$5.00 • January-February, 2008
A Progressive, Secular Bimonthly
The Magazine of The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring
Welfare Reform: The Untold Success Story Robert Cherry
But Is This the Best We Can Do? Leftists and the Civil Rights Movement
Anti-Semitism: A Tale of Two Countries
Cheryl Lynn Greenberg
Abraham Joshua Heschel Yankl Stillman
Secular Jewish Weddings Peter Schweitzer
The Dönmeh of Turkey Elif Kayi
LETTERS Names will be withheld from publication on request. Jewish Currents reserves the right to edit letters to restrict their length.
A Note to Our Readers Jewish Currents periodically publishes “Where We Stand” statements by The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. These statements are paid advertisements and are not reviewed by the Editorial Board before publication. Feedback about “Where We Stand” can be directed to Martin Schwartz, director of the Center for Social and Economic Justice at The Workmen’s Circle, mschwart@ circle.org. The Editorial Board
The War and the Democrats I was troubled by the editorial, “It’s Our War Now” (November-December), which says that because Congress, controlled by the Democrats, has supported
the war in Iraq, we, too, are implicated. But isn’t it evident that the Democrats, who represent the big corporations almost as well as do the Republicans, are interested in ordinary people only for their votes? They’re not our party, and what they do says nothing about us. Yes, of course, the Democrats are not as terrible as Bush & Co., but they’re pretty bad. Even if we hope they defeat the Republicans in the next election, progressives should be careful about wishful illusions. If we Jewish leftists revived the class consciousness we used to have, such mistakes wouldn’t occur. Robert Lapides New York, New York • The editorial, “It’s Our War Now,” was Vol. 62, No. 1 (646) January-February, 2008 www.jewishcurrents.org
Editor: Lawrence Bush Editorial Board: Adrienne Cooper, Joseph Dimow, Henry Foner, Esther Leysorek Goodman, Milton Kant, Lyber Katz, Judith Rosenbaum, Yankl Stillman, Tamar Zinn, Barnett Zumoff Contributing Editor (from Israel): Amy Klein Editorial Advisory Council: Isak Arbus, Henrietta Backer, Paul Basch, Anne-Marie Brumm, Alvin Dorfman, Shaurain Farber, Gordon Fellman, Eric A. Gordon, Abbott Gorin, David A. Hacker, Estelle Holt, Carol Jochnowitz, Rokhl Kafrissen, Robert Kaplan, Michael Katz, Robert Kestenbaum, Arieh Lebowitz, Miriam Leberstein, Ira Mintz, Bennett Muraskin, Marie Parham, Peter Pepper, Sam Pepper, Sheldon Ranz, Eugene Resnick, Sid Resnick, Martin Schwartz, Rhea Seagull, Ralph Seliger, Paul G. Shane, Joel Shatzky, Ruth Singer, Harold Sosnow Webmaster: Arnie Berger Website Resources Editor: Ira Karlick Management committee: Stan Distenfeld, Nina Gordon, Ira Karlick, Elaine Katz, Bernard Kransdorf, Ruth Ost, Fred Rosenthal, Ian Dreiblatt
Cover: “Friday Morning,” linoleum cut by Stan Kaplan. JEWISH CURRENTS (ISSN #US-ISSN-0021-6399), January-February, 2008, Vol. 62, No. 1 (646). Published bimonthly by The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, 45 E. 33rd St., New York, NY 10016. Phone: (212) 889-2523. Fax: (212) 532-7518. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www. jewishcurrents.org. Single copies $5. Subscription $30 a year in U.S.; elsewhere, $35. Periodicals postage paid at New York, N.Y. Copyright © 2008 by Jewish Currents.
an inspiring challenge to all progressive Americans. The Democratic Party has the power to end the funding of this war, but its leadership is more concerned with elections than with ending the war. They are collaborators in this war because they fundamentally believe in an economic American Dream built upon empire rather than global citizenship. We are underestimating the strength of the neoconservatives as they mobilize against taxes, immigrants, and a role for government. We are underestimating the power of global corporations to determine the activities of the nation state. We are also underestimating the depth of the crisis in our country — and the need to create sustainable local economies in our communities. Yes, it is our war, and that means a war that will only end when we recognize that we need to live more simply so others can simply live. It is our war until we recognize that struggle to end the war in Iraq cannot be separated from the need to march against violence in our communities. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, we need a radical revolution in values as we struggle against the triplets of racism, militarism, and materialism. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans nor the corporations will become responsive to the needs of those who Continued on page 43
CORRECTIONS • We mistakenly identified Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as Vladimir Ilivitch Lenin in our “The View from Israel” column in November-December. An editorial mix-up also led us to mistakenly identify the Oranienburg Synagogue as located in Kiev; the synagogue, which was torched in 1938 during Kristallnakht, the Nazi rampage against Jews, is located in Berlin. • We misidentified the Gelman Family in a memorial message in November-December. We apologize for the error and have printed the corrected ad on page 41 of this issue. • In a memorial ad for John Dropkin, we misidentified his year of birth. The corrected ad appears on page 37 of this issue.
3 At the Corner of MLK Boulevard and Rosa Parks Place
At the Corner of MLK Boulevard and Rosa Parks Place
12 Welfare Reform: The Untold Success Story Robert Cherry
In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
7 Anti-Semitism: A Tale of Two Countries Miriam Miedzian
16 Responding to Robert Cherry: Is This the Best We Can Do? Lawrence Bush 17 Do Not Minimize the Gains Made by Poor Americans Robert Cherry 19 Leftists and the Civil Rights Movement Cheryl Lynn Greenberg 32 Visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories Mike Felsen 38 Two Conferences: CSJO and IAYC Bennett Muraskin and Harold Ticktin
Columns 5 For Better or Verse Henry Foner
Chris Rock tells about receiving a call from white friends stuck with a flat tire on Martin Luther King Boulevard. What should they do? “Run!” he cries. Most white Americans have taken his advice. Forty years after the assassination of Dr. King, there are now more than six hundred and eighty U.S. streets named in his honor, from New York to Atlanta, Chicago to Salt Lake City, Portland to Dallas, and “Rosa Parks” is embossed on street signs in a score more cities and towns — but there’s hardly a white pedestrian to be seen on most of these thoroughfares, which usually lie in the heart of African-American neighborhoods. What’s seen instead are lots of very hard-working Black people worried about ballooning mortgages, gang violence, cops with anxious trigger fingers, and other dangers to their and their kids’ future. Often they live near empty, rubble-strewn lots, checkomedian
10 The View from Israel The Russians Have Come! The Russians Have Come! (Part 2) Amy Klein
Eighty percent of white people live in virtually all-white neighborhoods, with nearly nine in ten white suburbanites living in communities that are less than one percent Black.
24 New Jewish Rituals Secular Jewish Weddings Peter Schweitzer
cashing and payday loan stores, dilapidated public schools, and other monuments of discrimination. Often there are groups of men marooned on the corner by unemployment (9.5 percent, twice the rate for white men), poverty (25 percent, three times the white rate), and the rules of parole (African-American men are seven times more likely than white men to be incarcerated; all statistics from the National Urban League’s 2007 State of Black America report). It’s good to have street signs that remind Black communities about yesterday’s inspiring civil rights leaders — but what about the rest of us? Eighty percent of white people live in virtually allwhite neighborhoods, with nearly nine in ten white suburbanites living in communities that are less than one percent Black. What is there to remind them of the insight delivered by Dr. King at that historic 1963 March on Washington: that white people’s “destiny is tied up” with African-American destiny, and “their freedom is inextricably bound” to African-American freedom?
26 Our Secular Jewish Heritage Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) Yankl Stillman 44 Around the World The Dönmeh of Turkey Elif Kayi
Reviews 29 What Would Emma Read? Joel Schechter on new radical comics
9 friday afternoon the jewish tailor’s shop rue laurier Robert Lovitt 18 Strictly Leftist Jake Marmer 31 When Grace Paley Died Sherman Pearl 40 Mrs. Finkelstein Michael Humfrey January-February, 2008
47 Three Talmudic Passages Lawrence Bush
Most white Americans instead run from King’s insight by underestimating the everyday impact of racism on people of color. In the wake of the ongoing noose case in Jena, Louisiana, for example, a CNN poll showed that only 47 percent of white respondents think that the criminal justice system discriminates
“Out of all the uncountable hours of discussion in SDS meetings,” recalls Mark Rudd, a leader of Columbia’s SDS chapter during the 1968 campus strike, “. . . I don’t remember a single conversation in which we discussed the fact that so many of us were Jewish. This glaring lack alone might serve as a clue to what we were up to: by being radicals, we thought we could escape our Jewishness. Leftwing radicalism was internationalist, not narrow nationalist; it favored the oppressed and the workers, not the privileged and elites, which our families were striving toward. Moreover, we were New Leftists, having rejected the sectarianism and cant of the Old Left, which, of course, was dominated by Jews.” Nevertheless, “World War II and the Holocaust were our fixed reference points. . . . We often talked about the moral imperative not to be Good Germans. . . . We saw American racism as akin to German racism toward the Jews. . . . We were good Jewish kids, the cream of the crop, who had accepted the myths of America — democracy, opportunity for all, good intentions toward the world — and of the university — free and open inquiry toward the truth. We were betrayed by our country and the university when we learned, in a relative instant, that the reality wasn’t even close to these myths. We third-generation American Jews suddenly woke up and realized this country may have been a blessing for us, but not for so many others who couldn’t pass for white. I should add that non-Jewish friends and comrades in the New Left experienced very similar feelings of betrayal and outrage . . .” —www.markrudd.com
As Israel enters into celebrations of its 60th year, recent estimates identify five percent of the Israeli Jewish population as ultra-Orthodox, 12 percent as ‘national religious’ (Orthodox), 35 percent ‘traditional’ (observant, not Orthodox), 43 percent secular, and five percent anti-religious secular. —Church and State
Gaza Gasping The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that 84.6 percent of Gazan households are now living below the poverty line, including, according to the World Bank, 71 percent of public employees. Nearly half do not have enough food to meet basic needs. The unemployment rate during the second quarter of 2007 increased from about 36 percent to about 50 percent; monthly wage income stands at $38, which is 62.6 percent of the pre-September, 2000 level. About $650 million in donor hasdiscount! been inat afunds 20% jected annually into Gaza from 2001-2007, with less than 5 percent going into the private sector. —Palestine-Israel Journal
against Blacks, a view held by 79 percent of African Americans. Similarly, a 2001 survey showed that 40 to 60 percent of whites (depending on how the question was framed) considered the average African American to be doing as well as, or even better than, the average white. A 2006 survey reported in Harvard’s Du Bois Review (www.fas.harvard.edu/~mrbworks/articles/2006_DUBOIS.pdf) showed a preponderance of whites of different ages and geographic regions saying they’d be willing to spend the rest of their lives as an African-American for ‘compensation’ of only $10,000 — while requiring $1 million to spend the rest of their lives without television! Such feedback reveals an utter lack of comprehension of the structural nature of American racism and how it penetrates African-American lives — an incomprehension cultivated by conservative political voices, both white and Black, that have assured us that the achievements of the civil rights movement should have been perfectly sufficient to bring healing and prosperity to a community assaulted for centuries by racial hatred and extreme exploitation, and that it is only the self-defeating social pathologies of ghetto life that block progress. Why believe otherwise when our million-dollar television sets an African-American judge on the bench in every other crime show? — plus there’s that gorgeous Beyoncé and that oh-so-wise Oprah and that smart-as-a-whip Condoleezza Rice . . . Presumably, American Jews know better. We have known the difference between discrimination and equal opportunity in our own recent past. We have experienced how ghettoization produces heroism in some, parasitism in others. We have experienced the value of reparations and affirmative action. And we talk, read, and make rituals about the process of redemption from slavery every chance we get. Still, Jews have largely stopped visiting the corner of MLK Boulevard and Rosa Parks Place, even for annual synagogue-church get-togethers. Instead, we laugh ruefully with Chris Rock, and then spend our life savings on houses in neighborhoods with good, i.e., white-majority, school systems. (Former Congressional Representative Peter Deutsch has even launched a Hebrew-themed charter school in Florida and has plans to open a hundred such public schools across the country. Daniel Treiman recently critiqued the plan in the Forward: “It’s one thing . . . to opt out of the public school system; it’s another thing to cash out. It’s one thing to privilege your group’s private interests; it’s another to demand that government privilege those interests, as well.”) Among the rare exceptions to the rule of Jewish flight from involvement with the African-American community are several organizations of the Jewish left (in a repeat of history — see Cheryl Lynn Greenberg’s article, “Leftists and the Civil Rights Movement,” on page 19 of this issue). In New York, for example, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) has made common cause since 2002 with Domestic Workers United, a coalition of nannies, house cleaners, and elderly care providers, the great majority of whom are people of color. In Chicago, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs has a long history of working with the city’s African-American community, dating back to the mayoral campaign of Harold Washington in 1982-’83. Nationally, the Jewish Funds for Justice has organized nearly a hundred synagogues into grassroots organizing coalitions since 2000, and has also catalyzed over $30 million from Jewish Federations, synagogues, family foundations and other institutions as investments in community development financial institutions and community Jewish Currents
The Food Stamps Challenge
For Better or Verse Portrait of a Political Hack Here’s to Rudy Giuliani, On political combat he thrives. He remembers the name of each foe that he’s fought, But he can’t recall all of his wives.
Here’s to Rudy Giuliani, Whose integrity fades with the sun. The gun-toting lobby delights in his prose — They call him their son-of-a-gun. Here’s to Rudy Giuliani, Whose motives are pristine and pure. The thief he appointed to head up his police Is naught but a Kerik-a-ture. Here’s to Rudy Giuliani, And hark! whilst he tempers his voice. On Mondays and Fridays, ‘twixt twelve hours and two, He proclaims he’s for freedom of choice. L’Envoi Here’s to Rudy Giuliani, Whose virtues are scattered and few — If you give him some time and you wait long enough, He may wind up agreeing with you.
development corporations around the country. This money provides low-interest loans in minority communities for housing and jobs development — a strategy that the American Jewish community modeled in the early 20th century through Hebrew Free Loan funds and other credit-providing institutions. Ultimately, the investing organizations get their capital back, along with a renewed appreciation of how Jewish identity can be cultivated to serve universalist goals. Thirty million dollars, however, is less than one third of one percent of the combined assets of major American Jewish organizations — and the organizing work required to gain even that percentage for community development has stretched out for two decades. It seems that MLK Boulevard and Rosa Parks Place need rerouting, to the doors of our organizations, and to the center of our hearts.
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Pepi Dunay, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Broward County, and Debra Gober, community relations committee chairwoman for the Federation, each spent her days between Rosh Hashone and Yom Kippur trying to feed herself on a federal food stamps budget of $3 per day — the average amount that twenty-six million Americans receive in federal food assistance. The women were responding to a call from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, umbrella organization for more than a hundred Jewish community organizations, to mobilize support for the 2007 Farm Bill, passed by the House of Representatives in July but still stuck in the Senate — and facing a veto. The bill, which must be reauthorized every five years, includes provisions on environmental preservation, farm subsidies, and, since 1977, food stamps. Several lawmakers participated in the JCPA food stamps challenge, including the only Muslim member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). —Miami Herald
The Jewish Voice, the newspaper owned by the Sacramento Jewish Federation, recently refused to run a simple calendar announcement for a book reading by Alice Rothchild, author of Broken Promises, Broken Dreams: Stories of Jewish and Palestinian Trauma and Resilience (briefly reviewed in our September-October issue, page 10). The event, said the editor, Elissa Provance, would not support the paper’s mission to “enrich those of the Jewish community who support and identify with Israel.” The decision was loudly protested by Jewish Voice for Peace, which is helping to sponsor Rothchild’s book tour. She is an active member of the Workmen’s Circle in Boston and her book, published by Pluto Press, focuses on activists and everyday people in the both the Israeli and Palestinian communities. —www.muzzlewatch.com
One out of four eligible Israelis, 27.7 percent, evaded serving in the Israel Defense Force in 2007, according to its Manpower Branch. Half of them invoked their right to study in yeshiva; the rest had criminal records or medical problems. — Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
The Most Famous Hadassah Lady Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), the founder of Hadassah, was inducted into the National Women’s Hallof Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, in October, 2007. The organization now has 300,000 members. — Hadassah magazine
America Behind Bars The U.S., with five percent of the world’s population, now houses 25 percent of the world’s prison inmates, with an incarceration rate 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, 12.3 times that of Japan, and 40 percent higher than Russia’s. — Utne Reader
WHERE WE STAND THE WORKMEN’S CIRCLE/ARBETER RING POSITION ON CURRENT ISSUES
Post-Annapolis: A Critical Opportunity by Mike Felsen
he Israel-Palestine summit conference in Annapolis has now concluded. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have formally declared their determination “to usher in a new era of peace.” They have pledged to “engage in vigorous, ongoing, and continuous negotiations” in order to conclude an agreement — slated to resolve “all outstanding issues —” before the end of 2008. These are strong, hopeful words, amplified by the attendance of nearly fifty countries, including most Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Syria. President Bush, finally, has pledged to commit “the resources and resolve of the American government” in aid of the peace process. For us as Jews, but also as Americans, it’s not a moment too soon. A few weeks ago, a sweeping report, “A Smarter and Safer America,” was released. Authored by a diverse, bipartisan commission chaired by Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, it cites a recent BBC poll of 26,000 people across 25 countries showing that one in two believe the U.S. plays a primarily negative role in the world. Similarly, a survey of 3,000 polled in Canada, Britain, and Mexico found a majority in all three countries view President Bush as a threat to world peace akin to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, North Korea’s Kim Jong Il, and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah. These widely held perceptions stand in stark contrast to the report’s findings about the aspirations of Americans. In a “listening tour with the American people,” the commission heard a universal desire “to improve the country’s image in the world and tap into its vast potential for good.” By making the war on terror the central focus of its global engagement, the U.S. since 9/11 has been “exporting fear and anger,” says the report, “rather than more traditional values of hope and optimism.” To counter this trend, the commission recommends that
the U.S. use its diplomatic power for positive ends, and adopt a new foreign policy vision affirming our commitment to provide for the global good. With all this in mind, Annapolis represents the first phase of an endeavor that can herald a new era not only for the Mideast, but also for America. The risks are unmistakably high. As another prestigious bipartisan group (anchored by Zbigniew Brzezinski) put it in an October 10 letter to President Bush and Secretary Rice, “failure risks devastating consequences.” Many agree that success is not only possible, it’s necessary. Achieving success, all parties recognize, requires resolving the “final status” issues. It’s widely understood, if not always acknowledged, that this resolution will closely resemble earlier models. It will assure a viable Palestinian state along essentially pre-1967 borders, with minor, agreed-upon modifications in a 1:1 land swap. It will embrace a negotiated agreement for Jerusalem as the capital of both states. And it will contain a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem consistent with the two-state solution, but also offering meaningful compensation and resettlement assistance. For Israel and the Palestinians, a just and durable peace promises immeasurable rewards. For the U.S., sincere, demonstrated support for that result will signal to a doubting world that America is serious about beginning to repair its battered image with plowshares and not swords, with hope and not fear. Israelis, Palestinians, Americans: we all sorely need to see the promise of Annapolis fulfilled. Let’s help make it happen. Feedback for “Where We Stand” should be directed to Martin Schwartz, director of the Center for Social and Economic Justice at The Workmen’s Circle, email@example.com.
Mike Felsen is president of the Boston Workmen’s Circle and serves on the National Executive Board. This article recently appeared as an op-ed in the Jewish Advocate of Boston.
Viewpoints Myriam Miedzian
Anti-Semitism: A Tale of Two Countries
in French anti-Semitism dates back to November, 2005, when I and a long list of others received an e-mail informing us that “only the Arab countries are more toxically anti-Semitic than France” and urging a boycott of France and everything French. A long Many Americans’ view of the list of anti-Semitic incidents followed. situation in France is frozen in Metropolitan Paris alone, said the 2002. e-mail, had seen ten to twelve antiJewish incidents per day. The figure didn’t make sense. My survivor, born in Belgium. I studied older daughter is married to a French at the Sorbonne and still keep up Jew and lives in one of the most Jew- with French news. France has had ish neighborhoods in Paris. Neither of three Jewish prime ministers. Many them had ever mentioned any anti-Se- government officials have been eimitic incidents. If there were more than ther Jewish or part-Jewish (including ten anti-Jewish incidents occurring in Sarkozy). Of three contenders for Paris each day, surely many would the Socialist candidacy in the 2007 take place in their neighborhood and presidential election, one was Jewish on their street. Their building has a and one was half-Jewish. The corps ‘glatt cacher” (kosher) market down- of leading French intellectuals and stairs, and the sign on the competition writers include numerous Jews. Not across the street boasts, ‘super glatt exactly comparable to Saudi Arabia cacher.’ The street is lined with kosher or Egypt. pizza parlors, a kosher bakery-café, a After my initial indignation, I didn’t kosher Chinese restaurant, a Judaica give the e-mail much thought, viewing store. Orthodox men wear yarmul- it simply as one more manifestation of kes, and often their tzitzis are visible. the French-bashing (“freedom fries,” On Saturday nights, the streets are dumping French wines, “Kerry looks filled with Orthodox youngsters. All French”) that had become so common this in an integrated neighborhood in the U.S. since France had opposed with many Muslim and African resi- the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But a year dents. later, I received another e-mail entitled, I called my daughter and asked if “News from France — Disgusting and she had been concealing anything. Unbelievable.” The sender claimed to “No way,” she said. Neither she nor be forwarding an e-mail from a French her husband had ever witnessed or Jew stating that “nowhere have the heard of an anti-Semitic act in their flames of anti-Semitism burned more neighborhood. furiously than in France.” Again there was a long list of “reI knew that the e-mail’s comparison cent” anti-Semitic incidents: “In Montof France to Arab countries was pelier, the Jewish religious center was absurd. I am a Holocaust refugee- firebombed; so were synagogues in y interest
Myriam Miedzian is the author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence. A former professor of philosophy, she writes frequently on social and political issues.Her website is www.myriammiedzian.com. January-February, 2008
Strasbourg and Marseilles all recently . . .” Again there was the claim of ten to twelve incidents daily in metropolitan Paris during the past month. Yet these “recent” incidents were identical to the ones in the 2005 e-mail! France, like many European countries, underwent a huge increase in anti-Semitic incidents from 219 in 2001 to 936 in 2002. Since most of the perpetrators were young Muslim men, this outbreak was widely interpreted as a reaction to the start of the second intifada in Israel and the occupied territories in September, 2000. Since 2002, the rates have fluctuated significantly, averaging 672 per year, according to French government statistics, which are based on their data combined with figures collected by the Jewish organization, Conseil Representatif des Français Juifs (CRIF). The 2002 increase was widely reported in the U.S. press, as was the French government’s initial denial and failure to take action. Not widely reported was the fact that by 2003, the government and police were actively combating anti-Semitic acts. Many Americans’ view of the situation is frozen in 2002. In the U.S., meanwhile, anti-Semitic acts have remained relatively steady, with 1,571 incidents in 1997, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and an average of 1,672 between 2003 and 2006. The 2005 FBI Uniform Crime Reports indicate that 68.5 percent of U.S. religious bias attacks were against Jews, and of the 971 Jews victimized, about half were victims of assaults or aggravated assaults. After making the necessary population adjustments, it appears that France’s rate of anti-Semitic incidents is approximately twice that of the U.S. Comparing statistics is fraught with difficulty, however, with countries varying significantly in collection methods and reporting. Still, it seems
safe to say that France has a considerably more serious problem. This fails to explain, however, why some American Jews feel the need to exaggerate grossly the scope of France’s problem and to focus, until very recently, almost exclusively on France — to the notable exclusion of Germany. In fact, German government statistics indicate that the average number of anti-Semitic acts committed by right-wing activists alone in Germany from 2003 to 2006 was 1,452 per year. This is much higher, after population adjustments, than the French average, and acts committed by German Muslims are not even included! American Jews also tend to downplay and even ignore anti-Semitism here at home. While the 2002 surge in anti-Semitism in France continues to receive considerable attention, a U.S. incident that same year — a California resident of Egyptian origin killed two and injured three at the Los Angeles Airport El Al counter —is largely forgotten. And in 2006 — the same year that a 23-year-old Parisian Jew, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a mostly Muslim youth gang — Naveed Haq burst into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, yelling “I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel!” He shot and killed Annual Campaign Director Pam Waechter and injured five others, three seriously. I recently conducted an informal survey of over thirty well-informed Americans, mostly Jew, including leading figures from progressive Jewish organizations and publications. My goal was to find out whether they remembered any serious anti-Semitic incident that occurred in the U.S. in 2006. Most common response: “I think a cemetery was desecrated.” Not one brought up the Seattle shootings. Many had never heard of them, or when reminded had only a faint memory. Far
more had heard of Ilan Halimi. Why were so many Americans, especially Jews, unaware of the Seattle shootings? Part of the answer lies in the fact that they occurred on the same day as Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rantings, which received far more ongoing coverage. The other part of the answer lies in the Anti-Defamation League’s focus on the French rather than the American tragedy. After Halimi’s death, the ADL issued a press release about “the brutal murder of Ilan Halimi,” extended condolences to the family and the French Jewish community, and invited Halimi’s mother to New York to meet with prominent American and French figures and the press. ADL Executive Director Abraham Foxman addressed her compassionately, then reeled off a litany of Jews killed in recent years: “congregants in Buenos Aires, Daniel Pearl, a volunteer at a Jewish charity in Seattle — and now Ilan.” Not only were Pam Waechter’s adult children and those Seattle survivors well enough to travel not invited to this or any ADL gathering, but Foxman was so out of touch that Waechter, a full-time Federation employee for nine years, became a nameless “volunteer at a Jewish charity in Seattle.” This inattention was in keeping with the organization’s initial July 28 th press release about the Seattle shooting, which called it “a terrible tragedy” without giving names or identifying that one had been murdered and three others critically injured. One couldn’t very well argue that the Seattle tragedy was getting so much attention in the U.S. and the Paris killing so little in France that the ADL wanted to balance the scales. According to CRIF, after Halimi’s death, two hundred thousand people, including many high-level government, union, and other officials, participated in a march in Paris against
anti-Semitism and racism. Disturbed by this double standard, I called the Seattle Jewish Federation and interviewed Campaign Coordinator Carol Goldman, who had been shot in the knee. She told me that while she and her colleague, Cheryl Stumbo (shot in the abdomen), were still suffering from their injuries, they alone were well enough to return to work full-time. Neither Christina Rexrod, also wounded in the abdomen, nor 23-year-old Layla Bush, who had a bullet lodged in her spine and had lost parts of her kidney, liver, and pancreas and all of her spleen, were back. Dayna Klein, pregnant at the time of the shootings, had put her arm on her abdomen. Her arm was injured but her fetus survived. She is home taking care of her son. The Seattle survivors are grateful for the emotional and financial support received from individuals and organizations in Seattle and Washington state, as well as from other parts of the country and world — Goodman mentions Canada and Israel. But they are aware, she says, that many have never heard about their tragedy: “We were a little blurb on the screen and then it faded.” American Jews have long enjoyed a ‘Golden Era.’ After the virulent and very popular anti-Semitism of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin, in the 1950s Jewish writers, artists and culture became mainstream. University quota systems were eliminated, as were “No Jews or Dogs Allowed” signs. Jews have now been comfortable for so long, it seems that a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign has been internalized, leading them to believe that while France has a serious problem with anti-Semitism, the U.S. has only Mel Gibson and cemetery desecrations. But FBI statistics tell a different story: Approximately 1,000 Jews are victims of violent assaults or serious Jewish Currents
threats every year. A 2002 ADL survey indicates that negative attitudes toward Israel and a belief that Jews have too much influence on U.S. Middle East policies are now driving anti-Semitic beliefs in America. This can only have increased, since the disastrous Iraq war is connected in many people’s minds with Jewish neoconservatives and Israel’s interests. Mearsheimer and Walt’s recent book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which mistakenly lays the blame for the Iraq war almost entirely on the Israel Lobby, can only worsen the situation. American Jews are right to be concerned with anti-Semitism worldwide, but wouldn’t it make sense to move away from an obsession with France and focus more on Germany? Most importantly, focusing on foreign antiSemitism should not blind us to our own problems.
“The world is in a miserable state and just for spite, we ought not to cry about it. Just to spite them, there’s going to be laughter.” —Sholem Aleichem
The Sholem Aleichem Bobblehead Doll $18 plus $6 shipping. www.jewishcurrents.org (212) 889-2523 January-February, 2008
friday afternoon the jewish tailor’s shop rue laurier i stepped into the usual clutter unclaimed pants phone numbers brown forgotten plants yiddish books on the counter feeble overhead lights dusting the beige walls the stooped tailor (who had school-boyed me because my jeans all wore thin in the crotch) wasn’t there “abe’s got a cold” his wife explained contemplating the broken zipper on my winter coat her voice incredulous repeating my request “you vant i should fix it right now?” that she should drop more important piece work to mend my coat then snatching it from my arms as if it were a baby held by a man who couldn’t hush its crying from the ancient sewing machine berating me for having to change the color of the thread her foot on the pedal scowling at the coat which wasn’t worth her time yet walking up to me a few minutes later smiling and saying i could have it for free laughing and adding — “or for the price of a coffee” while i fumbled with my wallet insisting she at least take the dollar bill i held out her taking it and breaking the embarrassed silence shooing me “so go already — time is money — i have more important things to do than to talk to you all day” she headed back to her waiting machine adding in an entirely different voice: “good shabbos” as i turned and stepped back outside onto the sidewalk —filling with snow. Robert Lovitt has had fifty-four years of experience at being Jewish — in this lifetime, that is. He studied poetry writing while working as an apprentice to poet Allen Ginsberg at Naropa University. His poems have appeared in magazines such as Christian Science Monitor, The Phoenix, Jewish Frontier, Jewish Spectator, and the Shambhala Sun. For information about his book of poems, “daily basis,” contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rabbi Amy Klein The
View from Israel
The Russians Have Come, the Russians Have Come! Continued from Last Issue
he founders and builders of Israel came in the
early 1900s from Russia and Eastern Europe in what is known as the Second Aliyah. They built Israel’s agriculture, coöp system, banks, trade union, and more, while spending long nights arguing intensely about the nature of the country they were building and writing Hebrew songs to traditional Russian folk tunes — what we call today “shirei Eretz Yisrael hayeshanah vetovah,” songs of the good ol’ days of the land of Israel. They were consciously secular and committed to creating the “New Jew,” individuals who would build and defend the country with their own hands. For good reason, author Meir Shalev entitled his wondrous novel of this pre-state period Roman Russi (“Russian Novel”). The intensity of each of his characters could reenergize entire cities! Such Russian passion was repressed by the next wave of Russians in the 1970s, who worked hard to become the perfect “Israeli Jew,” discarding their given names for Hebrew ones. Ironically, with the great aliyah of the early 1990s, they found themselves speaking Russian again and connecting to a culture long cast off. The Russian immigrants of the 1990s are indeed different. They have kept their Russian names. They have been accepting aspects of Israeli culture that they deem worthy while unapologetically maintaining their own culture, which they deem superior to Israeli culture. They watch Russian channels, read the Russian press, listen to Russian music, and eat Russian food, which they buy in Russian stores. Initially, Ashkenazic Israelis related to Russian immigrants as coming from some barbaric land. Mizrakhi Jews resented Russians who were threats to their jobs at a time of high unemployment and poor economy. For their part, Russian immigrants admit in surveys to having prejudice against Moroccan and other Mizrakhi Jews (30 percent), negative opinions about Ethiopians (40 percent) and strong dislike for Arabs (80 percent). (The statistics
are from Larissa Remminick’s Russian Jews on Three Continents: Identity, Integration, and Conflict, 2007.) The Russian immigrants’ need for housing, cars, and other consumer goods was the basis for Israel’s rapid economic growth in the 1990s. Israel’s Ashkenazim also thank the Russians for their insistence on superior education and supplemental school programs, for their boost to Israel’s science capabilities and musical and theatrical talent, and for the growing food store chain Tiv Tam, which sells nonkosher food. And let’s not forget about the rising popularity of sports and New Year’s celebrations — a Russian favorite ever since the Soviet cancellation of Christmas. The comments of a former Moscow resident in Remminick’s book sum up the Russian-Israeli mainstream encounter well: “Israel had expected to receive the ‘historic gift’ of one million Zionist Jews and [instead] received one million Soviet atheists, including single-parent families, non-Jewish spouses, and not a few criminal elements. The immigrants expected to arrive to a ‘civilized western country, a southern version of Europe’ but found themselves ‘half-way between the medieval Jewish ghetto and noisy Oriental Bazaar.’ ” Nevertheless, a recent study shows that 79.5 percent of the great Russian aliyah are satisfied or very satisfied with their absorption in Israel and feel that coming to Israel was a good decision. Russians now constitute about 17 percent of the voting population in Israel. Politically, they range from the center to the right due to their anti-Arab attitudes, their hawkish view of the conflict, and their desire to reject all forms of socialism, in response to their lives under the Soviet regime. This latter tendency deterred Russian identification with the Labor party, yet in 1992 they helped vote Likud out of power in favor of Yitzhak Rabin, who promised them greater benefits and support. In 1996, the Russians voted for Likud and thereby unintentionally lent support to the ensuing attacks on the welfare state — attacks that decreased important benefits to the unemployed, single parents, disabled and elderly in the Russian community. Russian sectarian parties began with Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael B’Aliyah (“Israel for Immigration”), which won seven seats in 1996. Yisrael B’Aliyah had a secular centrist orientation and popular leaders such as Yuli Edelstein, Yuri Stern, Marina Solodkin, Roman Bronfman and Michael Nudelman. In 1999, the party overcame internal strife (as well as Sharansky’s tarnished image and his failure to deliver on campaign promises) by running an anti-Shas campaign (Shas, a religious party, was in control of the Interior Ministry and thus immigration). However, Yisrael B’Aliyah began revealing its own religious leanings under the influence of Sharansky’s wife Avital and MK Yuli EdelJewish Currents
stein. This made room for a rising rightwing star, Avigdor Lieberman, to capture the Russian vote. Lieberman left Likud in 1999 to form the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel, Our Home”) and won four seats. On the other side of the spectrum, Roman Bronfman left Yisrael B’Aliyah to form the left-wing Democratic Choice, which won two seats. In 2003, Democratic Choice merged with Meretz, while the weakened Yisrael B’Aliyah merged with Likud in return for having its debts paid. Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, meanwhile, ran on the Ekhud Ha-Leumi (“National Union”) slate with the right-wing Moledet (“Homeland”) and Tekuma (“Resurrection”) parties. The slate took seven seats. Russians who didn’t support Lieberman abandoned Likud for the newly formed Shinui (“Change”), which ran an anti-Orthodox campaign promising civil marriage. Shinui won an impressive fifteen seats but was unable to deliver on its promises and later disintegrated. The 2003 elections marked a shift in Russian political attitudes that continues today. While many still support Lieberman and his policy of expulsion (“transfer”) of Arabs, an estimated 12 to 15 percent of Russians now identify with the left, supporting Palestinian human and civil rights and equal rights for Israeli Jews and Arabs. This new left primarily votes Meretz, since Labor is still associated with socialist and trade union values and a willingness to compromise with the Orthodox establishment. In 2006, the moderate Russian vote went to Ariel Sharon’s Kadima (“Forward”) while the right voted for Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu —and a huge 25 percent did not vote at all. In the current Knesset, eleven MKs are Russian immigrants, seven from Yisrael Beiteinu. Yet Russian sectarian politics have clearly declined, as most now vote for mainstream parties. While this change is a testimony to Russian integration into Israeli society, it has also meant that the Russian bloc has been unable to do much about religious interference in politics and society. Research shows that Russians and native Israelis may mix in the work place but live separately and do not socialize with one another. The vast majority of Russians spend leisure time with other Russians and only two percent have a Hebrew-speaking marital partner. In keeping with these statistics, I must have met more Russian Jews during my limited travels in the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in 1990 than I have since coming to Israel in 1997. Jerusalem, where I lived for my first nine years here, is simply not a Russian city — unless you are visiting the Israel Museum. There you can see the Russians patiently explaining the artworks to their young children. Russian immigrants primarily settled in smaller cities and in towns on the periphery, such as January-February, 2008
Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Sderot, Bat Yam, Netanya and Nazaret Illit, joining families and friends who arrived earlier. Housing costs in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem made these major cities prohibitive. Today, however, Russians are increasingly moving to these urban centers, where life more closely resembles what they left behind in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The one place where I have met many Russians is in hospitals. Recently, I spent two months working as a chaplain on the dialysis unit at Asaf Harofe Hospital just north of Ramle, as part of a clinical pastoral education course. The integration into Israeli society of fifteen thousand
The Russian immigrants’ need for housing, cars, and other consumer goods was the basis for Israel’s rapid economic growth in the 1990s. Russian doctors and twenty-five thousand nurses is one of the success stories of the Russian aliyah. Given the differences in medical practice between Israel and the FSU — Israeli medicine is very technological while Russian medicine, primarily due to lack of funding, remains reliant on more old-fashioned diagnostics — Russian doctors were required to recertify in Israel. Seventy percent who applied became certified, although many did not regain their specializations. Nurses easily found employment, filling a tremendous need. On the dialysis unit, I heard more Russian than Hebrew. Elderly patients benefited from having doctors and nurses who could speak to them in their native Russian. Patients came from Ramle, Lod, Rishon L’tzion and Nes Tziona, areas that include large numbers of immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus. This population, which came to Israel either in the 1970s or as the first to leave the FSU in 1989, had generally been less educated than big-city Soviet Jewry and worked as tradesmen and artisans. Before immigrating, they enjoyed lives relatively free of antiSemitism. They maintained traditional Jewish observance, and strict codes of care and respect for parents. These have broken down in Israel, and the troubled absorption process for Jews of the Caucasus have included the formation of gangs, a high school dropout rate, and discipline problems in the army. The open use of the Russian language marks yet another important sign of cultural acceptance. Initially, Russians were afraid to speak their native language in the workplace. Indeed, veteran Israelis felt threatened by not being able to understand the conversation around them. Today, Russian Continued on page 46
Welfare Reform: The Untold Success Story Extending State Programs to the Working Poor
of the Jewish left is social justice, and for at least the past sixty years this value has been expressed through concern for the plight of African Americans, particularly the disproportionate poverty and other disparities they experience. For many on the left, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton, completed the Reagan-era goal of dramatically cutting government aid to the poor, through the manipulation of unfounded, negative racial stereotypes (“welfare queens driving around in Cadillacs”), as a key step in the destruction of the social safety net won by the working class through New Deal legislation. This article does not question the sincerity of those who voiced their opposition to welfare reform in 1996. Few analysts could have anticipated the job boom and the expansion of “Today we are ending welfare as we know it,” said President Clinton in signing the 1996 employment supports that occurred welfare reform bill. “But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for after the law’s adoption. Enhanced what it began.” The law capped the number of years a person can receive welfare throughout a lifetime at five, though states could exempt 20 percent of their caseloads from this requirechildcare funding, tax subsidies to ment. States were permitted to sanction welfare recipients if they did not meet work-related supplement wages, and educational requirements, were given wide latitude in defining work-related activities, and could exempt initiatives were often quite successful up to 40 percent of recipients from any obligation. The law required state funds to be used for and provided a foundation for possible work-support activities, including childcare, job-readiness programs, community college and and necessary future policy initiatives private-sector vocational training, and support services while working. that could benefit a broad group of view that safety-net programs should and mean-spirited manner. In New working mothers, most of whom will be entitlements, not subject to admin- York, for example, Mayor Rudolph never receive welfare assistance in istrative judgments that distinguish Guiliani undertook a particularly intheir lifetime. between the so-called ‘deserving’ sensitive strategy of using workfare Nor does this article dismiss con- and ‘undeserving’ poor. The legisla- instead of job training, along with cerns about the legislation that go tion also failed to provide effective other diversionary policies that, until beyond its economic impact on in- safeguards that constrain caseworkers they were legally overturned, kept dividual families. The 1996 welfare and local agencies from implementing needy families from receiving imreform act undermined the prevailing welfare policies in a discriminatory mediate aid. While appreciating these concerns, Robert Cherry, Koppelman Professor of Economics at Brooklyn College and a I believe that critics of welfare reform research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, is the author of Welfare Trans- have underestimated the need for formed: Universalizing Family Policies that Work (2007, Oxford University Press) safety-net legislation to support and and co-editor of Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future (2007, encourage personal responsibility Rowman & Littlefield). in poverty relief. Traditional Jewish
thought more accurately acknowledges the tension between communal and personal responsibility. On the one hand, the Talmudic rabbis made clear the obligation of society to aid the most unfortunate. “One must be careful to give charity promptly,” they wrote, “lest the failure to do so result in the shedding of blood, for perhaps the poor may die if not given [help] immediately.” On the other hand, it is the obligation of the poor to make every effort to provide for themselves: “Skin a carcass in the marketplace and don’t rely on charity.” Structural factors had devastating effects on the post-migration generation of African Americans (those born in the late 1960s and early 1970s in northern and midwestern cities). When this generation reached its teen years in the 1980s, the loss of manufacturing jobs created Depression-era levels of unemployment. For example, whereas in 1975, the share of young Black men employed in manufacturing in cities of the Midwest reached 40 percent, by 1989 it had fallen to 12 percent. This was accompanied by the crackcocaine onslaught, which brought violence and addiction. In New York, the number of homicides increased by over 50 percent between 1984 and 1990. In 1989, 77 percent of New Yorkers arrested tested positive for cocaine. In east Baltimore, where the poorest Black neighborhoods were located, five percent of young people were killed annually during the late 1980s. Many young men and women in poor Black (and Latino) communities made decisions that had adverse long-term consequences. After a thirty-year decline, birth rates of teenage women, especially Black women, began to increase. By 1990, fully 8.5 percent of young Black women 15 to 17 gave birth, more than triple the white rate. Many of these women January-February, 2008
lived in communities where giving birth and going on welfare became a social norm. After remaining stable for more than a decade, the welfare population increased from 3.8 in 1988 to 5.1 million families by 1994, with the Black share increasing somewhat to almost 40 percent. Even larger increases occurred in the food stamp and SSI programs. In addition, evidence documented the vulnerability of welfare mothers to domestic abuse. In particular, the Center for Impact Studies found that among teenage Black mothers on welfare, 55 percent had experienced some form of domestic violence from their partner in the past year. Justice Depart-
velopment Fund increased childcare expenditures from $2.1 to $7.4 billion. In addition, substantial state funding was directed towards community college programs to enhance the skills of people leaving welfare, while a large number of private, non-profit agencies were initiated to aid the transition to work. This social funding increase was primarily due to a federal aid formula that kept in place funding levels despite the more than halving of welfare rolls. Income supports provided by “Make Work Pay” proponents increased the incomes of families that left welfare. If a single mother with two children earns $13,000, she qualifies for an
Income supports provided by “Make Work Pay” proponents increased the incomes of families that left welfare. Together with job growth, they dramatically reduced national poverty rates. ment statistics estimated that domestic violence overall was 43 percent higher for Black than for white women. Many critics, including Frances Fox Piven and Mimi Abramovitz, wrongly emphasized links between conservative political views and the 1996 legislation. They ignored the ideas of David Ellwood, who devised Clinton’s welfare reform proposal, and of Donna Shalala, who wrote extensively on the need for welfare reform and supported the legislation. The “Make Work Pay” philosophy emphasized providing improved material incentives: an increased earned income tax credit (EITC), higher minimum wage, increased childcare, and child support from non-resident fathers. In misunderstanding President Clinton’s intentions, welfare reform critics were unprepared for these and other substantial increases in work supports that accompanied the law. Between 1997 and 2000, for example, the federal Child Care De-
EITC of $4400 at the federal level and another $880 at the state level (in more than fifteen states, including New York and California). In addition, these families qualify for substantial food stamps, childcare subsidies, and, after 2001, a refundable federal child tax credit. As a result, family income rises to more than $20,000. Together with income supports, job growth dramatically reduced national poverty rates. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the child poverty rate in single mother families fluctuated between 50 and 55 percent, rising during economic slowdowns and falling during economic expansions. After 1994, however, the rate continuously declined, falling to 40 percent by 2000. During 2001 and 2002, the rate remained at 40 percent because the number of single women working continued to grow despite the economic slowdown. (The rate increased only slightly in 2003 and 2004.) Moreover, when transfer payments (food stamps and other subsidies) are
included, these rates fall even more. Economists at the Community Service Society of New York found that with the inclusion of transfer payments, the official poverty rate among working moms from 1999 to 2001 declined from 36.5 to 14.2 percent. Critics rightly feared that welfare reform was designed to flood the lowwage market, making wage growth unlikely. Instead, 1996-2000 was the first period in twenty years in which wages grew faster than the inflation rate — and this wage growth was most robust for those at the bottom of the labor market, especially in states with high welfare benefits. Over a thirty-month period, for example, monthly earnings among former welfare recipients in New Jersey grew by 33 percent. Over 40 percent of those whose first job paid less than $6 per hour had a wage increase of at least 50 percent. For welfare-to-work participants in Washington, the average hourly wage rate increased from $7.50 to $8.91 two years later. The characterization of low-wage service sector employment as deadend is generally misplaced. Katherine Newman followed the lives of Black and Hispanic minimum-wage fastfood workers in a poor neighborhood in New York City in 1993. Her study emphasized that for many, work is a welcome escape from troubled personal lives and helps individuals build constructive social relations and improved self-worth. Newman and Chauncy Lennon found that 81 percent of those employed in 1993 were still working in 1997 — with an average hourly wage that had increased, measured in 1993 dollars, from $4.37 to $7.24. Twenty-eight percent had received a wage increase of at least $5 per hour. Although an income of $20,000 for a family of three is only modestly above the poverty threshold, it does
create distance from the deprivation experienced while on welfare. Scott Winship and Christopher Jencks noted a significant decline in the share of single mothers who reported that they had to stretch their food supply or could not adequately feed a child. Other studies have documented the benefits to families who escape official poverty. Community Service Society surveys in New York in 2004 indicated that 45 percent of poor families experience at least three hardships annually, while the rate among the near-poor — families with incomes between approximately $15,000 and $30,000 — was 14 percent in 2003 and 21 percent in 2004. Using national data, Sheldon Danziger and colleagues at the University of Michigan found that “those who had moved from welfare to work were objectively and subjectively better off financially than those who remained welfare-reliant. Working mothers had higher household incomes, lower poverty rates, experienced a similar level of material hardships, were less likely to engage in activities to make ends meet, and reported less difficulty living on their current incomes.” Surveys also consistently show that the vast majority of single mothers believe that their lives have improved since leaving welfare. A Maine study found that 61 percent of those who had left welfare considered themselves better off than when they were on welfare, 23 percent believed their situation to be about the same, and only 16 percent believed that their situation had worsened. A New York study found that 71 percent considered themselves better off, while only 14 percent thought they were worse off. It is certainly true that some families were made worse off — especially families who were sanctioned because the mothers were unable to meet attendance requirements. Researchers
documented, however, that the adverse income effects of welfare reform were concentrated in the bottom tenth of single mothers, and that even for this group, on average, consumption rose substantially. Virtually all studies found that welfare reform was at least three times more responsible than the growing economy for the decline in the number of welfare recipients. These results are consistent with changes in the employment rate of never-married mothers (the group most sensitive to welfare policies), which remained fairly constant from the late 1970s through 1994, showing little response to either the economic expansion of the 1980s or the subsequent economic slowdown. Starting in 1994, however, their employment rate began to rise, and it rose very sharply. Welfare reform also appears to have had a substantial impact on teen birth rates. For both African-American and white teenagers, 15-19, birth rates fell by more than one-third between 1995 and 2001 to about one-half their 1990 levels. This factor alone has eliminated a significant share of the potential population seeking cash assistance — young, less-educated, single mothers. Such declines in poverty and teen birth rates, and the upward mobility for many who have left welfare, have convinced a number of critics of welfare reform, including Christopher Jencks and Jason DeParle, to reevaluate their earlier pessimism. However, while welfare reform has lifted millions of families out of abject poverty, it alone is not a panacea. Just as with raising the minimum wage, welfare reform is one positive policy that must be combined with other policies in order to eliminate economic deprivation. Most importantly, welfare reform has identified many government policies that can help a broad group of mothJewish Currents
ers. In response to federally-funded inducements, state governments improved childcare funding, educational and training programs, child support collection policies, and, more recently, counseling services to improve relationships between fathers and mothers. These services enabled many women leaving welfare to sustain employment, improve earnings, receive more financial support from the fathers of their children, and improve the stability of parental relationships. When economic stagnation after 2001 exposed the inadequacies of the unemployment insurance system, many states implemented changes to make policies more helpful to mothers who earned low wages or had only intermittent employment. By 2003, for example, twenty-seven states had provided unemployment insurance benefits for victims of domestic violence who leave their jobs because of the abuse (if they meet earnings requirements). Fifteen states have enacted unemployment insurance provisions that allow for a broader range of compelling domestic circumstances that cause job loss, including childcare problems. Twenty states allow workers to use an alternative to the traditional calculation, so that most of their recent earnings can be included to determine eligibility. In 2004, twenty-seven states provided child care tax credits to working mothers. In the most generous states — California, New York, Louisiana, and Vermont — refundable credits could total more than $1,000 for a single mother with two children. If they are lucky enough to live in the thirteen states (plus the District of Columbia and New York City) that have refundable EITC programs, these working moms gain even more: The six most generous localities provide an EITC equal to at least 20 percent of the federal EITC. In addition, there has been a substantial expansion January-February, 2008
There are tens of millions of working mothers who have the same needs as those who have left welfare: for affordable childcare, training and educational enhancements, and government programs to supplement their limited wages. of universal pre-kindergarten, most prominently in a number of conservative states — Texas, Oklahoma, and Georgia — where a range of 46 to 64 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in state-funded programs. Welfare legislation has also been a catalyst for important changes at community colleges. In a study funded by the Community College Association prior to welfare reform, only five percent of entering students who had serious academic deficiencies completed at least twenty college credits. In California, despite substantial support services, one-third of welfare participants leaving community colleges had completed no credits, and another 30 percent had less than twelve. In the face of such barriers, many welfare recipients had sought educational advancement at for-profit ‘proprietary’ schools, where the emphasis is on vocational training in certificate programs rather than on two-year or four-year academic degrees. In 1996, one-quarter of students enrolled at proprietary schools were single mothers — almost double the proportion at community colleges. Unfortunately, these schools have a long history of leaving their students unprepared, unemployed, and saddled with unpayable loans. At a 2005 Congressional Hearing on Enforcement of Anti-Fraud Laws in For-Profit Education, Congresswoman Maxine Waters highlighted some of these abuses, stating: “I had GED [‘general education development,’ or high school equivalency] courses conducted in my office so that my constituents could pass the math portion of the GED to get into
the construction training programs. . . . Many of these students . . . had defaulted on previous student loans used to attend a trade school, and thus did not qualify for any current financial aid, including Pell Grants, which they needed to support themselves while attending community college to obtain training. At one graduation ceremony at the Employment Preparation Center, I asked how many of the graduates had been ripped off by a trade school, and all hands but one went up.” When Drake Business School in New York City closed, LaGuardia Community College attempted to help its students. “We found it impossible,” said Gail Mellow, president at LaGuardia. “Even though some of these students were at the end of their sophomore year, their level of preparation was so low that they were not passing our basic skills tests.” The director of continuing education at LaGuardia, Sandra Watson, highlighted the importance of providing an alternative to proprietary schools. In our interview, Watson described her division as a “proprietary school with integrity.” By this she meant that LaGuardia students, thanks to extensive funding grants, were provided with the support services that are crucial to their success, such as counseling, childcare, and smaller classes. Watson was also proud of the placement activities built into their continuing education programs; only through a partnership with local hospitals, she explained, was it possible to develop a successful radiology technicians program. Throughout the country, countless other community colleges have, since 1996, successfully aided less-educated mothers in obtaining the
vocational skills necessary to move ahead. There are tens of millions of working mothers who have the same needs as those who have left welfare: for af-
fordable childcare in order to maintain their employment; for training and educational enhancements in order to raise their wages; for government programs to supplement their limited
wages. By learning from policies initiated by welfare reform and applying them more broadly, we can help millions of working mothers and their families have more successful lives.
Welfare Reform: Is This the Best We Can Do? A Reply to Robert Cherry
hen I was a 19-year-old college student in New York, I became
romantically involved with a welfare mom, age 21. We lived together with her three-year-old son in an East Village storefront, where we performed puppet shows each weekend as “Poor People’s PupThe radical political counterculture pets.” My only contributions to the perceived that American society household budget for the two-plus had nearly achieved a ‘postyears that we lived together were a scarcity’ status, and that the New York Regents Scholarship ($250 gates to Eden were held shut only per semester) and bits of cash that I by greed, racism, and the class earned giving guitar lessons and subsystem. stitute teaching in daycare centers. I felt a bit guilty on one occasion when a welfare caseworker visited our and just plain bullshit in my rationalhome and I had to pretend that I, too, izations back then. I no longer consider was just a drop-in visitor (I left before ‘revolutionary expropriation’ to be an the caseworker and took a long walk altogether virtuous political activity, around the neighborhood). Otherwise nor do I approve of avoiding wage I rationalized my mooching as follows: slavery if doing so means living in a) Every book of food stamps we used poverty or being a parasite. I no longer meant one less bullet for the Vietnam equate welfare with reparations for War; b) We were doing good com- African-American slavery, and I no munity work (our shows included The longer automatically respond to disEmperor’s New Clothes with a life-size cussions of self-destructive behaviors puppet of Nixon) and were happy to in oppressed communities as ‘blaming think that the government was help- the victim.’ In my newfound ‘maturity,’ ing pay for its own overthrow; c) My I’m glad to learn from Robert Cherry partner was already on the dole before that the net effect of welfare reform has I came tagging along; d) Everyone was been to alleviate, rather than to worsen, doing it — the federal government was poverty, and I appreciate his willingfertilizing flower power across the ness to address the terrible impact of country, and certainly keeping the lid crack addiction, teen pregnancy, and on the Black community, by making it the lack of responsible fatherhood upon African-American communities easy for folks to collect welfare. Well, thirty-six years later, I see a living in poverty. My politics nevertheless remain whole lot of fantasy, moral relativism Lawrence Bush is the editor of Jewish Currents.
strongly influenced by those days in the East Village, where I was immersed in a political counterculture that perceived, quite accurately, that American society had nearly achieved a ‘post-scarcity’ status, and that the gates to Eden were held shut only by greed, racism, and the class system. (One friend of mine, now an economist at the Federal Reserve, even wrote a paper arguing that America’s productive capacity required each able-bodied American to work significantly less than twenty hours per week; the rest of our forty-hour work week, he maintained, was eaten up by activities meant chiefly to sustain capitalist power relations.) Perhaps we were utopianists; perhaps we were drunk on our sense of possibility. Still, I can’t help wondering if Robert Cherry, himself a longtime progressive, thinks that welfare reform, slightly improved childcare, and the other reforms that he describes and prescribes are really the best that we can do. Why should we have to tolerate poverty at all in as wealthy and productive a land as ours? Is a $20,000 annual income for a family of three, and all the anxiety and lack of choice it brings, really acceptable when there are executives, lawyers, and investors who make that amount every working hour? Are we to buy into the Biblical perception that “the poor shall never cease Jewish Currents
out of the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11) no matter what social programs we launch? Do the abominable realities of communist history mean we should now give up on such socialistic goals as a guaranteed minimum income, full employment, quality public housing, well-funded public education, free college tuition, quality health care for all, unionization and protection of workers’ rights, etc.? The pressure to reform the welfare system came not from people concerned with effective, sweeping poverty relief, but from a conservative movement that was pressing its ideological attack on New Deal/Great Society liberalism. Toughening welfare qualifications was the third of ten points in Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America,” and the debate took place in a poisonous atmosphere following the 1994 Congressional elections, with conservatives actively exploiting racist stereotypes of ‘welfare queens’ and punitive attitudes towards poor people to advance their counterrevolution. The welfare budget that President Clinton targeted was minuscule, all of $10 billion per year — really an “unconscionable target,” as Robert Scheer
has written, for “a big propaganda campaign [about] . . . government efficiency.” But the attack on welfare provided an excellent diversion from corporate tax evasion, lobbying, polluting, stock options, union-busting and numerous other tricks that have produced, over the past three decades, the greatest income and wealth disparity in U.S. history. By conceding the welfare fight to the Republicans, did not Clinton help undermine the very concept of government as a vehicle of social responsibility? The Jewish tradition that Robert Cherry references in his article urges personal responsibility, yes, but even more strongly acknowledges the collective nature of economic activity and society-wide responsibility for poverty relief. As Rabbi Walter S. Wurzburger of Yeshiva University has written (in Jewish Business Ethics, 1999), the conservative contention that (paraphrasing Irving Kristol) “there is no such thing as social justice, because only autonomous individuals can be just,” is “counter to the entire thrust of the Jewish tradition, with its many provisions designed to promote public welfare and a just
social order.” Yet in our allegedly “Judeo-Christian” culture, adoration of wealth and punishing attitudes towards poor people — especially poor African Americans — are easily provoked and widely promoted. It seems to me that Bill Clinton’s ending of “welfare as we know it” indulged those punishing attitudes, and thereby helped stunt the imaginations and blunt the expectations of America’s working people. Welfare did not represent a solution to poverty — any more than my puppet shows represented a threat to the U.S. government. Still, the abolition of welfare in a spirit of vindictiveness and racism, rather than atonement and true dedication to righting the wrongs of the past, can hardly be considered progress. As Randall Robinson, author of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, has suggested: “To do what is necessary to accomplish anything approaching psychic and economic parity in the next half century will not only require a fundamental attitude shift in American thinking but massive amounts of money as well.” In other words, it’s time to move beyond community college programs and talk about sharing the wealth.
Do Not Minimize the Gains Made by Poor Americans
Bush contends that welfare legislation was enacted in the “spirit of vindictiveness and racism,” allocated financing that was “minuscule,” and provided “an excellent diversion from corporate [excesses] . . . that have produced … the greatest income and wealth disparities Without successful reforms, workin U.S. history.” This reminded me of ing-class movements can become the position taken by revolutionaries in the 1970s that reforms should not be demoralized. pursued because they only temporarily ameliorate the worst excesses of ing people. It harkens back to the a capitalist system, a system that is criticisms made of business unionism fundamentally oppressive to work- that, at best, it wins marginal benefits awrence
for sectors of workers at the expense of larger gains that could be made for a broader group of workers. Without successful reforms, however, workingclass movements become demoralized, while winning reforms can energize organizations, enabling them to build on their successes. Thus, I believe that reforms are necessary (but not always sufficient) to the building of a vibrant movement to aid working people. In addition, there are a number
of problems with Lawrence Bush’s formulation. First, it is a myth that spending for the poor has increased only marginally. While welfare payments have remained steady, there has been a dramatic increase in aid to the poor in others ways: Income transfers through the food stamp and SSI programs, and tax credits, including the refundable EITC and child credits, have dramatically increased. When all of these benefits to low-income families are totaled, they dwarf aid to these families in the 1980s. Second, I don’t think welfare reform should be linked to growing inequality. Inequality grew much faster in the 1980s. Between 1991 and 2006, the earnings of the lowest-paid quintile of workers increased more in percentage terms than incomes of any of the other groups: The bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-fifth and around 20 percent for each of the other three quintiles. We should certainly rescind the tax cuts to the wealthiest households and rein in their income growth, but this issue should not be linked to welfare reform. Finally, I think the focus on Newt
Gingrich and regressive conservative forces and values is misplaced. Studies have consistently found that the work ethic demonstrated by people leaving welfare was an important tool for undermining many racist stereotypes. Thanks to work supports and their own determination to succeed, former welfare recipients have been found by companies to have higher work retention records and lower absenteeism than their fellow workers. This is one reason the use of racist stereotypes has virtually disappeared in the run-up to the 2008 elections. Democrats could have enacted a more generous, less coercive bill before the 1994 elections and chose not to. The pressure on Clinton to sign the 1996 bill was not from conservatives but from more moderate Democrats. Most important, this reform created a split among conservatives: A significant group emerged, including Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley, favoring supports for the working poor and near poor. While they were not powerful enough to overcome the Bush juggernaut during his first six years, they have emerged again as advocates for
extending health care benefits to more children. Indeed, we are seeing the same thing happening among Christian fundamentalists: a split between the reactionary “leadership” that focuses on sexual issues and a large segment that wants to focus on environmental and poverty issues. Referring to the Moral Majority leadership, Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times October 28th: “They no longer speak for many evangelical ministers and their flocks.” In a nationwide poll of evangelicals, abortion and same-sex marriage landed at the bottom of the list of policy priorities; fighting poverty outpolled abortion as a personal priority by a three-to-two margin. I do not think that anyone should rejoice that welfare reform has lifted mothers and their families out of stark poverty to the near poor, but we should not minimize the gains that these families have made. Instead, we should build on this measured success and universalize family policies that work so that these and other working moms can further distance themselves from material hardships.
JAKE MARMER is a New York City poet and managing editor of the Mima’amakim Journal of Jewish Art. His current artistic efforts are tightly focused on Frantic Turtle, the punkjazz-poetry band. More info on that: www.myspace.com/franticturtle.
I’m strictly leftist — back against the wall, and you at the edge of the bed, are the right-wing extremist this dawns on me around 4 am, as I sneeze and reach over to give your right-wing ass a half-conscious squeeze and profess this political bedroom break-down go back to sleep you say, I don’t want to be hearing any of that now — but you probably wouldn’t mind my Trotskyist spot by the wall and anyway I should be the one closer to the alarm button to step on it and quietly trot out to my breakfast proceedings, instead of rolling over you, like a tank.
Cheryl Lynn Greenberg
Leftists and the Civil Rights Movement Socialist and Communist Jews and Blacks
issues we now identify with modern liberalism, communists and socialists were there first. They opposed war, organized the unorganized, and challenged racial barriers in American life. They demanded fair wages and working conditions, government action to protect labor, and free speech. Virtually all the tactics used in 20th-century protests, moreover, from sit-ins to mass demonstrations to picket lines, were also pioneered by communists and socialists. Many liberal activists, however, were reluctant to make common cause with those to their left, particularly communists, for two reasons: principled ideological opposition to communism, and concern that identification of political activities with communism in the minds of the public would lead to a loss of support. Despite this gulf, however, liberals generally followed the left’s approaches to activism after a lapse Black and White, by Jacob Kreplick, a of several years. Yiddish book for older children published n many
The very notion of a Black-Jewish coalition was arguably the invention of leftist groups, which quickly recognized the mutual interests of both minorities. Black and Jewish socialists and communists thus led the way toward a civil rights movement that was mass-based, that talked about class, and that challenged social institutions. The two groups, wrote Jacob Weinstein in 1935 in the Labor Zionist journal, Jewish Frontier, “must understand each other and combine with other minorities to break the vicious hold of that arch-predatory minority — the
in 1939. From Images of American Radicalism, by Paul Buhle and Edmund B. Sullivan, 1998.
capitalists and their flunkies.” As Harlem Communist Party leader James Ford saw it, “The Negro masses in active struggle against anti-Semitism, the Jewish masses in active struggle for Negro rights — only this will deprive reaction of its Ace Trump!” In 1942, Jewish scholarLouis Harap, who was to become a long-time editor at Jewish Currents, and L.D. Reddick, African-American curator of the Schomburg Collection and a lecturer at City College, argued forcefully for
Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Raether Distinguished Chair in the Department of History at Trinity College, is author of Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century (2006, Princeton University Press). This article is based on a lecture she gave in our magazine’s Morris U. Schappes Centennial Lecture and Performance Series in 2007. January-February, 2008
alliance in Negro Quarterly. Their articles were reprinted the next year in a pamphlet provocatively entitled, “Should Negroes and Jews Unite?” with a passionate introduction by socialist labor leader A. Philip Randolph. Frank Crosswaith, the socialist head of the Negro Labor Committee, answered the question affirmatively in a speech for the Dorchester Workmen’s Circle in 1938. The recognition of the shared and pressing concerns of oppressed groups, emerging naturally from radical ideologies, was also spurred by tactical decisions such as the 1935 declaration of a ‘Popular Front’ by the Communist International — a mandate for communists to work with liberal institutions for progressive change. Indeed, starting in the late 1930s, liberal African-Americans and Jews began reaching the same conclusions. Their move toward alliance emerged out of the need for unity against fascism and for strengthening their struggles for equal citizenship and against discrimination. By 1943, when the lack of progress in race relations had brought Nazi-like mob violence to American shores in the shape of race riots, a Black-Jewish coalition for civil rights was taking shape. Morris Milgram, national secretary of the Workers Defense League (founded in 1936 by Norman Thomas) and an important developer of integrated housing across the U.S., routinely invited African Americans to the Washington, DC apartment he shared with his wife. In 1943, offended Southern army officers living nearby convinced Milgram’s landlord, a Jew, to evict the couple. The situation captured the attention of the African-American press
— and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also became interested, given Milgram’s Jewish identity and the group’s own emerging concern with racial discrimination. The ADL was most upset not about segregation, however, but about the possible rise of anti-Semitism if a Jew was seen as violating white norms. Why should a Jew get in the middle of that fight? Aggravating the situation further, the ADL noted, the landlord had discovered in the apartment “a
and attacking Progressive Party counter-demonstrators, while the police stood by. The ADL and the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) stepped in, pleading with the mayor to issue a statement that “every individual in Chicago had the right to live . . . unmolested and to entertain whomever he chose.” Instead, the mayor criticized “the subversive elements” who were challenging the attackers. In the ensuing criminal cases, the judge wasn’t sure that the violence consti-
While mainstream groups like the National Urban League were talking privately to white employers and rental agents, communists and socialists were organizing mass demonstrations, marches and pickets against housing and hiring segregation. negro woman in a bathrobe present only with Mr. Milgram in the morning hours.” As was pointed out in an internal ADL memo, “The implication of miscegenation might prove very disastrous if publicity breaks about this case.” The ADL decided to “endeavor to have the Milgrams take a reasonable attitude.” But Mrs. Milgram, they reported, “refuses to listen to any argument of expediency.” Next they approached the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) and the Socialist Party, hoping they might intervene and convince the Milgrams to back down. The organizations refused. Within a few years, liberal Jewish groups had changed their position. When two Jewish labor activists, for example, entertained an integrated group of union members at their home on South Peoria Street in Chicago in 1949, rumors spread that the AfricanAmerican guests were purchasing the house. Over the course of the next few nights, increasingly large and menacing crowds of whites gathered, shouting racist, anti-communist and anti-Jewish remarks, throwing stones,
tuted a race riot. Rather, he saw it as “the result of a miserable conspiracy, hatched . . . by a small but highly organized . . . band of subversive agents, professional agitators and saboteurs bent upon creating and furthering racial and religious incidents.” He discharged the defendants. Liberal Black and Jewish groups were appalled. The ADL, AJCongress, NAACP and others joined the socialist JLC in creating the Chicago Council Against Racial and Religious Discrimination to fight the court decision and work toward peaceful integration of housing. Similar about-faces occurred time after time. On issues of housing and employment discrimination, while mainstream groups like the National Urban League in the late 1930s and early ’40s were talking privately to white employers and rental agents to persuade them to accept African Americans, communists and socialists were organizing mass demonstrations, marches and picket lines against housing and hiring segregation, police brutality, lynchings, discrimination against Black shoppers, exclusionary
trade unions, and evictions. Liberal groups were horrified by these ‘needless provocations.’ Jewish groups particularly objected when radical protestors targeted Jewish-owned stores for overcharging or refusing to hire Black clerks. An American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) investigation of Jewish business practices in Harlem defended the store owners’ “entirely reasonable principle of economics.” When several African-American papers published a 1941 story about discrimination at Kaplowitz’s, a department store in Washington, DC, the ADL responded: “Actually, the Kaplowitz store was by no means the only offender, nor were the Jewish stores the only ones guilty.” Since all white Southern businessmen acted in racist ways, the ADL pointed out, if only Jews “individually alter their present policy, it would affect their business, and would be opposed by the majority of residents of the community.” Yet within a few years, the Jewish Community Council in Cleveland was intervening with unfair Jewish landlords and credit merchants. The ADL was meeting with Jewish department store owners in Washington to urge “greater discretion” in the treatment of Black customers. In Detroit, the Council set up an investigative body regarding complaints. In Baltimore, the AJCommittee struggled with Jewish department store owners over discriminatory policies, and in St. Louis and Chicago, the ADL encouraged Jewish employers to hire more African Americans. These efforts became louder and more emphatic over time, and finally enjoyed some success. World War II provided a unique opportunity to act on economic inequality. When A. Philip Randolph called Black leaders together to propose a 1941 March on Washington that would demand an end to employment Jewish Currents
Another tactic the radical left began to use in the 1930s was the ‘sandwich’ technique of testing for discrimination by sending in sequence a white person, an African American, and another white person, to check the availability of apartments and jobs. It took more than ten years for this strategy to catch on among more mainstream groups. In 1949, the Brooklyn AJCongress Women’s Division, the Urban League, and the NAACP took discrimination complaints and provided investigators January-February, 2008
to test new fair employment laws. The Bronx Council of AJCongress called for volunteers to “visit employment agencies and firms advertising for help and make application to ascertain if you will be accepted or refused because of race, religion or creed.” The more confrontational the tactic, the longer it took to be accepted by the
mainstream civil rights groups, especially Jewish ones. Communist and socialist groups, for example, challenged racial discrimination and organized the unemployed and the non-unionized in highly visible and sometimes bloody demonstrations. The pacifist, socialist Fellowship of Reconciliation and its offspring, CORE (led by socialist Bayard Rustin), specialized in dramatic acts of civil disobedience. When refused a room in a hotel, Rustin would spend the night in its lobby. Local CORE affiliates used demonstrations, pickets, and even sit-ins to integrate businesses. Each of these tactics faced strong opposition from liberal groups before being embraced.
CORE combined public education, consumer pressure and direct action to bring change. In Chicago, it polled customers to demonstrate that there was little resistance to the hiring of Black clerks. In St. Louis, CORE members dropped leaflets from an airplane (this proved “not very satisfactory because most of the leaflets landed on the tops of buildings”). Others painted slogans on their shirts, like “Let’s Make Democracy Work” and “All We Ask Is Justice.” These tactics found ready support among liberals. But more militant CORE tactics went over less well. In Washington, DC in 1949, the Interracial Workshop of CORE stood in lines in front of a theater that refused to sell them tickets. In St. Louis, CORE called for a boycott of a restaurant that refused service to Black American Legion members. That same year, AJCongress (which by then contained a number of activists who had left the Communist Party) debated tactics for employment discrimination campaigns. One member argued that “mass demonstrations . . . serve as an irritant” and were counter-productive. He urged no “picketing and hip-hooray.” Another delegate objected: “I say protest, demand, and you get what you want.” Shad Polier, chair of AJCongress’ Commission on Law and Social Action, offered a more nuanced assessment: The threat of a March on Washington, he said, had been “effective . . . a very, very daring move. Whether or not they could have carried it through, we leave aside for the moment. But . . . it may not work again.” The nation had been in crisis, and the protest “involved the most basic demand of thirteen or fourteen million people
discrimination and segregation in the armed forces, moderates among them endorsed the idea. They knew that their conciliatory tactics during World War I had produced no benefits, and they recognized the potency of mass action, which leftist groups and local African-American communities had employed to good effect in the Depression. Liberal Jewish groups, however, read Randolph’s call as a sign of potential subversion. An ADL staffer warned his director, “He has been causing the President . . . a great deal of anxiety with statements involving threat, bordering on sedition. . . . The violence of his recommendations . . . might conceivably affect our relations with some government bureaus because Randolph does not hesitate to whip the Negroes up to the adoption of methods calculated seriously to embarrass Washington.” Twenty-two years later, however, Randolph’s dream of a March on Washington was finally fulfilled, this time with the hearty endorsement not only of liberal African-American groups but of a broad range of Jewish organizations, including the ADL.
who had to be won over so that they could be put to work.” But such conditions arose infrequently and this was not such a time. Picketing, concluded Polier, “is a brutal statement of coercive effort.” In the end, AJCongress agreed that building organizational coalitions was crucial: “to work out a common . . . strategy in the open. . . . talking with legislators” and “holding . . . educational conferences.” Beyond this, the organization would not go: “There isn’t a place in the U.S.,” Polier warned, “where . . . if you handle these things in a mass, and you make a mess of it, you [don’t] make enemies of everybody.” Several delegates raised the counter-example of organized Jewish boycotts of German products during the war, but Polier responded: “[T]hat represented a crisis in Jewish life, [which] matched exactly the crisis [that] produced the March on Washington . . . it would be just as sensible for any Negro organization to say any time they were not satisfied with something, ‘We are going
example, concerned that “the public at large was becoming complacent as a result of the gains achieved through the courts . . . and increasingly . . . cynical about the prospects for federal legislation,” the NAACP recommended “stimulating greater . . . grassroots pressure.” Despite the mass actions beginning to emerge across the nation from bus boycotts to CORE demonstrations, however, NAACP did not envision marches or protests. Rather, it intended greater citizen lobbying to ensure “the actual passage of overdue and needed civil rights legislation.” By the 1960s, of course, liberals had enthusiastically embraced formerly radical approaches and joined or sponsored their own demonstrations, protests and picket lines. This most public face of the civil rights movement owed its success to tactics pioneered by the left.
there were many antagonistic remarks, but now many customers actually buy food for the members of our group during our sit-in.” Like Bayard Rustin’s refusal to leave hotels, these sit-ins were themselves modeled on communist and labor-inspired sit-down strikes from the 1930s. However, despite the tactic’s documented effectiveness in breaking down segregationist practices and educating the public, it took nearly three decades for the sit-in to be embraced by more mainstream civil rights groups —and then only after students began a sit-in at a North Carolina Woolworth’s in 1960 and it spread like wildfire. At that point, the NAACP not only embraced the strategy but tried to convince the students to organize as an NAACP youth group. In the Jewish community, the JLC was the first to announce its support for sit-ins, followed quickly by other Jewish civil rights agencies.
CORE’s use of sit-ins was most dramatic. In 1949, at a St. Louis restaurant, “An interracial group of four to twelve
In short, once events required it, Black and Jewish liberal groups came around to give support, with some trepidation — even to the bus boycott in Montgomery, and CORE’s dignified civil disobedience — although they withheld direct participation. A case in point: In 1946, the Supreme Court declared segregated interstate transportation unconstitutional. To test that decision, CORE called for a “Journey of Reconciliation” in which African-Americans and whites would ride trains together through the South. At first, both Black and Jewish liberals were skeptical. The NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall warned that any “disobedience movement . . . would result in wholesale slaughter with no good achieved.” But most progressives, like Randolph and Mary McLeod Bethune, endorsed the action. In the end, everyone rallied. The NAACP provided legal defense for those charged with violating segrega-
The exclusion of the left meant the loss of allies when few were around — especially in the South, where few but the left challenged segregation directly or organized black workers. Opposition to public militancy was explicitly linked to antagonism to coalition-building with the left. to march on Congress,’ as it would be for the American Jewish Congress to say that, ‘We are going to boycott, because we once had one.’” Similarly, the ADL’s Civil Rights committee warned in 1949 that it “looks with disfavor upon picketing . . . as an expression of disapproval except [in] special circumstances.” Jews in particular feared mass demonstrations, which were reminiscent to them of the demagogic rabblerousing that had been ruinous to European Jewry — but the NAACP’s idea of militant mass action was similarly constrained. In 1955, for
people would ask for service,” CORE reported. “When they were refused, they would continue to sit there for several hours. . . . During these sit-ins, the restaurant manager would close the counter where we were sitting. Then we began spreading our group out over several counters. . . .” CORE held regular sit-ins every Saturday, with between twenty and thirty participants. While the restaurant took months to come around, CORE did report after a few weeks that “we are getting the support of the public. . . . When we first started our campaign very few customers were friendly, and
tion laws; ADL’s Sol Rabkin wrote to congratulate the organizers and offered to file amicus briefs for any cases that ended up in court. Their report, he gushed, “was one of the most exciting social documents we have ever come across.” Of course, the Journey of Reconciliation was copied in 1961 as the Freedom Rides, which were endorsed by liberal as well as leftist activists. Unlike the 1947 Journey, the Freedom Rides did turn bloody, but no one questioned their effectiveness. Sometimes, distinctions between liberal groups like the NAACP and more radical ones like CORE or the Workers Defense League were less sharp than we might think. For example, the NAACP, National Urban League, and the March on Washington Movement, briefed in 1945 about CORE’s nonviolent civil disobedience training, all agreed that “the project held great possibilities.” None were opposed. And while the NAACP opposed A. Philip Randolph’s 1948 campaign to refuse conscription unJanuary-February, 2008
til President Truman desegregated the armed forces, it endorsed the picket line Randolph simultaneously launched, and held its own protests in Washington, DC. Nor was the left all about activism in the streets. In New Jersey, in 1946, a coalition of the leftist Civil Rights Congress, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), NAACP and AJCongress brought suit against Atlantic City restaurants that refused to serve African-Americans who were attending UPWA’s convention. Similarly, it took three years of struggle by CORE, ADL, NAACP and the Workers Defense League to integrate the swimming pool at the Jewish-owned Palisades Amusement Park. In this latter case, CORE’s contribution took place not only in the legal arena, but through picketing of the amusement park and of the owner’s home. There were other instances of effective left-liberal collaboration. C.L. Dellums, vice-president of the Broth-
erhood of Sleeping Car Porters on the West Coast, observed that the Jewish Labor Committee, which worked “hand in glove” with the NAACP and Black trade union leaders, did more to pass fair employment laws in San Francisco “than any other single agency.” More commonly, however, liberal groups refused to participate in leftist programs, even when they endorsed the goals and tactics, and refused to allow communists or socialists to participate in their own activities. As the National Urban League emphasized, “in order to defeat their long-range purposes we must reject their offer of support even for the cause we ourselves serve.” Growing anti-communist sentiment in the U.S. made cooperation with the Communist Party especially unattractive and dangerous. “If the average citizen should ever come under the impression that racial understanding is a theory advocated primarily by communists . . . then it will be a lost Continued on page 36
Rabbi Peter Schweitzer things and not getting punished for it is good, too. In the name of egalitarianism, I always give both partners the option of stepping on a glass at the end of the ceremony. If there are kids from prior marriages, we invite them also to step on a glass. The process of reviewing the traditional elements and language of a wedding is one of the hallmarks of a secular approach. We determine which customs can be retained as is, which we want to reject as archaic, sexist or dishonest, and which we can retain with modified language. The khupe, or wedding canopy, for example, represents New Ways to Say “I Do” the home the couple will live in together. Its doors are open here are probably as many explanations for the to an interchange with the world. Is a khupe essential to a ritual of stepping on the glass at the close of the Jewish wedding? No, and some couples elect to pass on it. wedding ceremony as there are rabbis. Most are For many, however, the khupe provides a strong connection bobe mayses, often rooted in superstition. to the generations that have come before and stood under Perhaps stomping the glass began as a gesture to ap- a similar structure. Rather than having a florist erect a khpease a deity or the spirits of ancient ancestors — who upe for them, they may build their own. (The most unique may not tolerate hubris or frivolity on the part of living I’ve seen so far was made of hockey sticks, a tribute to the mortals — as a way of saying, groom’s love of that sport!) “We’re not really having that By contrast, the traditional good a time here. Please, let us ritual of the bride circling the marry in peace.” Some anthrogroom to indicate her subserpologists have offered the idea vience to her husband is unacthat the sound of the breaking ceptable. One couple danced a glass (matched by shattering figure eight around each other, plates at a Greek wedding) is but it required a good deal of intended to scare away demons practice and choreography. that prey on couples and try to Most are happy to forego the wreak havoc in their relationceremony altogether. ship. Today, however, the only Another traditional compodemons we’re afraid of reside nent of a wedding is the Seven deep within us, and I doubt Marriage Blessings, or Sheva that loud noise will do much Berakhot. The theistic content to scare them away. of this reading, which extols The most common explana- Climate-Control Khupe Why leave it to the heavens to how we are created in the tion is that even at times of determine the success of your big day? Traditional wedding image of God, and its Israelhappiness we should never canopy protects the happy couple from rain, snow, unpleasant centric theme, wishing for a forget the tragedies that have weather. Built-in sunlamps work95.on your honeymoon tan before Zion rebuilt and a Jerusalem you’ve even cut the cake. $449. Requires assembly. befallen the Jewish people resounding with the sounds over the centuries, starting especially with the destruction of merriment, can be quite off-putting to secular Jews in of the temple. This morbid perspective puts undue empha- America. For these reasons, I originally felt that the Sheva sis on our history of suffering, and is certainly a strange Berakhot no longer belonged in our repertoire. Yet when theme to suddenly introduce at a wedding — an occasion a couple asked about it, I used the opportunity to revise for joy, not oy. the passage so that it would be philosophically consistent Perhaps the real draw of the ritual is that, quite simply, with a secular Jewish worldview. My new interpretation it links us to tradition and the generations that have come is based on the idea that the blessings are intended to before us. Beyond this, explanations are superfluous. As I encircle the couple in the larger context of their families, say at many weddings, the ritual is just plain fun, and that their friends, and the world around them. Some couples is reason enough to perpetuate it. Fun is good. Breaking may welcome these revised blessings as a way to involve
Secular Jewish Weddings
Lawrence Bush/Bruce Sager/Richard Codor, from Babushkin’s Catalogue of Jewish Inventions
family and friends — perhaps by assigning each verse to a close person in their lives. Other couples may dispense with the fixed reading but invite seven close family members or friends to address them with a brief personal wish for their future. Some light seven candles, each signifying a value that is important to them as they enter their marriage. These are all beautiful ways to give modern expression to an old custom. The exchange of vows offers another opportunity for modern interpretation. The traditional phrase, “You are betrothed to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel” (recited in both Hebrew and English), does not usually speak to secular Jews. Instead, they use the opportunity to find modern words of love and devotion at this most intimate of moments. For those who prefer a Yiddish connection, I provide a version translated by Jeffrey Shandler: Mit dem fingerl bistu mayn (vayb/man) in libe un in glaykhkeyt — “With this ring, you are my (wife / husband) in love and in equality.” I also encourage couples to write their own personal statements of love for their partner. For some this is too intimate to share in public, but for others, this is a highlight of the service when, as I put it, they “share their private feelings in front of their one or two hundred closest family and friends.” Despite the fact that I make sure a couple shares these statements prior to the ceremony in a private moment, they feel remarkably new and deeply emotional when said aloud at the wedding. That’s when the handkerchiefs often come out! As for the ketubah, or Jewish marriage document, this was essentially a pre-nuptial agreement meant to protect the woman’s financial status in the eventuality of divorce. The contract, which dates back to the early Second Temple period, was remarkably progressive in its day. However, its traditional Aramaic text doesn’t honor a spirit of mutuality in economic matters, and also asserts the presumptive virginity of the bride. Many couples now write their own ketubot, usually omitting all financial references and introducing, in their place, their vows and pledges of love and devotion. A cottage industry of artists and calligraphers is at the ready to provide virtually any conceivable modern version of this document. When my wife and I were married, the ketubah we designed left space not only for two formal witnesses and the rabbi but for all our guests to sign around the borders. This became a very personalized document that recalls for us the special community of family and friends who shared that day. We chose to sign the marriage license privately before the wedding, and then went table to table during the reception to have the ketubah signed. January-February, 2008
Of course, each Secular Humanistic officiant has his or her own sensibility about how to conduct wedding ceremonies, and his or her own boundaries for what is required, open for discussion, or off-limits. Still, we share several unifying, guiding principles. First is a principle of acceptance. We honor the love between a couple and the choices they make to be with each other, regardless of different cultural or religious backgrounds. We would never expect someone to convert to or adopt Judaism in order to qualify for our services. We wouldn’t expect any sort of pledge that future children will be raised exclusively as Jewish. We make no distinction between straight or gay couples. Perhaps our most important criterion is that both partners be comfortable with the non-theistic language of Secular Humanistic Judaism. Second, because we promote inclusivity, we want to find ways to honor both partners’ backgrounds. This may mean including readings from different traditions, often in other languages. Even when both partners are Jewish, we may honor their commitments to other teachings; at a recent wedding, for example, the groom rang a bell for a moment of meditation, to honor the couple’s involvement with Buddhism. Honoring other traditions may also mean finding ways to co-officiate with non-Jewish clergy, some of whom articulate a theistic message that may not be ours. Third, a whole new world opens up for us because we are not bound by halakhic rules. We don’t feel constrained by the traditional concept that Shabbat is off-limits for weddings, for example; we are perfectly comfortable conducting a Saturday service. In the end, couples will have their own sensibilities about what is right for them. What will strengthen their bond of love with one another? What will connect them to their Jewish heritage or the heritage of other cultures? How will they navigate family tensions? These questions will be answered differently by each couple. Hopefully, they will retain some memory of the ceremony itself, perhaps not of the words expressed, but of the sentiments felt. Indeed, I am delighted when a couple feels at ease to share a kiss or two during the service. I make a point of giving them permission to do so, and it becomes a kind of private game to see who will get away with it first. This, I think, is a great new ritual worth passing on. The Association of Humanistic Rabbis (www.shj.org/AHR. htm) maintains a list of Humanistic rabbis in North America. The Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews (http://lcshj.org/) maintains a list of licensed lay leaders known as madrikhim or madrikhot in Hebrew, or vegvayzer in Yiddish. The Portal of Secular Jewish Rites (www.tkasim.org.il/) provides information for officiants and secular ceremonies in Israel.
Our Secular Jewish Heritage
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
marked the hundredth anniversary of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s birth and the 35th yortsayt of his untimely death. For Jewish secularists, his meaning lies in his deep involvement and eloquent statements on the passionate issues of his day, which are similar to the passionate issues of our day: race and peace. As to the first, many of us will remember the moving photographs of him marching arm-in-arm with Ralph Bunche alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. in the famous walk from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 21st, 1965 protesting against racism and Jim Crow. As to the second, Heschel was a founder and co-chair of Clergy and Laity Concerned — their concern being the Vietnam War. ast year
Heschel was born in Warsaw, with yikhes (illustrous lineage) on both his mother’s and father’s sides. On his father’s, he was a descendant of Dov Ber (c. 1704-1772), the well-known maggid (preacher) of Mezhirekh, and his great-grandfather was Avrom Yeshua Heschel (1748-1825), the Rabbi of Apt. On his mother’s side, he was a descendent of Levi Yitzkhok (1740-1810), rabbi for thirty-five years of Berditchev, an important center of khasidism in Ukraine, who was famed for his “arguments” with God “ and his “defense” of the Jews. After receiving a traditional yeshiva education and becoming a rabbi, young Heschel decided to enroll at the University of Berlin for a doctorate in their College for the Science of Judaism. Before he could do this, however, he had to become
conversant with Western thinking and languages. At age 18, therefore, he entered the Real-Gymnasium (secondary school) in Vilna, the ‘Jerusalem of Lithuania,’ a bustling city with a large Jewish population. Vilna was the center of the Enlightenment movement (haskala) in Eastern Europe. There were socialist, Zionist, and communist groups there as well as religious organizations. In this pluralistic,Yiddish-speaking society, Heschel reconciled his khasidic past with the secular Jewish activism in which he was participating. While studying for his degree, he taught Talmud at the university. After receiving his degree, he was appointed by Martin Buber as his successor in the Jewish adult education school of Frankfurt-on-the-Main. Clearly, this appointment could not last long in Hitler’s Germany. Deported to Poland in October, 1938, Heschel left for England the following summer. In 1940 he began teaching philosopy and rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College, the Reform seminary in Cincinnati. Unhappy with the attitude toward religion there, he became professor of Jewish ethics and mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative) in New York in 1945. He taught there until he died. Much has been written about Professor Heschel over the years, but little has been made of the fact that in addition to writing in English, Polish, German and Hebrew, he also wrote in Yiddish. His first published poem in Yiddish appeared in the 1926-27 issue of Varshever Shriftn (“Warsaw Writings”). He authored several books in Yiddish, including The Eastern European Jew, Reb Pinkhas Koritzer, and The Ineffable Man. In addition to poems of a mystical character, articles of his were published in Tsukunft, Yidisher Kemfer (“Jewish Fighter”), YIVO Bleter (“YIVO Pages”), and other Yiddish publications. He was a member of the YIVO board and a frequent speaker at their annual banquets. Before he died, Heschel published in Yiddish several chapters of his book, A Passion for Truth. The chapters dealt with Rabbi Menakhem Mendl of Kotsk (17871859), a prominent khasid who was an important influence on Heschel’s thinking. After the protest march from Selma, Coretta Scott King called Heschel “one of the great men of our time.” His daughter Susannah, who is Eli Black Professor of Judaic Studies at Dartmouth, said that her Jewish Currents
father referred to the march as both a protest and a prayer. “Legs are not lips,” he said, “and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.” In 1963, at a convocation held by the National Conference of Religion and Race on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Heschel said, in the course of delivering a major address, “One hundred years ago the emancipation was proclaimed. It is time for the white man to strive for self-emancipation, to set himself free of bigotry.” The greatest sin, he said, was that of indifference.
the century of physical and spiritual destruction!” Heschel was concerned with a number of other political issues with moral implications. He addressed the White House Conference on Aging and spoke, like Maimonides, of old age as a time to achieve moral virtue and inner growth. Speaking to the American Medical Association, he reminded physicians of the ‘sacredness’ of their task and the need to treat rich and poor with equal fervor. Heschel also acted as a spokesman for all American Jews at numerous interfaith conferences, and urged the pope to rectify a two-thousand-year-old injustice, the accusation of Christkilling, which had caused Jews untold misery.
Heschel was very troubled by the continuation and escalation of the war in Vietnam. He regarded the war as
Heschel has been referred by many as one of the foremost Jewish theologians of the 20th century. He delivered his last book, A Passion for Truth, to his publisher just a few weeks before his death. In it, he describes the two most important influences in his life: the Baal Shem Tov (17011760), the founder of khasidism, and Menakhem Mendl, the Kotsker Rebbe (Kotsk — Kock in Polish — being the town in which he lived). These two khasidic rebbes tugged Heschel in somewhat opposite directions. “The Baal Shem made dark hours luminous;” he wrote, while “the Kotsker eased wretchedness and desolation by forewarnings, by premonitions . . . The Baal Shem dwelled in my life like
Heschel believed that, in a democracy, a silent majority is a scared majority — and the image of the good, silent Germans haunted him. another example of the moral callousness, insensitivity to the sufferings of others, and arrogance of self-righteousness that he saw as America’s problems. Heschel called for national repentance, as Bishop Desmond Tutu was to do in South Africa some twenty years later — for a return to conscience, a dedication to peace rather than victory. Heschel appealed particularly to people who were religious, proclaiming that “to speak about God and remain silent on Vietnam is blasphemous.” Yes, he said, withdrawing would result in a loss of face (how applicable to Bush’s predicament in Iraq!), but continuing the war would surely result in a loss of soul. According to a 1983 article by Reuven Kimelman of Brandeis, Heschel was most of all pained by the lack of protest by Jewish organizations against the war. Considering how active Jews had been in the civil rights struggle —“as though they were going forth from Egypt again,” Heschel said — their relative reticence on Vietnam was striking. In a democracy, he believed, a silent majority is a scared majority —and the image of the good, silent Germans haunted him. Another area of concern for Heschel was the plight of the Soviet Jews. In 1963, he sounded the call: “East European Jewry has vanished. Russian Jewry is the last remnant of a people destroyed in extermination camps, the last remnant of a spiritual glory that is no more . . . All we demand is an end to the massive and systematic liquidation of the religious and cultural heritage of an entire community, and equality with all other cultural and religious minorities. Let the 20th century not enter the annals of Jewish history as January-February, 2008
a lamp, while the Kotsker struck like lightning . . . The Baal Shem gave me wings; the Kotsker encircled me with chains. I never had the courage to break the chains and entered into joys with my shortcomings in mind. “Was it good to live with one’s heart torn between the joy of Mezhbizh [where the Baal Shem lived] and the anxiety of Kotsk . . . with my conscience on mercy and
my eyes on Auschwitz, wavering between exaltation and dismay? . . . I had no choice: my heart was in Mezhbizh, my mind in Kotsk. “Honesty, authenticity, integrity without love may lead to the ruin of others, of oneself, or both. On the other hand, love, fervor, or exaltation alone may seduce us into living in a fool’s Paradise – a wise man’s Hell.”
We mourn the loss of our beloved comrade, friend,
October 3rd 1908— September 26th 2005
aunt and cousin,
August 19th,1932—October 21st, 2007
Died December 13th, 1978
The family — East Coast, West Coast, Denmark and China
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What Would Emma Read? The New Radical Comics
would corrupt young Americans led Congress to investigate the danger in the 1950s. Horror and crime comics of that period — some destroyed in public — gave way to other vividly illustrated literary Reviewed in this essay: insurgencies, notably Harvey KurtzA Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman, by man’s parodies of consumer culture Sharon Rudahl, edited by Paul Buhle. New Press, 2007, 114 pages. in Mad. In the 1960s, underground Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World, ‘comix’ celebrated the sex, drugs, edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman, Verso, 2005, 306 pages. feminism and political protest of the radical counterculture. Today, the original drawings by R. Crumb (Zap has not drawn a single picture, he tor of Wobblies!), Sabrina Jones, Fly, comix, Mr. Natural), Art Spiegelman has been behind the scenes for years, Peter Kuper, and Seth Tobocman at(Raw comix, Maus), Bill Griffith negotiating with publishers, setting test to a promising future for radical (Zippy the Pinhead), Trina Robbins (It deadlines, advising artists on layout comics. Their inventive retelling of Ain’t Me Babe comix), and my friend and dialogue, and making sure that leftwing political history make excitSpain Rodriguez (Trashman and The works got into print. Besides the ing use of the medium, as they express Dark Hotel) sell for hundreds, even graphic histories discussed here, the vision that they share with their thousands, of dollars. The Jewish Mu- Buhle has edited a graphic history of subjects: of “plain folk running sociseum in New York in 2006 displayed Students for a Democratic Society and ety for their own benefit — without Kurtzman, Crumb and others as mas- other works that will soon grace our bosses, without politicians, without ters of graphic art and satire in the bookshelves. a coercive State, Army . . . without tradition of William Hogarth, George hatred and suspicion of ‘foreigners’,” Cruikshank, and Rube Goldberg. Wobblies! and A Dangerous Woman to quote the editors of Wobblies! During the past two decades, un- portray social change as a collective derground comix have transmuted effort: a series of union meetings, po- Emma Goldman’s life as an anarchist into graphic novels and illustrated litical rallies, jail terms and speeches has been recounted before, by Goldhistories. The genre has especially by people committed to truth, justice man herself in her autobiography, and captivated Paul Buhle, the recently re- and the internationalist way. While in biographies and collections of her tired Brown University historian who celebrating working-class heroes and letters. Rudahl’s graphic illustrations has been deeply attuned throughout heroines, these two books also feature and storytelling prowess add a new his career to radical popular culture. several generations of politically-en- perspective, however: We don’t need It is tempting to see Buhle as the gaged illustrators. A few have been to be told that young Emma experiMoses of radical American comics, drawing since the 1960s — notably enced patriarchy and abuse at home; leading artists to the ‘promised land’ Sharon Rudahl, author of the Emma we see her reject these after her father of a publisher. (Disclosure: my own Goldman book, and Spain Rodriguez, throws one of Emma’s books into the comic strip writing has benefited from Jay Kinney, and Trina Robbins, who fireplace and tells her: “All a Jewish Buhle’s advice and encouragement are all featured in Wobblies! The con- daughter needs to know is how to — but I am not a contributor to the tributions of relatively younger artists prepare gefilte fish, cut noodles fine, books under review.) While Buhle such as Nicole Schulman (the co-edi- and give the man plenty of children.” Reading the book is almost like watchJoel Schechter has collaborated with the illustrator Spain on a series of comic ing a stage play: Rudahl’s narration strips about Yiddish culture for Jewish Currents. His new book, Messiahs of 1933: moves the story forward, her illustraHow American Yiddish Theatre Survived Adversity through Satire, will be published tions set the scenes — and Emma’s this Spring by Temple University Press. own fiery speeches and whispered ear that comic books
in English and Yiddish towards the end of her life when soliciting funds in Toronto for victims of fascism.
From A Dangerous Woman
confidences steal many scenes. Excerpts from her speeches and writings literally accompany her from one panel to another, as she arrives in America at age 15, and learns about political activism through friendships and love affairs with rebels such as Johann Most, Sasha Berkman, Hippolyte Havel, and Edward Brady. Her words also change the course of her life: Goldman’s outspoken protests against exploitive labor practices, sexual repression, conscription and war lead government officials to arrest her, imprison her and deport her to Russia in 1919. Initially thrilled by the Soviet revolution, Goldman soon expresses disillusionment with its failings. Progressives in England prefer not to hear her objections in 1924, but her insightful words will not go away, as
Emma continues to travel and speak in troubled times. Rudahl’s concise, vivid depiction of decades of Goldman’s radical speeches and actions make it clear that she was no invulnerable superhero — although her tenacity as an activist in the face of extreme persecution testifies to her remarkable ability to return to the cause after huge setbacks. Rudahl also offers a refreshing candor about sex and about Goldman’s and other anarchists’ reliance upon financial support from wealthy benefactors. The artist’s eye for delightful details makes the most of Goldman’s longevity (1869-1940): Not only is the Russian-born Goldman portrayed addressing American comrades under the banner of Die Frei Arbeiter Shtimme (a Yiddish anarchist paper) early in her career, but also speaking
Reading these illustrated histories can be inspiring but also disheartening, as they show radical union organizers and protesters facing violent, almost relentless opposition, and suffering devastating losses. Wobblies!, published in 2005 to celebrate the centennial of the Industrial Workers of the World, depicts red squads hard at work, executing and deporting radicals from early in the century right through to the 1990 car-bombing of environmental activist Judi Bari. Expecting this treatment, the Wobblies developed some innovative forms of solidarity: They would fill specific jails with their members, for example, until jailers were overwhelmed. As Susan Simensky Bietila writes in her contribution, “The Free Speech Fights,” “The cheer of rowdy Wobblies/ wore the jailors thin/ So the prisoners were freed,/ labor sharks chased out,/ and soapbox speaking ruled in.” The book portrays a number of bold campaigns, along with sketches of Mother Jones, Lucy Parsons, Mabel Dodge, Ricardo Flores Magon, Ben Fletcher, T-Bone Slim, Gary Snyder, Utah Phillips, many others. (Beat poet Snyder once joined “the short-lived IWW Poets Union.” An attempt to form an underground comix artists union is also reported.) By commissioning and collecting in one volume so many different histories, with diverse narrative and pictorial styles, the editors literally have these champions of American labor and anarchism follow one another; though originally separated by time and space, here they are all bound together, page after page, into the “One Big Union” of which so many IWW members dreamed. With these two books, Paul Buhle has edited two surveys of radical Jewish Currents
history that is suitable for readers of almost all ages. (I say “almost” because some of the graphic depictions of love scenes in the Emma Goldman book might alarm a few parents of young readers.) Rudahl’s meticulous drawings of Emma Goldman, and the many pictures of union activists putting their lives on the line in Wobblies!, constitute an important repertoire of images not often seen in a mainstream culture that rarely gives more than ten seconds of air time to anti-war marches or other radical protests. Radical comic books like these keep protest alive, with images as varied and bold as black ink on white paper can allow. (Only the covers of these books employ colored inks; the rest thrives in the range of shades between black and white.) They make great gifts for people who enjoy socially conscious, as opposed to escapist, art.
In memory of
LU BLECHER February 10th, 1925— November 28th, 1994
When Grace Paley Died my old Boyle Heights neighborhood awakened from the Great Depression. The shuttered synagogues of L.A.’s small Bronx creaked open to let sunrise worshipers pray for a more orthodox messiah. Down the block roosters in Itzik-the-chicken-man’s yard crowed that they’d survived time’s slaughterhouse. House-dressed mothers went out to hang clothes on lines that connected their lives. The rush of revival made me hungry so I strolled over to Canter’s on Brooklyn for a breakfast of small talk over commonplace dishes spiced with grief. In the next booth over, the Commies and Socialists resumed their old battle where it had left off: shouts about who had started the war, who killed the buried ideals. By the time I finished my comforting coffee the neon dimmed as though someone had closed the blinds. Outside, the street was deserted, a hole where the hardware store was, habedashery hammered shut. Only one streetlight was lit, candled into a memorial. Under it, illuminated by the darkness, Grace was handing out leaflets to the shadows around her, protesting. Sherman Pearl is co-founder of the L.A. Poetry Festival and author of four poetry collections, most recently The Poem in Time of War. He won first prize in the National Writers Union’s 2002 competition.
Jack and family Jewish Currents thanks Helen and Harry Staley of Albany, New York and Lewis and Edith Drabkin of Boca Raton, Florida for their recent generous contributions to our magazine.
Visiting Israel and the Occupied Territories Boston Workmen’s Circle Leaders Survey the Situation
last August, fourteen activist members of Boston Workmen’s Circle embarked on a deeply moving journey to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank. We shared an array of experiences, each offering a different perspective on the “situation on the ground.” For some of us, this was a first visit to Israel; others recalled their indelible kibbutz experiences, years ago, as young Zionists considering aliyah; still others had been engaged in Middle East peace work for years. All of us, however, as American Jews intensely concerned by the ongoing crisis in that part of the world, hoped to deepen our understanding through direct contact with the people and the land. In this, at least, we succeeded. or two weeks
Our itinerary included: meetings with Jewish and Arab Israeli community empowerment NGOs in Haifa, and with aging kibbutzniks in Sachne; home stays with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, after spending an afternoon in the Dheisheh refugee camp; a tour, led by a Palestinian journalist and rights activist, of the Jewish settlement enclave in the heart of Hebron; talks with a lawyer for the PLO negotiating team in Ramallah, and with the outspoken mayor of Ariel, the large Jewish settlement that cuts deep into the West Bank; meetings in Jerusalem with representatives of the Geneva Initiative and Rabbis for Human Rights. There was much more, too much to chronicle here; the photographs
After visiting the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, our delegation ventures northward to the Arab Israeli village of Sachnin in the Galilee, where we meet with a group of Israelis —Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze — all members of an intercultural dialogue and leadership development group called Galilead.
A glittering view of the old city of Jerusalem from the roof deck of the Lutheran Guest House, near the Jaffa Gate and on the boundary of the Armenian and Jewish Quarters. We’re at the center of the Abrahamic religions — a stone’s throw from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and Al-Aqsa Mosque. offer a small glimpse. Overall, it was an exceptional trip that challenged us to consider what small part we,
as activists, might play from here at home, in supporting efforts for a just and lasting peace. Jewish Currents
Early morning view of the Temple Mount, showing the Dome of the Rock, which holds the stone from which Muslims says Mohammed flew to visit heaven. (It is also viewed in Judaism as the site at which Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac; in Islam, the planned sacrifice involved Ishmael.) Access to the Temple Mount is limited, and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel warns that the Torah forbids Jews from entering at all, so as to avoid possibly stepping on the site of the First Temple’s holy of holies.
A view of a refugee camp in East Jerusalem, with the security fence/ separation wall visibly slicing the landscape in half. The Wall snakes through occupied East Jerusalem in a way that cuts off Palestinian neighborhoods and surrounding villages from Jerusalem, while incorporating major Jewish settlement blocs, like Pisgat Ze’ev, from which this photo is taken. Parts of expanding Jewish settlements on the east side of the Green Line (1967 border) will likely remain under Israeli control in any peace agreement.
Storefront window in Haifa. Firearms, especially machine guns, are a common sight, as this photo suggests. Another nearby storefront window, however, cries out with signs saying, “There must be a better way!”
Approaching the Western Wall for prayer on shabes eve. The scene is part pious, part festive, and part terrifying as several groups of worshipers approach the Wall with varying degrees of religious fervor, several with M-16’s slung over their backs.
Palestinian kids hamming it up inside the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem. Established in 1949, the camp has been under Palestinian Authority control since 1995. Its Ibdaa (Innovation) Cultural Center promotes cultural activities through a 60-strong children’s folkloric dance troupe.
Bustling street in the center of Ramallah, unofficial capital of the Palestinian Authority, and generally considered the most affluent and liberal of all Palestinian cities. After a political briefing with the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit, which provides legal, policy, and communications advice to Palestinian negotiators and encourages resumption of permanent status talks, we absorb the sights and sounds of this cosmopolitan city. During lunch with Neta Golan, an Israeli human rights activist living and raising a family in Ramallah, we discuss how Israeli settlements, “bypass roads,” and the Wall have created “facts on the ground” that will need to be addressed if Palestine is ever to be a viable state. In photo: Note the sign for Stars & Bucks Café (no relation to a certain ubiquitous U.S. chain).
This remarkably ironic sign greets us as we approach the “terminal” (checkpoint) into Bethlehem, through which we pass as we first enter the West Bank on our way to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. With American passports, we transit easily; access to the West Bank for Israelis is generally forbidden, minimizing Israeli-Palestinian contact.
The checkpoint at Tulkarem. In small groups, we spend half a day with members of Makhsom Watch, an Israeli all-women organization — including many grandmothers — who regularly travel to military checkpoints in the West Bank, to monitor activity, relieve tensions caused by long delays, and help curb abuses.
Old City Jerusalem, rooftop passage to shul. We’re steps from the sites of the First Temple, Jesus’ crucifixion, and Mohammed’s ascent to heaven. With peace, we look forward to visiting this magnificent city as a shared capital of two viable and secure states, with safe and guaranteed access for all people to all religious sites.
Mike Felsen is president of the Boston Workmen’s Circle and serves on the National Executive Board. Thanks to Jenny Silverman and Bob Follansbee for their help in putting this spread together. Photo credits to Larry Rosenberg, Dan Klein, Bob Follansbee, Joe Graham-Felsen, and Mike Felsen.
Civil Rights Leftists . . . Continued from page 23 cause,” argued ADL. As the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins remarked, “God knows it was hard enough being Black; we certainly didn’t need to be red too.” Indeed, in 1950 the NAACP resolved to “investigate the ideological composition . . . of the local units” to “eradicate [Communist Party] infiltration, and if necessary . . . suspend and reorganize, or . . . expel any unit which in the judgment of the Board . . . comes under Communists or other political . . . domination.” They did so in several cities, including San Francisco and Philadelphia. They expelled individuals suspected of leftist leanings, noting as justification that they received the “cold shoulder” from respected community members, or that their “families are known for their subversive activity.” That same year the Jewish Peoples Fraternal Order was expelled from the Los Angeles Jewish Community Relations Council. As AJCommittee explained, relationships with such communist-affiliated or communist-led organizations “cannot in the first instance be developed . . . and whenever GREETINGS from the following sponsors of our October 28th “Jews, Arts and Activism” Conference: Cyril and Morty Greenhouse, Massapequa, New York Harry Rosenberg, Charleston, South Carolina Fred S. Eiseman, Sarasota, Florida Julie N. Stelton, Brooklyn, New York Ruth Bardach West Orange, New Jersey Steve Arnold Hemet, California
. . . attempted, cannot be continued.” Liberal groups also declined to take up legitimate discrimination cases when those involved had leftist tendencies. In 1950, the ADL learned that a New York landlord had evicted Sidney Tobias from his apartment because he had sublet to an African-American.The Chelsea Tenants Council protested and its representative, Rose Bloom, asked for ADL support. The presence of the American Labor Party, the consideration of picketing as a means of protest, and “other indicators,” the ADL concluded, revealed the coalition’s “left-wing tendencies,” and although it “found the facts to be as Miss Bloom states . . . the ADL could not involve itself in this particular situation.” Similarly, the Jewish Labor Committee, NAACP, AJCongress, Urban League and Workmen’s Circle all refused to join an effort to integrate housing in Parkchester, New York because it was spearheaded by, in the Jewish Labor Committee’s words, a “Cominform apologist.” This refusal to work with the left did not go unprotested. Both the NAACP and the Communist Party, for example, had long been engaged in anti-lynching work, with leftists providing much of the muscle and energy in local campaigns, when, in 1939, Walter White of the NAACP raised concerns about Communist Party requests to distribute the NAACP’s anti-lynching petitions. A Daily Worker headline, “Harlem C.P. Shows How to Lead Anti-Lynch Drive,” confirmed White’s feeling “that the Communists would try to appropriate the entire issue. This clipping,” he explained, “in the hands of [Southern senators] would . . . ruin any efforts to secure passage of the [antilynching] bill.” We must be “more selective in the future,” he concluded, “. . . because the work of thirty years can be and may be destroyed.” White’s colleague, George Murphy,
emphatically disagreed. “Frankly, I think it is a little fantastic to suppose that the whole work of the NAACP could be destroyed, as you put it, by the mere fact that the Communist Party distributed a large number of our anti-lynching petitions. . . . I agree with Heywood Broun, who [asks], and quite logically, [whether] we [are] to be branded because we believe in a number of things that the Communists also believe in? And, must we cease to believe in those things because the Communists believe them too?” In any case, Murphy continued, the segregationist senators would “filibuster no less because the Communists are not going our way than they would if the Communists are going our way.” No one “can frighten the NAACP . . . unless we . . . allow ourselves to be frightened.” Still, the organization continued to refuse to work with communist groups in any efforts. What did such exclusion ultimately mean to the civil rights movement? It meant the loss of allies when few were around — especially in the South, where few but the left challenged segregation directly or organized African-American workers. It meant the loss of communist critiques of the institutional benefits that white skin provided. Communist John Williamson, for example, argued that while Jews suffer from anti-Semitism, African Americans also lack “equal rights and full economic, social and political equality.” This meant a substantively different struggle: “Oppression and discrimination against the Negro workers takes place twenty-four hours a day. It affects the Negro workers in relation to where they can sleep, where they can eat.” Without this understanding, he noted, many Jews, even activists, show a “lack of sensitivity to expressions of white chauvinism.” Had the liberal Jewish community heeded such warnings, it is possible Jewish Currents
that the divisions of the 1960s might have played out rather differently. The refusal of liberal groups to address leftist critiques based on class, in particular, often led them to focus ineffectually on individual remedies rather than systemic ones. In terms of Black-Jewish relations, there were losses, too: Both the Socialist and Communist Parties considered the links between Jews and African Americans to be crucial, and ties among Frank Crosswaith’s Negro Labor Committee and the Workmen’s Circle, Jewish Labor Committee and several progressive Jewish union locals were substantial. Paul Robeson, A. Philip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Benjamin Davis and many other Black radicals emphasized their unity with Jewish struggles — and also spoke most forcefully in the Black community against anti-Semitism. Randolph called it “dangerous and downright stupid” because in “our various battles . . . against Jim Crow . . . Jews . . .
rallied to our support. And not just with words.” Such perspectives, had they been embraced by the liberal mainstream, might have helped ease tensions between Blacks and Jews and increased the enduring strength of their coalition. Finally, there was a loss of momentum in the movement because of the constraints in tactics that liberals were willing to consider. Their opposition to public militancy was explicitly linked to their antagonism to coalition-building with communists. The result, said Judge Jane Bolin, who resigned in disgust from the NAACP board in 1950, was “sterile and barren” programs while the organization shouted down as a communist or fellow-traveler “every board member and branch” that wanted from the NAACP “less talk and more action.” That same year, Ben Herzberg of the AJCommittee complained that by concentrating “energy and resources” on programs to distinguish Jews from
communism, “the attention of the staff was diverted from other programs of greater urgency.” Despite their attempts to avoid any engagement with the left and its tactics, however, liberal organizations did, in fact, ultimately embrace every tenet and strategy pioneered by the left. In that embrace, the civil rights movement was transformed from a slow, formal march to equality to a dramatic, far-reaching movement to change social values and social structures. JOHN J. DROPKIN February 22nd, 1910—August 5th, 2007
A long-time subscriber and supporter FABIAN SUNBERG June 4th, 1918—January 11th, 2007
with love from all his children
Two Conferences Bennett Muraskin
onferences of the Congress
of Secular Jewish Organizations (CSJO) are characterized by extraordinary spirit. People arrive with a positive attitude and depart invigorated. With crowds of young people visible throughout, it inspires old hands like me to believe that secular Jewishness has a future. CSJO was founded in 1970, uniting the Canadian United Jewish Peoples’ Order, remnants of old Jewish Peoples’ Fraternal Order shules and other shules that carried on in the Yiddish/ left-wing tradition. Unfortunately, the network of shules directly associated with Itche Goldberg’s Service Bureau of Jewish Education dwindled away without ever linking up with CSJO. To this day, CSJO suffers from this loss by not having a single affiliate in the largest Jewish city in the U.S., although we do have one in Suffolk County, Long Island. CSJO nevertheless has twentyseven affiliates in nine states and three Canadian provinces, plus one in London, England, whimsically named the Red Herring Club, which actually has Bundist roots. CSJO is affiliated with the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism and the International Federation of Secular Humanistic Jews, and has a close relationship with The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring. CSJO conferences follow a tried and true format. On Friday evening, there is a secular oyneg shabes, which was led this year by The Workmen’s Circle cultural director, Adrienne
Cooper. Later in the evening, and on subsequent evenings, a smaller group gathered in one of the resident halls to carry on another CSJO tradition: singing folk songs from the collection Rise Up Singing to the wee hours of the morning, led on guitar by Art Miron, musical director of the Philadelphia Jewish Children’s Folkshul, until his fingers got numb. Over the next two days, participants chose from eight sets of workshops (about thirty altogether), punctuated by keynote addresses on Saturday and a business meeting on Sunday, loosely organized around the theme, “Secular Jewishness — A Fusion of Social Issues, Civil Liberties and Jewish Culture.” The workshops were diverse and consistently stimulating. Thanks to Toronto meyvn Gerry Kane, who conducted “How Do You Say It in Yiddish,” I now know words for ‘cell phone’ (selke), ‘e-mail’ (blitzpost), ‘voice mail’ (shtime post), ‘senior moment’ (iberbotl), and ‘think tank’ (ideya tsenter). In “Challenges to Liberal Judaisms in the 21st Century,” Peter Haas, a non-practicing Reform rabbi and religion professor at Case Western Reserve University, painted a bleak picture of American Jews drifting to the right politically. Although this is a well-known phenomenon among Orthodox Jews, Haas claimed that the trend affects non-Orthodox as well, with 25 percent of Jewish voters now registered as Republicans. This shift, argues Haas, is especially strengthened by the gravitational pull of Israel, which causes American Jews to think in terms of ‘us versus them.’ Swimming against this current, Al Stern, a board member of Americans for Peace Now and a frequent visitor to Israel and Palestine, called in his workshop for American Jewish support
Bennett Muraskin writes frequently for our magazine and is a member of its Editorial Advisory Council.
for a two-state solution. His personal accounts and analysis were incisive. The irrepressible Adrienne Cooper explored “Positive Jewish Identity through Cultural Reclamation,” providing evidence of an international Yiddish revival through klezmer music, songs, film and scholarship created by Jews and non-Jews alike. Yiddish, she argued, is an authentic path for young Jews to reclaim their Jewish identity in the diaspora, and has a special attraction for young Jews living on the fringes of organized Jewish life. Ruth Bahar, an anthropology professor at the University of Michigan led a workshop on “Returning to Jewish Cuba.” Bahar left Cuba as a young child with her parents, an Ashkenazic/ Sephardic couple. As an adult she has returned frequently to explore her own past and to pursue scholarly activities. She described the twenty thousandstrong Cuban Jewish community before the 1959 revolution as composed of middle-class families of Polish and Turkish origin who sent their children to Jewish day schools and supported many synagogues. Along with most Cubans, they welcomed the revolution led by Fidel Castro, but were rapidly alienated when their businesses were confiscated by the state, no matter how small. Today about a thousand Jews remain, sustained by aid from the Jewish communities of Canada and Argentina and the Lubavitchers. Cuban Jews have freedom of worship and, after forty-eight years of communism, embrace religion and Zionism as the core of their Jewish identity. Following CSJO practice, there were two keynote addresses, by an adult and by a younger presenter. The adult keynoter, Leslie Dyson, a longtime activist in the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture in Vancouver, Canada, spoke about the attack on civil liberties in North America. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, she argued, Arab/Muslims and those who Jewish Currents
fit a certain stereotype are persecuted. Religious fundamentalism, an affront to reason, is on the rise. However, she noted, humanists can be fundamentalists, too, dismissing all religion as superstition and all nationalisms as tribal. Whenever possible, Dyson urged, progressive secular Jews must work with open-minded Christians, Muslims and Jews on a common
agenda; no progress can be made in promoting democratic ideals if differences are not respected. The young adult keynoter, Leah Siemiarowski, a graduate of the Philadelphia Jewish Children’s Folkshul, addressed internal CSJO politics, which in her view are beset by divisiveness. The organization, she said, should resume holding joint conferences with
the Society for Humanistic Judaism, so that youth from both organizations can come together. As always, the conference ended with a talent show emceed by the teens and young adults, featuring comedy sketches, singing, instrumentals and plenty of hijinks. To learn more about CSJO, check out www.csjo.org or call 866-874-8608.
an obligation to those whose lives were destroyed by the Holocaust. Some years ago, Fishl launched his personal journal, Der Bey, in Yiddish, transliteration and English, which goes out monthly to people on five continents. (One of the most fascinating guest presenters was Professor Yoshiji Hirose of Kyoto, Japan, who offered a workshop on Yiddish in Japan and a discourse on the novels of Pearl Abraham, which he has read in Yiddish.) Der Bey segued into IAYC by dint of Fishl’s will. The endeavor is closely allied to the mission of the Workmen’s Circle, whose president, Peter Pepper, was present, urging conference attendees to carry on the task of a besere velt — a better world — and to keep the flame of yidishkayt alive. Workshops included “Yiddish as a Major European language,” by Dr. Motl Rosenbush, in Yiddish, and a Yiddish presentation by Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein on the poetry of Kadya Molodowsky (her lecture was described as ‘poetry’ by one listener). There was a riotous session by the redoubtable Gerry Kane of Toronto, who makes Yiddish come truly alive. Flanking these masterly and serious excursions were presentations, both playful (often musical) and serious from every vantage point imaginable of Yiddish culture. Perhaps the most striking newcomer was Dr. Arnold Reisman, presenting on “Turkey’s Rescue of German-Jew-
ish Intellectuals, 1933-45.” During a trip to Turkey, Reisman learned of the offer by Ataturk, Turkey’s secularizing modern president, to some hundred German-Jewish figures to come to Turkey. Extensive research into this hitherto unknown subject led to a book — and an excellent talk at the conference. Lest it be thought that IAYC is a kind of layperson’s academia, I have left for last the musical, theater, and vaudeville workshops and performances — including “The Three Bears” in Yiddish, spoofs of WEVD, a session on learning Yiddish via music, and a great deal more. Cleveland was hosting its 29th Yiddish Concert in the Park, and delegates had special busing and seating to yet another triumphant demonstration that Yiddish flourishes.
International Association of Yiddish Clubs (IAYC)
hat I like about Yid-
dish is that it’s both serious and playful at once.” This remark, by a non-Jewish journalist interviewing me as IAYC chair, neatly captured the spirit of the 11th conference of the association, held in Cleveland, August 3rd-6th. Some two hundred and sixty-five attendees trooped to the heart of the city’s community of eighty-five thousand Jews. They listened to three major keynote speakers in Yiddish and presenters at breakout sessions on a wide variety of topics in Yiddish and/or English. At night they laughed, danced and shmoozed to the music of the Yiddishe Kop, of the Workmen’s Circle’s veteran singers Adrienne Cooper and Joanne Borts, and of a newcomer with a prized operatic soprano, Heather Klein. There were hilarious skits by Cleveland’s stage figures, Reuben and Dorothy Silver. The birth and life of the IAYC is the work of a singular personality, Philip “Fishl” Kutner of San Mateo, California, who was bred on a chicken farm in New Jersey. Fishl is a very important crusader for keeping alive the thousandyear tradition of yidishkayt spawned by millions of Jews who lived it — and as
From the estate of RUTH GOLDBERG (died August 6th, 2006), a long-time subscriber, we received a bequest of $500. From the estate of HAROLD GOLDBERG (died March 24th, 2006), a generous funder, we received a bequest of $500. May their memories be an inspiration to friends and families.
Harold Ticktin has been writing for Jewish Currents on historical and political topics for decades. January-February, 2008
Mrs. Finkelstein A Story
we saw each other every day for more than a year, I never got to know Mrs. Finkelstein. We had only one conversation in all those months, and I am not proud of what I said to her on that occasion. I wish now that I could tell her, “I didn’t understand,” but it was all a long time ago and no doubt time has taken care of it, as time always does. lthough
When I was 14 years old, we moved from our colonnaded estate house on St. Cecilia to a cramped bungalow at the edge of the island’s capital town. It was 1952, and the owner of the estate, who lived in England, had decided to sell his uncertain West Indian investment. The new owner was a local man who intended to manage the property himself, so my father lost the job he had held for fifteen years and which we had all believed was his forever. He couldn’t face the thought of returning to England and, not long afterwards, he was taken on by the Refrigerated Fruit Shipping Company as their local agent. The little bungalow that went with the job reflected our fallen status for everyone to see. The bungalow was half in the town and half out of it. The front door opened onto a paved street, but the garden at the back led directly into the scrub at the edge of the rainforest, which covered the southern slopes of the island’s central massif. It suited me well, because there was room in a sheltered corner of the garden for the cages of my ‘zoo,’ which had been transported with our furniture on a lorry from the estate. In addition to this, I soon discovered that there were iguanas and agouti on the forest
floor that I could trap and add to the population of my cages. About a month after our removal to the bungalow, Mrs. Finkelstein arrived next door. The only facts we knew about her were that she was Polish, she had come from Europe and she was alone. I was soon able to add another item: She was not a sociable person. When I attempted to introduce myself through one of the gaps in our common bougainvillea hedge, she ignored me. She just continued to trudge aimlessly around the path that encircled her overgrown garden. I decided it must be because she spoke no English. And there was something else: Mrs. Finkelstein never closed the doors and windows of her house, even when it rained. She seemed to spend every minute of her day in the open space of her garden. Mrs. Finkelstein was tall and gaunt, with large, dark eyes sunk deep in their
Michael Humfrey retired early as a police commissioner in the West Indies in order to write. His novels and works of non-fiction have been published in England and the U.S. His Sea Shells of the West Indies remains the standard work on that subject.
sockets. She wore her grey hair piled carelessly in a single braid coiled on top of her head. I don’t think she could have been more than 45 at the time, but she walked with the shuffling, uncertain gait of an old woman. Even in the heat of the day, she always wore a black dress with sleeves that came down to her wrists. Our neighbors on the other side were quite different. They were a black Cecilian family with three children. The oldest boy, Marcus, decided from the outset that he was going to make life difficult for me. He was six months older than I was and several inches taller. “Hey, white boy!” he called across the hedge the first time we caught sight of each other. I walked over to meet him. “Papa say now yuh-all don’ live in big estate house nuh more yuh goin’ have to learn yuh is same as we, nuh matter yuh skin white,’ he informed me. I did not want trouble. There was a julie mango tree in our garden and, in an effort to defuse his hostility, I invited Marcus to help himself to the ripening fruit. “Keep yuh mango for yuhself,” he said disdainfully. “It look like yuh-all goin’ need dem . . .” I didn’t yet know any other boys of my own age in the town, so I spent most of each day with my animals —as I had always done on the estate. From the forest close to the house I added two giant bullfrogs to my collection and then a wounded pipiri gros-tete, for which I built a small aviary next to the iguanas. The bird had a broken wing when I found it; I fed it caterpillars from the frangipani trees and hoped that I could make it fly again. From time to time, I was aware that Mrs. Finkelstein was watching me as I tended my animals. I could feel her Jewish Currents
gaze on the back of my neck as I knelt down to secure their cage doors. Then I noticed that she had moved her bed onto the open verandah at the back of the house and now slept there at night. She scarcely ever went inside. In spite of my lack of friends, I was content with my animals and my new surroundings. Then, one morning, as I slipped out of the house at sunrise, as usual, to feed the animals, I sensed at once that there was something wrong: Instead of the shrill, familiar chittering of the mongooses, there was silence. The cage doors were wide open, the animals gone. Even the pipiri grostete, with its still-mending wing, had escaped back to the forest. I knew at once that it was Marcus. I waited until he appeared beyond the ragged hedge on a morning errand of his own. He grinned when I accused him of releasing my animals. “Yuh have proof?” he inquired facetiously. “Yuh see me do it?” Over the course of the next two weeks, I stocked my zoo once more. I trapped two young mongooses in the scrub at the margin of the forest and I swapped my penknife with a boy in the market for a green parrot and a four-foot tree boa. I fed the parrot on ripe guavas and I taught it to say my name. Then it happened again. This time, someone had tried to
destroy the cages themselves and one of the doors had been ripped from its hinges. Marcus materialized in his own back garden as I was surveying the damage. He looked over the top of the matted bougainvillea between us and said only, “Look like dem gone again.” Then he laughed his disdainful laugh and disappeared back into his house. It took me two days to repair all the damage and to fit second-hand padlocks to the doors, and it was more than a month before I had collected another menagerie to care for. Then I constructed an alarm system. It consisted of a trip wire and a length of fisherman’s twine, one end of which was looped around my wrist before I slept. On the third night, I was awakened by the loop suddenly tightening its grip on my flesh. I picked up my flashlight from beside my bed and grabbed the length of greenheart wood that I had fashioned into a club for the purpose. I opened the back door and crept down to the cages. In the light of a veiled, three-quarter moon, I could see someone forcing the door of the largest cage. I think I hissed something like, “I see you this time, Marcus!” I raised the club and switched on the torch. But it was not Marcus. It was Mrs. Finkelstein, pinned against the darkness by
the yellow beam of the light, tried to shield her eyes from the glare. I remember in every detail to this day two things about that moment: the wild expression in her sunken eyes, and the row of large blue digits tattooed into the white flesh of her forearm and revealed in the light of the torch as she raised her hands to her eyes. For an interminable moment, neither of us moved. Then she pointed towards my animals and said in serviceable English: “They must be free; never you must lock them up.” She turned away from me and began to retreat slowly through the gap in the hedge, back to her own garden. I swept the light over the cages and saw that I had not been quick enough to prevent her from releasing my prized grey tree rat. I was suddenly reckless with fury. “You old witch,” I heard myself shout as she disappeared into the darkness. “They ought to lock you up!” From beyond the ragged hedge I heard her gasp as if she had been struck. Then she was gone. When I got back to the house, I found that my parents had slept right through the incident. I decided to keep it all to myself. Next day I trapped a young
The Geldman, Pardo and Malkis Families extend their condolences and deep sympathy to THE SUMMERGRAD FAMILY on the death of ERIC SUMMERGRAD
manicou to take the place of my tree rat, and I did not think that Mrs. Finkelstein would try again. Six weeks later, Mrs. Finkelstein boarded one of my father’s banana boats and returned to Europe. She did not say goodbye to us. We understood that she had not liked the West Indies and intended to settle in Israel. Not long after her departure, I was lying awake in bed one night when I overheard a conversation between my parents in their own room across the passage.
$25 for up to 25 words; 50¢ each additional word. Multiple entry discounts. Contact jewishcurrents@ circle.org, (212) 889-2523.
The Congregration for Humanistic Judaism, Sarasota, Florida presents a DVD or VHS of the Humanaires, our congregational choir (David Berman, Music Director), singing a concert of songs of the Jewish Resistance to Nazism. The program includes Kol Nidre, Peat Bog Soldiers, partisan songs, Dona Dona, Unter Deine Veise Shtern and much more. A handsome booklet with texts and translations is included. Excerpts can be viewed at www. jewish-sarasota.org/humanistic/ index.htm. To order DVD or VHS tape, send check (payable CHJ) for $10 per copy to Sandy Siegel, 4602 Deer Trail Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238. N ew from editor L awrence B ush : Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist. “Deeply pesonal, searingly honest, wise and witty. . . a ‘must read’ for all people sensitive to the spiritual and intellectual dilemmas thrust upon us by modernity” (Dr. Joseph Chuman, Ethical Culture). $16.95, www.benyehudapress.com.
My father said: “You remember Mrs. Finkelstein next door? Well, I was speaking this morning to the purser of one of our boats.” He paused to fill his pipe and I could hear the match flare in his large hand. “Apparently they couldn’t get her to shut her porthole during the voyage. They ran into a storm in the Bay of Biscay and one of the stewards found her half-drowned in her bunk with water sloshing about on the cabin floor. The doctor had to sedate her before she would let them in to close it.” My mother made some reply that I could not hear. Then my father drew on his pipe and said, “The doctor discovered she had survived four years in Auschwitz during the war. When the place was liberated, her own government locked her up for another five years because she didn’t think the Reds were much better than the Nazis. She told the doctor that they kept her in solitary for the whole of her sentence.” I heard my mother say absently, “Well, I still think it was a pity she wasn’t more friendly. I could have asked her over for tea.” Then my father switched off the light in the passage and closed their bedroom door.
Of course, I had to grow up a bit before I understood about Auschwitz and Mrs. Finkelstein’s blue tattoos, and what had happened to her afterwards. But I must have grasped the sense of it, I think, as I lay in bed, because the next morning I went out to my zoo and flung open all the doors. I remember how the animals hesitated for a moment, and then the iguanas and mongooses and the nocturnal agouti slipped silently back to the forest where they belonged. I have not kept a caged animal since then. Later that week, I told Marcus I was sorry I had accused him of releasing my animals. Occasionally, after that, we used to walk down to the harbor’s mouth in the evenings to watch the schooners setting out in the gathering darkness, their sails filled with the offshore breeze and the dying splendor of the sunset. We never really became friends, but after a while we managed to forget that our skins were different colors. I don’t know what became of Mrs. Finkelstein. I hope, in Israel, she lost her fear of being shut in. For my part, I just wish I had never told her that they ought to lock her up.
BRAVO LAWRENCE BUSH A Great Editor
Jewish Currents A Great Tradition In memory of
ALEXANDER AND DORA RICH RAYNES and GRANDMA ROSE Helen Raynes Staley and Hary C. Staley Gregory Raynes Staley Jewish Currents
Letters Continued from page 2 have been permanently left behind in the global economy, or stored in prisons, or abandoned as permanently unemployed or underemployed. Nor do they believe in a new American Dream based upon citizenship, local and global. It is time to build a new movement rooted deeply in our communities and workplaces that transforms ourselves and all our institutions. Check out The Detroit City of Hope (www.detroit-city-of-hope.org). Rich Feldman Detroit, Michigan
The “Israel Lobby” The problem both with the book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, and with Nicholas Jahr’s review in the November-December issue, is exemplified by the pull quote on page 12: “Without neocon efforts both within and without the administration, several thousand Americans and untold thousands of Iraqis would be alive today.” The book conflates the neoconservative movement with organizations identified in some nebulous way as the “Israel Lobby.” It also assumes that the main actors in the first term of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Powell — not a Jew or neocon among them — were manipulated into a policy that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were not hell-bent to follow anyway. Jahr makes the same assumption in claiming that Vice President Cheney was “on record” as being against invading Iraq until his Jewish and neocon chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, “almost certainly [was] crucial in convincing” him otherwise. This one’s a laugher. Libby was not known as a heavyweight; Cheney, feeling that he and the Bush, Sr. administration erred in not having overthrown Saddam in 1991, had long made common cause with the neocons in advocating for a second chance. And Bush, Jr. is thought to have had a personal grudge against Saddam for the January-February, 2008
latter’s alleged attempt to murder his father, mother and others in his family on a visit to the Gulf in the early 1990s. As for Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz is hardly likely to have made his notoriously independent-minded boss focus on Iraq if he didn’t want to. To his credit, Jahr is aware of the sloppiness of the authors’ definition of the “Israel Lobby,” which (in Jahr’s words) “includes not only major American Jewish organizations but the Christian Right, the neoconservative movement, many mainstream Democrats — and the vast majority of American Jews.” As he notes, it also includes dovish organizations (including my own, Meretz USA) which advocate precisely the two-state solution that the authors claim to favor. But this dovishness does not exempt them from the professors’ opprobrium, because these organizations support a close relationship between Israel and the United States. It’s only the Jewish Voice for Peace, which is agnostic on the two-state solution but favors curtailing U.S. aid to Israel, that draws unambiguous praise from the good professors and “may” exempt it from membership in this nefarious fraternity. While using the sizeable U.S. aid package to Israel as leverage for dovish policies may make sense, it didn’t work under the Bush, Sr. administration, when Americans for Peace Now actually supported such linkage (something totally missed by Mearsheimer and Walt). It’s also true that, while a cutoff would prompt belt tightening (probably at the expense of Israel’s neediest), Israel’s economy is strong enough today to sustain itself without U.S. aid. Jahr refers to but obscures the import of Forward editor J.J. Goldberg’s criticism that Mearsheimer and Walt misconstrued a reference to Paul Wolfowitz, which actually indicated that Wolfowitz was not a hardline right-winger on the Israel-Palestine conflict. This error illustrates how tendentious and unreliable their work is. They made a very unscholarly effort, marshaling “evidence” on the basis of newspaper clips and hearsay; for example, the power of AIPAC is
magnified by taking at face value the self-promoting words of officials and of organizational fund-raising letters. Because Jahr shares with Mearsheimer and Walt a critical stance toward mainstream American-Jewish organizations that many of us also feel, he is more inclined to disdain the work of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League than that of the two professors. While Foxman can be hyperbolic, the ADL is not actually a “hardline” or “conservative” organization. It is well within the liberal-to-moderate consensus of most American Jews for a negotiated twostate solution. There are a few Jewish groups that are indeed “hardline,” and others that have notably moved right. These include AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, and, in recent years, the American Jewish Congress. The American Jewish Committee hurt its centrist image last year by publishing that tirade by Alvin Rosenfeld. But most American Jewish organizations are less “right-wing” than defensive in the face of Palestinian violence and the seeming avalanche of liberal and left-wing criticisms heaped on Israel and themselves in recent years (with Jimmy Carter, Tony Judt, and now Mearsheimer and Walt leading the charge). If negotiations at Annapolis or elsewhere were to make a breakthrough toward peace, even AIPAC would not be a serious obstacle. I don’t believe that Mearsheimer and Walt are consciously anti-Semitic. They swear that they are not anti-Semites, that they support the existence of Israel and say that the “Lobby” is doing nothing immoral or un-American; but their tone and their unrelenting argumentation — an indictment more than an analysis — screams otherwise. Still, we don’t have to regard them as anti-Semites to note, more clearly than Jahr does, that they’ve written a very bad book. Ralph Seliger New York, New York
AROUND THE WORLD
themselves as “black Turks.” Soner Yalçın, however, is not an Islamic activist. He is a leftwing writer who has worked for many years for the newspaper Aydinlik (“Brightness”), press organ of the Workers Party. To him, the “white Turksblack Turks” dialectic symbolizes the struggle between the Turkish elite and the oppressed masses. Indeed, conspiracy theories involving the Dönmeh have become a favorite topic among some writers of the Marxist left.
Guest Column by Elif Kayi
“Dönmeh” has two meanings: “convert” and “renegade.” It refers, however, not to all converts, but only to those descended from the Sabbateans. (The word ‘Sabbatean,’ or sabetaycı in Turkish, is used more and more in Turkey Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories to replace ‘Dönmeh,’ possibly in an attempt to give a historical character to some anti-Semitic theories). Born he black and red cover, showing a sheet of pa- in 1626 in Smyrna to a family from Greece, Sabbatai Zevi per covered with strange notes in an unknown proclaimed himself the messiah and went to Jerusalem in alphabet, transports readers to a secret world of 1662. In Istanbul, he was arrested by the Ottomans and encrypted codes. Soner Yalçin’s Efendi 2: Beyaz Muslü- forced by the sultan to choose between conversion and death. manlarin Büyük Sirri (“The White Muslims’ Big Secret”) Zevi had enormous influence upon the Jews of his day, from Turkey to Eastern Europe to Western Europe. has been on sale since July, 2006 in all TurkAmong Ottoman Jews, especially, the belief ish bookshops. The book is the follow-up to arose that his conversion was a further step the best-selling Efendi 1: Beyaz Türklerin towards fulfillment of messianic prophecy, Büyük Sirri (“The White Turks’ Big Seand many of his devotees also converted, cret”), published in 2004. The “Efendi” while continuing to practice their secret ritusaga purports to show that key positions als, which mixed elements of Jewish and Sufi in Turkish institutions, from the press to mysticism. The majority of these devotees the government to the mafia, are occupied settled in Thessaloniki, with additional small by Dönmeh, or Sabbateans — descendants th communities in Edirne and Izmir. The Thesof the followers of Sabbatai Zevi, the 17 saloniki community did not remain united century Jewish ‘messiah’ who was forcibly for long, however. Within forty years of converted to Islam in 1666. Zevi’s death in 1676, at least three Sabbatean In a literary critique published in Radikal, Soner Yalçin communities had come into existence. a Turkish leftist newspaper, journalist Cüneyt Jews by then constituted the majority of the population of Özdemir introduced the first Efendi book as a quasi-scientific analysis, an attempt to penetrate “the ideological Thessaloniki (usually called Salonika in Western Europe), soil of the Deep State,” the presumed alliance among the hence the city’s nickname, “Jerusalem of the Balkans.” In secret services, organized crime, and retired Turkish army fact, it was the largest Jewish city in the world for at least two generals. The huge sales of these two books prove that the centuries, and of its 130,000 inhabitants at the start of the 20th century, more than 60,000 were Jews, mostly descendants issue is of great interest to the Turkish population. Yalçın’s term, “white Turks,” is relatively new, used to of Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. The Dönmeh constituted the city’s second largest commudescribe the Turkish social upper class, characterized by a Westernized, cosmopolitan way of life and adherence to nity. Their assimilation to Ottoman and then Turkish society Turkish Republican and secularist principles. In the Efendi was accelerated by three tragic events. First, the annexation books, this group is identified with the Dönmeh. Members of Thessaloniki by Greece after the first Balkan war (1912) of Islamic circles opposed to these principles describe caused the Dönmeh to lose status; they were now co-religionists of the beaten Ottomans and, therefore, suspect. Elif Kayi, a freelance journalist in Berlin and Montpellier in Second, a great many religious documents and possessions southern France. is assistant director of the Kreutzberg Initiative of the community were destroyed in a 1917 fire that wiped against Anti-Semitism, a Berlin organization that works among out more than half of the Jewish homes in the city. Third, youth of Turkish, Arab and Muslim background. population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in 1924
The Dönmeh of Turkey
provided the coup de grâce to two hundred and fifty years of Sabbatean life in Thessaloniki. Some members of the community had already migrated from Thessaloniki before the Balkan wars, settling mainly in Istanbul and Izmir; later Dönmeh migrants were scattered over the country, a circumstance that hastened their assimilation. Today, one can no longer speak of a Dönmeh community in Turkey; only a few individuals, mostly artists, writers, leftist journalists and liberal politicians, still identify themselves as Dönmeh. After the foundation of the Turkish republic, the Dönmeh’s high educational level and cosmopolitan attitudes, as well as their Westernized way of life, provoked deep feelings of suspicion within the Turkish population — feelings resembling that kind of anti-Semitism that defines the Jew as a rootless, cosmopolitan figure, unpredictable and dangerous. When Islamic fundamentalist circles, barred from politics after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, returned to the fore after the introduction of the multi-party system in 1946, they accused the Dönmeh of having introduced a corrupt way of life and of seeking to undermine the moral values of the Turkish population. A prime example of this kind of accusation was voiced during the 1952 Miss World competition. Turkey had never been invited to take part in the beauty pageant by its U.S. organizers, for fear of provoking Muslim fundamentalist forces. However, Ahmet Emin Yalman, the owner of the secular newspaper Vatan and a favorite target of fundamentalist attacks at that time, favored Turkish participation, believing it would improve his country’s image in the eyes of America. When Yalman managed to get Turkey into the competition, the religious press mounted an inflamed campaign, describing Yalman’s efforts as an attempt to encourage young women to engage in prostitution or to “sell them to American Jews.” According to this campaign, Yalman’s motivation lay in his Dönmeh origins. The influence of the Dönmeh was perceived as unwholesome, with their sexual life supposedly characterized by incest and adultery. For Turkish nationalists, the Dönmeh were responsible for the rise of the Turkish communist movement after World War II; for the religious right, they were to blame for the foundation of the Turkish republic and the abolition of the caliphate. Religious fundamentalists pointed especially to the Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress), created after the establishment of the second constitutional regime in 1924. Jews and Dönmeh were among the important figures in this movement, while Masonic Lodges had played an important role in organizing the 1908 revolution. Using these facts, the religious right propagated the idea of a conspiracy against the Ottoman Empire and January-February, 2008
Islam organized by Jews, Dönmeh, and Freemasons. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the “father” of modern Turkey, was also from Thessaloniki and had been taught by Semsi Efendi, a Dönmeh who ran a non-religious private school there. Ataturk’s Turkish identity was therefore also portrayed as suspect, and his presumed Dönmeh origins continued to animate religious right discussion. Such accusations thinly mask profound feelings of anti-Semitism, since religious fundamentalists consider Dönmeh to be real Jews and false Muslims. In other words, the Turkish republic is of “Jewish essence” — which is to say, non-Turkish. For the Turkish nationalist right, on the other hand, the figure of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish Republic are above criticism; one does not speak of the ‘foreign’ origins of the Republic or its founder. (When, in 2004, Agos, a newspaper of the Armenian community, published the memoir of a niece of Mustafa Kemal’s adoptive daughter, Sabiha Gökçen — the first woman to serve as a military pilot in Turkey — that identified her as of Armenian descent, many protested, among them military figures who interpreted the news as an attempt to divide the country.) Within nationalist circles, however, the Dönmeh have long been seen as representing a danger for the state. In a 2003 article on the Dönmeh, Turkish-Jewish historian Rifat N. Bali pointed to a 1934 speech by the theoretician of Turkish ‘racial’ nationalism, Nihal Atsız, who identified “two sorts of Jews. One is the authentic Jew, who can be recognized by the way he talks. The other is the Dönmeh, who cannot. In order to identify this type, it is necessary to look carefully at his degenerated facial features. There is, however, no difference between a Jew and a Dönmeh. One says. ‘We the Jews.’ and the other says. ‘You the Turks.’” Some Dönmeh have themselves fueled hostility against Sabbataïsm. On January 1st, 1924, a Dönmeh named Karakas Rüstü sent a letter to the Turkish Grand National Assembly complaining that his fellow Dönmeh were “neither ethnically, racially, spiritually, nor morally” Turkish and that they should only be allowed to enter the country when they were ready to give up their insular traditions and start intermarrying. Rüstü’s letter — which was contemporary with the Lausanne Treaty, guaranteeing the minority status of non-Muslim communities in Turkey — was widely reported in the Turkish press and focused public attention on the Dönmeh for the first time. More recently, in 1994, a young man named Ilgaz Zorlu, who traces his Dönmeh affiliation through his mother, published a series of magazine articles on the history and practices of Sabbatai Zevi. The articles were collected in a book and caused a sensation, especially in the religious press.
In 2000, Zorlu created a publishing house and issued, among other books, a collection of editorials by Mehmet Sevket Eygi, a journalist at Milli Gazete who is close to the Islamicist movement Milli Görüs (“The National Vision”). Eygi describes the Dönmeh as the most powerful lobby in Turkey and insists on their key role in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire. He does not differentiate between Dönmeh and Jews. Even certain Kurdish nationalists have recently invoked Dönmeh conspiracies, and within Turkey’s Armenian community, the thesis that the Dönmeh were partly responsible for the Armenian genocide has found some defenders. In 2000, for example, Hrank Dink, editor of Agos (until his assassination in January, 2007 by a Muslim nationalist youth), wrote: “Some historians have suggested that ‘Jewish hands’ might have been behind both some of the scenes of the 1915 Armenian Genocide and a series of events that preceded it. It has been shown that the leadership of the CHP included a great number of Jewish descendants of Sabbatai Zevi, such as Dr. Nazim Bey, and that they played
an important role in the decision to carry out the deportation in 1915.” (The CHP — Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, or Republican People’s Party, is modern Turkey’s founding political party.) In 1996, journalist Tanil Bora wrote in Birikim, a journal devoted to critical theory, that “Turkey can serve as a model for a mentality based on conspiracy theories.” The conspiracy theories around the Dönmeh underscore the accuracy of this claim. Within religious fundamentalist and right-wing nationalist circles, within the radical left, and among some intellectuals from ethnic or religious minorities, the Dönmeh are vilified along lines similar to the vilification of Jews in other countries. One should distinguish, of course, between Turkish racial theoreticians of the 1930s and 1940s and contemporary writers such as Soner Yalçın. Given, however, that many Turkish authors, regardless of their political or ideological affiliations, consider the Dönmeh to be Jews, it is legitimate to say that Dönmeh conspiracy theories constitute a form of Turkish anti-Semitism.
The Russians Have Come! Continued from page 11 is unofficially an official language of Israel. I would not be surprised if the Israeli government has purposely encouraged the use of Russian for reasons beyond sympathy for older immigrants who have difficulty learning Hebrew, as there are a number of Russian Israelis building businesses who make use of their traditional networks with Jews who have chosen to remain in the FSU. In any event, American immigrants in Israel owe a debt of gratitude to our Russian cousins. When I was a student here in 1993, native Israelis had little tolerance for strong American-accented Hebrew, even when the speaker was fluent. When I came to live in 1997, I noticed that they had become very forgiving. I credit the change in attitude to the acceptance of the strongly Russian-accented Hebrew spoken even by those who immigrated at a young age. I have another 1993 memory of attending an art exhibit at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv with my cousin Reut, who is in her seventies, a veteran Israeli who served as a nurse in the Palmach. She pointed to a young Russian in his twenties and said to me, “There walks the future of Israel.” For my part, I would say that at least for today, I often feel I have more in common with my Russian sisters and brothers, for whom Jewish peoplehood is at the heart of their identity, than with those with whom I share a common prayer practice.
LOUIS TRACHTMAN 1914-2007 Longtime Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring member, activist, and officer in the Philadelphia District Philadelphia District Branches 186E, 5B, 1095
In memoriam, my mother and sister
BARBARA B. NESTOR and
DOROTHY RAY HEALEY who lived and died true socialists and Jewish Currents supporters Carol Jean Newman Jewish Currents
Three Talmudic Passages
The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: Don’t Give Terrorism Veto Power
to be cynical about the resumption of negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority launched by the Bush Administration at Annapolis in late November. It feels, in the immortal words of Rabbi Yogi Berra, like “déja vu all over again” to see an about-to-retire president trying to pull off a peace-making miracle. How can such an unpopular Israeli prime minister as Ehud Olmert, and as vulnerable a Palestinian president as Mahmoud Abbas, possibly achieve an agreement that will have any staying power? As one Yiddish proverb puts it, “You can never fill a sack full of holes.” Yet it is those very ‘holes’ that make the prospect of change seem tantalizing. Israel’s leaders have had holes drilled in their confidence by their stalemate with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and are deeply troubled by the rising tide of Islamic radicalism throughout their neighborhood; they know well that Israel’s only reliable path to security is by cooling off the hot issue of the stateless Palestinians and normalizing relations with the nations of the Arab League. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, has lost Gaza to Hamas and is standing on wobbly legs in the West Bank; Abbas must achieve significant improvement in the lives of West Bank residents or be reduced to utter irrelevance. And Bush, for his part, has no prospect of redeeming our country’s reputation and national interests from the damages done by our disastrous war in Iraq and our multiple failures in the ‘War on Terror’ short of diplomatic miraclemaking in this intractable Israeli-Palestinian struggle. t is easy
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Such miracle-making, however, will require more than tired old incantations. Unfortunately, Bush and Olmert have implied that progress towards a peace treaty will be dependent upon Abbas’ ability to halt terrorism, as required by the 2003 “road map.” In his November 28th statement following the Annapolis summit, Bush noted that “implementation of the future peace treaty will be subject to the implementation of the road map, as judged by the United States.” Olmert was far more blunt when he briefed the Israeli cabinet on December 1st, reaffirming, according to the JTA, “that any progress in peace talks would be predicated on the Palestinians cracking down on terrorist groups.” Does anyone doubt that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, or some other group committed to disrupting a two-state solution will seek to launch a terrorist strike against Israel in the coming months? Does anyone seriously believe that the Palestinian Authority, unable to protect its own power in Gaza, will be able to prevent such an incident? And does anyone doubt that Israel will retaliate with a fury indifferent to “collateral damages”? In the past, such exchanges of violence have disrupted peace negotiations time and again — thus granting veto power to the terrorists. The new abracadabra needed for miracle-making is a definitive statement from Olmert and Abbas that their negotiations will proceed regardless of terrorism and counter-terrorism — that peace will be built even while the battle rages.
Published on May 20, 2008
January-February issue of Jewish Currents magazine. Featuring articles about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Donmeh of Turkey and poetry by Jake Ma...