Monthly Archives: June 2015

Loving Nurses: Refined by Fire*–by B.J. Yudelson

It was three days before I noticed it. The third night that Molly was my nurse, I spotted her wrist tattoo: a graphic of some kind, and what seemed to be Hebrew writing. At first, I tried to sneak a better glimpse. When my surreptitious peeks didn’t work, I broke down and asked this delightful, soprano-voiced nurse about the tattoo.

“Is that Hebrew?”


“Why? You’re not Jewish are you?”

“No, so I worked diligently to be sure I had the letters right.” She explained the tattoo to me. “The heart is anatomically correct. The Hebrew says, ‘Refined by fire.’” read more

Two Brothers, Two Nations, Two Versions—by Matia Kam

“Moses sent messengers…to the king of Edom.” The first three words in the sentence (Numbers, 20:14) appeared earlier in Torah when Jacob prepared to meet with his brother Esau, “Jacob sent messengers…to his brother Esau…in Edom” (Genesis, 32:?). The text in its choice of words in Parshat Hukat takes us back to that earlier conflict between Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers, and brings to light a complicated relationship of brothers-turned-nations of Israel and Edom, indicating, according to Ramban that “the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.” read more

The Confederate Flag and the True Meaning of Integration—by Peter Eisenstadt

What does it mean for a member of a racial minority to be, or become a full American, to have genuine American citizenship? Does it mean joining white America, or does it mean joining America? Thereby hangs much of the history of African Americans since the early 20th century. Those using the term integration, positively or negatively, have sometimes used it in both ways. Or to put in a somewhat different way, was the point of integration to join existing white institutions or to transform them? Defenders of integration argued for the latter, while black nationalists, since the 1960, have generally argued that integration was largely joining white institutions and thereby sacrificing a coherent black identity. read more

Rallying Round the Flag—by Peter Eisenstadt

And now South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and the state’s two US Senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott have come out for taking down the Confederate flag from the statehouse. Haley, I thought, gave a fine statement. Yes, she was pushed into doing this, and just last year when she ran for re-election she dismissed the question of removing the flag, but she is a good politician, and good politicians know, like any rat, when to desert a sinking ship. (She has her eyes on higher office, no doubt.) The business leaders and other powerful interests in the state have decided, at last, that the confederate flag is bad for business. I don’t know what took them so long (or rather, I do) but I am glad they have at last allowed themselves to be guided by their moral values and not their timidity and complacency. Anyone can be a hero if she is pushed hard enough. read more

How to Win a “Lost Cause”* – by Peter Eisenstadt

We have all been horrified and transfixed by the events in Charleston this week. Those of us who live in the state of South Carolina perhaps have been a bit more horrified and transfixed than most. There is much, too much to say about the Charleston murders, but let me focus on one, seemingly ancillary aspect that has surprised me—how quickly attention has turned to the presence of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state house in Columbia.

The Confederate flag was first flown above the state house in 1962, as a response to the civil rights movement. (That is to say, its hoisting over the state house had absolutely nothing to do, in any direct way, with the Civil War. ) After a bitterly contentious fight, in 2000, the flag was removed from the dome of the state house, and placed near a memorial to Confederate soldiers, a sort of tortured “don’t ask, don’t tell” bad faith compromise that didn’t satisfy anyone. (The compromise had other odious components, such as a requirement that no war memorial in the state could be changed without a 2/3rds vote of the legislature.) read more

Against Our Better Judgment, an evening with Alison Weir–by Michael Aronson

A little over a month ago, on May 7, 2015, I attended a talk by Alison Weir hosted by the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, down the street from my home. Weir came to Rochester to discuss her book, “Against Our Better Judgement,” where she claims to reveal the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the biased reporting on the subject in the United States, and the true nature of Israel. I decided to go because a friend posted a link about the event on my Facebook timeline. I should have known what to expect – I have read the Anti-Defamation League brief about Weir, and I am familiar with her line of thinking by reputation – but out of curiosity for an in-person feel for the rhetoric, I went anyway. read more

Korach’s Problem—by Michael Aronson

Recently, I saw Eytan Fox’ movie, Walk On Water, released in 2005. This Israeli film tells the story of an Israeli Mossad agent’s encounter with a gay German peacenik. The outcome of this encounter is a profound broadening of horizons. Eyal’s experience expands his generic and cavalier macho identity into a broader personality that encompasses his own parents’ Holocaust experience and an awareness of other communities’ persecution narratives that are parallel to his own. In other words, Eyal begins as a one-dimensonal character taken out of context. His journey is a search for context, wherein he finds new life and meaning. Without context, Eyal’s being is shallow and destructive. read more

We all live on Calhoun Street—by Peter Eisenstadt

I also live on Calhoun Street. It’s in a different city, Clemson, South Carolina rather than Charleston, but it’s the same Calhoun, John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850), South Carolina’s most famous antebellum politician, and the best-known defender of slavery and the rights of the white South in the pre-Civil War era. And maybe we all live on Calhoun Street. Because Calhoun Street is more bigger and contains multitudes far beyond its namesake. Because on Calhoun Street in Charleston stands the Emanuel AME Church, the oldest black congregation in the South below Baltimore, and a living refutation of everything Johnny C ever believed in. read more

Israel’s Bar Mitzvah–by Peter Eisenstadt

On June 3rd, 1967, as the world remembers, I was Bar Mitzvahed in a small synagogue—Temple Beth Am—in southeastern Queens. I confess I don’t remember too much about the day. I do remember my haftarah, from Hosea, in which the prophet likens Israel to a fallen women—“let her put away her harlotry from her face/and let adultery from between her breasts/else I would strip her naked/and leave her as on the day she was born.” I had to read that in English, and I was mightily embarrassed. This is the haftarah for B’Midbar, in the wilderness, the opening parasha from the Book of Numbers. This parasha is always read the weekend before Shavous, celebrating God’s giving the of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, because, as one rabbinic saying has it “one should be as open as a wilderness to receive the Torah.” read more

Thoughts about Eating Sausage—by Peter Eisenstadt

Last week there was a news story from Israel about an IDF soldier who was sentenced to two weeks in the stockade for eating a non-Kosher sausage on a military base. The sentence was later rescinded, but not before it raised concerns about the growing enforcement of Jewish orthodoxy in the IDF, and worries about the next battleground in the efforts of the ultra-orthodox establishment in Israel to root out all forms of halachic impurity.

Is this more evidence that hard, unyielding religion (which we henceforth, somewhat inaccurately, call fundamentalism) is on the march everywhere? Societies like Israel that were built on a firm foundation of secularism seem to be increasingly in retreat from their founding principles. At least this is the argument in the new book by the distinguished political philosopher, Michael Walzer, The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions. Walzer focuses on three examples, three countries that fought for and gained independence in the years after World War II: Algeria, India, and Israel.   All three countries were originally governed by largely secular and more or less socialist governments that were, if not anti-religious, then a-religious, treating religion with a combination of tolerance and condescension, convinced that religion represented a dying past that would slowly ebb into extinction. As Walzer describes it, all three countries were dominated by an ideology of liberation. First the external enemies (the French for Algeria, and the Brits for Israel and India) had to be defeated and then the liberators wanted to rescue their people from “backwardness, ignorance, passivity, and submissiveness,” and wanted to help “their people by transforming them, by overcoming or modernizing their religious traditional religious beliefs and practices—to which many of them are firmly attached.” And so the liberated come to resent their liberation, and turn on their liberators. And in all three countries, hard, orthodox, fundamentalist religion is in retreat, while it is the secularists who find themselves unsure of their values. read more