Jewish

The Stubborn Persistence of 'Jew-Hatred'

THE SHOOTINGS THAT took three lives this spring at a Jewish community center and retirement complex in Kansas are a reminder that deadly strains of what is usually called “anti-Semitism” remain with us. The fact that the shooter was a deranged white supremacist should not prevent us from coming to terms with the roots and survival of Jew-hatred in our culture.

Anti-Semitism is a made-up word that itself gives clues to the history of Jew-hatred in our civilization. The term was coined by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879, one of a number of Jew-haters who were turning longstanding European Christian hatred of Jews into something modern and racial. The “Jewish problem,” therefore, became the “fact” that there was a racial group, the “Semites,” who were a mortal threat to another racial group, the “Aryans,” and therefore needed to be removed from Aryan societies. All right-thinking Germans/Europeans/Aryans, the argument went, needed to unite to combat the Semites through a scientific antisemitismus. The term is usually written “anti-Semitism” in English, but that usage profoundly reinforces the racist myth that there is a race of “Semites” needing to be opposed by “anti-Semites.” The term Jew-hatred is better because it refuses to participate in this mythology.

Modern racialized Jew-hatred flowed into the 20th century and crystallized most disastrously in Nazi Germany. There, over 12 terrible years, the 19th century anti-Jewish program was enacted, and then exceeded. Jews were to be “eliminated” from among the “Aryans,” a program that became annihilation after 1939, with 6 million Jews murdered.

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COMMENTARY: Cardinal John O'Connor Would Have Made a Great Rabbi

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor on Sept. 19, 1986. RNS file photo: Chris Sheridan

In April 1908, Dorothy Gumple, a 19-year-old Jewish woman living in Connecticut, converted to Roman Catholicism. Less than two years, later she married a Catholic immigrant from Ireland. They and their five children lived in Philadelphia where her husband was a lifelong trade union member. It is not exactly the stuff global news stories are made of.

Except this: Their fourth child became the world-famous archbishop of New York, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who served in that position from 1984 until his death in 2000.

Last month, in the Catholic New York newspaper, the cardinal’s 87-year-old sister, Mary, revealed the story of their mother’s conversion for the first time, and claimed she and her brother “did not know [our] mother was Jewish.” The O’Connor children “presumed that she had converted from another Christian religion.”

Jews Ordered to Register in East Ukraine

Leaflets ordering Jews in Donetsk, Ukraine to "register." Photo courtesy of The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism.

Jews in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk where pro-Russian militants have taken over government buildings were told they have to “register” with the Ukrainians who are trying to make the city become part of Russia, according to Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation, and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website.

Donetsk is the site of an “anti-terrorist” operation by the Ukraine government, which has moved military columns into the region to force out militants who are demanding a referendum be held on joining Russia.

Why You Ought to Leave the Church

Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks
What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place? Courtesy Odyssey Netowrks

Recently, a large wealthy church decided to break up with my denomination. I’m not 100 percent sure I know why. But the no-regrets explanation they wrote implied that religious differences between us were too severe for them to stay committed to our relationship.

Religion has a way of making people do extraordinary things to create peace and unity. It also, as we know well, has a destructive capacity to turn people against one another. It can make us grip our convictions so tightly that we choke out their life. We chase others away, then say “Good riddance” to soothe the pain of the separation. Even more alarming, too many religious people insist on isolating themselves and limiting their imagination about where and how God can be known.

All these realities take on a sad irony when we read about God promising to be outside the walls, present with different people in different places. What does it look like when God defies the restrictions we presume are in place?

God 'Beneath the Ordinary'

Yehoshua November

I MEET Yehoshua November in an empty classroom in Touro College in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he teaches. The chairs and desks are piled to one side, like a barricade. We sit in a clearing beside the clutter, talking about his place as the only Hasidic poet—he is a 34-year-old member of the Lubavitch sect—on the American literary landscape, an entity ruled largely by secular academics far removed from the realities and sensibilities of ultra-orthodox Jewish observance and mysticism.

“They are the rabbis of poetry,” November laughs. He laughs so hard he doubles over in his chair. His laughter is as strange as it is infectious. Yet in all of God’s Optimism, his book that was short-listed for the 2010 LA Times Book Prize, there is not a single laugh line. His poems are serious, if lightly held narratives, some parable-like, most down to earth with a longing for heaven.

“Poetry is their vision of spirituality, their own religion, and they don’t want traditional religion brought in,” he says.

Even November’s long, reddish beard seems delighted at their rebellion against traditional religion. An antinomian Hasid and unashamed of it.

When I first read God’s Optimism, the poem I kept going back to was “Baal Teshuvas at the Mikvah” (baal teshuvas are secular Jews who return to religious observance), a poem of solidarity with those intimate others who came to Hasidism through the tunnel of the profane, commonly marked by drug use and sexual looseness, for the sake of spiritual passion held within a net of restrictions.

Sometimes you see them
in the dressing area
of the ritual bath,
young bearded men unbuttoning
their white shirts,
slipping out of their black trousers,
until, standing entirely naked,
they are betrayed by the tattoos
of their past life ...

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Thanksgiving, Hanukkah Converge on 'Thanksgivukkah' for First Time Since 1888

The Menurkey (plaster edition) Photo via RNS/courtesy www.menurkey.com

It last happened in 1888 and, according to one calculation, won’t happen again for another 77,798 years: the convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah.

This year, Nov. 28 is Thanksgiving and the first full day of the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown the previous night.

For many Jewish Americans, this is no trivial convergence, but a once-in-an-eternity opportunity to simultaneously celebrate two favorite holidays, one quintessentially American, the other quintessentially Jewish.

American Jews Say Others Face More Discrimination

pio3 / Shutterstock.com
Commuters on subway on June 28, 2012 in New York City. pio3 / Shutterstock.com

American Jews say they face discrimination in the U.S., but they see Muslims, gays, and blacks facing far more.

This and other findings from the recently released Pew Research Center’s landmark study on Jewish Americans help make the case that Jews — once unwelcome in many a neighborhood, universitym, and golf club — now find themselves an accepted minority.

“While there are still issues, American Jews live in a country where they feel they are full citizens,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism.

Orthodox Rabbis Charged in Jewish Divorce Shakedown Plot

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Water Initiatives Get Congregations to Pledge to Conserve

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

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