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In hopeless times, we need to the courage to speak up — and to listen

This story was originally published on My Jewish Learning.

(JTA) — Over a recent dinner with a diverse group of college friends, we identified a common source of angst, a first for our 15 years of friendship: saying what we think.

From the privileged place we sat that evening in New York City, we absorbed the tragic reality of the war in Israel and Gaza. The hearing of the House Committee on Education, in which the presidents of three leading universities issued halting responses to the question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted harassment, had transpired several weeks earlier. Some of us had experienced direct antisemitism in the wake of the attacks of Oct. 7 and were sharply aware of how the politics of the moment put Jews in danger. Others felt that, given the United States’ direct funding relationship with Israel, the moment presented a unique chance to take grassroots action on matters of foreign policy.

At the dinner table, we spoke openly about our feelings even as we agreed that making any sort of public comment was risky. We each knew people who had articulated opinions in a public forum and had lost friends, work and respect as a consequence. We were losing our courage to speak up.

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote: “What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moments when we accumulated silent things within us.”

I first came across this profound quote in an essay by Torah scholar Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg in her brilliant work “The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus.” Zornberg connects Bachelard’s concept of accumulated silence to the speechlessness of Moses, whose struggle with speech we encounter in this week’s Torah portion, Vaera. At this point in the story, God has appeared to Moses and asked him to assume leadership of the enslaved Israelites and request their liberation from Pharaoh. But Moses has so far failed in this, resulting in rage from the Egyptians and general apathy from the Jews.

Typically, when we think about Moses’ speech difficulties, we presume them to result from a physical disability. Arel s’fatayim is the phrase Moses uses in protesting God’s charge to speak to Pharoah. Often translated as “tongue-tied,” the commentator Rashi says it means “obstructed.” And a famous Midrash teaches that Moses’ struggles stem from a burning of the tongue he suffered in childhood in the Pharaoh’s palace. But in Zornberg’s assessment, “Moses’ own experience of speechlessness is a mirror of the deafness around him.” In other words, Moses’ inability to speak is a reflection of those around him — especially his Israelite peers who, overcome by the crushing weight, physical and spiritual, of their bondage, are unable to hear him. In their miserable condition, they cannot listen to someone suggesting that a change is possible. Moses’ speech problems are spiritual in origin, not physical.

I empathize with Moses. If I can barely work up the courage to write the text for an Instagram post, how could I possibly judge Moses, whose audience is as tormented and despaired as they come? But in today’s world of muting and blocking, I also find myself wondering: What came first — the speechlessness or the deafness? For the Jews in Egypt, an oppressive reality obscured their hearing. For Moses, self-doubt obstructs his ability to speak. To argue about which came first is a chicken-or-egg problem: Both speaking and listening required going strongly against the grain.

What is striking about Moses’ humble rise to leadership is that it’s also a story about the beginnings of courage. Supported by his brother Aaron and God’s supernatural interventions in the Egyptian court, Moses seems to develop greater confidence with the passing of each plague. As the second plague unfolds, Moses begins clever negotiations with Pharaoh. Around the third plague, God makes a point of telling Moses that the Israelite encampment will be spared the effects of the plagues, thereby helping Moses build goodwill among his people. And by the time the fourth plague hits, Moses is having a full conversation with Pharaoh, advocating for the Israelites’ right to worship outside the land of Egypt. The man who began as a hesitant spokesperson fearing the rage and apathy of his audience has emerged as a leader and liberator.

Perhaps the courage to believe in change is the toughest kind of courage to cultivate — more difficult even than the courage to speak, to hear, or to lead. Yet it’s the courage to believe in the possibility of change that ultimately sets the Jews on the path to freedom. Gradually, they overcome both speechlessness and deafness as they witness real changes to the status quo, changes they believed were impossible.

Will we today regain the courage to say what we think, to hear what we don’t want to hear? To set ourselves on this path, it’s worth learning from the early days of Moses’ leadership. Courage is not necessarily born to us, but it is something we can build. And the first step is to believe, in some small way, that the impossible can change. Sometimes all it takes to fuel that belief is an intimate dinner with old friends to remind us that we’re not alone.

The post In hopeless times, we need to the courage to speak up — and to listen appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Brown University Investigating Threats of Violence Sent to Hillel Officials

More than 200 Brown University students gathered outside University Hall where roughly 40 students sat inside demanding the school divest from weapons manufacturers amid the Israel-Hamas war. Photo: Amy Russo / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

Two officials of Brown-RISD Hillel, a Jewish life  center serving both Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, were sent “violent threats” early Sunday morning, according to a report by The Brown Daily Herald.

After being alerted of threats, which were sent via email, the university’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted a search of Brown-RISD Hillel and determined there is “no evidence of any one-site threat.” DPS vice president Rodney Chatman told The Brown Daily Herald that “local, state, and federal authorities” are investigating the incident.

“This comes at an especially difficult time of distress on our campuses,” Brown University president Christina H. Paxson said in a statement addressing the incident. “Our students, faculty, and staff continue to grapple with the deaths of Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the wake of the October 7 attacks, as well as a despicable act of violence against a member of the Brown community here in the United States last November, and increases in reports of antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate.”

In Sunday’s statement President Paxson said that “robust” security measures will be implemented to protect Brown-RISD Hillel, as well as the officials who were threatened, from harm.

The incident is not the first antisemitic act of hatred since Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

In December, the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity opened an investigation into an incident in which someone slipped a threatening note underneath the door of an off-campus apartment rented by Jewish students.

“Those who live for death will die by their own hand,” said the note, which, according to the Brown Daily Herald, matches lyrics from a song by an early 1980s punk band. The paper added that the note was found by an electrician, who brought it inside.

A similar incident occurred last November at a Brown-RISD Hillel. Additionally, in 2020, a swastika was graffitied in Brown’s Hegeman Hall. In 2017, another was found in a gender-neutral bathroom at RISD. It was drawn using human feces, according to the Brown Daily Herald.

Last week, President Paxson rejected the demands of anti-Zionist students who were participating in a hunger strike in an effort to force the Brown Corporation to vote on a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel and make other concessions.

The university has twice ordered the arrests of extremist anti-Zionists student protesters, who have held unauthorized demonstrations in administration buildings, sometimes occupying them for hours after being asked to leave. Over 40 were arrested in December while onlookers shouted “Shame on Brown, Shame on Brown!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post Brown University Investigating Threats of Violence Sent to Hillel Officials first appeared on

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‘Free Palestine:’ Texas Church Shooter Suspected of Having Pro-Hamas Ideology

Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, shot a man at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, on February 12, 2024. Photo: Twitter

A woman who stormed a church in Houston, Texas, on Sunday with an AR-15 rifle and shot one person before being killed by police was apparently a Hamas supporter, according to details on the incident reported by CNN.

On Monday, the outlet reported that “Free Palestine” was written on the shooter’s rifle.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the shooter has since been identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36. The woman has an extensive criminal history which includes arrests for marijuana possession, assault, theft, and forgery.

On Sunday afternoon, Moreno walked into the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas — an institution famous for being the church of charismatic Christian preacher Joel Osteen — with a child and a gun. Wearing a trench coat and a knapsack, she threatened to have explosives, according to multiple reports. Most of the worshipers in attendance were Hispanic and attending a Spanish language service.

Moreno shot one man, leaving him critically injured, and was shot and killed by Houston Police. A child was also shot during the incident, but police are still unsure of whether they or Moreno are responsible for doing it.

“I want to commend those officers. She had a long gun and it could have been a lot worse,”  Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said during a press conference later in the day.

An investigation of Moreno’s motives is ongoing.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

The post ‘Free Palestine:’ Texas Church Shooter Suspected of Having Pro-Hamas Ideology first appeared on

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London Theater Facing Legal Action After Comedy Show Turns Into ‘Antisemitic Rally’

British comedian Paul Currie. Photo: Instagram

A London theater is facing legal action after an Israeli man was hounded out of a comedy show on Saturday night by a comedian performing a one-man show that turned into what some audience members compared to an “antisemitic rally.”

A spokesperson for the UK’s Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) said the group was in touch with the Israeli man and other members of the audience who fled from the theater.

“What the Jewish audience members have recounted is atrocious, and we are working with them and our lawyers to ensure that those who instigated and enabled it are held to account,” the CAA spokesperson told London’s Evening Standard news outlet. “These allegations are of deeply disturbing discriminatory abuse against Jews. Comedians are rightly given broad latitude, but hounding Jews out of theaters is reminiscent of humanity’s darkest days, and must have no place in central London in 2024.”

The comedian, Paul Currie, had been performing a one-man show entitled “Shtoom” at London’s Soho Theater. Towards the end of his performance, he retrieved a Ukrainian and Palestinian flag and invited members to stand and applaud.

After the round of applause was over, Currie pointed to a man in the second row of the theater and quizzed him over why he had not stood up.

The unnamed man, an Israeli, replied, “I enjoyed your show until you brought out the Palestinian flag.” An infuriated Currie began screaming, “Leave my show now! Get out of my f—-ing show!” in response.

As the man and his partner rose to leave, accompanied by a handful of other shocked audience members, the assembled crowd began chanting “Get out” and “Free Palestine.”

In a written complaint to the theater over his treatment, the man wrote: ” Shaken and feeling threatened by the growing antagonism, we exited and tried to complain/ get some support from the front-of-house team at the theatre, who were not very sympathetic but did give us an email address to make a complaint. By this time, the show had ended and the audience started exiting, a number of whom were glaring at us aggressively and in a very threatening way. We all left the scene.”

He added: “Our friends later received a message from someone they knew who had also been at the show, saying that after we left, the situation became even more inflamed. What had been intended to be an evening of comedy turned out to be what felt like an antisemitic rally.”

The theater eventually apologized, issuing a statement expressing regret an “an incident that took place at our venue at the end of a performance of Paul Currie: Shtoom on Saturday 10 February, which has caused upset and hurt to members of audience attending and others.” It added: “We take this very seriously and are looking into the detail of what happened as thoroughly, as sensitively, and as quickly as we can. It is important to us that Soho theatre is a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”

Currie has remained largely silent since the incident, save for a post on Instagram which quoted Mexican poet Cesar A. Cruz saying: “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”  He then added: “If you were at my show last night… you’ll know.”

The post London Theater Facing Legal Action After Comedy Show Turns Into ‘Antisemitic Rally’ first appeared on

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