Table of Contents 4
God is Not Dead, but Undead by Noah Wallace
From Conservative Jew to JLIC President by Joey Levin
From Dealing to Teaching by Matana Shams
7 8 9 10 11
Pluralism and the Jewish Community by Daniel Levine An Unorthodox Transfer by Edwin Korouri The Changing Middle East and its Implications by Inbar Goren A Jewish Perspective on the 2016 Election by Jacob Schaperow Our Imperfect Memory by Daniel Levine
About Us Ha’Am has been the official student-run Jewish newsmagazine at UCLA since 1972. We are a hybrid, online and print publication that aims to inform both the UCLA student body and the larger Los Angeles community of Jewish happenings and opinions on campus. Our team strives to uphold Jewish values and to instill within our ranks journalistic integrity of the highest order. Together, we engage and grapple with our tradition in the hopes of enriching our diverse experiences. However, before and after all of that, we are a family. Ha’am: One Nation, Endless Voices. (Please note that individual opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Ha’Am as a whole.) For more articles, pictures and videos please visit Ha’Am’s website at haam.org. Get in contact with us on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail. If you are interested in Jewish Life, are sincere, and are hardworking, then we are looking for you. We need staff members of every kind, including talented writers, editors, designers, photographers, illustrators, social media experts, business and marketing representatives, creative thinkers, and skilled debaters. No matter your expertise, no matter your major, you will be an invaluable member of our family.
Ha’Am: UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine is published and copyrighted by the ASUCLA Communications Board. All rights are reserved. Reprinting of any materials in this publication without the written permission of the Communications Board is strictly prohibited. The ASUCLA Communications Board fully supports the University of California’s policy of non-discrimination. The student media reserve the right to reject or modify advertising whose content discriminates on the basis of ancestry, color, national origin, race, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. The ASUCLA Communications Board has a media grievance procedure for resolving complaints against any of its publications. For a copy of the complete procedure, contact the publications office at 118 Kerckhoff Hall. All inserts that are printed in Ha’Am: UCLA’s Jewish Newsmagazine are independently paid publications and do not reflect the views of the Editorial Board of the staff. If you wish to have copies of Ha’Am’s print edition sent to you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fall 2016 Staff Editor-in-Chief: Asher Naghi
Jessica Behmanesh (Internal) Noah Wallace (External)
Content Editors: Matana Shams Chaya Esakhan
Jacob Schaperow Ellie Fridman
Daniel Levine Inbar Goren Joey Levin Samuel Bressler
Letter From the Editor “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” -Charles Dickens As I write this letter, our country reels in shock. A presidential election that seemed so clearly decided ended with the underdog as champion and the expected victor laid low. The theme of “Transitions” for Ha’Am’s print edition felt all the more appropriate after reviewing the election results, as change always brings with it uncertainty and fear. In times like these, I consider Dickens’ words. We always believe we are in the best of times or the worst of times. We like to consider our conditions unique. However, perhaps, as Dickens indicates, the results of our election do not signal a season of light or of darkness but simply an opportunity. Avraham, the first Jewish patriarch, left his home as a virtual nonentity and traveled – transitioned – to a strange land. There he began to preach in the name of God, and through his efforts, he became beloved to God, who promised Avraham a land and a heritage. Noach, however, who begins his story as an Ish Tzadik – a righteous man – survives the great transition that was the deluge only to become an Ish Ha’adama – a man of the ground. He is last seen intoxicated and shamed by one of his own children. How is it that Avraham rose to the heights of holiness but that Noach sank to the depths of ignobility? Both figures experienced change, yet I believe the Torah demonstrates to us that the situations we are thrust into are not fundamental to our future. Our future – and the future of a nation in Avraham’s case – depends on how we choose to conduct ourselves. Transitions, again, are an opportunity. The past quarter has not only seen transitions within our country but also within Ha’Am itself. With the transition of our staff from the old guard to the new, we saw opportunity. We revamped our website and logo with fresh, new designs that exude our ideals. We are excited and hopeful about the direction our paper is taking and look forward to carrying it to its bright future.
Edwin Korouri (Lead) Alyssa Bonchik Melody Lopez
To fear change is human. Yet I ask that we attempt to embrace the transitions before us with an open heart and an open mind. I ask that we take to heart the lesson of Avraham and Noach: Transitions do not define us; instead, we, with our actions, define transitions.
Allison Hernandez Melody Lopez Roni Veksler
With much hope,
The End of Nietzsche: God Is Not Dead, But Undead By Noah Wallace
Friedrich Nietzsche is most memorialized in popular philosophy by this catchy, contentious extract from The Gay Science, published in 1882. For all of the ire this quote has drawn, the controversy it has generated emanates more from the brazen heresy of Nietzsche’s diction than from the actual meaning of the words. Nietzsche did not argue that God was once a living, animate entity that humans physically or spiritually murdered. Rather, he observed that the progress and knowledge of the Enlightenment led people to reject God and thereby no longer depend on God or the concomitant religion that God symbolizes for absolute moral guidance. God was dead not as an entity but as a construct — the purpose of God as a source of morality was no more. Nietzsche feared that a so-
Despite the progress of the Enlightenment and of 20th century science, medicine, technology and philosophy, the contemporary world is fueled by and dependent on God to function.
tory of knowledge more voluminous and more accessible than any in history, many lean more and more on dogmatic religious principles. Despite deeper understandings of the best ways to structure governments, countries around the world continue to fall to authoritarian religious dictatorship. God is very much not dead, in the sense that religious practices and tenets still pervade laws and societies throughout the world. God is very much not alive, however, in the sense that so much progress has been made in advancing scientific understanding, and some reject God as a direct result of this new knowledge, as they did in Nietzsche’s day. The only conclusion, then, is that God is undead. Much like a zombie, ordinary circumstances (the advancement of reason and science) dictate that God is dead. With a zombie, those ordinary circumstances are natural laws. However, the extreme devotion to God and fundamentalist religion persists unabated in much of the world — defying logic, much like a zombie’s mere existence defies logic, and indicating that God is alive. In a report he researched and published on religious fundamentalism, Professor Michael Emerson of Rice University concluded that the world has experienced an uninterrupted upsurge of religious, fanatical extremism since 1970. He cites ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas and Al-Qaeda, among others, as examples of a movement toward fundamentalism in much of the world — a phenomenon visible to anyone who follows current events. However, Emerson’s report neglects that this rise in religious fundamentalism happens even as scientific progress continues to outdo itself. Every day, advances are made that bring the world to a better, more progressive place, whether those advances involve developing groundbreaking new cancer treatments, novel agricultural methods to sustainably and productively grow crops or anything in between. Since extremism has continually worsened over the last 40 years, the gap between those who have adopted science and technology and those who have not has widened. Despite knowledge of how to do better in all facets of life by espousing secular or moderate religious practices, the world is evolving dangerously into a place controlled by religious fundamentalism, not by reason. The undead nature of God is by definition problematic to human progress — it plays directly into the primary atheist criticism of religion:
ciety guided by moral relativism would follow, in which no value could be said to be objectively just, right or superior to another. Nietzsche spent his life attempting to uncover a deeper corpus of objective morality beyond that inspired by God, leading to his equally notorious perspective on “the will to power.” Still, many religious detractors misunderstand Nietzsche’s quote as a blasphemous denial of God and religion; they view it as a pointed attack on their theological credo, even though Nietzsche values the concept of God as source of social structure and societal order. Of course, they are right in that Nietzsche certainly does not view God as an omnipotent, benevolent Creator of the universe or through any other religious lens. But Nietzsche does not merit any more defense. More than 130 years later, both Nietzsche and his religious detractors are wrong about the death of God. God is neither dead, as Nietzsche argues, nor alive, as his religious detractors counter; rather, God is undead. Despite the progress of the Enlightenment and of 20th century science, medicine, technology and philosophy, the contemporary world is fueled by and dependent on God to function. Indeed, despite a reposi-
that its unabashed, unqualified following stunts societal progress. Of course, theists raise a valid point that religion does have value and reason does have its limits. It can be quite presumptuous and arrogant to assume that man can explain every puzzle of nature with
Since extremism has continually worsened over the last 40 years, the gap between those who have adopted science and technology and those who have not has widened.
reason, alone. Theists highlight that using reason alone and ignoring speculative or faith-based reasoning is like using a hammer to secure a screw, to unscrew a light bulb or to brush your teeth. It is the right tool in some circumstances, but not in all. Still, an undead God does not have to render these pro-theist arguments invalid. Nietzsche’s point in declaring the death of God
God is very much not dead, in the sense that religious practices and tenets still pervade laws and societies throughout the world. God is very much not alive, however, in the sense that so much progress has been made in advancing scientific understanding.
od is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
was not that the world should reject religion but that it had and that it would inevitably succumb to nihilism, a clear inhibitor to human progress. At the moment, the existence of an undead God has the same effect of inhibiting progress. Using speculative reasoning — defined as any reasoning process not predicated on or rooted in reason — might be necessary at times. It is impossible to understand certain phenomena in the universe without it. But its adoption in circumstances that warrant reason is dangerous to society, and the society that fails to use reason in the right circumstances — a society with an undead God — must work to continue progressing.
From Conservative Jew to JLIC President By Joey Levin
day morning services and eventually joining the minyan carpool for morning services every day at Hillel. You might be wondering: what spoke to me about Orthodox Judaism that drew me away from full-fledged Conservatism? In short, Orthodox Judaism offered me what I thought Judaism should have been. When I attended regional USY events, I kept Shabbat and participated fully in the Shabbat experience. However, when I came home to my Conservative synagogue, not many people kept Shabbat, and there were no afternoon Shabbat prayer services or havdallah services offered. I did not feel the same sense of community that I had found in my youth group. I felt disconnected from the Judaism practiced at home and in my community and sought the sort of Judaism I sensed during my time away with my youth group. I wanted to observe Shabbat, singing zmirot or hymns after Friday night dinner and engaging in intellectual discussions about Judaism and life. And yet, there was little opportunity to do so. There were times when my synagogue at home did not have lunch on Saturday or did not conclude lunch with singing. Friday night services were poorly attended and did not move me as did the services offered by Camp Ramah and USY. When I came to UCLA, I found a community that prayed Mincha every Shabbat afternoon after lunch and sponsored Seudah Slishit — or a third meal — with Havdallah services in the evenings. There were Jewish Bruins who joined together to sing after lunch on Saturdays and after dinner on Friday nights. I found fellow students who fully kept Shabbat and spent the entire day together as a community. Shabbat became my favorite part of the week because the
work restrictions that came with it created a community — it bound us together for 25 hours and motivated me to increase my interactions and connections with other people. Shabbat became a way to relax from the hectic daily life at UCLA. As I grew more comfortable, I started attending other events hosted by JLIC and found another aspect of Modern Orthodoxy I enjoyed: learning. Never before had I studied pages of Talmud. Each rabbi who lectured during JLIC’s weekly Parsha and Pizza event made me ponder Judaism and the world. I had great discussions with my Orthodox peers about everything from the nature of God, to reconciling the Torah with science, to artificial intelligence. I felt a deep desire to continue learning and exploring my connection with Judaism as I never had before. As I entered my sophomore year, I became the gabbai — or sexton — of JLIC, assigning honors during services and helping with other JLIC activities. I found myself wanting to give back to this community that had given me a new perspective on Judaism and life.
I no longer consider myself Conservative, but neither do I consider myself Orthodox.
was raised in a Conservative Jewish household. My family and I attended services on a rather regular basis at our local synagogue, Congregation Beth Am of San Diego, and had Shabbat dinners on most Friday nights. Though I was not shomer Shabbat, my family observed the holidays the best that they could could, from having a Sukkah in the backyard to going to Seders on Passover to lighting Hanukkah candles. My two siblings and I went to Camp Ramah, a Conservative sleep-away camp in Ojai, every summer, and I also worked there for several years. After my camp experience, I became very involved in the Conservative movement’s youth group, United Synagogue Youth (USY), both at my synagogue and at the regional level. I served as the religion/education chair for my chapter, leading and coordinating Friday night services and other religious activities. I received the Ahavat Torah award my senior year in high school for all of my help at the regional level, specifically for helping increase student participation in religious activities. Yet today I am the president of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) at UCLA, a group focused on meeting the needs of Orthodox and traditional Jewish students on campus. While I no longer consider myself Conservative, I also do not consider myself Orthodox. What happened to lead me to this middle state, which some call “Conservadox”? When I arrived at UCLA, I wasn’t sure how my Judaism would play a part in my college experience. Though it had played such a big part in my life so far, I didn’t know what the Jewish community on campus would be like and how I would fit into it. I had always planned on going to Shabbat dinners, so my first couple of weeks on campus, I tried out the two different services offered at Hillel: the liberal, egalitarian service and the Modern Orthodox service. The Modern Orthodox service spoke to me most. True, it had a mechitza — or partition — separating the sexes, which I was not accustomed to. However, the prayers sung were the same ones that I had heard in camp, and the service leaders made sure to include every prayer. At these services, I reconnected with Brad Widawer, who had also been involved in USY and Camp Ramah before joining the Modern Orthodox community at UCLA. As I came week after week, I also met Naomi Esserman, a fellow engineering student and the co-president of JLIC. She later introduced me to other members of the community, including Gil Bar-Or, a fellow computer science major. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan of JLIC welcomed me into the community with open arms, not caring that I did not come from an Orthodox background but only wanting to meet my needs. I felt such a strong sense of belonging as I met more people in the community. As the quarter progressed, I began attending more JLIC events, coming to Satur-
So, if JLIC spoke to me so greatly, why do I still refer to myself as “Conservadox”? I still maintain fundamental disagreements with Modern Orthodoxy that do not permit me to fully follow its ideology. For one, I believe in an egalitarian form of Judaism. I believe that women should be allowed to wear tefillin and participate fully in religious rituals. I can never find full comfort in a place that does not allow women to read Torah or lead services. At the same time, I want to be part of a community that fully embraces the tradition of Judaism, a community focused on learning. I want to be with others who fully participate in the holidays and observe Shabbat. My Judaism embraces modernity while remaining rooted in the traditions of the past. While Modern Orthodoxy does a good job of embracing the present, there are certain aspects of it that refuse to enter the modern world. However, I also see Conservative Judaism as being too lax with regard to the Jewish tradition, changing things that have been Jewish law and custom for thousands of years in order to please members of the movement. Sometimes changes seem necessary to meet the needs of a modern community, but sometimes this tactic fails. Take the act of driving on Shabbat, for example. Although I have come to appreciate the restrictions of Shabbat, I have also experienced times when other matters take precedence over them. In modern times, people sometimes cannot afford houses within walking distance of their preferred synagogue. Additionally, families are much more spread out, no longer all within walking distance of one another. Especially in cases when extended families have relatives that are not observant, not driving hinders coming together as a family. When driving allows me to be with family or go to a synagogue instead of staying at home all day, I find myself willing to break Shabbat by getting in the car. At the same time, however, once Conservative Judaism legitimized driving on Shabbat, people eventually began to use that approval to drive for reasons other than for the sake of enjoying Shabbat. By extension, the potential for a strong community to be bound together for 25 hours was destroyed. Currently, my religious identity is floating somewhere between Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. My Conservative background bolsters rather than hinders my presidency at JLIC. As I continue my college career, I will continue to explore my Judaism and try to figure out where I fit. Right now, I see the good in both religious communities, as there are aspects of both movements that I enjoy and appreciate. I doubt that I will end up fully on either side, as I cannot commit myself to either belief system. But, eventually, I suppose I will have to choose. I hope that my remaining two years at UCLA will be as educational and uplifting as my initial two years on campus and that my journey of religious self-discovery will continue to be meaningful and revealing.
From Dealing to Teaching How does a professional drug dealer end up with a PhD, teaching at UCLA? Israeli-born, Professor Adi Jaffe went from selling drugs – arrested in multiple instances – to a well-respected statistics professor in the UCLA psychology department. By Matana Shams
I needed to do anything I could not to get back to that other life
uated UCLA with a PhD in psychology. With his degrees completed and drug abuse no longer weighing His last arrest was the most serious; he had on him, life was different. After his one year of prison and his journey to sobriety, he no gotten into a motorlonger found comfort in drugs and instead found another focus – cycle accident, and when the police took school. Jaffe said that school gave him the purpose that was previously lacking in his life. Getting arrested and going to jail had also been a off his jacket, they wake-up call. found a half pound As a former UCLA student, Jaffe has seen the drug use of stuof cocaine in it. Ulti- mately, they realized dents on campus and acknowledged that 18-25 is the age when drug he was dealing drugs. experimentation is most common. Aside from his part-time job as a UCLA, Dr. Jaffe spends his time Police attempted to running a treatment center in the Pico-Robertson area. He treats variget him to talk, but ous types of addictions and has made it his life mission to help others. Jaffe would not say “It feels like I have a weight on me. At the end of it, I sold a lot of a word. Eventually drugs that made people’s lives substantially worse. To some extent, I feel a SWAT team woke like I’m paying it back, helping people get over their troubles.” him up at his apart Dr. Jaffe notes that becoming an addict and even a drug dealer ment at 8a.m. and was a gradual process. Others can prevent themselves from falling into took him to jail, still his situation by speaking to someone they trust, even before it seems in his wheelchair like a real issue. (from the accident). “There was a handful of people who offered to help, but I was too At that point Jaffe knew he was in trou- far down. I heard them and thought they were wrong.” He further explains that friends and family need to offer supble – he had 13 felony counts, and this time port to those struggling not by stating the obvious issues but instead by mentioning resources available to help them. When Jaffe realized he was he would not get off in real trouble, he was not aware of the resources that could have helped so easy. him. Jaffe faced 18 years Jaffe relates a common issue within the community: members in prison. It took of society often pretend not to see the problems right in front of them, one week for him to making believe that they do not exist. There is so much shame around make bail. He knew that even his lawyers drug use that communities will not admit that it is a prevalent issue, fearing it might make them look bad. Addiction is an issue in so many could not prevent cultures: Jews, Christians and Muslims struggle. To think that these what was coming issues define us as a community and thus ignore the matter leaves many next. Awaiting his trial, Jaffe was placed without the support they so desperately need. Jaffe hopes this shame can be eradicated so that people can come out and seek help and find a into rehab to reduce his ultimate sentence. place where it is okay to struggle without the fear of being judged. “People need the courage to stand firm and be supportive to After being kicked out of one rehab and those people who are struggling.” Individuals often need to break through to those who are strugsent to another, he came out nearly nine gling and build trust. We need to seem like we are helping the person in need instead of viewing them as a problem to solve. Society needs to months sober. Soon pay attention, to be direct and to be supportive. after, 25-year-old Jaffe was miraculously sentenced to one year in prison, leaving drug free at the end. His criminal record made Jaffe push harder for self-liberation. He wanted to do anything he could to not get back to where he once was. He tried getting work, but his criminal record made it impossible. His only option for rebuilding his life was school. Luckily, one of the requirements for his major had changed, so Jaffe graduated from UCLA. Due to his poor academics during his early years, Jaffe could not pursue an advanced degree at UCLA. Therefore, Jaffe finished his masters in psychology at California State University Long Beach, graduating with a 4.0 GPA and reapplying to UCLA for his doctorate. UCLA ultimately accepted him and Jaffe grad-
People need the courage to stand firm and be supportive to those people who are struggling.
dealing drugs to an average of 400-500 clients in total. Dealing drugs, Jaffe had to deal with police officers as well. He was arrested a total of four times and, using drug money, he hired lawyers.
ccording to the online Addiction Center, college students are, nationally, the overwhelming majority of drug abusers – whether from stress, curiosity or peer pressure. Professor Adi Jaffe’s intense experience with multiple forms of substance abuse motivated him to never go back to where he had once been. In an interview, Jaffe gives a full explanation of his experiences. Jaffe interacted with the wrong people and started drinking at age 14. Heavy use of marijuana began in high school and continued on to college. At one point, he experienced an intense breakup. With the drugs made available to him to avoid depression, he began experimenting. Because his friends were also using drugs, he gained access to cocaine, ecstasy and various hallucinogens. His substance abuse heavily affected his school work. Jaffe began to not show up for tests and assignments. His drug-induced inability to focus immensely lowered his academic standings. After just barely transferring from State University in Buffalo to UCLA, he thought that his addictions were fading away. His temporary recuperation ended when his social life began. Jaffe was 20 when he started drinking with friends and even dated a girl who jointly participated in abusing drugs with him. By his fourth year in college, drugs had become normal in his everyday life and his use of Ecstasy became a weekly occurance. Consequently, his grades plummeted. Before he knew it, Jaffe had become a professional drug dealer. This was not a conscious decision. Jaffe began selling some of his own drugs to close friends on campus. Soon after, other students approached him for his supply, and Jaffe started buying larger quantities of drugs, which allowed him to use drugs for free. He received requests for various substances he was not familiar with, so he went to seek them out in order to sell them for profit. Jaffe eventually did this on a regular basis and transformed into a professional drug dealer. Drug dealing became Jaffe’s full time job. In 1999, one class short of graduating, Jaffe dropped out of school, taking on drug dealing on full time. He owned a recording studio in the Westwood area (Olympic and Sepulveda) as a cover-up for his enterprise selling various substances. Jaffe rose to become the top in his field,
Pluralism and the Jewish Community
By Daniel Levine
subsequent medieval periods, heretics were excommunicated, theological disagreements often ended in book burnings and communal arguments generally consisted of ad-hominem attacks or other threats. Even in the last hundred years, great thinkers, such as Mordecai Kaplan, were excommunicated by a large portion of the Jewish community. While the Midrash (Numbers Rabbah) does teach that there are 70 faces to the Torah, for most of Jewish history, it seems as though each individual community felt that it was the sole possessor of all 70.
We are at a unique point in Jewish history. Our community at UCLA is made up of Jews with all types of backgrounds and opinions. Rather than engaging in the hatred and disunity that was prevalent for much of Jewish history, our diversity of opinion is something that we celebrate. In a true Maimonidean sense of teshuvah (repentance) we have the opportunity to come together and fix the mistakes of the past generations, proving that pluralism is truly a Jewish ideal. If we as a Jewish community really believe in pluralism, we must first understand and internalize a couple of fundamental ideas. As alluded to earlier, the basis for an idea such as idealistic pluralism can only truly arise from a post-enlightenment, democratic society, where each individual is freely granted the ability to express his or her ideas and opinions. Add this idea to our modern reality, where opinions are no longer decided solely based on authority or tradition but are based in reason and rationality, and we can begin to understand
istic community, each individual or micro-community contributes ideas and values to the wider community. Those values that have been formed by a smaller community and adopted by the larger community are the ideals that, as a whole, make up the ideology of the community. We are then, as a community, presented with a sum of different and potentially contradictory opinions. But in a very Gestaltian sense, our community is much greater than the sum of its parts. However, here comes the difficult part — one that will only work if we truly believe in pluralism as an ideal way to run a society rather than just a cute buzzword to showcase our open-mindedness. When any question arises in a pluralistic community, we are not looking for what we may think to be the objectively correct answer but rather what I will term “the pluralistic average.” In order to truly uncover a community’s pluralistic average, we need to counterintuitively understand that we are no longer looking to discover the truth. The end-goal of pluralism is not to engage in an exchange of ideas in search of some objective truth; rather, the goal is to create a community that caters to all of its members. Of course, debate and discussion can and should be continued amongst the members of our Jewish community. Friendly debate is, after all, one of the greatest parts of Judaism. However, for the purpose of truly living up to pluralistic ideals, we need to understand that proving our point is not the end goal. We must accept that people can and will disagree with us because the truth is, in most cases, elusive and unreachable. I do not want to be misunderstood as arguing that creating a pluralistic community involves a lack of truth. It is just the contrary. As stated earlier, in today’s postmodern world, people are beginning to realize that it is very difficult to deem one opinion “more correct” than others. Of course, we, as a community, are going to set up certain foundational boundaries of what we consider to be an acceptable position (perhaps a future article will discuss this important idea). However, it is difficult to defend any position based on pure reason or logic. Let us use our Kiddush example as a case study: it is reasonable to posit that a Reform Jew values the idea of egalitarianism above tradition and vice versa for an Orthodox Jew. Both of these parties can create valid arguments as to why their method is more ideal for a communal Kiddush. However, it would be silly to suggest that either of these positions is more logical. Each of these groups are just starting out with different, “unprovable” premises or assumptions regarding which ideas (in this case, egalitarianism/tradition) are more important, and their view on who should make Kiddush directly follows. In order to create a real pluralistic community, we need to come together and realize that it is futile to continue to argue that one of these points is more “correct” than the other and instead strive for the more important goal of communal unity. While this means that both groups will have to give up their a priori assumptions that they are correct, it is the only way to create a real pluralistic community. The creation of a true pluralistic community needs its members to be like Aaron the Priest, who always sought out compromise (Sanhedrin 6a). In some cases, this requirement may mean that one group has to occasionally give up their conception of what is absolutely true in order to be more inclusive. In other cases, it may mean that another group needs to occasionally give up their idealism for a pragmatic solution that can make others comfortable. At this point, I do not want to give any practical examples of what to do in these very real and difficult situations that inevitably arise in our Jewish community. All I hope to do at this time is reframe our idea of what we are striving for when we set out to create a pluralistic community. Only by paradoxically leaving behind our natural desire to prove that all of our opinions are true can we create a genuinely pluralistic, unified Jewish community.
Rather than engaging in the hatred and disunity that was prevalent for much of Jewish history, our diversity of opinion is something that we celebrate the underpinnings of pluralism. Once we recognize that we live in a society where ideas can freely flow and are judged based on merit, we can recognize the differences of opinion on a gamut of issues that emerge. This idea is nicely summed up by the social and political philosopher Charles Taylor who states: “We live in a condition where we cannot help but be aware that there are a number of different construals, views which intelligent, reasonably undeluded people, of good will, can and do disagree on.” Taylor’s main point is that in our society, we need to recognize that not only is there a difference of opinion but also that people who hold different opinions are not less intelligent, immoral or even wrong. Once we, as a community, are able to reach a certain level of maturity and realize that the multiplicity of opinions in our community is a positive aspect, we can then transition to discussing an important — but often overlooked — factor of pluralism. In a plural-
n our era, different societies and communities worldwide advocate pluralism heavily. Pluralism is a uniquely modern idea, in which a society allows — or even encourages — the coexistence of more than one system of thought and values. Unsurprisingly, pluralistic ideals have been heavily championed in our own UCLA Jewish community by different student-led groups and the Hillel itself. While the focus on creating a pluralistic environment where all are welcome is a step in the right direction, I fear that the inherent ideals of pluralism are sometimes lost on the community at large, which inevitably leads to conflict. Rather than view each conflict that may arise in our Jewish community as a unique difficulty, I think that we need to re-examine the philosophical underpinnings of pluralism in hopes of creating a stronger, more unified UCLA Jewish community. There are many different types of conflicts that can and will inevitably arise amidst a Jewish pluralistic community. These conflicts can range from simple and pragmatic questions to questions of identity, end-goals and theology. Two simple examples will suffice to show the breadth of conflicts that may arise in the attempt to create a pluralistic space. Orthodox custom demands that a male lead all services, including Kiddush — the blessing over wine — on Friday night, while Conservative and Reform communities hold egalitarianism at the forefront of their value systems. If we acquiesce to the Orthodox custom by only allowing males to make Kiddush, then we will be explicitly denying egalitarian ideals. Imagine a Reform or Conservative female who is unable to lead Kiddush for her entire college career because it will make the Orthodox group feel uncomfortable. Her inability to lead the prayers will, rightfully so, lead her to the conclusion that Orthodox demands and values are being placed higher than her own. However, if we imagine the case in reverse, the same argument can be made. Let us imagine that this same female occasionally leads Kiddush, thus causing the Orthodox community discomfort. They will feel that their customs and values are given less weight than those of their peers. While the previous case is more pragmatic (although it does touch on deeper issues), we can imagine a much more complex case with greater repercussions than can possibly arise in the Kiddush example. Different sects of Judaism have very different conceptions of who is a Jew. Let us imagine for the moment that our community unanimously agrees that the person who leads Kiddush must be Jewish. The obvious question then becomes: according to who? Orthodoxy does not view non-Orthodox conversion as legitimate and some forms of Conservative Judaism do not view Reform conversion as legitimate. To make matters more complicated, Reform (and some Conservative) communities view Jewish identity as stemming from either patrilineal or matrilineal descent while other groups of Conservative Jews, along with the entirety of the Orthodox community, only attach Jewish identity to matrilineal descent. These conflicts lead to much more consequential and far reaching conclusions than simply who feels comfortable during Kiddush. Setting aside all pragmatic matters, individual’s Jewish identity is now called into question. Even in the most sensitive conversations, people’s feelings will be hurt and their feeling of belonging may be questioned. Rather than proposing potential solutions and wading into the technicalities of certain situations, I want to suggest a way to reframe our viewpoint (regardless of our opinions) on these matters. The concept that a community can not only survive but flourish while allowing a multiplicity of viewpoints and free discourse to exist was unheard of for the vast majority of human history. While there have always been different views and voices within the Jewish community, it would be difficult to argue that there was any sense of pluralism present in our history. Any idea of freedom of speech or the desire to cater to multiple viewpoints is virtually absent from the biblical record (this should not be viewed as an attack but rather a realization that societies were vastly different in biblical times). The Second Temple sectarian groups frequently polemicized against one another, blaming each other for the calamities befalling the Jewish community. In the Talmudic and
An Unorthodox Transfer By Edwin Korouri
The significantly larger, more dynamic community creates a magnetic feeling that makes me want to become more active within the UCLA Jewish community.
Keeping kosher while attending UC Davis was a lifestyle choice I constantly struggled with, and I found myself compromising more often than I would have liked to.
t’s an unorthodox move but I think it’s the right thing to do,” I vis, Hillel organized a Jewish student life event to advertise programs throughout the week for students to come learn about their faith and repeated to my friends who either asked about or questioned my offered to newly admitted students. However, the number of programs grab a free, kosher meal — such programs never transpire at UC resolution. It wasn’t an easy decision and took significantly lonat UC Davis was very limited — Aggies for Israel, Mishelanu, and Davis. Furthermore, Hillel at UCLA continues to cater to their relager to choose than I expected, but I finally came to terms with it: Challah for Hunger are the only clubs that consistently planned events tively more religious Jewish community by housing a Coffee Bean on I would be transferring from UC Davis to UCLA in the fall. for all students. In fact, there was so little variety in Jewish student the first floor and an RCC kosher certified restaurant, “The Shack,” on I never placed much thought on whether I would actually programs that my former roommate, Allen Simanian, and I co-found- the second floor. These kosher options ensure that students are not transfer from UC Davis to UCLA — I just wanted to see what would ed PJAC, a club geared specifically towards improving the lackadaisiforced to compromise their religious beliefs. Meanwhile, the Kashrut happen if I applied. I won’t lie: the idea of transferring had been on cal Jewish community on campus. policy of the kitchen at the UC Davis Hillel was questionable at best. my mind since winter quarter of freshman year, but I thought it would A few weeks ago, I attended a similar welcome week event Keeping kosher while attending UC Davis was a lifestyle choice I be pointless to discuss the merits of leaving or staying without even organized by Hillel at UCLA, and I must admit that I was absolutely constantly struggled with, and I found myself compromising more having an acceptance letter. So whenever anyone asked if I would blown away by the plethora of clubs. From Ha’Am to TUSH, there was often than I would have liked to. actually leave As the my life in Davis center for behind, I replied Jewish life on “I honestly don’t campus, the know.” When I Hillel at UCLA was accepted is the perfect and the time to spot for stumake a decision dents to take a came, I focused break, break on three critebread with ria: academics, friends, study, professional pray or even opportunities nap. There are a and Judaism. In few libraries as terms of profeswell as a spasional opportucious lounge nities, the two that is never institutions were empty of stuvery similar. dents studying, However, in socializing or terms of Judashooting pool. ism and acaAnd their demics, the two doors are open could not be every day, from more different. morning until Contrary night. This is an to popular example of the belief, many of warmth, inteA side by side comparison of the UC Davis Hillel House (Left) and the UCLA Hillel House (Right) the UC system gration, and schools’ courses do not transfer: UCLA did not accept eight welcoming attitude of not just Hillel but the UCLA’s Jewish of the courses I took at UC Davis — nearly half of all my classes. Only an overwhelmingly large variety of clubs available to join — many of community as a whole. after six weeks of arguing via seemingly endless strings of emails and which were simply not found at UC Davis. However, at UC Davis, you need to buzz in to get into Hillel at phone calls did the Physics and Math departments agree that three The larger number of Jewish student programs on campus may any time other than Tuesday lunch or Shabbat dinner. The contrast physics and two math classes I completed at UC Davis were identical correlate to or even be caused by the increased number of active between the two institutions cannot be made clearer than by that fact to the courses offered at UCLA. LS Core did not share these sentistudents, but I think it also hints at a greater level of observance in the alone. I seriously believe that this unwelcoming, literally “closed door” ments about the remaining classes. Even so, I thought that retaking a student body. As noted earlier, the size of the Jewish student populaattitude may prevent students from either making Hillel their second few classes over the summer was not something that should prevent tions is similar, but there are more Orthodox and traditional students home or becoming more involved in the Jewish community. Studying attending UCLA than UC Davis. To or socializing at UC Davis’ Hillel was never something I or any of my someone like myself, who aligns with friends ever considered doing, and I was both astonished and excited these religious subcultures, my new to see how active Hillel was at any given hour of any given weekday. environment is a heaven sent blessing. The warmer ambiance, the increased quantity and quality of programs There are infinitely more students whose and the greater degree of focus on the religious community are all observance level is similar to my own, reasons why I believe the Hillel at UCLA is unequivocally superior for whereas at UC Davis I was considered Jews on campus to the Hillel at UC Davis. extremely religious — something that I The higher quality of Jewish life at UCLA is indicative of the found to have negatively affected my campus as a whole. I am without a doubt happier, healthier, and unlifestyle. Not only was I offered more dergoing more positive personal growth since I made my homecomme from attending my dream school. Thus, the tipping point, for me, opportunities to integrate into the Jewish community at UCLA, I was ing. When I asked Simanian, who also transferred from UC Davis to was the differences between the community I was already a part of at offered more opportunities to integrate into a better connected and UCLA, if he had any regrets about the move, he quickly responded, UC Davis and the community I would be a part of at UCLA. Just as more active Jewish community. That is exactthere was a discrepancy between the schools’ coursework, there was ly what I was looking for when I decided to also a discrepancy between the Jewish communities of UC Davis and transfer. UCLA. Generally speaking, Jewish life on In my few weeks on campus, it’s not difficult to already feel the campus revolves around the Hillel. Each difference between Jewish student life at UCLA and UC Davis. It is Hillel serves the same purpose: organizing remarkable that the two schools have similarly sized Jewish student and supporting their respective Jewish compopulations — the Hillel at Davis and Sacramento estimates that there munities. However, each Hillel has to cater to are around 2,000 Jewish students on campus, and the Hillel at UCLA its respective audience. As already menestimates that there are around 3,000 Jewish students on campus. tioned, the Shabbat dinners hosted by Hillel These figures are deceiving. As we all know, quantity and quality do at UCLA consistently have more students attending than those at UC “The grass is always greener on the other side. In this case, though, not always correlate, and this is the case for the Jewish student popuDavis. Not only do more students attend but even the food served is that’s just not true.” I absolutely agree. So when I reminisce about the lations of each school. While the quantities are similar, the quality and significantly better — and at no charge to students, unlike Shabbat arguments with friends, family, and even myself about transferring, it level of activity of the populations are not similar at all. For example, meals at Davis’ Hillel, which cost $5 per Friday night meal. Even was fair of them say that I was taking a gamble and that I was dropat any given Shabbat at Hillel at UC Davis, there are around 40-50 Friday night religious ceremonies are more traditional at UCLA. ping the life that I had worked to build for two years. I guess that’s people attending services and dinner. The Shabbat dinners hosted by Unlike at UC Davis, salt, used for the the blessing on Challah, is preswhat made my transfer an unorthodox one. However, I conclude with UCLA Hillel consistently have two to three times those figures. ent at the table at UCLA. The consistent lack of basic religious conthe same line I told everyone who asked before I transferred: it’s an The significantly larger, more dynamic community creates a ventions eventually caused my attendance at Shabbat dinners to drasunorthodox move, but it was the right thing to do. magnetic feeling that makes me want to become more active within tically decay. the UCLA Jewish community. During welcome week last Fall at Da Aside from the Shabbat, the Hillel at UCLA organizes programs
The Changing Middle East and its Implications for Israel
A peaceful ship in a sea of turbulent waves By Inbar Goren
A more disturbing trend in the Middle East however, is the increasing sectarian divide in the region which has been exacerbated by Saudi Arabia’s and Irans arming and funding of different militant proxy groups
capital that it can use to grow its economy and military. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, was expected to be overthrown by Sunni rebel groups. Instead, he has not only maintained power but is now winning back land with the help of Iranian and Hezbollah troops along with the Russian air force. Iraq has transitioned from being ruled by an anti-Iran Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein, to a Shia-dominated democracy, which is accused by many of being another Iranian proxy. In Lebanon, the power of Christians and Sunnis has continued to slip as Hezbollah (an Iranian Shia proxy group) increases its dominance in the country. In response, Saudi Arabia has canceled billions of dollars in military aid. But arguably the most devastating development for Saudi Arabia and its Sunni neighbors is the American disengagement from the region. Since Obama took office, he made it his policy to bring back as many troops from the Middle East as possible. He has attempted to shrink American dominance and influence in the area — instead focusing more on the politics of the South China Sea. This is bad for Saudi Arabia since for decades they have seen American power as security against the growing aspirations of Iran. As the U.S. moves away from them and improves its ties with Iran, the Saudis will continue to feel less and less safe. Additionally, the Sunni Arab world is not going to feel any better now that the American people have elected Donald Trump as president. Although he is a Republican, his foreign policy is isolationist, which means that he wants to limit American intervention abroad as much as possible. So what does this increasing insecurity in the Sunni countries of the region mean for Israel? For one, we can expect Sunni governments to become more and more pragmatic and thus cooperative with Israel, as they now see Iran as their biggest enemy — not Israel. Israel and Saudi Arabia now share intelligence with each other on a consistent basis. A new report even suggests that Saudi Arabia offered Israel airspace from which to attack Iranian nuclear installments. However, while the governments are slowly warming up to Israel, we should not expect major changes to occur in the mindsets of the regimes’ citizens. Students in the Arab world are still being educated in anti-Semitic propaganda, and that is not expected to change anytime soon. Mein Kampf and Protocols of the Elders of Zion are both popular in the region, and they are even bestsellers in some of the countries. The last and most publicized development in the region is the rise of extremism. Currently, Israel’s most dangerous border is with Syria, where al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda, is currently fighting the combined forces of Assad and Hezbollah in the Syrian Civil War. Although the al-Nusra militants are dangerously close to Israel’s border, they have for the most part left Israel alone. In fact, Israel’s only intervention in the Syrian war has been to destroy shipments of arms that were being transported to Hezbollah. It is hard to predict the future actions of terrorist groups because their ambitions and abilities continually shift, but as long as they are under attack from the U.S., Russia, Syria, Iran and the Kurds, you can expect them to leave Israel alone for the most part. They prefer to attack areas that are either experiencing a power vacuum, which makes it easy to establish themselves, or countries that are playing an active role in militarily targeting the terrorist group in question. Neither applies to Israel. The Middle East is in a state of turmoil as different Saudi and Iranian proxy groups battle it out in an attempt to change the balance of power in their favor. Israel’s current, biggest threat is Iran and its proxy group Hezbollah. Currently, they are preoccupied with keeping their ally Assad in power. If the Shia coalition does achieve this goal, and the Sunni world continues to lose its power — partly due to the drop in the price of oil — Iran and Hezbollah will have more flexibility in pursuing an offensive against their main enemy, Israel. Ironically, it is in Israel’s best interest that their Gulf state frenemies remain in power to keep Iran and its proxies preoccupied. For now, however, the biggest factor in deciding on how the next decade will play out for Israel is the involvement of the U.S. in the region. Will America restore its dominance in the Middle East, or will it slowly leave that part of the world to its own demise?
Additionally the Sunni Arab world is not going to feel any better now that the American people have elected Trump as president
such as women rights, acceptance of LGBT, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and promotion of education. An example of the consequences of a culture that traditionally lacks liberal values adopting democracy would be Hamas’ rise to power in Gaza. Hamas is a terrorist organization that, in 2005, was democratically elected by the Palestinian people in Gaza. Instead of working to improve the lives of the Palestinians under its control, Hamas has made the destruction of Israel its sole mission, rendering any future peace impossible. Since 2005, Israel has had to fight three wars against its democratically elected enemy. It is possible that the rise of more democracies in the region could lead to more conflicts, not less. It is true that dictatorships do not place high value on the welfare of their people and therefore do not care if many of their citizens die in wars; however, at the same time, they will be hesitant to go to war if they believe that a conflict will threaten their hold on power. A more disturbing trend in the Middle East, however, is the increasing sectarian divide in the region, which has been exacerbated by Saudi Arabia and Iran’s funding and arming of different militant proxy groups. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Saudi Arabia and its fellow Sunni Gulf states have seen Iran as a threatening force. They believe that Iran aspires to spread a movement of revolution across the countries of the Middle East, aiming to topple their authoritarian regimes. In order to secure holds on their countries, Sunni regimes have worked on alienating Iran and keeping it weak. However, they feel that the balance of power in the region is shifting away from them and moving toward an increasingly powerful Shia Iran. Sunni leaders’ fears, in their eyes, have been affirmed by a number of recent developments. The Iranian nuclear deal has lifted the sanctions off of Iran and provided the Shia power with a great deal of
f you’ve been following the news in the Middle East, you have probably noticed a popular trend in the region — instability. Since the 2010 eruption of the Arab spring in Tunisia, political unrest has shaken most of the countries of the Middle East. Currently four countries — Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya — are caught in bloody civil wars, which have created a ripple effect of instability across the region. As the conflicts wear on, the Arab world has become increasingly divided along sectarian lines. The Arab nationalism that once had a uniting element within the region has now given way to an “us vs them” mentality. More and more Arabs now see the conflicts through the lens of a Sunni-Shia rivalry, with Saudi Arabia leading the Sunni faction and Iran leading the Shia. This increased tension within the Arab world will have both positive and negative consequences for Israel. When the Arab Spring first erupted, most Israelis were quite optimistic. Like many others in the world community, they believed that the movement, which called for increased political freedom, would surely lead to a more liberal Middle East, as authoritarian regimes would give way to democratic ones through revolution. However, the Arab Spring has not yielded democratic fruit in any of the countries it has affected, except perhaps in Tunisia. For the most part, Arab regimes have managed to suppress the movement through military force and propaganda. It is debatable whether the failure of the Arab Spring and the survival of the dictatorships will have positive or negative consequences for Israel. On the one hand, the birth of democratic regimes in the region could have been beneficial to Israel because of what is known as the Democratic Peace Theory — the belief that democracies do not go to war or are much more hesitant to go to war with one another. On the other hand, becoming a democracy does not necessarily make countries more peaceful. It is often the case that traditional societies that transition to democracy will become more belligerent than countries run by dictators, caused mainly by a lack of liberal values and institutions. When I speak of liberalism, I am speaking about basic values
A Jewish Perspective on the 2016 National and Local Election Results By Jacob Schaperow
The President-elect Republican President-elect Trump represents a political party whose 2016 platform proclaims its unequivocal support of Israel to defend itself as well as its refusal to characterize Israel as an “occupier.” Ben Rosen, Bruins for Israel’s Logistics Director, believes that Trump will be better for the American-Israeli relationship than President Obama (2008-2012, 2012-2016). “The general consensus is that either Trump is going to be better for Israel than Obama was, [or worse],” Rosen said. “I think it has to do...first of all [with] the Iran Deal that Obama signed. That’s... [the] main thing people [in the Jewish community] have a lot of issues with...Bibi [Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel], and Obama don’t have the best relationship...I think just getting someone [else elected for presidency]— even if they don’t necessarily align with Bibi on everything...would really help Israel-U.S. cooperation.” As a political newcomer, Trump has no voting record on Middle East affairs, but he did consider the Iran Deal “a terrible situation” in his speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March 2016. “We will stand up to Iran’s aggressive push to destabilize and dominate the region,” Trump said to the audience. He then followed with a statement that the U.S. needs to take on Iran’s “global terror network.” His speech focused on describing his view of the situation but did not offer specifics about how he would deter Iran in practice. Jews have voted mostly for the Democrats in nearly every presidential race since the 1924 election in which Calvin Coolidge of the Republican Party ran against Democrat, John W. Davis, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. The New York Times reported in its exit polling that 24 percent of Jews voted for Trump, compared to 71 percent for Clinton. At the same time, however, the Republican Party has historically found a large support system within the Orthodox Jewish community. Fifty-seven percent of Orthodox Jews reported that they leaned toward the Republican Party in a 2013 Pew Forum survey. Housing LA’s Homeless LA City Ballot Measure HHH passed on Wednesday with a twothirds majority. The measure will use a $1.2 billion bond to pay for 10,000 units of housing for the city’s homeless community. LA’s homeless population is large and increasing, with more than 28,000 now on the streets, according to Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority’s 2016 count. This number represents an 11 percent increase since 2015. Religious organizations often back homelessness initiatives, and Jewish institutions are no exception. The social service agency, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, has provided food and shelter to the homeless for over 160 years, according to the organization’s website. In addition, LA’s Jewish community members — such as Marvin Gross, former rabbi of Temple Sinai — have often served as the leaders of organizations like Los Angeles Family Housing and Union Station Homeless Services. “[Homelessness] is at the core of a lot of Jewish service groups — supporting the homeless, and...funding housing for the homeless,”
Gross said. UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association external vice president, Rafi Sands, told Ha’am that he believed that one of the foremost ways in which one can solve issues such as homelessness is through voting on legislation that will help the community. Sands, who is also
an active leader at Hillel of UCLA, has found voting to be a Jewish value because civic engagement is at the basis of Tikkun Olam, the concept that Jews are responsible for “repairing the world.” With this value in mind, Sands led BruinsVOTE!, a movement that encouraged Bruins to register to vote. At the movement’s conclusion, 10,109 UCLA students had registered to vote in the 2016 elections. Marijuana Legalization With its approval of Proposition 64, California followed Colorado as the second state to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21. However, the use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Because of differing state and federal laws, marijuana possession on federal lands, such as national parks, remains illegal. Rabbinical consensus has generally frowned upon smoking tobacco, as it is harmful to the body. There is a Jewish concept that a person’s body is considered to be on loan from God and that the person is therefore responsible for its wellbeing. With regards to marijuana, the primary Jewish source has been a responsum by Rav Moshe Feinstein. Feinstein’s 1973 responsum on the topic forbade the use of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes. He cited the following reasons as support: Jews are obligated to maintain good physical and mental health, and marijuana can potentially harm one’s wellbeing. Overindulgence is forbidden, and marijuana is an addictive substance that may lead to overconsumption. Addiction to drugs can also lead to
The reason that politicians are talking about the things that we want to change is because regular citizens are standing up and asking for them.
usinessman Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election with 279 votes in the Electoral College and 47 percent of the popular vote. In California, propositions measured to legalize recreational marijuana, house the homeless of LA, and uphold a ban on single-use plastic bags passed, while Proposition 62, which would have abolished the death penalty, failed. As in the past, the American Jewish community played a role in affecting the outcome of this year’s elections by voting. Through this article, one will learn just how Judaism may have impacted the voting decisions of this particular community.
crimes, like stealing, and young people using drugs are likely doing so by going against their parents’ orders, thereby transgressing the obligation to honor one’s parents (Feinstein). Whether or not all of these prohibitions apply in all situations is up for debate. In January of 2016, the Orthodox Union ruled medical marijuana kosher for Passover, implicitly giving the drug’s medicinal use its seal of approval. However, the establishment made clear that its support for medical marijuana does not constitute an endorsement of recreational drug use.
members of society.
The Death Penalty Proposition 62 would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life imprisonment, without parole. While this ballot measure did not pass, it may return for future ballots, given the narrow defeat of Proposition 34 — proposing an abolishment of the death penalty — in 2012. While its presentation on the ballot emphasized the financial consequences of repealing or retaining the death penalty — the ballot text stated that repealing the death penalty could save $150 million per year for several years in criminal justice costs — Jewish history offers a more morally-based perspective. Capital punishment is present in the Torah, carried out even for crimes as seemingly innocuous as rebelling against one’s parents. However, the Sanhedrin, or the rabbinical court, went out of its way to avoid using the death penalty to the extent that it considered a court that assigned the death penalty once in 70 years to be “a bloody Sanhedrin,” as written by Rabbi Eleazer ben Azariah in Mishnah Makot, 1:10; Makot, 7a. In 1996, the Rabbinical Assembly of America ruled that the Conservative movement would oppose the death penalty on the basis that rabbinical leaders throughout history have been morally opposed to its implementation. The Jewish social justice movement, Uri L’Tzedek, circulated a petition last year that was signed by dozens of American rabbis, opposing the death penalty on the grounds that there are too often wrongful convictions. The petition stated that socio-economic inequality makes proof of innocence difficult for disadvantaged
Plastic Bag Ban While the issue of whether or not to ban plastic bag sales does not seem to be on par with such contentious issues as marijuana legalization or the death penalty, voter approval of Proposition 67 represented a small victory for environmental advocates who said that banning single-use plastic bags will clean up California’s waters. The idea that humans are stewards of the Earth may be traced back to chapter one of the Torah, when God told Adam to subdue the Earth and have dominion over its creatures. Historically, rabbis have interpreted this verse to mean that Adam was supposed to be the Earth’s caretaker, rather than its exploiter. In Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:13, God said to Adam, “Look at my works! See how beautiful they are — how excellent! See to it you do not spoil and destroy my world, for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.” There has been great mixture of feelings about the results of the election, as was apparent by the thousands of students who participated in anti-Trump protests in the days following the November 8 election. It is also clear that there is more to tikkun olam than voting. Sands cited getting involved by working at homeless shelters, registering homeless people to vote and creating reports on the state of homelessness in LA as ways for people to to make an impact beyond the vote. “Voting is very much the first step,” Sands said. “We have to recognize that the reason these things are ballot measures to vote on — the reason that politicians are talking about the things that we want to change — is because regular citizens are standing up and asking for them.”
Our Imperfect Memory By Daniel Levine
scientific argument can be made for a worldwide flood, millions of people leaving Egypt, ancient Israelite encampments in the desert — the list goes on. However, these are not just interesting stories meant for a good read; these “historical” stories make up the essence of what it means to be Jewish. Jewish history, as delineated in the Torah, is an inseparable part of our Jewish moral obligation. We learn that societies are destroyed when there is moral corruption (Genesis 6:5, Genesis 18:17) and that we need to be kind to the foreigner, for we were once foreigners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21). We are taught that some nations are never redeemable for their lack of hospitality (Deuteronomy 23:4) and that, because God rested on the seventh day of creation, we need to give our animals and workers a rest (Deuteronomy 5:14). We are, furthermore, told that the happenings and narratives of our forefathers are symbolical and representative of our daily conflicts and struggles and that we must learn something about our own lives from each of their actions (Ramban Genesis 12:6). In the classical sense of Judaic moral thought, our history as a nation is directly tied to our moral obligations. When the history of the Torah is deemed to be false, what happens to our Jewish moral obligation? Jewish history is uniquely intended to be constantly remembered, recalled and relived. Every day, Jews are commanded to remember multiple events in Jewish history — Exodus and Amalek are two examples — and, occasionally, such as with the holiday of Passover, we actually relive our history. It is in this light that the composer of the Passover Haggadah includes the very famous Talmudic line, “In every generation, a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had left Egypt.” In classical Judaism, history is not meant to be studied solely as a dry, academic endeavor but as an interactive engagement. Based on what we previously learned about memory, constantly
When the history of the Torah is deemed to be false, what happens to our Jewish moral obligation?
magine you were to enter a time machine and travel ten years into the past. To avoid drastically altering the course of history, you would, of course, be sure to keep yourself hidden and avoid all human interactions. Given your curiosity, you would probably want to visit your former home, past school or old group of friends to remind yourself how things used to be. Maybe you would choose to go back in time to an event you remember well or often think about: a bar/bat mitzvah, a time you got into big trouble or even a first kiss. What would initially be an interesting endeavor, however, would quickly become a difficult emotional scenario. If you were to actually go back in time, you would realize that everything was different than your recollections led you to believe. Your friends would be very different than you recalled, the events and hang-out spots you frequented would be almost unrecognizable and, worst of all, the old you would probably be vastly different than you remembered. Now, let us take a step back. Memory is an extremely enigmatic subject in the realm of psychology and neuroscience. Simple questions, such as how our brains store memories of our own phone numbers or why we remember certain events better than others, is the subject of much debate and controversy. Even more elusive is the idea that occasionally, our brains store false memories in our heads. While a diverse array of scenarios can cause false memories — experiences such as priming, trauma, extreme happiness or depression are common reasons — there is one specific, counterintuitive cause of false memories that warrants thorough discussion. Interestingly, the act of recalling a memory actually causes that memory to change in some way. In order to understand how this works, an explanation on the science of memory is in order. In short, when we are presented with a stimulus that passes a certain threshold — meaning that it is, by some factor, important to us — it becomes encoded into our memory. Then, if this information is impactful enough, our brains will eventually store it into our longterm memory. Once a memory is in storage, it is less likely to be forgotten. For more clarity, think of the difference between your memory of your own phone number as compared to the memory of a phone number that someone told you ten seconds ago. When a memory is in storage, we generally can recall it at some later stage. For instance, if I asked a friend to tell me all about his summer trip, his memory would be recalled from storage. This is the crucial step. Every time we recall a memory from storage, we interact with it in some way or another. When we finish thinking about the memory, we need to re-encode it before it goes back into storage. This brings us to the fascinating conclusion that memory is extremely malleable. Our memory of an event will slightly change every time we remember it. In enough time, we create false memories out of real past experiences. While there are many interesting applications of this idea, like reliability of eye-witnesses, treating patients with PTSD or legal claim brought against somebody many years after an event, I think that it can bolster our understanding of and connection with Jewish history. It is no secret that the vast majority of the Torah is composed of a mythic and fictitious history. No serious historical or
recalling our history as Jews involves constantly skewing it, too. Here is a quick example: It is likely that some type of Exodus from Egypt did happen, but it certainly did not happen as the Torah recounts. However, when we understand that, according to modern biblical scholarship, the epic of the Exodus would have been written down hundreds of years after the initial event, it makes sense. The story was passed down orally, and every generation recalled and relived this story, embellishing it slightly with each recitation until the memory was eventually something completely different. Ironically, the fact that an event has been purported to have been passed down for many generations, such as the story of Moses at Sinai, is not a proof for the historical validity of the Torah. Rather, it is a reason to be even more suspicious about its historical accuracy, given that these stories were written down in their final form hundreds of years later. So, where does this leave us? Well, going back to our original case, if you jumped back in your time machine and returned to the present, your conception of your self-identify would probably not significantly change, even if it was based on a faulty memory of your history. The fact that we are constantly “updating” our memories is a natural part of human progression, and it is actually a sign of maturity, as opposed to people who are “stuck in the past.” What is important to our self-identity is not the factual historical event but how that event molded the way we are today. In this light, we can safely let go of our fear of Jewish history being factually incorrect. In Judaism’s evolution, the memory of events has certainly changed from one generation to another to such a great extent that the initial event would be unrecognizable. Layers of midrash, or parables, exegetical details, new insights and fanciful interpretations are constantly added to our cultural history or, as some call it, mnemohistory. Just think about the Talmudic line that all of these interpretations were revealed at Sinai and practiced all along! However, it is unimportant that the ideas rooted in our Jewish memory are historically false. The important matter is that we have, deeply embedded in our collective Jewish memory, a living history that is infused with new meaning each time it is recalled.
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