French Jews at a Crossroads: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

A Jewish bakery in Paris. Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

Let me tell you about a married couple. They have been together for many years. Their marriage has had some good moments, but there have also been periods of verbal and physical abuse. Finally, the wife tells her husband that she is considering leaving the marriage. She knows she has options. She can go to a shelter for battered wives, and even find her own place to live in safety and security.

As she starts her car in the garage, her husband runs after her. He drops to his knees and begs: “Please don’t go. I won’t be ‘me’ without you!”

Does she put her foot on the brake, shut off the engine and go back into the house? Does she stay in what has become a very troubled marriage?

That is precisely the question that many Jews in Europe have been asking themselves. More than 7,000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the last year, and there are clear signs others will follow.

This is huge. France has the third-largest Jewish community in the world.

When Histories Compete

IN 1973, IMMEDIATELY following the Yom Kippur War, I watched the movie Exodus. I was so swept up by Leon Uris’ depiction of the Zionist struggle that I wrote in my journal, “The U.S. should do everything it can to defend the state of Israel!”

Two years later, I read a history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a serialized encyclopedia of World War II. It transformed me into an impassioned defender of Palestinian rights. Clearly, the historical narrative one accepts is critical to determining how a conflict is understood.

Jo Roberts’ book Contested Land, Contested Memory: Israel’s Jews and Arabs and the Ghosts of Catastrophe challenges the nationalist mythologies of both Israelis and Palestinians, peoples largely in denial of each other’s histories. With exhaustive research and numerous personal interviews, Roberts has created a book that is both sensitive to and challenging for partisans of either side.

Roberts begins with the story of an Israeli Jew whose memories of idyllic childhood vacations in a particular village are shattered when she learns from a Palestinian boyfriend that his family was displaced from that village by Israeli soldiers in 1948. Roberts goes on to offer a history of Zionism that is not without its share of heartbreak. From persecution in Catholic Spain to the Dreyfus affair in France and government-sanctioned pogroms in Russia, she reminds us of the prevalence and ferocity of anti-Semitism, which led many to join the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine. She includes a report to President Truman about 250,000 Holocaust survivors, who in late 1945 were still confined in former slave labor and concentration camps because no country, including the U.S., would accept them as refugees. Roberts makes a convincing case that many Jews went to Palestine because they literally “had nowhere else to go.”

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Everything Changes the World

Boys on a beach,
women with cookpots,
men bombing tender patches of mint.

There is no righteous position.
Only a place where brown feet
touch the earth.

Maybe you call it yours.
Maybe someone else runs it.
What do you prefer?

We who are far
stagger under the mind blade.
Words, lies.
My friend in Bethlehem says,
Pious myth-building and criminal behavior,
that’s what.

Every shattered home,
every shattered story worth telling.
Think how much you’d need to say
if that were your kid.

If one of your people
equals hundreds of ours,
what does that say about people?

Naomi Shihab Nye, born to a Palestinian father and American mother, is a poet, novelist, and anthologist of more than 30 volumes. Her newest book is The Turtle of Oman.

Image: A Palestinian women sells grape leaves,  / Shutterstock 

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The Christ of Compton

JESUS RETURNED this past August. Or at least a new depiction of him appeared on late-night cable television, in the comedy Black Jesus, created by Aaron McGruder (of The Boondocks). There was no rapture, and no subsequent tribulation, beyond what passes for normal these days. Instead Jesus appeared, as he did in Palestine, in a manner both obscure and mysterious. And, again, his incarnation became a scandal among some of the powerful and pious.

In Black Jesus, on the Adult Swim network, the second person of the Trinity turns up one day on the streets of Compton, a very poor and heavily African-American community in southern Los Angeles County. Played by a tall and beefy Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Jesus walks the streets in his first century robe and sandals, but with his hair in a Tina Turner perm. Aside from the eccentric get-up, this Jesus fits right into his surroundings. He has no cash, and no place to lay his head. But that goes for plenty of Comptonites. He enjoys malt liquor and marijuana, just as much as he did good wine back in the day at Cana. He’s still preaching and practicing unconditional love, forgiveness, nonviolence, and service to all, but his street talk averages about 1.5 bleeps per sentence.

There’s plenty that’s problematic about Slink Johnson’s character. For one thing, I can’t imagine the Jesus I know using the disrespectful canine term for women so freely or being quite so nonjudgmental about the marijuana trade. But neither does this depiction approach “blasphemy,” which is what the American Family Association called it. The Catholic League, which often leads the charge against perceived offenses to the faith, got it about right when it said, “The Jesus character in this show is a mixed bag: He is irreverent and can be downright crude, but he also has many redeeming qualities.”

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Principles for Prophetic Action in the Middle East

Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler


As Christians concerned about peace and justice, this time of crisis in the Middle East provides us an opportunity to return to our principles, the “springs of living waters” for people of faith:

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Broken Cisterns

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock

Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock 

Before it all fell apart earlier this year, and before this summer's carnage in Gaza, the Israeli-Palestine peace process was already fatally flawed. 

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian and human rights activist, co-founded the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence and headed the legal committee that negotiated the PLO-Israeli agreement creating the Palestinian Authority in 1994.

War Is Abortion: Pro-Life Christians Should Care About Gaza

If there is one thing that most Christians of all denominations agree on, it is abortion. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54% of American Catholics and 57% of Protestants/Others consider themselves “pro-life.” Every presidential election, we hear of prominent pastors raising questions about a candidate’s position on abortion. And while organizations such as Sojourners have tried to emphasize additional issues which ought to concern Christians as they go to the polls, the reality is that abortion is still a central issue for many people. This is not altogether a bad thing; since the earliest days of Christianity, the church has always had a special concern for unborn and abandoned children, taking them in and caring for them when others do not. These days, however, whether or not it is an accurate portrayal, “pro-life” Christians are more associated with picketing abortion clinics, hanging pictures of dead fetuses in public places, and gathering for the March for Life than welcoming such children into their homes.

'Silence Is Betrayal:' Speaking Out for Peace

Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi

Anti-violence march Saturday Aug. 2 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Kevin Sakaguchi / Sojourners

Saturday marked the third time since Israel began military operations in Gaza on July 8 that I let my voice be heard. I stood and marched alongside some 20,000 other individuals that like me have become utterly disgusted by what is unfolding in the Middle East.

A cease-fire has been struck, but as of yesterday, at least 1,800 Palestinians, most of whom are civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 have been wounded. Another 200,000 have been displaced in a territory whose infrastructure is now in ruins with mass power and water outages.

Despite the horrific events that have happened halfway across the world, the protest last Saturday, which took place at the White House, was a beautiful sight. Among the 20,000 protesters were Muslims, Jews, and Christians. There were blacks, whites, Arabs, Asians, and Latinos. There were women and men, both young and old, who had come from cities like Chicago, Tampa, Baltimore, and Boston. Many barriers were broken as we stood and marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

There were times when my heart was completely broken as I saw signs with photos of dead and mutilated bodies and others that listed the names and ages of children who had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. But in those same moments I would look across the sea of protesters draped in black, white, green, and red yelling phrases such as "Free, Free Palestine!" and "Stop the killing, stop the hate!" and I would once again become a prisoner of hope. I take refuge in the rock that is Christ Jesus. I know my God stands with those being oppressed, with those seeking justice and peace. I know my voice and prayers along with millions of others around the world will be heard.

Although I am pro-Palestine, that does not make me pro-Hamas or anti-Israel. I recognize and condemn Hamas's involvement in the failed peace talks and inability to find solutions. I also mourn equally for the loss of life on the Israeli side. However, despite the part Hamas has played in all of this I do not find Israel's actions to be justified. So I march.

Weekly Wrap 8.1.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Visualization: Casualities in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Washington Post is keeping a regularly updated tally of the deaths in the current conflict. The stunning visualization paints a grim picture.

2. I Need Feminism Because…
A Tumblr using the hashtag #WomenAgainstFeminism made the Internet rounds last week. Sojourners' writer Catherine Woodiwiss offers her take: "In a perfect world, women can choose to be whomever they want. But there is not yet a country on earth in which that is actually true. That is why we need feminism."

3. Religious Conservatives Embrace Pollution Fight
From The New York Times:"This week’s hearings on the new E.P.A. rule gave [conservatives] an opportunity to make their argument that climate change hurts the world’s poor through natural disasters, droughts and rising sea levels, and that it is part of their faith to protect the planet."

4. Wife Beating Gets a Standing Ovation in Baltimore
"… the sheer gall it takes to celebrate fans’ adoration of a man who beat his fiancee and mostly got away with it indicates the larger problem: The NFL is too big to fail."

5. The New Face of Hunger
One-sixth of Americans don't have enough food to eat. This powerful photo essay chronicles the stories in three parts of the country. Click through the gallery for the moving images.

6. New Baby Doll Is Anatomically Correct, And Moms Are Freaking Out 
"An outraged mom recently shared a photo of an anatomically correct baby doll on Facebook. I don't get it. When did it become taboo to talk about body parts with our kids?"

7. WATCH: What Would Happen if People in Poverty Received Tabloid Treatment?
A new campaign from a Canada-based service organization puts real people struggling with poverty in the place of the Kim Kardashians of the gossip-mag world. Check out the video and magazine mock-ups.

8. What's the Story of Your First Days in America?
From visiting McDonald's to questioning Southern hospitality, the fascinating series First Days documents immigrants' transition into the U.S.

9. Are You Too Proud of Your 'Natural' Lifestyle?
"While I certainly sympathize with concerns over chemicals and additives in our food, with the degradation of the environment, with the overprescribing of antibiotics and the soaring cesarean section rates, I’m keenly aware that many of the advances now freely scorned by those proudly adhering to ‘natural’ lifestyles are the very thing that make a flourishing, healthy life possible for so many people."

10. A Few Times Vandalism Did the World Some Good
While we're totally not advocating vandalism … the " … or Love the Neighbor as Thyself" response was pretty great. See all of these heroes-of-the-questionably-legal sort at the link.

Until We See Their Faces

Palestinian children, Dona_Bozzi /

Palestinian children, Dona_Bozzi /

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God calls us to love and show compassion to the stranger, particularly those who suffer. But first, they must become real to us. And there is nothing more viscerally real, perhaps, than the face of a dead child.

Is it possible to let our hearts by broken by the dead children of our enemy? Is our God big enough to allow us to imagine that God loves those we fear and despise?

Not until, I believe, they have faces.

Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza – though religious fervor is alive and well in these embattled areas, loathing, horror, and hatred seem to reign, darkness to rule. In the grim night, we cannot see each other’s faces.