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How Yiddish taught me to embrace the joy and defiance of being queer

(JTA) — Queer elders can be hard to find. There’s no app I could mindlessly swipe to find a queer mentor. So, for wisdom and guidance on how to live as a queer human, I’ve had to look elsewhere. 

I was nicknamed “Bubbe” (the Yiddish word for grandmother) in high school, due to my early bedtime and exceptional affection for sweaters, puzzles and tea. But in college, when I came out as nonbinary, Bubbe no longer seemed to fit: My gender sits somewhere on the spectrum between “bright floral button-downs” and “Bernie Sanders.” Friends soon coined me “theydy,” a gender-neutral play on zeide, the Yiddish word for grandfather.

While my affection for puzzles and sensible footwear are certainly theydyesque, they are not truly the reason that I am fond of this nickname. I love being called a theydy because Yiddish culture has taught me the value of being a little strange, a little out of place and more than a little queer. 

Yiddish, the 1,000-year-old language of Central and Eastern European Jews, never quite fit into a culture of American assimilation. At the turn of the 20th century, in a country where most people spoke English, Yiddish was the language to be forgotten (or at least used only when you didn’t want your Americanized kids to know what you were saying). And in the middle of the 20th century, in Israel, where most people spoke Modern Hebrew, Yiddish was never quite considered “good enough,” “academic enough” or even “Jewish enough.” 

But before the Holocaust decimated the Jews of Eastern Europe, Yiddish established itself as the language of poets, artists and writers. Queer and gender-bending sensations like Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story and play “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy” and Sholem Asch’s play “God of Vengeance” were written in Yiddish, and S. An-ski’s drama The Dybbuk, in which a son’s spirit possesses the body of the woman he loves, was popularized in Yiddish. 

Yiddish was also the language and culture of bold and fiery activists — people like Rose Schneiderman and Clara Lemlich — who were powerhouses of the early American labor movement.

As queerness is increasingly persecuted in the United States, Yiddish culture has been my refuge: a culture with no country that is well-suited for people being rejected by theirs. Just as queer people build communities out of necessity, grounded in a deep sense of love and care, I have found Yiddish culture to be heimish and warm, welcoming those with and without an ancestral connection to the language.

Today, inspired by the Yiddishists of the past and the present, many queer people of my generation have taken on Yiddish learning and leaned into Yiddish culture. From the Queer Yiddishkayt Facebook group, to the queer klezmer band Isle of Klezbos, to the virtual Queer Yiddish Camp, many queer people are drawn to Yiddish language and culture. Perhaps this is because queer people often especially understand the importance of being counter-cultural. Native Yiddish speakers are few and far between outside of the haredi Orthodox communities of Jerusalem and Brooklyn, and so for queer Yiddishists, the benefits of learning the language are rarely material. Rather, they are political, spiritual, sentimental and communal. In a society that tells us that our value comes from our productivity, learning Yiddish is itself an act of resistance. 

My queer Yiddish is deeply intertwined with the fight for a better and more beautiful world for all, “a shenere un besere velt far ale.” I’m the social justice organizer at The Workers Circle, a Jewish social justice organization where we embrace our Yiddish tradition through vibrant cultural expression, Yiddish language learning and bold activism. I’ve been arrested with the Workers Circle three times for nonviolent civil disobedience, fighting for federal voting rights and democracy reform legislation. Each time, as I felt nerves coming on, and my hands began to sweat, I could hear my queer elder — Yiddish culture — whisper in my ear. I was reminded that I am not the first person to take a stand for what I believe in. I come from a long legacy of people trying to do the same.  

Through its defiant perseverance throughout history, Yiddish culture has shown me what resilience really looks like. And through its humorfood and music, I have learned from Yiddish culture how to lean into the joy of being. Yiddish culture is my queer elder. I am proud to be a theydy.


The post How Yiddish taught me to embrace the joy and defiance of being queer appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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US Lawmakers Interrogate Columbia University President Over Response to Surging Campus Antisemitism

Columbia University administrators and faculty, led by President Minouche Shafik, testified before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 17, 2024. Photo: Jack Gruber/Reuters Connect

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik testified for over three hours before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday about her administration’s alleged failure to address antisemitism, which has prompted a congressional investigation and prompted widespread backlash against one of America’s most prestigious schools.

“Trying to reconcile the free speech rights of those who wanted to protest and the rights of Jewish students to be in an environment free of discrimination and harassment has been the central challenge on our campus and numerous others across the country,” said Shafik, who admitted she prepped many hours for Wednesday’s hearing. “Regrettably, the events of [Hamas’ invasion of Israel on] Oct. 7 brought to the fore an undercurrent of antisemitism that is a major challenge, and like many other universities Columbia has seen a rise in antisemitic incidents.”

Shafik went on to defend her record, insisting that she and other high-level administrators promptly acknowledged the severity of antisemitism fueled by anti-Israel animus. Columbia’s president argued she took concrete steps to ensure that the rights and safety of Jewish students were protected without qualification, including opening contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Shafik added that she attended a vigil which commemorated the lives of Israelis who died on Oct. 7 and has spent “most of my time since becoming president on these issues, holding over 200 meetings with group of students, faculty, alumni, donors, parents, some of whom are here.”

Wednesday’s hearing, titled “Crisis at Columbia,” invoked for many observers the infamous testimony of Claudine Gay and Elizabeth Magill, who both appeared before the same congressional committee in December to discuss campus antisemitism and refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews would constitute a violation of school rules against bullying and harassment. Days later, Magill resigned as the president of the University of Pennsylvania; Gay followed suit at Harvard University about a month after the hearing.

Unlike Gay and Magill, Shafik did not provide the same equivocating answers to direct questions about the treatment of Jewish students in her care. However, she would not say that chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — a popular slogan widely interpreted as a call for the destruction of Israel — was antisemitic, opting instead to say it was “hurtful.” Shafik did say that any student or professor who advocates murdering Jews is in violation of Columbia’s community standards.

Shafik received many questions about the school’s continued employment of professor Joseph Massad, who has a long history of uttering allegedly antisemitic statements in his classroom and said after Oct. 7 that Hamas’ violence was “awesome.” Lawmakers demanded to know whether Massad has been reprimanded by the university, questions to which Shafik did not provide clear answers. She claimed that he has been “spoken to” by the head of his department and removed from a leadership position, but US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) responded that this change has not yet been reflected on the university’s website.

Another professor, Mohammed Abdou, who was hired after cheering Hamas’ atrocities publicly, has been terminated, Shafik said, adding that he “will never” be invited back.

“Don’t you think it’s a problem when the hiring process of Columbia is hiring someone who makes those statements, hired after he makes those statements?” Stefanik asked.

“I agree with you that I think we need to look at how to toughen up those requirements,” Shafik said. “We do have a requirement, but I think we need to look at how we can make them more effective.”

Stefanik then brought up another controversial Columbia professor.

“Let me ask you about Professor Catherine Frank from the Columbia Law School who said that all Israeli students who have served in the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] are dangerous and shouldn’t be on campus,” Stefanik continued. “What disciplinary actions have been taken against that professor?”

“She has been spoken to by a very senior person in the administration,” Shafik answered, adding that Frank has said she misspoke and that “she will be finding a way to clarify her position.”

Stefanik then denounced what she described as a double standard on college campuses: that antisemitic statements uttered by students and professors about Jews are rarely, if ever, followed by disciplinary measures dictated by the school’s strict anti-discrimination policies. Stefanik argued that antisemitism “is tolerated” at Columbia University and that the school’s response to it has never signaled otherwise. Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) added that there are no circumstances under which similar treatment of minority groups, such as Black students, would be allowed.

During her testimony, Shafik claimed that over a dozen students have been suspended for antisemitic conduct and holding an unauthorized event, titled “Resistance 101,” to which a member of a terrorist organization was invited. However, committee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), responded that since Oct. 7, only Jewish students have been suspended for allegedly spraying an “odorous” fragrance near anti-Zionist protesters, an incident mentioned by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to seemingly undermine the verbal and physical abuse to which Jewish students at Columbia have been subjected.

“Only three students were given interim suspensions for antisemitic conduct. All three were lifted or dropped to probation, including a student who repeatedly harassed students screaming, ‘F—k the Jews.’ Of the ten suspensions that came in response to the Resistance 101, five were lifted because Columbia determined they were not involved,” Foxx said during her closing remarks. “The only two Columbia students who remain suspended for incidents related to Oct. 7 that took place before we called Dr. Shafik to testify are the two Jewish students suspended for spraying the odorous substance Representative Omar referred to. Dr. Shafik’s testimony was misleading there, too. Documents Columbia produced to the committee show it was a non-toxic, gag spray. While that was an inappropriate action, for months Jewish students have been vilified with false accusations of a ‘chemical attack,’ and Columbia failed to correct the record.”

She added, “Radical antisemitic faculty remain a huge problem throughout Columbia … while some changes have begun on campus, there is still a significant amount of work to be done.”

Several Jewish civil rights groups have alleged that Columbia allowed antisemitism to explode on campus and endanger the welfare of Jewish students and faculty after Oct. 7.

“F—k the Jews,” “Death to Jews,” “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab” are among the chants that anti-Zionist students have yelled on campus grounds after Oct. 7, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, according to a lawsuit filed in February.

Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

After bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence, the complaint filed in February alleged. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

Columbia University remains under investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post US Lawmakers Interrogate Columbia University President Over Response to Surging Campus Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Aron Heller, a part-Canadian writer living in Israel, on the experience of seeking escapism amid an unprecedented Iranian attack

One would think that news of an impending, widescale attack from your nuclear threshold, sworn enemy nation would set off a panic. But that’s not what happened when I heard that Iran had finally unleashed its first direct assault on Israel. After living through the horrors of the murderous Oct. 7 Hamas infiltration there was […]

The post Aron Heller, a part-Canadian writer living in Israel, on the experience of seeking escapism amid an unprecedented Iranian attack appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Netanyahu Says Israel Will Make Own Decisions on Self-Defense After Meeting With Allies to Discuss Iran Attack

Israel’s military displays what they say is an Iranian ballistic missile which they retrieved from the Dead Sea after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, at Julis military base, in southern Israel, April 16, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday that Israel will make its own decisions about how to defend itself after meeting with the British and German foreign ministers to discuss how the Jewish state plans to respond to a recent direct attack by Iran.

“During the meetings, Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted that Israel preserve the right to self-defense,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “The Prime Minister thanked the Foreign Minister of Great Britain and the Foreign Minister of Germany for their unequivocal support and for the countries’ standing in an unprecedented defense against Iran’s attack on the State of Israel.”

Netanyahu echoed that message in a subsequent meeting of the Israeli cabinet. The premier said that while he appreciated the “suggestions and advice” from David Cameron of the UK and Annalena Baerbock of Germany, Israel would “make our own decisions, and the State of Israel will do everything necessary to defend itself.”

The top British and German diplomats traveled to Israel to meet with Netanyahu as part of a coordinated effort to prevent confrontation between Iran and Israel from escalating into a regional conflict.

Iran launched an unprecedented direct attack against the Israeli homeland on Saturday. Israel, with the help of allies including the US and Britain, repelled the massive Iranian drone and missile salvo.

World leaders, especially in the US and Europe, have been urging Israel to show restraint in its response and to de-escalate tensions. The US, European Union, and G7 group of industrialized nations all announced plans to consider additional sanctions on Iran.

From his meetings, however, Cameron said it was “clear that Israel has decided to respond to the Iranian attack. We hope that Jerusalem will act in a way that will cause as little escalation as possible.”

Baerbock argued that escalation “would serve no one, not Israel’s security, not the many dozens of hostages still in the hands of Hamas, not the suffering population of Gaza, not the many people in Iran who are themselves suffering under the regime.” She also told Israel officials that “we won’t tell you how to act, but think about the future of the region. Act wisely.”

Leading up to Saturday’s attack, Iranian officials had promised revenge for an airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria last week that Iran has attributed to Israel. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, including two senior commanders. One of the commanders allegedly helped plan the Hamas terrorist group’s Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the incident.

The escalating tensions between Iran and Israel risk spreading an already explosive situation in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Iran has been Hamas’ chief international sponsor, providing the Palestinian terror group with weapons, funding, and training.

The post Netanyahu Says Israel Will Make Own Decisions on Self-Defense After Meeting With Allies to Discuss Iran Attack first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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