a stay-at-home mom?
Israel is becoming a more and more popular place for Jews to live. When I made aliyah (a word that means “ascent” or “Jewish immigration to Israel”) from the U.S. in 1984, the Jewish population stood at around three million; today it has doubled to over six million and is the largest Jewish community in the world. The huge rise comes from both natural growth and immigration. Jews who are already here vote “yes” by having the Western world’s highest fertility rates; many Jews who were living elsewhere have been coming here.
And now it turns out that the rate of yerida (a word that means “descent” or “Jewish emigration from Israel”) is at an all-time low—yes, even in this era of globalization, and with some Israelis loudly complaining about high prices here. The Jerusalem Post reports:
In 2012…the number of émigrés—people who left Israel and stayed abroad for over a year—went down to 15,900, the lowest since the establishment of the state….
Nearly a quarter of them had returned to the country or reported a planned return date as of April 2014.
Most of those who left the country were not born in Israel, and 25 percent of them are not Jewish. Many had moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990.
And the New York Times adds that
Sergio DellaPergola, a leading [Israeli] demographer, said emigration was actually lower now than at any time in Israel’s 66-year history, and also lower than in comparably developed countries. Far more people left Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, when inflation skyrocketed….
Even so, if you’re considering making aliyah, it’s natural to have fears about taking such a big plunge. I had some of them too; but by now they’re a thing of the distant past.
Israel and Islam. What is it that really divides the the two, keeping the children of Jacob and Ishmael in perpetual war?
It turns out the difference stares us in the face, at the root of the words themselves. Clarity in understanding the wars of the Middle East comes when grasping the words in the original languages, Hebrew and Arabic, a point Dennis Prager explains in his book Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph.
In Hebrew the word “Israel” means to “wrestle with God” or “to struggle with God.” Jacob was renamed Israel after spending a night wrestling with God’s angels. Struggling and arguing with the idea of God is what characterizes man’s relationship with Him in the Torah. Abraham talks back to God, arguing humanity’s case. This perpetual shifting and negotiating, new reaching out to the Divine is mirrored in the way the Bible is put together and how Jews and Christians learn to study it. We wrestle with God by wrestling with the text, trying to assemble the pieces in new and better configurations, building on the sages who have come before us. In Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchk’s The Lonely Man of Faith he shows how this movement back and forth is built into man’s nature as reflected in the two creation stories in Genesis. Both describe man’s orientation to God and it is our challenge to shift back and forth between them.
In Islam the idea of man arguing with Allah or debating the proper interpretations of the holy text is blasphemous. In Arabic the word “Islam” means to submit to Allah.
While the Bible is a document made of numerous texts across the centuries depicting many mysterious and often conflicting understandings of God and competing schools of interpretation, the Koran purports to be the revelation of one prophet who supersedes all the others. And his book has an easy cheat system for how to make sense of conflicting passages: when two parts conflict, just go with the later prophecy. Abrogation! The practical result of this is that the violent, later prophecies are still in effect for Islam. And where did its doctrine of “struggle” manifest? In its call to wage Jihad. The struggle is not primarily with a transcendent deity, but to impose Shariah law — a Caliphate — onto the entire planet. There’s no mystery between man and Allah in the Koran, the relationship is clear: we are his slaves.
The more one studies the history, culture, and contemporary conflicts between Israel and Islamic states and Jihadists the more evidence one finds for this root breakdown between a free people and an enslaved people. Two of my most important guides in coming to grasp these issues have been P. David Hornik and Robert Spencer who I’ve had the pleasure of of editing each week for years. Today I present collections of their work together, Hornik based in Israel and providing analysis of the news in the Middle East and the cultures influencing it; and Spencer connecting the Koran with the actions of its modern day adherents today.
If there are themes you’d like to see David or Robert explore then please get in touch with your ideas: daveswindlepjm @ gmail.com or @DaveSwindle on Twitter.
Click here to read “Begin to Understand Islam With These 118 Robert Spencer Articles“
One of the understandings of Israel I’ve drawn from David’s writings is the paradox of the culture: that Israel is both very religious and very secular and that the range of religious expression varies widely within the country. David rightfully posits that this tendency lies in the Torah itself. I start this collection of David’s work with his “Abraham Ancient and Modern” series. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:
Last year a study of Israeli Jews found that 84 percent of them believe in God. It came as a surprise to many. Israeli Jewry is commonly divided into “religious” and “secular” sectors, with the former making up only about 20 percent. It turns out, though, that a large majority of the “secular” are theists.
The “religious-secular” division of Israeli Jewry has roots in the Book of Exodus, which introduces laws about Sabbath observance, kosher eating, personal and ritual purity, and so on. “Religious” Jews in Israel are those who follow these laws — as further elaborated in subsequent books of the Bible, and interpreted and codified by the rabbinical tradition. “Secular” Jews in Israel usually follow some of the laws but are not committed to them as a whole.
For instance, and maybe most prototypically, “religious” Israelis stay home on the Sabbath, observing both the injunctions to “do no work” and “kindle no fire” on this day. Secular Israelis kindle their car engines and go for family outings, their Sabbath in some ways more similar to Sunday (the Jewish Sabbath falls on Saturday) in majority-Christian countries.
“Secular” Israelis, though, are mostly theists; they live in the Land of Israel and are usually committed to doing so, not infrequently to the point of life-threatening forms of army service; and they are generally responsive to the holiness of Jerusalem and other aspects of Jewish tradition. A “secular Israeli” myself for almost three decades, I’ve long thought that the “secular” or “nonreligious” tag fails to do justice to a more complex, interesting reality.
Looking beyond the Book of Exodus to the book that precedes it — Genesis, and especially one of its central characters, Abraham — may offer richer and more affirmative ways to think about the issue.
Click here to continue reading “Abraham, Part 1: Are ‘Secular Israelis’ Really Secular?.” In David’s own approach and body of work he embodies this approach too. This collection contains both the secular in his news articles and political polemics and series on the world’s worst purveyors of antisemitism, to the religious with his series on Jewish holidays, to the territory in between with his skeptical but sympathetic series on the emerging science of near death experiences.
I hope that through this collection more can come to appreciate David’s inspiring worldview and see how they can apply his insights about life in Israel to their own journey through the sacred and secular.
Abraham Ancient And Modern Series
- Abraham, Part 1: Are ‘Secular Israelis’ Really Secular?
- Abraham, Part 2: God’s Gadfly or Meek Servant?
- Abraham, Part 3: Do You Have to Marry a Jewish Girl?
- Abraham, Part 4: Does Holiness Get Lost in the Fog of War?
- Abraham, Part 5: Can The ‘Wild Man’ Ishmael Be Tamed?
Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations?
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 1: The Whole World Against Us
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 2: That Bird Could Be a Mossad Agent!
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 3: From Woodstock to the Promised Land
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 4: Why Is Israel So Lousy at Making Its Case?
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 5: Whichever It Is, I’ve Married It
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 6: Europe Loves Jews, Just Hates Judaism and Israel
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 7: Syrians in Israeli Hospitals Fear ‘Monster-Jews’
- Israel: Leper or Light Unto the Nations? Part 8: Jerusalem Dig Strikes Rare Gold
Near Death Experiences
- What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us
- Near-Death Experiences: Two Books Provide More Compelling Evidence
- Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 1: Sam Parnia Explains Where the Field Is Leading
- What if They Gave a Review of Your Life and You Had to Come?
- Introducing: A Deity Who Makes Sense
- Near-Death Experiences—A New Take on Life, Part 4: Brian Miller’s Case Challenges the Skeptics
- Near-Death Experiences, a New Take on Life, Part 5: Can God and Evil Be Reconciled?
- 4 Amazing Facts Suggesting the Mind Can Exist Independent of the Brain
- ‘I’-Sight: When the Blind-from-Birth Can Fully See During Near-Death Experiences
- 4 Amazing Archaeological Finds in Israel This Past Year
- 4 Reasons Israel’s Future Looks Bright as the New Jewish Year Begins
- Farewell to a Fighter: Meir Har-Zion, Larger-than-Life Israeli Legend, Dies at 80
- Israel on Holocaust Remembrance Day
- Israeli Independence Day, 2014
- Israel’s Embattled Pro-Israel Priest
- Israel’s First Astronaut: A Tale of Tragedy and Miracle
- ‘Nakba’ Concentrates Israeli Minds
- Obama’s Full-Court Press on Israel
- 5 Reasons Why Liberal Jews Will Never Support Israel
- A Review of David Solway’s The Boxthorn Tree
- 5 Ways Israel Keeps the Peace in the Middle East
- 5 of the Latest, Dumbest Statements About Israel by Jewish Liberals
- Why Is Washington Enraged Over More Homes for Jews in Jerusalem?
War in the Middle East
- Goldstone’s Mea Culpa and Israel’s Wars
- 3 Kidnapped Boys, But the Usual Cold Shoulder
- Israel Buries Sons, Mulls Response
- The 10 Most Disturbing Palestinian Propaganda Videos
- The Insane Hamas War
- 6 Videos That Show the Truth About the War in Gaza
- Why Israel Defeated—But Didn’t Crush—Hamas
- Next Round—Islamic State Vs. Israel?
- The Shavuot Holiday in Israel: Joy in the Law, Joy in the Land
- Purim: A Wacky Tribute to Life
- 4 Things to Get Liberated From This Passover
- Tu Bishvat, Israel’s Holiday of Trees
- Chanukah: The Triumph of Light
- Simchat Torah: Dancing and Singing with the Law
- Sukkot, the Autumn Harvest Festival
- Israel on Yom Kippur: Renewing Life Amid Traumas of the Past
- In Israel, a Rosh Hashanah of Apples and Gas Masks
- Israeli Women, Part 1: Ace Pilots Reporting for Duty
- Israeli Women, Part 2: Island of Progress in a Dark Sea
- Israeli Women, Part 3: The Jews’ Iron Lady, Golda Meir
- Israeli Women, Part 4: Great Ladies of Hebrew Song
- Simone by Starlight: How to Lose a ‘Date’ But Gain the World
- Simone by Sunlight: Can People-Pleasing Save a Romance?
- 4 Things You Should Never Do to Find Lasting Love
- 4 Signs That You’re on the Way to Lasting Love
Life Reflections and Advice
- Memories and Mysteries of a Friend Dead at 40
- Sacred Places: Real, or Do We Make Them Up?
- What I See at the Secret Hour
- Why the Beasts Fail to Understand Israeli Happiness
- American? Israeli? Who Am I?
- How I Became a Conservative
- 3 Tips for Falling Asleep at Night
- 10 Ways My Life Improved Since I Moved to Israel
- 5 Realizations as My 60th Birthday Draws Near
- My Murdered Friend
- The 12-Step Guide for the Recovering Obama Voter
Music, Art and Culture
- Goodbye, Literature
- 4 Old, Dreamy Songs
- 3 Unwritten Short Stories Still Haunting This Ex-Fiction Writer
- The Wonder and Beauty of Israel’s Old, Old Mosaics
- How Great Jazz Artists Express a Peculiar Kind of Hebrew Happiness
- Master of Music, Bungler of Life
- David Solway’s Musical Debut: Blood Guitar and Other Tales
- Habibi: A Moroccan Poet Sings to His Love
The Ten Worst U.S, Purveyors of Antisemitism
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #10: Gordon Duff
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #9: Willis Carto
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #8: John Mearsheimer
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #7: David Duke
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #6: Patrick Buchanan
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #5: Ron Paul
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #4: Ali Abunimah
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #3: Thomas Friedman
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #2: Students for Justice in Palestine
- The Ten Worst U.S. Purveyors of Antisemitism, #1: Louis Farrakhan
The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #10: David Irving
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #9: Roger Waters
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #8: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, # 7: The Golden Dawn Party
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #6: The Jobbik Party
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #5: the Guardian
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #4: the BBC
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #3: The Palestinian Authority
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #2: Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi
- The Ten Worst Purveyors of Antisemitism Worldwide, #1: The Iranian Regime
Check out these previous compilations of PJ Lifestyle’s best writers:
A story about two old Jewish ladies is making the rounds in the Jewish press, but not for the reasons you may think. Sure, they’re bubbes. They’re children of a Holocaust survivor to boot. But the real reason they’re attracting so much attention is that they happen to be retired professional whores.
Dutch twins Louise and Martine Fokkens (probably not their real last name, since “Fokken” is a Dutch term for “old whore”) have become international celebrities since the 2011 release of their biographical documentary Meet the Fokkens. Women’s magazines like Cosmo picked up on their story shortly after the film’s release, publishing quick little details like:
Louise and Martine (mothers of four and three respectively) became prostitutes before the age of 20 in order to escape violent relationships.
It’s an interpretation that, at best, qualifies as a half-truth. Louise was forced into the sex trade by an abusive husband. Martine, however, became a prostitute out of spite:
Martine followed her sister into the trade, working first as a cleaning lady at brothels before she began turning tricks herself. “I was angry at how everybody around us shunned Louise,” Martine said. “I did it out of spite, really.”
Both women eventually divorced their husbands, whom they now describe as “a couple of pimps.” But they continued working in the district “because that had become our lives,” Louise said.
“Our life in the business became a source of pride, a sport of sorts,” Louise added.
In retrospect, both women say they regret becoming prostitutes.
Reading their story, one can’t help but wonder if mainstream feminist advocates for slut walks and “Yes Means Yes” legislation would condemn the pair for regretting the life they chose. After all, their body, their choice, right? They took control of their bad marriages, divorced the husbands they referred to as “pimps” and chose, fully of their own volition, to remain in the sex trade after their exes were fully out of the picture. Martine and Louise, it would seem, are the originators of the Slut Walk.
My PJ colleague Walter Hudson published a compelling argument regarding physician-assisted suicide in response to the ongoing dialogue surrounding terminal cancer patient Brittany Maynard. His is a well-reasoned argument regarding the intersection of theology and politics, written in response to Matt Walsh’s Blaze piece titled “There is Nothing Brave About Suicide.” Both pieces are a reminder that, in the ongoing debate over whether or not Maynard has the right to schedule her own death, little has been said regarding the role the medical profession plays in the battle to “Die with Dignity.” Walsh argues:
None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.
It’s a simplistic comment that ignores a very real medical fact: Death can come on your own terms. And that doesn’t have to mean suicide.
My mother was a nurse for 20 years. During that time she worked in a variety of settings, from hospitals, to private practice, to nursing homes. Much like Jennifer Worth, the nurse and author of the Call the Midwife series, my mother practiced at the end of Victorian bedside nursing and the dawn of Medicare. As a result, the abuses she witnessed in the name of insurance claims were grotesque. For instance, if a patient required one teaspoon of medication, an entire bottle would be poured into the sink and charged to that patient’s insurance company. This was just the tip of the iceberg of unethical practices that would become priority in the name of the almighty “billing schedule.”
I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.
“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.
“No, not really.”
“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”
“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.
She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”
Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”
She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.
And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the biblical feminism I’ve preached.
Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.
Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from rabbinic abuse of biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?