This story was originally published on My Jewish Learning.
(JTA) — It’s a nice coincidence that one of Judaism’s most profound utterances on appreciating the holy is read from the Torah right around the time of Thanksgiving, the American holiday of gratitude celebrated in late November. And yet, with conflict and dissension weighing on many of our hearts, it might ring a little differently this year.
The utterance in question is a rabbinic favorite: Jacob, after his wondrous dream of the ladder to heaven, awakens and says, “God was in this place and I didn’t know it!” (Genesis 28:16) Many times have I used this phrase as a metaphor for understanding the power of meditation, prayer and other spiritual practices to wake us up to the holiness that is around us. This quality of the sacred is always available. It is we who often are not.
Likewise, the practice of thanksgiving is meant to awaken us to the blessings we might otherwise take for granted. But for many of us, Thanksgiving this year is overshadowed both by the violence in Israel and Gaza, and by the strong feelings many of us have about it — feelings often at odds with others around the holiday table. So allow me to offer a different kind of gratitude practice in the hopes that it might provide a little solace, and even a little coexistence.
First, spirituality in general is not about denying the presence of suffering, or even evil, in the world. In the spirituality business, this is known as toxic positivity — the idea that you should always look on the bright side and emit “good vibes only.”
Of course, good vibes are more pleasant than bad ones, but sometimes it’s inauthentic to try to pretend everything is alright, and the effort to do so is strained, false and shallow. I would also argue that right now, doing so would be offensive.
No, a mature gratitude is one that holds a seemingly irreconcilable pair of truths: that there are blessings all around us, and that there is also deep pain. As the Christian mystic Richard Rohr puts it, there is both great love and great suffering.
This complexity was certainly true of Jacob, whose statement of awe came as he was fleeing his brother Esau, who was plotting to kill him. He knew that, his miraculous dream notwithstanding, all was not sweetness and light; he was running for his life. And yet, he was able to perceive the holy as well. Perhaps his awareness of his own precarity even added to that perception.
We also know this to be true in our own lives. If we have lost someone over the past year, for example, giving thanks may seem impossible. And yet, the wisdom of Jewish mourning rituals is that we give time to descend into deep, inconsolable sadness precisely so that we may, at the right time, emerge from it and return to the world. Gratitude, in the context of grief, can be a step toward healing — not by denying our pain, but by holding it with us as we turn toward love.
The same is true, it seems to me, in our public lives.
We can gather with our families of choice or origin this year and give thanks, all the while holding the pain of the last six weeks in our hearts. We have not yet processed or healed. But we are able to bring both the suffering and the love to the practice of giving thanks.
This is also true of the pain of our disagreements. Both those who support Israel’s actions in Gaza and those who oppose them are often not merely impassioned, but impelled by deep moral beliefs and intuitions. However crudely the debates may play out in public, they are not petty disputes; they go to the heart of who we are as Jews and as people. It is profoundly painful to watch families and friends be torn apart, as I have seen firsthand.
We all know that these debates will not be settled by angry exchanges over the Thanksgiving table. And yet, the moral depth of this moment seems to demand that we take a stand, does it not?
I would submit that it does not.
Just as it is possible to hold the pain of this war together with the gratitude we are cultivating, so it is possible to hold the pain of our disagreement without trying to dispel it. Yes, it hurts that there are people close to us who seem to be so terribly wrong about something so terribly important. So let’s stay with that pain absent the vain belief that if we just make that one point, the other person will be persuaded and the pain will go away. They will not, and it will not; the Thanksgiving table is not the space where your activism will bear fruit.
For many of us, pain is an unavoidable part of the emotional landscape of this year. But it is not the only part. We can choose to direct our attention to blessings while not in any way denying the screams of anguish that echo around the world, or the different responses we have to them, or the pain of that difference. We can choose our words carefully — not to deny the elephant in the room, but so that we might not be trampled by it. And we can seek to reenact the moment of Jacob’s revelation, when in the midst of extreme duress, he perceived the holiness present in his life.
May we have the courage to do likewise.
The post How to give thanks when the Jewish world is grieving appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Powerful Play Questions Whether a Jewish Father Gave Secrets to Russia
“I’m a Jew,” an elderly man named Hillel declares to an unknown voice in This Is Not a Time of Peace at Manhattan’s Theatre Row on 42nd Street.
Roger Hendricks Simon delivers a fine performance as Hillel, a man with anxiety, guilt, and memory problems, yet who is still cogent much of the time. The audience wants to know whether or not he betrayed America by giving away secrets to a Russian man named Daniil, who stayed at his home one night.
Charlotte Cohn stars as his daughter, Alina, and gets things moving with a powerful opening monologue. She wants to help her father find out the truth and she wonders if he was a communist, though it shouldn’t matter. Cohn is excellent in depicting a woman who has insight into her actions, but struggles to fight her temptations.
One of the most shocking elements of this play is not only that the infamous Joseph McCarthy is a character, but that actor Steven Rattazzi is able to depict the senator so well, with the proper cadence, diction, and oratory gusto. He is mesmerizing. I wanted to get on stage and hit him, but an actor in the show takes care of that.
“It gave me such pleasure to write that,” playwright Deb Margolin told me in an interview.
The play is a fictional account based on some true tribulations that Margolin’s father, Harold, had — namely that he was accused of being a communist later in life. He was defended pro-bono by famed attorney Adolf Berle, a chief speechwriter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“My father died at 100, less than a year ago,” Margolin said. “He knew I was writing this play.”
McCarthy’s hearings led to many being blacklisted, and he pressured people to offer up names of communists. Here, Hillel begrudgingly reveals a list, but what’s on it is quite surprising.
Alina claims to love her husband, Moses (Simon Feil), but is having an affair with Martin (Ken King), who says he loves her. Feil is masterful as a cocksure man who is not always emotionally available to his wife and hasn’t bothered to read her article in Harper’s Bazaar. King, besides providing eye candy when he shows off his muscular physique, is on point as a lover willing to dastardly tell Alina he will give her secret documents she has been seeking, if she gives him what he wants. Alina wears a Magen David necklace, and isn’t sure if her father betrayed his country, but she’s sure she betrayed her husband.
Richard Hollis adds a jolt of electricity as Daniil, who shocks Hillel by explaining that if he doesn’t get the required information, he will be “terminated.” It is impossible to watch this and not think of Alexei Navalny, who survived being poisoned, but flew back to Russia, knowing the worst could happen to him. And as we found out last week, it did.
The technique of having characters sit on the stage the entire time, but sometimes motionless and in the dark when the focus is on others, is a metaphor for the fact that evil inclinations may sit dormant and pop up after years. We must be prepared to confront them.
This Is Not a Time of Peace is also timely, as Oppenheimer, a film that spends a good deal of time showing J. Robert Oppenheimer being questioned for his communist connections, will likely win the Oscar for Best Picture on March 10.
Directed by Jerry Heymann and written by Margolin, this show will make you think about the things we take for granted. Alina utters the play’s title once, and it comes from the words of McCarthy.
“Hitler said the problem is from within, McCarthy said it, and we’re seeing the same thing today,” Margolin said.
This Is Not A Time of Peace is a timely and compelling slow burn with a powerful payoff. It runs through March 16.
The author is a writer based in New York.
The post Powerful Play Questions Whether a Jewish Father Gave Secrets to Russia first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
Journalists Using Israel-Hamas War as a Pretext for Claiming Tel Aviv Is Israel’s Capital
More than a decade ago, HonestReporting achieved significant success in changing the way that The Guardian reports on Israel, setting a journalistic precedent in the UK.
Following a complaint to the then-UK media regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) — which included launching legal action to pressure the PCC to enforce its own rules — The Guardian officially acknowledged that Tel Aviv is not the capital of Israel.
While it was, sadly, a stretch too far for The Guardian to recognize Jerusalem’s status, the newspaper nevertheless updated its style guide. Since then, we have only had to complain to Guardian editors on a handful of occasions when a reporter has erroneously stated that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital in news copy (see here and here).
It is a similar story with other international media outlets that, depending on their editorial policies, normally either refer to Jerusalem as the capital or avoid mentioning Israel’s capital city at all.
However, since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of publications “mistakenly” describing Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.
Since October 7, media organizations including CNN, The New York Times, The Daily Mail, The Times of London, The Independent, and The Telegraph have all made this error. Worryingly, several of them have failed to issue corrections, citing specious grounds.
Thank you, @washingtonpost for amending your text in response to our request.
Tel Aviv should never be used as a synonym for Israel’s capital. https://t.co/Vk9wEUrbYn
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 21, 2024
Although the majority of outlets have swiftly responded to HonestReporting’s request for a correction, The Daily Mail was one of the publications that refused to amend several of its pieces, arguing that Israel’s military headquarters are based in Tel Aviv, which is where decisions relating to the war have been made.
This is the very definition of a publication getting off on a technicality: the IDF’s headquarters is physically located in Tel Aviv.
So even though Israel’s war cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently convenes in Jerusalem and the holy city remains Israel’s capital, some journalists have asserted their use of “Tel Aviv” as a synonym for Jerusalem strictly refers to from where military decisions are emanating.
“But the ask, according to this reporting, may be too big for Tel Aviv to agree to.”
No, @CNN, Tel Aviv won’t be agreeing to anything because political decisions are made in Israel’s capital Jerusalem.
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) February 7, 2024
Of course, HonestReporting has disputed this point and secured numerous corrections in the process.
Concerning British media outlets, we have referred to the fact that the United Kingdom does not recognize Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, while the United States officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital city in 2017.
In addition, no United Nations resolution has ever determined that Tel Aviv is, or should be, the capital of Israel.
The reality is that Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital and the city is home to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), the Supreme Court of Israel, the Prime Minister and President’s official residences, the Bank of Israel, and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Capital cities are chosen by sovereign states — as is their right. They are not determined by interfering outsiders who think they can simply reimagine Israel’s geography.
It would be both baffling and inaccurate if Israeli journalists suddenly started referring to New York as the US capital in news stories, or used Manchester as a synonym for London when writing about British politics.
Why, then, do some journalists find it acceptable to make similar errors with Israel?
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.
The post Journalists Using Israel-Hamas War as a Pretext for Claiming Tel Aviv Is Israel’s Capital first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
They Shouldn’t Ban Shechita, But Sure They Can
One Shabbat, during the time I was studying for a Master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights, I mentioned the courses I was taking to a rabbi. He looked perplexed, then gestured towards his synagogue bookshelf loaded with thick books of Talmud and codes of Jewish law. “Human rights is all here,” he protested. “Why would you go to a university?”
Human rights and Jewish values often overlap. But unfortunately, sometimes they don’t. This was on stark display earlier this month, as the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban on shechita (Jewish ritual slaughter) which was recently imposed by the governments of two regions of Belgium. The Belgium law requires that all animals be anaesthetized or stunned before slaughter, which according to Halacha, renders the meat not kosher.
Jewish and Muslim groups both protested that this requirement violates their human rights. In particular, they cited their right to freedom of religion, claiming that a ban on kosher slaughter interferes with their ability to live according to their faith. Many Jewish spokesmen were livid with the court, with the European Jewish Congress even releasing a statement saying that coupled with rising acts of antisemitism, this decision called into question whether there is a future for Jews in Europe.
The court’s ruling, however, was well grounded in human rights principles. It was based on two findings. First, preventing unnecessary pain and suffering to animals falls under a category of government responsibility known as preserving public morals. This makes ensuring humane slaughter a legitimate government interest. Second, this requirement that animals be stunned before slaughter was a narrowly tailored and proportionate method of achieving the goal of making slaughter more humane.
But what about the difficulty this causes for Jews and Muslims trying to observe their religious dietary laws? The court decided that the fact that this law interferes with some citizens’ religious observance isn’t enough to block it. The reason is that freedom of religion does not extend to situations where religious practice violates other human rights.
The right to religious freedom consists of the right to choose one’s own beliefs, and to practice those beliefs only in ways that do not violate the rights and freedoms of others. This includes the right of people to live in a society that upholds what they consider to be basic morals, such as not causing unnecessary pain and suffering for animals. So the right to freedom of religion does not protect religious practices that go against this principle. In the extreme, imagine a hypothetical religious ritual that requires torturing an animal. In such a case, the government could forbid it no matter how ancient, solemn, or important the ritual might be to members of whatever faith wants to continue the practice.
In practical terms, the Jewish community has a good argument to overturn the ban on shechita. We can maintain that shechita is humane, and causes no more suffering to the animal than what’s done in non-Jewish slaughterhouses with stunning. As long as our ancient method of slaughter is still within the parameters of what’s currently considered moral, there is no reason for governments to disallow it. While the court was right about the law, it may have the facts wrong about shechita in this case.
But protesting that we’ve been doing shechita for thousands of years — and therefore we must have the right to continue — isn’t a winning argument. Opponents will point to countless religious teachings, ranging from regulations regarding how women must dress, to unequal treatment of women in divorce, and to acceptance of polygamy and slavery in the Bible, as examples of deeply rooted religious practices that must now be banned in the name of human rights.
The rabbi I mentioned earlier was partially correct in pointing to his Jewish bookshelf. The Jewish tradition does contain many teachings that are in keeping with human rights. But in fundamental ways, the two are vastly different.
We regard Jewish values as ancient, timeless, and perhaps even emanating from God. Human rights were only conceived of within the last century, and come from our ever-evolving vision of how to make the world more free and equitable for all members of the human race. Since their sources are so different, it’s inevitable that Judaism and human rights will sometimes clash.
If we are committed to both Judaism and human rights, we need to take these conflicts seriously. The Belgium law may have exaggerated the suffering caused by ritual slaughter, and therefore given us grounds to oppose it. But how we deal with other intractable conflicts between human rights and Jewish values is a key question that each person committed to both must struggle to answer.
Rabbi Shlomo Levin is the author of The Human Rights Haggadah, which highlights modern human rights issues in this classic Jewish text.