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a bright new day t he biblical ca S e for intermarriage issue three
a bright new day
t he biblical ca S e for intermarriage
issue three
Funny, you don’t look jewish converts on the true colors of the jewish community
Funny, you don’t look jewish
converts on the true colors of the jewish community
f a l l 2 0 0 7

presentense $5.00

iron lion zion hebrew Slanguage fetal attraction

forging ethiopian life in israel

unpacking the junk from israel’s trunk

why orthodox jews will prevent jewish extinction

content S


editor and publisher Ariel Beery

senior editor e sther D. KustA nowitz

associate editor Miri AM r . hA ier

contributing editors Ben Brof MA n, Phil Getz, Ch loe sA fier, Aliez A sA lz B er G

assistant editors s te P h A nie


Ali A no, sAM Bro D y,

r uvy M Gil MA n, sAM uel Grilli,

s i M i h in D en, Chen K A sher,

Jennifer Koh A ni M , r e B e CCA l ei C ht, A M in A Mo G hul, nA tA sh A r osensto CK , e li w in K el MA n, i lyA zAy C hi K , t i f eret z i MM ern-K A h A n

copy editors A DAM Ch A n D ler, C A itlin K A rosen,

r en A K A tz, rAC hel Kr A user, Mere D ith Mish K in

editorial staff l ee P A tterson, Mohin D r A r u P r AM theater editor l onnie sC hwA rtz

food columnist

Miri AM s e G ur A

art director l in A t uv

assistant art director h illel sM ith photography editor AvitA l Aronowitz

photographers D Avi D A B it B ol, AvitA l Aronowitz, y on A h

s . Ber MA n, r in A C A st elnuovo, C A te Co P enh Aver,

A A ron

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advertising and circulation director s i M i h in D en

business team sAM uel Grilli, Jennifer Koh A ni M

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CO ntents p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

30 Slave S in the h oly l and the problem of sex slavery in israel
Slave S in the h oly l and
the problem of sex slavery in israel
Chloe Safier
f unny, y ou d on’t l ook Jewi S h
converts on the true colors of the jewish community
Aliza Hausman
Star- c ro SS ed l over S
scenes from an interfaith relationship
Neely Steinberg
c alling a ll c onvert S
blogging the burdens and blessings of conversion
Leah Jones
t he b iblical c a S e
fo r i ntermarriage
why you can marry anyone you want
Ariel Beery

issue three 2007

content S




t ue S day, t he r abbi

l etter S to the editor

w en t to


religious activism and


the rabbinate


Yehuda Hausman



g o South, y oung Jew zionist settlement


thrives in the negev

here & now

David Wainer

  • 06 e nter the m atrix a first-person account of the ethiopian identity crisis


v irtual Judai S m finding a second life in online community

Danny Admasu

Julian Voloj

  • 07 i ron l ion z ion forging ethiopian life in israel


t he h ebrew Slanguage unpacking the junk

David Druce

from israel’s trunk

Jacob Shwirtz and Esther D.

  • 09 Sweeten y our S pirit


high style high holy days in the holy land


k o S ha’ for tha r o S h h a’

The Honey Staff

shabot spot

William Levin aka Ben Baruch

  • 11 in the big-inning opening day at the israel baseball league


the z ioni S t f rontier zionism redefined in jerusalem

Adam Soclof

Benjamin Fisher

  • 12 home land home run?

Maya Wainhaus


baseball makes aliyah

feature S

  • 14 Smarty p ant S rhodes scholars take to the road


f etal a ttraction why orthodox jews will

Eric Ackland

Jewish Student Weekly and PresenTense Staff

prevent jewish extinction

  • 16 b oycott, b loody b oycott british academics bash


m ore o rgie S , m ore b abie S a modest proposal

israel, again

Ben Brofman

Yair Zivan


  • 17 dear c hap S , thank S for the

Leora Addison

p hotoe SS ay

boycott learning from the british


t he art of r ebirth

has never been easier

adisia crafts hope for ethiopian women in afula

Yonit Schiller


review S


b OO ks


a b right n ew d ay optimistic futures for the jews

Phil Getz



o y- b ay g o e S to the m ovie S shtarkers and the sweet science

Tomer Altman




b lood

b rother S

masked uncovers the conflict

Lonnie Schwartz

musi C



c ommon Spark S f orever w ithin finding forever lacks common’s sense

Margaret Teich


art S



c ollin

a poem

Genevieve Dreizen


p ortrait of an i nternet Strategi S t

randi jayne zuckerberg

Adam Finkel


ta S ty bite S to Smite your e nemie S rosh hashanah’s symbolic foods

Miriam Segura


Sin S of o ur f ather S a short story

Alieza Salzberg


d re SS m e u p in Jew show your partner how easy it is to be your kind of jew

Eileen Levinson

issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents

letter S

to the editor

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

model pu blication to th e nation S

Thank you for an enlightening and refreshing example of the the fluidity of identity that your civilizational construct allows. The caliber and appeal of your publication is impressive. I happened upon it in browsing the web for information for a paper I am writing on Bukharian Jews (“Not Your Typical Hyphenated- American,” Summer 2006). I am Muslim from East Africa who grew up in the US and have lived all over. I’ve met plenty of migrants, immigrants and products of the two, like myself. I think that if they also had a forum such as this one growing up—or even now—their lives and the way that they view themselves, or perceive that they are viewed by others would be very different. Better, I think.

So, thank you for committing yourself to important work. It also looks fun : )

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

Fatima B. Kassam

Washington, D.C.

keep it ko S her

Often when I eat crisps with a hekhsher on the packet my reaction is not, I must admit, to reflect on the pesticides used in production,

like Leah Koenig (“The Death of Eco-Kosher: Ethics on the Table,” Spring 2007), but to look aghast at the price tag. Luckily it is possible to find approved crisps for reasonable prices in the United Kingdom, but everyday hard-working Jews scrimp and save in order to buy food that complies with the covenant of their forefathers. Koenig’s suggestion that they should now be forced to spend even more to meet the standards of received bien pensant bourgeois

opinion is extremely dangerous. Ignoring the simply preposterous idea that unhealthy foods should be declared treif, I’ll address only the more straightforwardly political arguments of the article.

Contrary to Koenig’s implications, most Jews would not like to see Kashrut elided with a fair-trade eco-agenda, not because they are ignorant or complacent, but because they recognize that this agenda is driven, at best, by naivety and economic illiteracy and, at worst, by a malevolent and retrograde rage at the free market system that has delivered unprecedented wealth and a deeply weird idolatrous fascination with a non-existent pre-industrial past where human beings lived in perfect communion with nature. Furthermore, many people do not take nearly as kindly as Koenig seems to think to being lectured by ostensibly tolerant liberals on what is and isn’t ‘ethical,’ to use the word they have appropriated and almost ruined. One can

understand that the purveyors of failed dreams feel a certain desperation, but no one should take their sympathy so far as to excuse a distasteful attempt to hijack the Jewish religion for alien purposes.

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

Gabriel Martindale

West Sussex, United Kingdom

thank S to you , too

PresenTense is a remarkable magazine. It captures the intellectual breadth and depth, physical energy and moral commitment that can be found in young Jews today.

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

Dr. Marcia Weinstein

Salem, MA

if you can ’ t get them to walk , how can you get them to run ?

The idea of a year in service that Seth Garz brings up (“A Year in Service,” Spring 2007) is certainly an inspiring one, but does Garz really think that the Jewish community can motivate young disaffected and dissociated Jews to devote a whole year, when they hardly can get them to devote a few days a year to anything remotely connected with Jewish life? It’s as if Garz is expecting us to get the assimilated to run before they can even walk.

Sure, those Jews who are already brought up in warm and supportive Jewish environments will jump on board; as Yeshiva in Israel programs show, you don’t have to do much to convince a committed Jew to take a year off between high school and college. But if the community truly desires to develop a culture of service within the wider Jewish community, it had better develop a stronger system of education first. Without teaching Jewish values, the community will not be able to

inspire Jewish action.

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

Charlie E. Poritsky

Brooklyn, New York

how can i get me S ome ?

Just got handed the Spring 2007 issue of PresenTense, and it’s gorgeous. So smart and so good-looking–so menschlikheit!

Like a boyfriend I’d be proud to bring home.

But you have no subscriptions, unless something has changed. So how do I make sure that I get every issue hot off the press? I’m glad to subscribe, should you care to institute such a system. All best wishes,

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

Sue Fishkoff

Oakland, CA

e ditor’ S re S pon S e

Have no fear, Sue–individual subscriptions are here!

Starting in October 2007, you will be able to log on to www. and easily fill out a subscription order online (and pay online too)–and email Simi at

if you have any questions.

But if snail mail is more your thing, feel free to send us where you’ d like the magazine delivered, along with $15 USD to: PresenTense Magazine, 214 Sullivan Street, Suite 2A, New York, NY 10012, USA. Magazines will arrive straight to your door, much like a good boyfriend should .

letter S to the editor model pu blication to th e nation S Thank you for

letters p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

Don’t let apathy kill them

Bring israel’s solDiers home now

No one has seen them, no one at all. There’s been nothing. This is why I’m asking you to raise your voices to demand a sign of life from my husband and his colleagues.

Karnit Goldwasser

July 16, 2007 outside United Nations Headquarters in New York

Don’t let apathy kill them Bring israel’s solDiers home now No one has seen them, no
Don’t let apathy kill them Bring israel’s solDiers home now No one has seen them, no
Don’t let apathy kill them Bring israel’s solDiers home now No one has seen them, no



seasonal shift

editorial seasonal shift A t the end of summer’s swelter, we all come back from vacation,

A t the end of summer’s swelter, we all come back from vacation, returning to autumn. This means back to school, for some of us, as the colors of the leaves trade their verdant tones for earth-based ones, and the winter prepares its arrival right after the Jewish holidays. Except that in some countries, it doesn’t. Our summer in the North

is wintertime in Australia, and even in countries where summer still means June, July and August, temperatures can range from cool to unbearable. Even the use of the term “our” is a bit of a misnomer, as PresenTense has contributors living across the world. And the leaves in the trees? They too cannot be generalized into what US residents might consider an autumnal state. Many US citizens—especially those of us who are from New York, where the majority of our team resides—are accused of being ethnocentric, and of expecting the world to follow our lead. But in a world where the global economy reigns and social networks extend beyond geographical limitations, none of us can afford for our perspectives to remain so provincial. Hailing from nearly a dozen countries, PresenTense readers, contributors and editors are pools of varying Jewish color on an epic-sized artist’s palette. One look at this magazine reveals the diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences; even if we were to use the same brush, pen, or camera to channel our creative spirits and spiritual creations, the strokes would still be completely different.

Understanding depends on communication; communication depends on language; and language– whether it’s literally slang (“The Hebrew Slanguage,” page 24) or the language of experience–is relative as well. But what we share is our connection to Jewish identity within the context of our present, contemporary circumstances. Our concept of Jewish identity now includes--or at least, should include–stories of Ethiopian Jews’ journeys to and integration into the Promised Land (“Enter the Matrix,” page 6; “Iron Lion Zion,” page 7) and stories of those who were not born Jewish and made us their chosen People (“Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish,” page 32). To link into the global Jewish youth community, we’re using new technologies that our grandparents and even our parents couldn’t have fathomed; these tools support our Jewish development whether we’re Jews by choice seeking community through blogs (“Calling All Converts,” page 38) or are looking to express our true selves in the virtual realm (“Virtual Judaism,” page 22). We are the products of our parents’ choices in religion and relationships (“Star-Crossed Lovers,” page 36). We find ourselves challenged by academic authority in an anti-Zionist world (“Boycott, Bloody Boycott,” page 16). We are taking on the status quo, sometimes to prove a point (“The Biblical Case for Intermarriage,” page 42; “Fetal Attraction” page 40) and other times to make radical suggestions that might not be popular (“More Orgies, More Babies,” page 39). Some of us are activists, getting arrested for our cause (“Tuesday, The Rabbi Went to Jail,” page 18) or standing up for the rights of the downtrodden (“Slaves in the Holy Land,” page 30). Others are involved in global initiatives that are taking the world by storm (“Portrait of an Internet Strategist,” page 57). And some of us are just plain smart (“Smarty Pants,” page 14), while others can think of nothing better than to hear the call, “Play Ball!” (“In the Big-Inning,” page 11; “Home Land Home Run,” page 12). In previous generations, we were united by similarity of dress, beliefs, and experience. Difference was a threat to community. But this is an age of multi-national collaboration; for this cohort of young, creative Jews all over the world, our diversity forges a community that is stronger for the sum of its differing perspectives, its varying seasons, and its quintessential relativity.

editorial seasonal shift A t the end of summer’s swelter, we all come back from vacation,

edit O rial p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

here & now

e nter the m atrix

a first-person account of the ethiopian identity crisis

Danny Admasu

T he first morning I woke up in Israel, I awoke to a new reality, yet my mother still called me Agnay, my Ethiopian name. As a boy, I knew that this name carried emotional weight, and that it mustn’t be changed. Every time my

mother calls me Agnay, she momentarily returns to Ethiopia; the village, our abandoned home, the midwife who died in Sudan on the way to Israel, the neighbors who stayed behind. But, as an Israeli, I was given a new name. My teacher called me Daniel, the Hebrew name assigned to me by the Jewish Agency clerk, while my friends nicknamed me Johnny. As time passed, these new Israeli names became meaningful to me as well. Although unfamiliar at first, they became evidence of my status as an Israeli, both in the eyes of those who named me and in my own. I’ve become emotionally attached to my Hebrew name and it is now as much a part of my identity as my original Ethiopian one. Israeli children of Ethiopian immigrants live double existences. At home, their parents continue as traditional Ethiopian Jews, refusing

israeli children of ethiopian immigrants live double existences.

to give up the culture and rituals through which they preserved their Jewish identity during thousands of years of exile, even though the Israeli society outside poses different and usually conflicting demands. The clash between the two environments creates unique identity crises. Unfortunately, there are no adult role models that can help an Ethiopian-Israeli teenager navigate between these worlds. Israeli schools often interpret these teens’ behavior as juvenile delinquency, or African primitiveness. Parents are equally unhelpful, feeling cursed by children who adopt the “customs of the gentiles.” Meanwhile, these teenagers are trapped between traditional Ethiopian family life and the complex Israeli society, one which demands achievement, money and chutzpah, without which they may forfeit their Israeli identity, as well as their social and economic prospects. I am forced every day to “change the floppy disk” of my personality and reload new software, like in the film The Matrix. Each disk contains its own scenery, characters, rules and regulations, and in each one I play a different “self” and navigate between diametrically opposed realities. Every time I come home, I enter my parents’ matrix. It is built on ancient dreams and centuries of faith; where modesty, respect and other classic Jewish values dictate the conduct of daily life. My traditional Ethiopian parents do not approve of my current lifestyle. I have learned to cover my tattoo, wear a hat over my haircut, remove both my earrings, and leave my friends at the door. My parents have their own vision of beauty, and my life seems to be a “non-Jewish” affront to their sensibilities. Despite my many conflicts with my parents, I recognize how hard it has been for them to come to “the land flowing with milk and

here & now e nter the m atrix a first-person account of the ethiopian identity crisis

photo of young woman by David Abitbol

honey” only to be stripped of authority over their children, language, and culture. My parents continue to believe in the Zionist Dream, and despite the hardships that have befallen them, I think they will hold steadfast to these ideals until the day they die. In the short time my parents and I share over breakfast, I could never explain to them that my behavior, which they find so disturbing, is the manifestation of their dream. They would not understand that traveling on Shabbat doesn’t make me a non-Jew, that watching MTV and soccer games gains me acceptance in Israeli society and that my earrings have no direct effect upon my grades. No possible explanation could satisfy their matrix, and arguments surrounding these topics only widen the growing gap between us. In elementary school, the teacher was not pleased when my parents missed their meeting with the principal. It didn’t occur to her that my parents are dependent on me to translate her note from Hebrew to Amharic. It was obvious to me that I should not translate any letter entitled: “Your child’s disruptive behavior.” I did not dare further disrupt my parents' already shaky emotional balance. During my school years, I managed to maintain the equilibrium between these two worlds. Serving in the army cracked open the divide and the balance was lost. My commander didn’t invite my parents to basic training graduation because his mother, a teacher by profession, told him that Ethiopian parents never respond to invitations. I didn’t invite them because to get to the Golan, they would have had to take three buses and hitchhike at least four times. It seemed like an unnecessary ordeal, but I wish my parents could have witnessed the emotion of the Golani berets flying in the air at the end of the graduation ceremony, just like my friends’ parents. Standing now on the Israeli side of the cultural

issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G here & n OW

chasm, I know that I need to correct my commander’s stereotypical thinking. I must also remind him and myself that the successes I achieve at this and all future graduations I owe to my parents who brought me all the way from Ethiopia to Israel, allowing me such opportunities. University was an additional test of my fractured identity. The professors expected me to bridge the educational gaps accumulated in culturally insensitive primary schools and I didn’t want to trouble them with the social-economic complexities of my situation. They are not social workers and it is not their problem that in my home we do not write on the Sabbath, that we are eight siblings living in three rooms, and that there is no Internet access. Wanting to reach their standards, I was left with the following options; finding secular friends with internet access at home who wouldn’t mind hosting me for the weekend, or staying in the dorms. The hard part is explaining to my parents why I can’t spend the weekend with my family. Whatever excuse I come up with will be cold and brief. Telling them the truth, that I violate the Sabbath, is not an

option. They wouldn’t understand the complexities of my situation. So I play the “Matrix game,” switching between my parents’ world of tradition and religion and the Israeli world of technology, money and achievement. This matrix is the story of many first generation Ethiopian- Israelis, struggling to develop an identity that can exist in both worlds. Despite the hardships of the matrix, I remind myself that not everyone has the privilege of being at the junction between the “old” and the “new” Jew, between Africa and Israel, an ambassador of two cultures. As I encounter the broader Israeli society, I take solace in realizing that I am not alone in the task of identity construction as so many immigrants are creatively fusing their cultural past with their Israeli future.

chasm, I know that I need to correct my commander’s stereotypical thinking. I must also remind

Danny Admasu is a first-generation Ethiopian-Israeli, a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, a university student, and the Executive Director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews: Translated by Asaf Be’eri .

i ron l ion z ion

forging ethiopian life in israel

David Druce

chasm, I know that I need to correct my commander’s stereotypical thinking. I must also remind

photo by David Abitbol

  • I wait for the bus to Mevaseret Zion. An Ethiopian security guard greets me, standard procedure at Jerusalem bus stops. The #157 arrives and takes me to the other side of the archipelago of hilltop neighborhoods that make up Greater

Jerusalem. An Ethiopian family of seven walks towards the bus stop. One woman who might be the mother balances a large, heavy basket on her head, while a younger woman who might be her daughter or sister sends a text message. Mevaseret Zion, one of Israel’s wealthiest communities, has a large absorption center known as a merkaz klitah administered by the

Jewish Agency. About 1,200 Ethiopian immigrants reside here, the majority originally from the region of Qwara, bordering Sudan. They immigrated to Israel—known as making Aliyah–in the late nineties to forty identical two-story houses. Each house is divided into four apartments, and the yards below buzz with activity. I can see girls jumping rope; boys riding bikes; older men in straw hats chatting at picnic tables, and a mother braiding her daughter’s hair. I can smell a hint of the spices used to flavor wat –a thick stew–and injera –flatbread. Behind the laundry lines that hang in every yard is the Castel, the strategic fortress seized by the Palmah–an elite commando force–in 1948. Posters for religious events and concerts fade on the street corners. On some houses, there is graffiti in both Hebrew and English. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of this neighborhood, I meet my friend and former classmate Ganatu. Ganatu and I both immigrated to Israel over a year ago and went to the same Ulpan. Originally from the Gondar region of Ethiopia, Ganatu studied

about 1,200 ethiopian immigrants reside here, most originally from the region of Qwara, bordering sudan.

mechanical engineering in Addis Ababa. After his parents passed away, he spent over a year in a transit camp waiting to be transported to Israel. As a Falash Mura, a nominal Christian descended from Jews, he had to formally convert and attend courses on Judaism. He takes Hebrew classes at night and works as a janitor at a bank during

here & n OW p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

the day. He tells me about his hope to find work as a mechanic and marry his girlfriend, who lives in Sderot. We watch five teenage Ethiopian hoodlums try to topple a street sign. They press against it, push and pull, hoping to pry it from the pavement. No one seems to care. As Ganatu shows me the neighborhood synagogue and bomb shelter, used for meetings of the religious Zionist movement Bnei Akiva, we notice a spotless BMW. It must belong to the upper- and middle-class neighbors that live just across the street. Indeed, Rehov Bilu, an affluent street named for the pioneers of the First Aliyah, is two blocks away. Now it is gated, ostensibly to prevent the Ethiopians from entering. Ganatu and I enter the Har-El mall and are given a perfunctory search by yet another Ethiopian security guard. We eat at a kosher McDonald’s; at the next table, an Arab family from Abu Gosh treats their children to Happy Meals. Flags of the world hang from the rafters–the United States displayed prominently among nations like Brazil, India, China, Thailand, even Egypt, but not Ethiopia. The food court includes “Something Yemenite,” Big Apple Pizza, a Chinese restaurant named Beijing, and a "South African-style" steak house, but Mevaseret Zion has no Ethiopian restaurant. “Wouldn’t it be nice to employ some of the older, illiterate women by doing what they do best—cook?” Ganatu says. I agree. It is tempting to dwell on the contrast between the “haves” and “have-nots” of Mevaseret. The municipal fine for failing to clean up after one’s dog is around 80 dollars—12.5 percent of an Ethiopian’s

yearly GDP per capita. At least Mevaseret has a merkaz klitah. Most Ethiopians have moved into gritty neighborhoods in urban centers like Jerusalem and Rehovot or into peripheral towns in the Galil or the Negev. There they struggle with poverty, along with other olim , or new immigrants, largely from Russia, and a few veteran Mizrahim. Many Ethiopians send their children to religious boarding schools to avoid falling prey to violence in these neighborhoods. Every city or town with a sizable Ethiopian community boasts local businesses: restaurants, hairdressers, and merchants selling staples like tef and injera . Most visible are stores that sell Ethiopian and Pan-African ephemera: posters of Bob Marley, tzizit in the national colors (red, yellow, and green), and paintings of village life. Amharic and Tigrinya language CDs are common, but Idan Raichel, Shlomo Gronich or even Ayala Inguedasht, the first female Ethiopian-Israeli singer, cannot be found. Ganatu and I part ways as I head to the Mizrahi part of town, Maoz Zion. On the way, I see a couple with their young daughter. The husband is obviously Ethiopian; the wife is Ashkenazi. This family is the ultimate example of successful absorption. I want to interview them but realize that they have the right to wait for a bus without being interrogated. Instead, I smile at their daughter, wondering how the Ethiopian community will fare in her lifetime.

the day. He tells me about his hope to find work as a mechanic and marry

David Druce is a graduate student of Library Science at Bar-Ilan University. You can see more of his writing at

 issue three 2007 p re sen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
issue three 2007
p re sen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
S p ECIAL pA rt NE r S h I p SEC t ION Sweeten y
S p ECIAL pA rt NE r S h I p SEC t ION
Sweeten y our Soul
high style high holy days
in the holy land
The Honey Staff
S p ECIAL pA rt NE r S h I p SEC t ION Sweeten y

photo by Avital Aronowitz


Touch down in the Holy Land at Ben-Gurion airport and head straight for nearby Tel Aviv, our local Sin City. Drop your bags smack in the center of town at the Hotel Cinema, an affordable boutique hotel that once housed one of Tel Aviv’s first movie theaters. Then get ready to explore this modern Jewish metropolis and discover why the vibe in Tel Aviv really does rival that of the world’s greatest cities. • Hotel Cinema, 1 Zamenhoff Street (corner of Dizengoff Square), Tel Aviv

the road to the ever-trendy Sheinkin Street, where hip threads options abound. Guys, the offers at Marsel are guaranteed to give a cooler-than-thou look and you can stock up with some undies from Menz, a shop solely devoted to men’s undergarments. That’s right, underduds for dudes.

Delicatessen, 4 Barzilay Street, 03-560-2297 • Shani Bar, 3 Mikveh Yisrael Street • Kisim,, 8 Hahashmal Street, 03-560-4890 • Marsel, 12 Sheinkin Street, 03-620-8483 • Menz, 34 Sheinkin Street, 03-620-6966

holyland for the holidays

The Hagim –Israel’s holiday season–means time off if you’re secular, lots of time in shul if you’re more traditional. But from Sin City to synagogue, the editorial staff of The Honey has a host of fresh things to do in this very Israeli season when nothing gets done and everything else in life has to wait until ‘after the Hagim.’


Need some holiday finery? Head for Tel Aviv’s neighborhood of the moment, Gan Hahashmal. This neighborhood is steaming with creativity, boasting some great shops filled with original designs. Gals, check out one of our season’s favorites —the shirtwaist dress at Delicatessen. Pair it with shoes by Shani Bar and a new bag by Kisim. Then head down

out and about

Tel Aviv’s glorious weather during the hagim demands you to get outside and play! Hit the beach or head over to Park Hayarkon where you can rent bikes, paddle boats and even Segways. Go for a run, windsurf (look for the equipment rentals behind the Hilton), swim, splash and enjoy being in a city built on

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issue three 2007

S p ECIAL pA rt NE r S h I p SEC t ION

the dunes. And when in Tel Aviv over Yom Kippur, make sure to rent bikes or roller blades for the holiday. You can even cruise down the Ayalon highway on this day of no driving. • Park Hayarkon,, 03- 642-0541

Breakfast Club, 6 Rothschild Boulevard • Brasserie, 70 Ibn Gvirol Street, just across from Rabin Square. Open 24/7, 03-525- 0773


The Hagim in Israel are all about gift-giving, so head to SoHo in Dizengoff Center for one- stop shopping. If you’re in town on Thursday afternoon or Friday, head down to the Center’s basement for the designer shuk, where you’ll find the latest trends by Tel Aviv’s budding young designers. While you’re shopping, make sure to quaff some pomegranate juice from one of the city stands, and mix in some fresh orange juice for an extra flavorful and nutritious treat. • SoHo,, Dizengoff Center, 03-621-2450


Tel Aviv’s hottest clubs will ring in 5768 with an array of parties to keep you hopping all night long. Things get going late – after midnight—so first digest your holiday meal and then hit the town. Lots of options at the Namal (Tel Aviv’s port), and in south Tel Aviv on Lillienblum and HaMasger streets, including Whiskey A-Go-Go and after- hours hangout Breakfast Club. Breakfast will be waiting for you at Brasserie, a favorite restaurant of Tel Aviv’s beautiful people. • Whiskey A-Go-Go, 3 Hata’arucha at the Tel Aviv port, 03-544-0633

Inclined to do some praying? Check out Beit Daniel, the Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv or Beit Tefillah Israeli in Tel Aviv, where secular Israelis pray together. For some serious spirituality, head up north to the Kabbalah Center in Tiberias, and in Jerusalem, get yourself to Kahal Edat Yshurun Yerushalayim in Ramot for an old Yekkishe (German) style of davening, complete with ‘kretchzing’ (wailing) singers and moody old men, or try the Italian synagogue downtown and put a little pasta into your prayertime. • Beit Daniel, The Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, www.beit-, 62 Bnei Dan Street (near Park Hayarkon), 03-544-2740 • Beit Tefillah Israeli,, 38 • King George Street, 077-300-3655 Kabbalah Centre, 15 Echad Ha’am Street, Tiberias, 04-671-5503 • The Conegliano Synagogue,, 27 Hillel Street, Jerusalem, 02-624-1610

g ive

While you’re busy having fun, let’s not forget what this season is all about: love, respect and kindness. Take a charity education lesson







PresenTense Magazine is designed by Talina Design.

from tzedakah educator and philanthropic consultant, Arnie Draiman. Arnie has a vast network of mitzvah heroes from his work with the Ziv Tzedakah Fund, the brainchild of tzedakah master Danny Siegel, and can direct you to giving schwarma to IDF soldiers, feeding hungry school children or painting an apartment for a person in need. Take your checkbook and embark on an adventure worthy of the time of year. • Arnie Draiman,,


Ziv Tzedakah Fund,


Sukkot, our very own pilgrimage festival, is the best time to shake it in the honey land. To feel fruitful, head to Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, to be greeted by tables full of citrusy etrogs, sharp palm branches, willow and myrtle wands. Go south to Mitzpe Ramon for a biblical night under the stars in your own swish sukkah, courtesy of Succah in the Desert. Or head north to the Acco Fringe Theater Festival and experience avant garde performances staged against the dramatic backdrop of this ancient port city. And whether your watering hole is a bar or a sukkah, it wouldn’t be Sukkot without Dancing Camel’s holiday microbrews, made with etrogim, dates, and other flavors of the season. • Machane Yehuda market, between Agrippas Street and Jaffa Road, Jerusalem • Succah in the Desert,, Mizpe Ramon, 08-658-6280 • Acco Fringe Theater Festival, www., • Dancing Camel, www.dancingcamel. com, 12 Hataasiya Street, Tel Aviv,


Wishing you a happy, healthy, and, most of all, sweet new year.

S p ECIAL pA rt NE r S h I p SEC t ION the dunes.

The Honey is an e-newsletter about what’s fresh and new in Israel, produced by creative entrepreneur Beth Steinber g, public relations specialist hadass tesher, graphic designer Jen Klor and freelance writer Jessica Steinberg. Subscribe at

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G here & n OW

i n the b ig- i nning

opening day at the israel baseball league

Adam Soclof

i n the b ig- i nning opening day at the israel baseball league Adam Soclof

photo by Adam Soclof

like the scrawny asthmatic kid at the end of the bench, i was having a "put me in, coach" moment, waiting for that avuncular slap in the tuchus to usher me back onto the field that i naively thought of as my own. enter the israel baseball league.

part i: The old country

Being a spectator at organized sporting events never found favor in the eyes of this writer, who himself sports a limited capacity for attentiveness. I had a hard time remembering the rules, and was ophthalmologically incapable of tracking the one guy holding the ball along with the several guys who are not. The lens through which I interpret most sports news may as well be labeled as “ooh, pretty colors.” But baseball I got—or so I thought. The rules and on-the-field dynamics of baseball were relatively simple, since fly balls allowed me just enough time to figure out who was in position to catch them. But at some point in middle school, my camp bunkmates surpassed me in their comprehension of baseball’s “finer” points. When they weren’t yapping about Shabbos walks, they would furiously engage in squawking matches, carried out in a distinctly nasal pre-pubescent tone, facilely flinging around decades worth of statistical jargon that seemed completely foreign. Meanwhile, I was left to lament my discovery that each

team plays over a hundred games per season; I could barely remember the details of one. Like the scrawny asthmatic kid at the end of the bench, I was having a “put me in, coach” moment, waiting for that avuncular slap in the tuchus to usher me back onto the field that I naively thought of as my own. Enter the Israel Baseball League.

part ii: The redeemer

In a blue Mazda cruising modestly from Yerushalayim to Petah Tikvah and filled with olim from Detroit, the discussion inevitably turned to the Tigers’ surprisingly good performance this year. “I can’t root for the Tigers,” I declared stubbornly. “They let me down for my entire childhood.” “Aww, Come on,” said Ari. “Where’s your sense of redemption?” “It’s invested in my religion, not some team that let me down for my entire childhood.” Despite my grouchiness, I had decided,

in fact, to diversify my redemption portfolio a bit. This is why I was making the journey to the Promised Stadium, for the inaugural game of the Israel Baseball League. Some serious questions kept my itinerant mind wandering into the wee hours of the night:

In what country—and over what entrée– were these people sitting when this “crock-pot” idea was conceived? Having been selected by the Modi’in miracle as the 71st and final pick in the IBL draft, would Sandy Koufax be relegated to a bench warming role? Would ‘play ball’ translate to “plaiy Bol?” or “Nu, kadima kvar!” Would any native Hebrew speakers actually show up to this event? Would the IBL have its act together long enough to meet its self-determined golden benchmark of the 2009 World Baseball Classic? If so, would Jewish players from the MLB actually opt to play for Israel? But above all else, I wanted to know: would the Israel Baseball League offer sanctuary for an athletically rough-around-the-diamond and inattentive spectator like myself? (The answer:

yes, and I wasn’t paying attention, could you please repeat the question?)

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issue three 2007

part Three: The rebuilding

I didn’t need my one marketing class in college to help me figure out that the IBL was positioning itself as a family entertainment industry. A quick look at the Israel Baseball League website helped me set reasonable parameters within which I could set and evaluate my expectations. With some very creative charitable endeavors, talk of MySpace pages for players and mascots, and a section dedicated to cutesy biblical references ostensibly heralding the return of baseball to the Holy Land set the mood. While promotions between innings were promised on the IBL website, they weren’t quite what I’d expected. Some fans found it cute to watch their children play dizzy bats and try to run the bases, but the thought of a few nauseous tykes puking at home plate didn’t carry the same appeal to me as three oversized sombrero-donning bratwurst racing towards home. Nevermind that I didn’t hear the announcer mention any giveaways for the winner of dizzy bats. Might I suggest free lice-shampoo for the lucky ticketholders in section…oh wait, there weren’t any sections, just deckchairs and bleacher benches. Another unexpected surprise was the announcer. The old chap, whom I came to refer to as “Zaydee,” quickly ditched the IBL’s standardized baseball lexicon, calling the game in English, and saving his fresh- off-the-boat Hebrew for a top-of-the-seventh inning plea for help returning a lost child to its rightful owner. There’s no criticizing a man who celebrates a hit by shouting “bang, bang, bang!” into the loudspeaker. Come to think of it, I’d love to see my own Zaydee, may he live to

120, with his one glass eye, in the sportscaster rotation–he’s definitely jovial enough to win over the crowd, and he’s a cantor, to boot. And “bang, bang, bang” doesn’t hold a candle to Bubbe’s “Utz!” The real theme of the night, however, was “a night of firsts.” Forget for a moment the Petah Tikvah Pioneer who drove in the league’s first home run. I was more interested in finding the first ballpark scalper in the history of the IBL. I saw several clusters of kippot srugot (handwoven yarmulkes) and baseball hats scatter to all four corners of the field to try and earn the distinction of first Ma’ariv (evening prayers) minyan at opening day. Hands down, the most pleasant “first” of the evening was the player-fan interaction. Lacking a press pass and experience in sports reporting, I doubted that I’d make it down to the dugout to get the players’ perspective. Luckily, the players and fans were standing on level ground, players and personnel from all six teams were at the game, all of them fielding impromptu questions from anyone between the ages of 2 and 60 (the septuagenarians didn’t seem to be represented). Some players were from the Dominican Republic, some were devout Catholics, some were friends of fans growing up. All of them, though, were congenial, approachable, and grateful for the opportunity to play pro baseball. All niceties aside, though, the record book of firsts will forever bear the tainted spot of the asterisk next to the “first Ma’ariv minyan” award. Immediately after the 9- 1 blowout by the Modi’in Miracle, fans walked briskly towards the parking lot to try to escape an inevitable line of cars and the strange post-opening day sensation that

they wished not to relegate to in-the-park catharsis. For many North American olim , and there were a lot of them at that game, there appeared to be a disconnect between the kid-friendly ambience on one hand, and what die-hard baseball fans were seeking on the other, namely, a game of baseball. One student sitting in a plastic chair directly behind the center field, a few feet from an improvised sandbox for two to five year olds, repeatedly said, “this feels like a little league game.” In the future, the IBL will have to iron out some aesthetic and logistical problems: for one thing, the distinction between premium seating and general seating will have to be more convincing than four US dollars and a choice between a plastic deck chair or a wood bleacher bench. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had gone to be a part of something historic, and maybe see a friend from camp, Rafi Stern of the Modi’in Miracle, pitch in his first IBL game; he did, for one inning, allowing no runs with help from the Miracle defense. (See? I can pay attention for half an inning.) And as a bonus, I got to feel like a million bucks by chatting it up with players who, if the IBL does take off, might someday be worth that much. And so long as we’re discussing redemption and rebuilding, could someone please cancel the Erev Tisha B’av game next year? Granted, the IBL regards the Hebrew calendar with more sanctity than most other sports leagues in Israel. But to make Sandy Koufax pitch on Tisha B’Av?

part Three: The rebuilding I didn’t need my one marketing class in college to help me

Adam Soclof has his own fan club on Facebook and is the founder of hyper*Semitic.

h ome l and h ome r un?

part Three: The rebuilding I didn’t need my one marketing class in college to help me

issue three 2007


baseball makes aliyah

Maya Wainhaus

I t’s the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium and two rituals are about to take
t’s the seventh inning stretch at
Yankee Stadium and two rituals
are about to take place, one ancient,
one modern. Thousands of fans
take advantage of the break in the game and

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rush to replenish their snacks and drinks, or wait in line for the bathroom. Meanwhile a group gathers around the kosher hotdog stand and begins to daven mincha, the afternoon prayers. Throughout all this chaos, the song “God Bless America” resounds inside the stadium. Baseball is famously known as the American Pastime, but as America has changed over the decades, so too has the game. At its best, baseball displays the diversity, sportsmanship, and heroics that make the game—and America—great, but it has also served as a mirror for larger struggles. Once, Jews and other minorities felt a greater sense of acceptance in American society by seeing one of their own on the baseball field. Perhaps no one understands this feeling better than Alva Greenberg, daughter of Hank Greenberg, the legendary player of the 1930s and 40s, and the first Jewish player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Alva Greenberg, who owns a contemporary art gallery in New London, Connecticut, reflected on her father’s role in the history of the game during a recent interview. “My dad was focused on the game itself, and being the best baseball player he could be,” said Greenberg. “But he was aware of his Jewishness and what he meant to the Jews in America. I think that made him a better player. He never lost his awareness that he was being watched, and that he was a symbol.” Times have certainly changed since Hank Greenberg’s career, yet the baseball field continues to be a place of nostalgia for American Jews. When Shawn Green, proudly Jewish, and an accomplished player, joined the Mets in 2006, the New York Times ran an article titled, “A Power Hitter. A Good Fielder. And a Source of Jewish Pride.” The article might just as well have replaced the word “pride” with “nachas.” Like famous players before him, in the wake of his success, Green has not forgotten his roots. This summer, a new chapter was added to the history of Jews and baseball, with the inaugural season of the Israel Baseball League (IBL). The IBL’s formula is a mixture of Zionism, business venture, American patriotism, and that familiar sense of having something to prove. The idea for the league started with Boston businessman Larry Baras, who spent two years raising money, seeking out facilities in Israel, and recruiting players. The IBL has been driven by the support of an

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impressive group of prominent names in Major League Baseball, including Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman, Ron Blomberg, Dan Duquette, and Bud Selig, who serve as team managers or in other advisory roles. Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former United States ambassador to Israel and Egypt, is the league’s commissioner. The players in the IBL range widely in terms of age and experience, from recent high school graduates, to college all stars, to seasoned veterans, and hail from nine countries. There are six teams in the league– The Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, The Modi’in Miracle, The Netanya Tigers, The Petah Tikvah Pioneers, The Ra’anana Express, and The Tel Aviv Lightning. Some of the rules of baseball have also been modified to provide a faster-paced game. Games have seven innings, with ties being decided by a home run derby. Although traditionalists might consider the IBL’s incarnation of the game as “Reform” baseball, the new league is a fresh start, without the baggage of racism, strikes, and steroids that have plagued its American counterpart. In many ways it showcases baseball in its noblest form, with a diverse group of players, and an intimacy that does not exist in any American ballpark. Ari Alexenberg, a player for the Petah Tikvah Pioneers, described the scene at a typical game. “The fans are enthusiastic, the adults bring signs and cheer, the kids chase balls and love asking for autographs. After the games, which typically end around twilight, I love to go into the stands, sign autographs and watch the sunset.” Still, the process of getting Israelis excited about the game will surely be a slow one, the players admit. “Americans who’ve made Aliyah come up to us all the time and say how proud they are to see us. They miss baseball,” said Nathan Mittag, who plays for the Ra’annana Express. “It’s been tough getting the Israeli crowd, but the TV coverage has helped spread the word. It takes a while, but watching is the best way to understand the intricacies of the sport.” Despite some efforts to appeal to Israelis, including instructive skills clinics with young players, it is clear that the games are largely geared towards American fans. The team names are all in English, transliterated into Hebrew on the uniforms, and the food stands sell only hotdogs and hamburgers. It would seem then, that the IBL is merely a

the ibl’s formula is a mixture of zionism, business venture, american patriotism, and that familiar sense of having something to prove.

slice of American life brought to Israel for the amusement of tourists and Americans ex-pats. While that is not entirely untrue, the politics behind the IBL also reflect the complicated relationship between the United States, Israel, and the rest of the world. In considering the worldwide spread of baseball, the IBL is another addition to an already extensive list of international leagues. Over the past 20 years, the number of countries with international baseball associations has doubled from 54 to over 100. These efforts are reflected in the make-ups of today’s Major League teams, as more money and time is spent recruiting international players. But the larger question remains: why is it Americans and not Israelis who are thrusting Israel onto the international baseball diamond? Poor attendance at games, disorganization, and mediocre facilities reveal that the league is not an attempt to make money, at least not in the short-term. The creative impulse behind the IBL seems to stem from a need to teach Israelis about what many Americans believe is the best sport on the planet, combined with a desire to something good for Israel. By showing the world that there is more to Israel than the war and violence shown in the news, the IBL sends a message that Israeli families, like families in the US, have time to enjoy that most normal of American activities–a baseball game. For now, the players and fans seem content to do just that, making the most of the humid evenings at the ballpark. “I’m having a great time,” said Joey Sherman of the Tel Aviv Lightning. “I hope the league continues. It’s an amazing sport in an amazing country.”

rush to replenish their snacks and drinks, or wait in line for the bathroom. Meanwhile a

Maya Wainhaus is a writer and Yankees fan living in Brooklyn.

issue three 2007

Smarty pant S

rhodes scholars take to the road

Jewish Student Weekly and PresenTense Staff


ince 1902, The Rhodes Scholarships have rewarded students for high academic achievement, integrity of

character, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, potential for leadership and physical vigor. Bill Clinton and New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley are among past recipients of the scholarship, which is named in memory of British-born South African businessman, mining magnate, and politician Cecil Rhodes, who also founded the De Beers diamond company and colonized Rhodesia. (Overachiever.) Early on, because many elite universities rejected qualified Jewish students, there was little chance that a Jew would become a Rhodes Scholar. But it’s not 1902 anymore; some very prominent Jews have since won Rhodes Scholarships, including Wisconsin Senator Russell D. Feingold, editor Jacob Weisberg, and Harvard Law professor/ New York Times Magazine contributor Noah Feldman. In 2007, five members of the contingent of 32 American Rhodes Scholars are also members of the tribe. Here’s this year’s group of Jewish overachievers who are trying to change the world.

Avi Feller Yale University Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona At Oxford: M. Sc. Applied Statistics
Avi Feller
Yale University
Scottsdale, Arizona
At Oxford: M. Sc.
Applied Statistics

Whether he’s serving as president of the Yale Alley Cats a cappella group, singing a leading role in an opera, interning at the State Department in international environmental policy or doing research on comparative welfare and health care policy, Avi Feller is no stranger to multi-tasking. “I’m studying voting, especially what can be done to increase voter turnout, and American politics,” said Feller in an interview with Jewish Student Weekly. “I hope to focus


more on the use of statistics in public policy —ensuring that the right information gets to the right policy-makers.” The Yale graduate who majored in Political Science and Applied Mathematics and was a soloist in the Yale Collegium Musicum explains that he loves to sing, but is a terrible actor. “So opera was a great fit. I still don’t think of myself as an ‘opera’ guy…[but] music has always been a part of my connection to the Jewish community, and has been something I’ve continued doing until today.”

Julie Veroff Stanford University Hometown: Fresno, California At Oxford: M.Phil. Development Studies
Julie Veroff
Stanford University
Fresno, California
At Oxford: M.Phil.
Development Studies

“Tikkun olam (repairing the world) was the framework I was given for understanding the world and my role within it,” says Veroff, a Stanford University graduate who majored in International Relations. “I remember hearing Leonard Fein of MAZON say that to be Jewish is to be implicated in the job of

repairing the world, and this has definitely shaped my understanding of Judaism and therefore my set of values.” Veroff, who worked on behalf of women’s and refugees’ rights in Nicaragua, Ghana, and Zambia, interned at the State Department and was active in Stanford Hillel. She further attributes her value system to having had parents who emphasized kindness, friends from many different racial, religious and socioeconomic communities, and great teachers. Growing up as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors has instilled in her the responsibility, she says, “to remember the great injustices that were committed because of active evil and the grave power of indifference, but also to live a life that honors such memory by taking action to combat and prevent future injustice by fighting for those whose voices are not being heard, and by working in partnership with marginalized communities to create the conditions in which everyone has equal access to the same set of opportunities.” Although her current interests are issues surrounding women’s empowerment, refugees, and post-conflict reconstruction, Veroff says that she “resonates with anything in the development field, from health care to education to environmental sustainability.”

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She sees a future career in international development, “so that I can work to create a world in which no one has to limit the number of dreams they allow themselves.”

Kevin Shenderov New York University Hometown: Brooklyn, NY At Oxford: Doctorate Immunology
Kevin Shenderov
New York University
Brooklyn, NY
At Oxford: Doctorate

Kevin Shenderov was less than three years old when he emigrated with his brother, who is now a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, from Ukraine, where they had been victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Shenderov, a graduate from New York University who majored in biochemistry, was instrumental in establishing the Global Health Review and organizing a world health conference, both of which are intended to focus attention on the inadequacies of health care services in the developing world. Shenderov’s memories of his native land are few. Still, the many stories his parents shared about anti-Jewish discrimination in the former Soviet Union “made me realize how important it is to appreciate and utilize the opportunities that I have, whether it is in exploring my heritage or in all other aspects of my life,” he says. Shenderov, who has also conducted research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in cancer immunology, aspires to become a physician- scientist, studying the immune system and how it interacts with pathogens and tumors, and to develop novel therapies based on this research. “I am attracted to immunology [and the] possibility of developing vaccines (which are much cheaper than drugs) against diseases such as cancer and malaria that ravage the developing and developed world. I think that the development of such vaccines would be instrumental in promoting equitable access to healthcare throughout the world.”

Charles R. Salmen Duke University Hometown: Glenwood Springs At Oxford: M.Sc. Medical Anthropology
Charles R. Salmen
Duke University
Glenwood Springs
At Oxford: M.Sc.
Medical Anthropology

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Growing up in Western Colorado, Charles R. Salmen was one of only a handful of Jews in his school, and the only student of Lebanese descent. “I remember bringing in the first menorah my kindergarten classmates had ever seen, and cooking Lebanese meals for friends in high school. I remember being ridiculed both as the ‘Jew- boy’ and the ‘terrorist’ during my years in school.” Still, the Duke graduate says he feels very fortunate to have been raised with different ethnic backgrounds. “My status as a ‘minority’ in these regards strengthened my connection to both cultures and intensified my concern for Mid-East issues. I am very proud of both aspects of my heritage, and I would characterize my identity less as someone in-between and more as someone comfortable in both cultures,” the former English major says. Salmen, a prize-winning photographer and captain of the Duke indoor and outdoor track and cross-country teams, also produced a senior thesis on Whitman and Lawrence that earned him a prize. He notes that he “doesn’t sleep much.” Salmen explains that he’s become increasingly interested in the difference between disease and illness, “the notion that diseases have biomedical explanations, while illnesses incorporate much broader cultural, religious, and socio- economic understandings of what it means to be sick, to suffer, and to heal.” As a Lebanese-Jewish American, Salmen was hit hard by 2006’s Israel-Hezbollah conflict. “Civilians on both sides of the border were paying the real price for this war in lives, homes, and domestic infrastructure.” He recalls that he “definitely perceived an increasing level of tension between Jewish and Arab student organizations,” and felt it was time for students to create a united message of peace and to “move beyond the inclination to tend to our own in times of crisis.” This initiative yielded the “Peace or Pieces” Coalition, which raised funds for parallel reconstruction projects on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border and organized on-campus events to highlight its message. “At Duke, Arabs and Jews are willing to step back from the passionate political issues that overwhelm Mid-East debates, and work together for campus friendships and Mid- East peace,” Salmen says.

Jacob Lemieux Stanford University Hometown: New York City At Oxford: Doctorate Biochemistry
Jacob Lemieux
Stanford University
New York City
At Oxford: Doctorate

Jacob E. Lemieux notes that his Jewish identity has been a central part of his life. His grandparents fled Nazi Germany in 1939. He identifies a quote from the Talmud as being a source of inspiration: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” His interest in social justice stems from three factors, Lemieux says: his parents, education and religion. “My parents took me once a week to visit an elderly woman nearby, who was confined to her apartment. My high school, Fieldston, had an extensive program in community service and service learning.” The program included service projects, reflective writing, and project design. “The Jewish values of service and tikkun olam were instilled in me during my days at religious school, and still fundamentally shape how I view the world. My Jewish identity and heritage form the cornerstone of my value system.” From publications in professional journals to work to improve living conditions in disadvantaged communities in San Francisco, from a program to provide smokeless stoves to villages in India to avoid smoke-induced respiratory illnesses to an effort to establish and support a girls’ school in a Tanzanian village, Lemieux hopes to make an international impact as a physician-scientist working on diseases that impact people in developing countries. “Travel has served to remind me of the enormity and diversity of the world, and humbled me about my place in it.”

She sees a future career in international development, “so that I can work to create a

Jewish Student Weekly is the only weekly online ma gazine for Jewish students. t he PresenTense staff put together this magazine, among other things.

issue three 2007

A s Jewish students in Britain prepare to start the academic year, they are faced with

A s Jewish students in Britain prepare to start the academic year, they are faced with a threat which many are struggling to

understand. For the second time in five years, a British academic union is calling for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions, this time through the newly formed University and Colleges Union (UCU). The boycott is aimed at all Israeli academic institutions on the basis of, as stated in the motion passed at UCU Congress, “the complicity of Israeli academia in the occupation.” The calls were for “members to consider the moral implications of existing and proposed links with Israeli academic institutions.” The vociferous pro- boycott lobby argues that Israel is a unique evil in the world, and any action to oppose

issue three 2007

b oycott, b loody b oycott

british academics bash israel, again

it is acceptable. Collateral consequences are, of course, irrelevant, even if that means increased hostility and anti-Semitism at British universities; to temper any such accusations, the motion added in one of the most worrying statements that: “criticism of Israel cannot be construed as anti-Semitic.” Many supporters of the boycott deny, perhaps legitimately, charges of anti-Semitism. Regardless of their motives, the effects of the boycott especially increased de-legitimization of Israel and an academic witch hunt will be felt most strongly by the Jewish community. The consequences are anti-Semitic, even if the intentions are not. It is Jewish students who are most likely to feel the adverse effect of reduced cooperation with Israel, and Jewish Studies departments are unable to continue offering their courses. It is also the case that where Israel is discussed in such a divisive way, anti-Zionism fast spills over into anti- Semitism, despite the claims by UCU that the line is not easily blurred. The decision of those unions with a boycott policy not to address this problem was exemplified in July by their refusal to meet the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) authority on anti-Semitism and German Member of Parliament, Gert Wiesskirchen. Refusing to address the problem won’t, however, make it go away, and the UCU in particular has a responsibility to examine the issue, especially for the sake of those students who will likely be hit hardest: Jewish students on British campuses. Those academics who support a boycott can’t forget the duty of care which universities are obligated to provide their students, the responsibility to ensure their welfare while at university.

Yair Zivan

In a campaign coordinated with the wider community and spearheaded by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) of which I am a campaign director, students are expressing their displeasure at this latest action by some of Britain’s academics. Working on the assumption that the vast majority of British academics won’t accept such a blatant and unjust impingement on academic freedom, Jewish students have called for a referendum of all UCU members. National Union of Students President, Gemma Tumelty, also opposes the boycott, saying that it “hinders the building of bridges between Israelis and Palestinians. Retaining dialogue on all sides will be crucial in obtaining a lasting peace in the Middle East.” They have also received support from Universities UK (the organization which represents the presidents of universities). In addition, they have leading academics, including Professor Mark Pepys, Head of Department of Medicine; University College Medical School, on their side. When asked about the boycott, Pepys responded, “all fair-minded and unprejudiced people, let alone academics in universities, must automatically reject outright the call for an academic boycott. It is a contradiction in terms and in direct conflict with the mission of a university.” In the immediate aftermath of the boycott resolution, over 200 Jewish students followed my lead as the Campaigns Organiser at UJS by sending mass e-mails to Sally Hunt, the head of the UCU, expressing our frustration. She sympathized, but has so far failed to act. Two students from Warwick have attracted over 7000 members to a Facebook group opposing the boycott, and have planned different activities for the coming academic year. Campaign ideas have been pouring in from both Jewish and non-

the call for academics to “examine their moral compass in regards to working with israeli academia” is nothing less than a call for a silent boycott, a daunting prospect for those who dare to differ in their opinions on israel.

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Jewish students across the UK, from publicity stunts at graduation ceremonies to action at freshers fairs (student clubs and activities fair for new students). Either way, it is clear that students will continue to oppose the calls for a boycott once the academic year begins. Michael Harris, President of the Manchester Jewish Society, said “for UK Jewish students attempting to build bridges and pressing for a just solution to the conflict, academic boycott is a shortsighted, discriminatory policy which will serve to isolate and deepen mistrust, when what we need are steps towards cooperation and collaboration.” Unfortunately, supporters of the boycott are not interested in an academic debate. As with much of the anti-Israel campaign in the UK, facts and reality are replaced by polemic and half-truths. The boycott campaign is no different. The debates proposed were meant to include only pro-boycott lecturers from the Palestinian territories (ignoring those among the Palestinians who oppose such action including the PA and Sari Nusseibeh, President of Al-Quds University). One suspects that if a similar proposal had been handed in by a student as coursework to those academics involved, they would have dismissed it as biased and unprofessional; but if the concept of academic freedom is being thrown out why not also sidestep academic rigor? The reality is that the call for academics to “examine their moral compass in regards to working with Israeli academia” is nothing less than a call for a silent boycott, a daunting prospect for those who dare to differ in their opinions on Israel. If the boycott is, in the short term, indeed silent, then it will be impossible for Jews and Israelis to know the reasons behind having a journal or PhD submission rejected; was it poor quality or poor politics? As has been the case in Britain throughout the last few decades, Jewish students will no doubt continue to support the causes they believe are right and won’t be bullied into staying silent, least of all by a minority of their own lecturers. In the 1970s and 1980s we heard that “Zionism equals racism” and saw Jewish societies across the UK being banned from campus. The Jewish student community only grew stronger and prouder during those years, just as it will today, facing this new threat from an old enemy.

Jewish students across the UK, from publicity stunts at graduation ceremonies to action at freshers fairs

d ear c hap S , t hank S f or the b oycott

learning from the british has never been easier

Leora Addison

Dear British Academe,

  • I am writing to commend you on your brilliant proposal to boycott Israeli universities.

I have often wondered how British Academia has received such high acclaim; your boycott reveals that apparently the way to achieve British academic enlightenment is to completely close oneself off from any person or opinion that does not adhere strictly to one’s own beliefs. Alas, I have learned this invaluable lesson too late. I have just wasted two years of my life in a Master’s degree program that pushed me to look beyond my set of understandings and beliefs, and to actually listen to what others have to say. Silly me, I came out of this so called “academic” program believing that this was the beauty of academia—that allowing

one to study all sides of an issue and to make up one’s own mind is what elevates the academy above the common fray. Thank goodness you have not wasted your time on this ridiculous notion of listening to others. Really, what is the point of at least attempting to determine which Israeli academics purportedly “support the occupation” and which work tirelessly to try to build reconciliation, coexistence, and peace? Your method of discarding ALL academics at Israeli institutions makes a far greater contribution to bringing peace to the Middle East. Who cares that the Israeli academies you wish to boycott may be composed of some of the most dovish members of Israeli society? Who cares that Palestinian students also study at the universities you wish to disregard? Honestly, how dare these institutions even call themselves “academic”? Allowing opposing viewpoints to co-exist—atrocious!

  • I also have to commend you on your ability to hold fast to the moral high ground amidst all of the factors fighting against you. With the Arabic word for your forbearers in the Middle

East, “Orientalists,” imbued with derogatory connotation, you still stand tall. With the arbitrary borders drawn by the British causing violent conflicts in the region to this day, you still stand tall. Oh yes, and with Britain’s behind-the-back promises of statehood to both Jews and Arabs contributing greatly to the on-going Arab-Israeli conflict you are still able to cling to your feelings of superiority. So thank you, British Academe, for showing us the way to enlightenment. Thank you for teaching us that hypocrisy and close-mindedness are the true paths to peace in the Middle East.

Jewish students across the UK, from publicity stunts at graduation ceremonies to action at freshers fairs


Leora Addison has a Master’s degree concentrated in Middle East Studies from the Johns hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Yair Zivan is the Campaigns Director for the Union of Jewish Students of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

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issue three 2007

tue S day, the rabbi went to J ail

religious activism and the rabbinate

Yehuda Hausman

tue S day, the rabbi went to J ail religious activism and the rabbinate Yehuda Hausman

photos by Yonah S. Berman

tue S day, the rabbi went to J ail religious activism and the rabbinate Yehuda Hausman
  • I n a world dominated by Paris Hilton and Brangelina, it might seem that little else matters. To steal the stars’ spotlight requires an act of God such as a tsunami, the Virginia Tech massacre, or a scandal like the wrongly

accused Duke Lacrosse players. In fact, it can be quite difficult for us—“the less than extraordinary”—to get media attention, even when the matter is urgent, the danger is near, and we are running low on time. The Islamic Republic of Iran is one such matter. Under the tutelage of its current president and supreme spiritual leader— Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—Iran has

trained, harbored and funded terrorists for a clientele that includes Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza and the West Bank, and perhaps even al-Qaeda. Iran is largely responsible for instigating last summer’s internecine war between Hezbollah and Israel, while the Islamic Republic has continued backing al-Sadr’s Mehdi army in Iraq, a support that’s tantamount to the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Shiite neighborhoods. We should neither fail to mention the hundreds of U.S. soldiers who died fighting Iranian-backed militants in Iraq, nor should we forget the “Darkness at Noon” crimes that the Iranian government perpetrated against its own people. While the fifteen British sailors were released unscathed by their Iranian kidnappers, other nationals wouldn’t have been so lucky.

By itself, that litany would be cause for international concern, but there are two other grievances: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power and President Ahmadinejad’s promise “to wipe Israel off the map.” While Iran says that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes only, it strains credulity that a government which shamelessly preaches hate and exports murder has no intention of producing an atomic warhead. On April 17, 2007, I and about 60 others protested in front of the UN Iranian mission, brandishing signs that said “Is Ahmadinejad the Next Hitler?” and “Stop Iran Now.” We listened as Rabbi Avi Weiss, the founder of Amcha: The Coalition for Jewish Concerns, reviewed the inhumanities perpetrated by the Iranian government. Then we marched to the Isaiah Wall, a monument across the street from the UN building, where a group of rabbis and rabbinical students like me staged a sit-in. Cloaked in black-and-white striped talesim (prayer shawls), we sang the words of Isaiah, “ lo yisa goy el goy herev, lo yilmadu od milhamah —no nation shall raise a sword against another nation, or know war anymore.” While we sang, the New York Police Department issued three warnings: we could vacate the premises or we would face incarceration. Singing, still resistant, we were individually handcuffed and ushered into a paddy-wagon. Except for the hour inside that wagon praying that my bladder wouldn’t burst, the experience was memorable and even enjoyable. Although we spent the afternoon and evening locked away, waiting somewhat impatiently to be released, we were in good spirits.

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Once released, I rushed home to find out the impact of our incarceration. Instead, I found that the night’s headlines had been monopolized by another story: the Virginia Tech massacre. Reporters in Blacksburg, VA were busy interviewing witnesses and mourners filled with sorrow, as gruesome details and personal tragedies beamed across the networks. Similarly, the internet news outlets were inundated with images of anguish, vignettes of grief. As the week progressed and a few Jewish weeklies ran stories of our arrest, I realized something else. Had there been no massacre in Blacksburg, our little protest in front of the UN would have succeeded in culling only slightly more news coverage. The reason for this is that “23 Rabbis and Rabbinic Leaders Arrested” is so prosaic it would probably put auditors to sleep. Why? Because everyone expects rabbis to speak out with moral outcry against injustice. So, when two dozen rabbis decided to protest the Iranian government and the UN’s meekness, few took notice. After all, we were only arraigned on one count of “impeding pedestrian traffic,” which is barely a crime. And therein lies the problem. The narrow-minded press rarely values the good Samaritan who picks up someone else’s trash. It’s not honor which is prized but dishonor. Leaders of grace may make for good bedtime stories, but leaders of disgrace make the evening news. In order for good people to attract attention to themselves and their causes, they must do something very bad, or at least something drastically different. “Rabbi Bites Dog While Parachuting from Stolen Helicopter in Protest of Iranian Government.” Now there’s a headline.

But where can one find a parachuting rabbi? This problem, more than lack of motivation or means, has hounded the Save Darfur campaign. They’ve been able to organize mass demonstrations in Central Park and raise $400,000 in less than a fortnight, but their Achilles’ heel has been an unwillingness to forgo civility. They have neither lined Fifth Avenue with coffins, nor have they stormed the embassies of the Sudanese government’s dealers. Admittedly, foregoing civility can be difficult to swallow, because some of us are hesitant to break the law, and perhaps rightly. But, for now, I think that creativity is more important than courage. It

struck me one Saturday that it would be terrific to have two hundred chickens at our next UN protest. And I mean real chickens that will squawk, scratch, flutter their wings and excrete all over the place. Alongside them, we’ll post several signs:

  • 1. UN: Stop Acting Like a Chicken. Stop Iran Now.

  • 2. We nominate these chickens for future UN delegates.

  • 3. These chickens are freer than Iranian dissidents. (Of course

we’ll donate the chickens to a free-range farm if we use this one.) Of course, there are some logistical problems, like that each chicken will need a leash to prevent it from proverbially crossing the street. But to advertise one’s cause, imagination is the only way to get noticed without the scandalous and risqué. That’s how you effect change.

Once released, I rushed home to find out the impact of our incarceration. Instead, I found

Yehuda Hausman is an activist studying to be a rabbi at Yeshivat Chovevei torah.

Ben is YCT. Who is “ Every day at YCT is inspiring. The vision of the
Ben is YCT.
Who is
“ Every day at YCT is inspiring.
The vision of the faculty combined with
students’ commitment to ideals of openness
and halakhic integrity as well as willingness
to confront the challenges of Orthodoxy
in a modern world make me proud to sit
within the walls of the Beit Midrash.
Benjamin Berger. Cornell Hillel Steinhardt JCSC Fellow. Stockpiled artillery on an Israeli
army base. University of Michigan Hillel Program Director. Led college students in exploration of their
Jewish identities. Visits the elderly. Semikha student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.
At Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, we train open and modern Orthodox rabbis for the Jewish
community. Our rabbinical school cultivates a love of Torah, a passion for leadership, and a
philosophy of inclusiveness. We integrate an intensive four-year Halakha and Jewish Studies
curriculum with an unparalleled professional development and pastoral counseling program.
Fellowships are awarded to all qualifying students who share in our vision and are willing to
make a serious commitment to Klal Yisrael.
475 Riverside Drive, S. 244 | New York, NY 10115
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Founder & Dean | Rabbi Dov Linzer, Rosh HaYeshiva
Oksana Bellas, Director of Operations | Howard Jonas, Chairman of the Board
YCT: Committed individuals changing the world.
p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents | | 212.666.0036
i ssue three 2007

g o S outh , y oung Jew

zionist settlement thrives in the negev

David Wainer

g o S outh , y oung Jew zionist settlement thrives in the negev David Wainer

photos from

g o S outh , y oung Jew zionist settlement thrives in the negev David Wainer
g o S outh , y oung Jew zionist settlement thrives in the negev David Wainer

W hile the second half of the twentieth century was a

redemptive epoch for the Jewish people–one that

saw the creation of the State of Israel, the pioneering

of the land of the Hebrews, and the revolutionizing

of self-identity–the twenty-first century has thus far been a glaring question mark. Beginning in 1948 with Israel’s declaration of independence, and continuing in 1967 with the establishment of a stronger foothold for Israel in the Middle East, Jews viewed the State with an aura of heroic messianism. During this time we witnessed the aspirations of the kibbutzim and moshavim for utopian livelihood while revolutionizing the concepts of socialism and cooperative agriculture. It was a time of overcoming, of developing, of pioneering, and of realizing practically miraculous dreams: the days of the dark-skinned Hevreh-man working the sacred soil, of “making the desert bloom,” and of watching the Israeli soldiers kiss the Kotel during the liberation of the Old City in 1967. Back then, the word “Zionism” rolled proudly down and off the Jewish-American tongue. But today, the image of Israel and Israelis held by American-Jews is altogether different. Since the Six Day War, a new era has been steadily ushered in with the subsequent capturing of territories. What was up is now down. The ideas of a declining kibbutz movement, of a demonized army carrying out a “brutal occupation,” and of a generation of politicians marred by corruption and poor leadership have all contributed to a new image of Israel. If the twentieth century was the era of heroes, heavenly idealism, and self-fulfilling prophecy, the twenty-first century is the era of a stalwart economy, robust military, and a fully developed state. If ,in the past, the word “Zionism” so proudly rolled down a Jew’s tongue, today it simmers hesitantly, and often sinks back down the throat with a sour taste. The idea of post-Zionism is not mere conjecture discussed in an academic setting; it is a reality in Israel and abroad. The association of Israel with high-minded concepts such as pioneering, overcoming, and continuous innovation seems to be disappeared from the Jewish psyche.

But a new wave of pioneers in the Negev, Israel’s southern frontier, gives the proponents of post-Zionism a run for their money.

i sraelis in a ction and in n eed of h elp

“Go West, Young Man!” So went the phrase coined by John B. L. Soule and made popular by Horace Greeley as the watchword for the nineteenth century manifest destiny movement in America. According to Roni Flamer, CEO of OR–a movement dedicated to the development of the Negev and the Galilee regions–the spirit of manifest destiny is much needed in Israel, though in a different direction. “Our slogan,” he declares, “is ‘Go South, Young Man!’” With more than 70 percent of Israelis living within the overcrowded triangle of Haifa-Tel Aviv-Jerusalem, and real estate prices increasingly expensive for middle class families, the impetus to expand Israeli settlement into the Negev Desert is commonsensical. Representing a total of 66 percent of Israel’s land, the Negev today is home to a mere 8 percent of Israel’s population. This sparsely populated and poorly developed desert land leaves much work ahead for the Jewish people. But a new wave of OR idealists and “settlers” have begun an impassioned surge to master it. Since its inception and partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 1999, OR has established five new communities in the Negev (Sansana, Givor Bar, Be’er Milka, Merchav-Am and Charuv) and has assisted in the expansion of existing population centers. Over the next five years, Flamer predicts that OR will relocate 26,750 families to the Negev. OR’s role in settling these families in the Negev, Flamer explains, is three-pronged: “We work with housing, education, and employment to ensure a greater quality of life for our incoming families.” Flamer believes that through economic, educational, and cultural development, the Negev will cease to be seen as a periphery of Israel. His long-term

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goal is to settle 500,000 people in the Negev. Currently, there are 13,000 families on OR’s waiting list. Flamer holds that if the calling to expand Jewish settlements into the Negev can be ingrained into the Israeli consciousness, large-scale development and growth will be possible. He unshakably believes that the future of Israel lies in the Negev. “The dream of developing the land of Israel is far from over,” he explains. “This is the Zionism for the twenty-first century.”

a challenge for the Jewish people

But the challenge of developing this region, thus far mostly overlooked by the Israeli government, is vast. Categorized as an arid to semi-arid climate, the Negev is no “land of milk and honey.” Its conditions led Mark Twain to describe it in his book The Innocents Abroad as “a desolation that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.” More than one hundred years after Mark Twain’s foreboding words, visionary Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion issued a challenge to the new State of Israel: “It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel shall be tested.” Today, some are beginning to heed Ben-Gurion’s words with innovative, cutting-edge projects. One of Israel’s newer kibbutzim, Kibbutz Lotan, was established in 1983 with the intention of creating an environment that combines eco-friendliness with Judaism. Mainly identified as a liberal and Reform kibbutz, Lotan’s central focus is to “promote ecological building, waste management, and environmental education.” Lotan is at the forefront of Israeli efforts to create sustainable development. Kibbutz Lotan was recently recognized by the global community when it received the 2006 Award for Ecovillage Excellence, the most prestigious award given to ecovillages internationally. Located in the southern Arava region of the Negev, the pioneers of Kibbutz Lotan have defied Twain’s curse. They have managed to create a thriving Center for Creative Ecology for the study of earth building, watsu, and wetland building. Kibbutz Lotan puts the rest of Israel to shame with its recycling habits and permaculture. So has the vigor of Israel taken root in the Negev just yet? According to Udi Nathan, the founder of an ecovillage in Kibbutz Kramim, there are ample challenges to be dealt with as the Negev is gradually developed. For example, “Ramat Hovav is an outrage,” he complains, referring to a waste plant by Beer Sheba that emits a stench so putrid that the Israeli army had to move some of its bases due to complaints of nausea and sickness among the soldiers. In addition, he says the Bedouin issue is a moral problem that the government should immediately undertake. Most of the Bedoins who were moved by Israel in the 1950s still live in cluttered villages plagued by utter destitution. Their water supply and sewage system are disgraceful and their electric supply is sporadic at best. Nathan believes the development of the Negev is inevitable. “It is the final frontier,” he says. “The question,” he poses, “is whether the government will use the desert solely for its military projects and hazardous waste plants or if, instead, the Negev will grow in an environmentally sound manner.” Nathan has taken upon himself to be a advocate for the latter option. About eighteen months ago, Nathan proposed his project of building a “green” village within Kibbutz Kramim, located in the

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northern portion of the Negev. Comprised of only fourteen families and struggling to develop socially, Kibbutz Kramim happily accepted Nathan’s partnership. Today, along with sixteen new families brought in by Nathan, Kibbutz Kramim is on its way to becoming a center for sustainable development. Nathan jokes at the concept of “sustainable development,” which he says is practically impossible: whenever there is development, the environment is bound to be altered and sometimes damaged. But it is imperative, he argues, to create an efficient and eco-conservative community “by building better means for water recycling, water collecting, and solar power.” To Nathan, who is still in the initial stages of building the village, the Negev was the obvious place for establishing his community. With government incentives, cheap land, and a communal sense to build and grow together, the Negev is the place for pioneers to realize their dreams. While many in the new Israeli left have begun to promulgate the dawning of the “post-Zionist” era, it is clear that the State of Israel is far from it. With two-thirds of the country’s land left sparsely populated and underdeveloped, the need for a new wave of Zionist idealism and the renewal of the pioneering attitudes of yore has never before been so dire. But the direction of expansion is far from obvious and far from the mainstream agenda. In the words of Roni Flamer, “Go South, Young Man!”

goal is to settle 500,000 people in the Negev. Currently, there are 13,000 families on OR’s

David Wainer is a writer and public intellectual based out of Bat Ayin.

Shalem Graduate & Post-Doctoral Fellowships


the shalem center, jerusalem

Founded in 1994, The Shalem Center in Jerusalem is a research and educational institute devoted to the study of Jewish thought and Israeli public policy.

shalem graduate & post-doctoral fellowships program

The Shalem Center invites applications from students in the fields of history, philosophy, political science, archaeology, International and Middle East studies, economics, religion, cultural studies, Bible, Talmud, Jewish history and philosophy, Zionist history and related disciplines.

Students on the program will pursue advanced studies at The Shalem Center in Jerusalem from October 2008 to June 2009.

how to apply

More information is available online Application forms may be requested by phone or e-mail.

Application deadline: January 31, 2008

Tel.: 972 (2) 560-5516 Fax: 972 (2) 560-5907 E-mail:

issue three 2007
issue three 2007

v irtual Judai S m

finding a second life in online community

Julian Voloj

v irtual Judai S m finding a second life in online community Julian Voloj T his

T his September, Temple Beit Israel is celebrating its first anniversary. Temple Beit Israel has members who reside in Australia, the

Netherlands, Israel, and Brazil, and several other countries. Membership is free, everyone is welcome, and to be part of the community, all you need is a computer with Internet access. Confused? Temple Beit Israel isn’t exactly a traditional synagogue, at least not in the brick-and-mortar sense. It’s a synagogue that exists only in the virtual world of Second Life, where users–or, as they’re called online, “residents”–interact with each other in the form of virtual alter egos: online representations of themselves known as “avatars.” (Jewish avatars are , naturally, are called “Javatars”).

issue three 2007

According to Misha Kobrin, a computer programmer from Russia who lives in Cologne, Germany, the success of Second Life has to do with its unique concept. “It is a step ahead of traditional chats. Because of the anonymous character of chats, people are more open and it is easier to communicate with strangers. But in Second Life, you are not anonymous; you create a different identity. It does not matter how you look or where you come from. You reinvent yourself.” The popularity of Second Life tipped on October 18, 2006 when the virtual population grew to one million. By the end of the year, the number of residents had doubled. Today, Second Life has about the same size (in virtual square meters) as New York City, with close

to ten million registered users spread around the virtual grid, either on the mainland or on any of the various themed “islands” of Second Life. For nearly a year, Kobrin (known online as Mumu Speedwell) has been a regular at Temple Beit Israel. Temple Beit Israel, Second Life’s first Jewish site, was created by Beth Brown, whose avatar (Beth Odets) became a virtual Jewish Matriarch. “I just wanted to create something meaningful,” explains the artist from Texas. “I never would have dreamed that the synagogue could become more than a place, but it’s developed into a responsibility that I welcome.” With around 400 members and thousands of visitors every week, Temple Beit Israel is

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G here & n OW

today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life as just a game, for many Second Lifers it is as real as any social interaction. According to Second Life blogger Drown Pharaoh, the success of religious virtual institutions like Temple Beit Israel has “something to do with the increasing self-confidence of avatars. When you’re in Second Life for a while, your avatar becomes more and more your real self, and you start looking for a place that really means something to you.” As Temple Beit Israel became increasingly popular, the doors were opened for other Jewish creations. Today Second Life boasts several synagogues, a Jewish Museum, a Holocaust Memorial, Jewish art galleries, a virtual replica of the Kotel and two islands dedicated to the Jewish people: Ir Shalom, the first Jewish island of Second Life, and SL Israel, which shows the Holy Land in what is perhaps a dream or utopian state–without politics. There is even a monthly publication dealing exclusively with Jewish arts and culture in Second Life: 2Life Magazine, the name a play on both the world in which it exists and the Hebrew expression l’chaim (“to life”).

branded islands only to find them deserted. Corporations haven’t grasped that Second Life is not primarily about futuristic marketing techniques with fascinating graphics, but rather building communities; this is why Temple Beit Israel draws hundreds of visitors on any given day. As California-based Tamara Cogan (virtually known as “TamaraEden Zinnemann”) points out, “The beautiful thing about Second Life’s Jewish community is that I’ve met people of literally every stream of Judaism. We have Reform and Conservative. We have Modern Orthodox and traditionalists. We even have, which surprised me most, people from ultra-Chasidic communities who come and explore and interact with people with whom, in their real lives, they would never have the chance to interact with. Perhaps a place like Second Life will be the start of many communities, from both ends of the spectrum, to reach out and step outside their worlds, embracing and learning about the most beautiful part of Judaism: our diversity.” Virtual Judaism does not replace real life activities and community, but it adds a new layer to Jewish identity. Second Life Judaism

"but in second life, you are not anonymous; you create a different identity. it does not matter how you look or where you come from. you reinvent yourself."

While grassroots initiatives like Second Life’s Jewish community are booming, major corporations are struggling to figure out how to use Second Life for business purposes. After Business Week ran a cover story on Second Life in May 2006, major corporations saw potential for lucrative endeavors in the virtual world. Reuters even hired a Second Life correspondent, reporting exclusively on economic developments in the alternative corporate world. Coca Cola, Toyota and IBM were among those who opened virtual corporate headquarters and/or specially

forms the base for a unique intercultural dialogue within various streams of Judaism, among various Diasporas and Israel, and between Jews and non-Jews. It is an experiment with an uncertain outcome, but with obvious potential for new and creative ways to explore culture, heritage, and identity.

today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life

Julian Voloj is a writer and photographer based in New York City who explores in his work aspects of identity and heritage. In Second Life he is known as Kafka Schnabel, editor of 2Life Magazine


today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life
today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life
today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life
today the center of Jewish life in the virtual world. While outsiders may see Second Life

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issue three 2007


eyond the history, warm weather and beautiful people that Israel has to offer, visitors to Israel often experience something

t he h ebrew Slanguage

unpacking the junk from israel’s trunk

deeper and more spiritual permeating Israeli life—a healthy sense of humor. Israelis have developed this wonderful quality in order to cope with the many difficulties they have to face. For those of us who were not born in Israel, but have chosen to make our lives in Israel, we get the bonus of experiencing an

additional layer of humor in Israel—laughing at Israelis, their culture, and their attempts to Americanize everything in sight. As is well known, Israelis have a penchant for shortening words and creating acronyms. This is our inspiration at Zabaj, the blog started by a bunch of anglo Olim from America. Zabaj is an acronym for “Zevel Ba’bagaj,” which is a loose translation of the slang expression “junk in the trunk.” Our intention is never to insult or criticize, just to observe and highlight those lighter-hearted moments of our lives in Israel. For example, did you know Israelis love t-shirts with seemingly random collections of English words strung together as slogans? Some of our favorites are “X-ray your emotions” and “Obsessed With Cloth’s.” One can’t blame Israelis for having to invent phrases and words for more modern inventions since Hebrew is such an old language. In the age of answering machines, if you called someone who wasn’t home, you could leave a message on their “mazkirah electronit” (electronic secretary); today, you

Jacob Shwirtz and Esther D. Kustanowitz

humor, one of the “Naked Gun” movies became “The Gun That Died of Laughter”; and, perhaps the translators either did not check with each other or proclaimed a comedy tie, but “Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo” was promoted in Israel as “The Gigolo Dies from Laughter.” (It’s worth noting that the titular gigolo actually lived and went on to make “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo”– Israeli title unfortunately not available, but probably similarly hilarious.) Most ironically, “Lost in Translation,” a movie about missing translations is itself mistranslated to Hebrew as “Lost in Tokyo.” As much as Americans have come to call certain products by their brand names (Kleenex, Xerox, etc.), Israelis take the concept to a whole new level: all cereal is cornflakes and all potato chips are Doritos. From the Department of Redundancy Department came “rotev salsa”… this, in a Hebrew- Spanish combo, means “sauce sauce.” The Hebrew expression for “third time’s a charm” is “pa’am shlishi glida,” which translates to “third time is ice cream”; this term comes from the time of the British Mandate when the English would say, “If I see you a third time, I’ll scream.” Israelis heard “ice cream” and the phrase stuck. Knowing that the list of examples can go on forever strengthens our commitment to our chosen life in Israel. Perhaps we hope that by pointing out some of these idiosyncrasies the society can improve and be more proud of its heritage. Perhaps we are trying to help newcomers adjust to life here (where, unless you pronounce Rothschild as “Rut-cheeld” or Lincoln as “Linkolin,” you won’t get anywhere in a cab). Or, perhaps, we are just developing a native sense of humor. Have a nice ass.

B eyond the history, warm weather and beautiful people that Israel has to offer, visitors to

Jacob Shwirtz is part of the founding team of Zabaj, spends his days as an Internet strategist and nights as the coordinator of the Israel chapter of the taglit-bir thright israel alumni association. Esther D. Kustanowitz is senior editor of PresenTense Magazine, and occasionally contributes to Zabaj.

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will have instead reached their “ta hakoli” (voice box). And did you know that while sirens on the top of police cars are called “chakalakas,” the single-light siren is a “Kojak” (named after the 70s TV show)? More modern mishaps with English come from the frequent ad campaigns that Israeli companies run solely in English. Crocker Jeans’ ad campaign is a true hit, with giant billboards all over Tel Aviv. Each ad features a somewhat attractive Israeli girl, in really tight jeans, bending over (but not sitting!) along the tagline: “Don’t sit! Have a nice ass.” At Zabaj, we like to imagine the smoked out, Fraggle Rock, red-dyed, henna hair, Israeli marketing genius that came up with this ridiculous slogan. “Ze cacha omrim—hev a nize day—omrim hav a nice azzz” (undeserved applause by all in the boardroom). Movie titles are a category all their own. In 1991, Oliver Stone’s film “JFK”—initials apparently untranslatable to Hebrew—became “Tik Patuah” (Open Case). But silly American comedies are particularly susceptible to head- scratching Hebrew titles: “Hot Shots, Part Deux” became “Dances with Chickens.” As a modest bow before the power of American

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t he z ioni S t f rontier

zionism redefined in jerusalem

Benjamin Fisher

Presentense Institute for Creative Zionism
Presentense Institute for Creative Zionism
  • C ommenting on his own work, the acclaimed 19th-20th century French sculptor Auguste Rodin is reputed to have asserted, “I

invent nothing. I rediscover.” Irrespective of the truth of his assertion, Rodin’s words point to the idea that there is value to be found in the annals of history—an idea given voice to in the Deuteronomic injunction to ‘Remember the days of old, [and] consider the years of

many generations.’ I was reminded again of this idea over the past summer at the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism (PICZ). Headquartered in the center of Jerusalem, PICZ hosted 18 young activists and innovators from Israel and the Diaspora working on a diverse range of projects. The projects reflected the diversity of their creators, ranging from a Bible rap album that serves as a platform for Jewish education to a website linking Jewish communities with experts in various fields. The Institute also provided a series of interesting lectures, from venture capitalist Jacob Ner- David’s analysis of Israel’s ‘start-up culture’ to activist Asaf Baner’s discussion of B’Maaglei Tzedek, an organization he directs which promotes a “social seal” kashrut certificate granted to restaurants that adhere to basic workplace ethics. These occasions provided those with other commitments, like myself, a valuable opportunity to participate in the Institute’s activities.

headquartered in the center of Jerusalem, piCz hosted 18 young activists and innovators from israel and the diaspora working on a diverse range of projects.

Underpinning the Institute is its philosophical vision of Israel as a laboratory for the renewal of the Jewish People. PICZ’s grassroots application of its ideology signifies a radical development in the Jewish world, rooted in a rediscovery of an often forgotten aspect of Zionist ideology. Defining Zionism as a political movement that ‘aims to secure and support a legally recognized national home for the Jews in their historical homeland, and to initiate and stimulate a revival of Jewish national life, culture and language, Zionist ideology typically focuses on two issues: the justification for the existence of a Jewish state in Israel, and visions of how that state will function. Pre-state Zionism was additionally troubled by how to bring such a state to fruition. To give a few examples, discussion of the first issue often centers on anti-Semitism, Jewish historical connections to the land of Israel, and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 calling for the two-state partition of Palestine. The second issue addresses a wide array of visions for the Jewish state ranging from Socialist Zionism’s synthesis of Jewish national redemption with socialism, Ahad Ha’am’s call for the establishment of a national spiritual center to shape Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora, and Religious Zionism’s focus on establishing a state in light of Jewish Law. Many Jewish organizations focus principally on the former aspect of Zionist ideology. Some, like the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, which aims to “assure a thriving future for the Jewish people and Judaism with Israel as their core state,” are concerned with the second aspect of Zionist ideology. Uniquely, PICZ concerns itself solely with its vision of the function of a Jewish state and works at the grassroots level to bring this idea to fruition. The initial projects developed by PICZ provide an encouraging sign that the Institute will achieve its aim of

generating a creative Jewish community to explore contemporary ways of affiliation and Jewish citizenship with Israel at its center. Commenting on the working environment, Avi Bass, the director of an upcoming pilot trip to Israel for Boston students interested in Aliyah, explained that the Institute provided “a constant source of constructive criticism and encouragement for my project.” Similarly, Eli Winkelman, who directs the LA-based Challah for Hunger project, commented that being there felt “like an integral part of something much, much bigger than you and your own project” which encouraged her to “trust a little more in the future.” These points were lost on a representative of the Jewish Agency who spoke at the closing event hosted by the World Zionist Organization. The burden of his speech related to justifications for the existence of a Jewish state in Israel and was punctuated with references to Israel as a refuge from anti- Semitism. The speech was not without merit — indeed, in a world in which Israel’s enemies in the Middle East and its vicious detractors in the West often explicitly or implicitly deny its right to exist, it is essential to articulate such justifications. However, concern with those existential justifications should not be to the exclusion of the functions of that State. The father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, motivated by anti-Semitism following the Dreyfus Affair, called for the creation of a Jewish state, but also described his utopian vision of such a State in his novel Altneuland (“Old-New Land”). Each aspect has its appropriate context. For all those who, like me, have an “ayin l’Tzion tzofiyah ” or one eye turned toward Zion, the recent birth of PICZ is a welcome addition to the Jewish world.

t he z ioni S t f rontier zionism redefined in jerusalem Benjamin Fisher Presentense Institute

Benjamin Fisher was a member of the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism (pICZ).

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p resen t ensema G azine. O r G here & n OW

Matt Bar The Bible Rap The Bible Rap Project provides a new medium with which to
Matt Bar
The Bible Rap
The Bible Rap Project
provides a new medium with
which to educate young Jews
about Judaism, the Jewish
People and Jewish texts,
fusing a cutting edge source-
based curriculum with hip-
hop, this generation’s most
powerful mode of cultural
Avi Bass
Impact Aliyah
Impact Aliyah enables Aliyah-
minded students to become
agents of positive change in
Israeli society, the global Jewish
community, and the world, using
Israel as a platform.
Josh Poritz
club360 is an
integrated solution
for student groups
seeking to manage
their clubs without
ever leaving
Gabi Appel
Zionist Youth Leadership
Eli Winkelman
Challah for Hunger
Challah for Hunger volunteers
gather to bake challah, which
they sell to raise money
for relief and awareness of
humanitarian disasters. CfH
serves for many as a gateway
into activism and Judaism.
The World Zionist Youth Parliament seeks
to encourage leadership and communal
involvement among young Jews in their 20s.
The Youth Parliament also aims to create a
young-adult network of Jews all around the
world that will deal with topics like Anti-
Semitism, assimilation, Israel advocacy and
issues that young Jewish adults deal with in
Israel and in the Diaspora.
p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
i ssue three 2007
w inner S of the h ebrew u ni ver S ity p hoto c onte

w inner S of the h ebrew

u ni ver S ity p hoto c onte S t

w inner S of the h ebrew u ni ver S ity p hoto c onte
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1 S t

Jerusalem Sunset, 2007

Sam Blumberg; Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

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The Hebrew University Office of Academic Affairs is proud to announce the inaugural winners for the CRISPEE Contest: Rothberg International School Photo Exhibit Extravaganza, an annual photo contest and year-long exhibit for students who studied abroad during the previous academic year.

This exhibit is sponsored by RIS’s Office of Academic Affairs, PresenTense Magazine, Isram Travel, and Talk’n’Save.

To see the full exhibit, please visit

The focus of the contest was “What most typifies your experience at the Hebrew University and/or in Israel to you?” The competition was judged by the Rothberg International School’s Office of Academic Affairs and PresenTense Magazine.

w inner S of the h ebrew u ni ver S ity p hoto c onte
w inner S of the h ebrew u ni ver S ity p hoto c onte

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2nd Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 2007 Rachel Belloma; Pittsburgh, PA 3rd Israeli Flags at the


Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 2007

Rachel Belloma; Pittsburgh, PA

2nd Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 2007 Rachel Belloma; Pittsburgh, PA 3rd Israeli Flags at the


Israeli Flags at the Yom Yerushalayim Parade, 2007

Josh Nason; Dallas, TX

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feature S Slave S in the h oly l and the problem of sex slavery in
feature S
Slave S in the h oly l and
the problem of sex slavery in israel
Chloe Safier

photo by Laura Esner

A t age twenty, I had never seen a prostitute. Less than four minutes after moving to Beer- Sheva for my junior semester

abroad, I had seen two. They were working at the local train station, southern Israel’s commuting nexus; I crossed the street to avoid them, not wanting to get in the way of their business. As I settled into a comfortable dorm lifestyle just half a block away, I began to ignore these mysterious women for sale. I studied women’s health issues in my classes;

But after founder and director of the Center for Women’s Health Studies and Promotion at Ben-Gurion University, Julie Cwikel, delivered a guest lecture about sex trafficking in Israel, I was shaken. Beyond the local problem I had glimpsed, trafficking is an extremely profitable illegal industry that coerces people over international borders, takes their rights and money, and then forces them into slavery. According to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, “trafficking” means “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt

person, for the purpose of exploitation.” This definition’s wordiness cloaks the squalid reality of the trafficking industry: these women are often forced, abused, mistreated, and sometimes even killed. This grave human rights violation is neither foreign to Israel, nor to other Westernized countries with strong human rights legislation. Although the prostitutes I saw by the train station weren’t necessarily trafficked, it’s not unlikely. ATZUM, a non-profit organization based in Israel that hosts the Task Force against Human Trafficking, suggests that nearly 80%

nearly eighty percent of israeli sex workers are trafficked slaves.

still, it became easy to forget those local women who desperately needed health care and services. Even from afar, I could tell that they were undernourished: their eyes bleary from drugs–their legs, in tall boots and short skirts–pacing listlessly.

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of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another

of Israeli sex workers are trafficked slaves. According to a 2005 Knesset committee report, between 3,000 and 5,000 people are enslaved and trafficked in Israel. In 2000, an Amnesty International report caused Israeli legislature to pay

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G features

attention to victimized foreign women’s legal issues. Previously, there was broad legislation ensuring women’s rights, but after 2000, the addition of Amendment 56 to the penal code overtly forbade the trafficking of human persons. In recent years, there have been further legislative and rehabilitative improvements, but the trafficking continues and related legislation is still pending. As Cwikel reports, legislation has been submitted to the Israeli Knesset that, if passed, would “criminalize the buying of sex services from a woman who has been trafficked.” The next summer, I returned to Israel with a grant to study the myth of gender equality in Tzahal, Israel’s military. I spent months in Jerusalem reading archival material, visiting recruitment centers, and interviewing women who had served since the early ‘70s. The results were not surprising: historically, army women were treated differently than army men, despite the myth in the collective consciousness to the contrary. More surprisingly, while recent legislation supposedly created broader women’s rights and opportunities, my research showed that society had not lived up to the law. In communal self-perception, women’s rights are prioritized and protected under law. In actuality, from political to courtroom affairs, the “old boys’ club” (connections made in all-male army units) runs the show. When a man is accused of violating a woman’s state- guaranteed rights, his connections often let him get away with little more than a wrist slap. This is most evident in cases of sexual harassment during the 1990s (my research focus) but the tendency is for the law to exert itself over a meme, a tendency further corroborated by negligent legal execution. The public attention drawn to former President and Knesset member Moshe Katzav, accused of sexually harassing and assaulting women who worked in his office, may indicate a cultural shift. Perhaps the cultural acceptance of sexual harassment is beginning to fade. Still, despite media attention, the charges against Katzav were downgraded; on June 28, Katzav agreed to plead guilty to charges of sexual harassment and indecent acts, which came with a lighter sentence that offended many women’s rights groups. Katzav got off without much damage to anything other than his ego, demonstrating that a true “paradigm shift” is yet to occur. Even with preventative legislation, the extent to which women are protected from sexual enslavement is objectionable. Rabbi

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Levi Lauer, the founding Executive Director of ATZUM (, reports, “The police do not close down brothels without a court order and a court order is seldom requested. Criminals often plea to a lesser crime, avoiding the mandatory sentences. In 2005, only 32 trafficking cases were concluded; 13 of them ended in a plea bargain.” Since then, Lauer charges, new legislation has made the warrant or court order unnecessary, although police inactivity continues. Rony Yedidia, the Consul of Israel to New England, relays far different information from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice: “The police are far from passive, the recent State Department TIP report praises the state for its extensive enforcement,” and reports that this March, “The Israeli government filed charges against a police officer involved in trafficking.” So the extent to which police are complicit in criminal activity remains unclear. Israel is at a crossroads. The legislation for a society that protects its citizens’ basic human rights is in place, though it remains to be seen how that legislation will be enforced – both in the case of sexual harassment against women soldiers, and the rights of trafficked women. While prostitution is legal, pimping and running a brothel aren’t. Moreover, as reflected in Lauer’s and Yedidia’s conflicting reports, it’s difficult to ascertain the extent to which police enforce the law (or are involved in breaking it). Yet brothels are disconcertedly abundant in Tel Aviv and prostitutes are so common in Beer Sheva that I walked by them daily. Local newspapers abound with illegal offers of cheap sex, and the number of trafficked women, while difficult to calculate, is still in the thousands. If this behavior is illegal, and the police are supposed to stop it, then why is there still so much visual evidence to the contrary? It would be almost redundant to point out the historical relationship between Judaism and slavery. Tearing ourselves out of the slaveholders’ grasp is a common theme in our history, yet we are turning a blind eye when this is happening in a country that promotes itself as a safe haven for those fleeing oppression and slavery. Many activists in this field have been criticized for “airing out Israel’s dirty laundry” when Israel is already facing such scathing global critique. But as a progressive and Israel- adoring American Jew, I believe that it’s more important to draw attention to the issue and to help these women than to worry about

Israel’s public image. In the end, Israel will look better for having taken the initiative to fix the problem. The Jewish community should not allow Israel to neglect its women, but, rather, should fight to ensure that its country’s moral fiber stays intact.

attention to victimized foreign women’s legal issues. Previously, there was broad legislation ensuring women’s rights, but

Chloe Safier works with GesherCity Boston ( to create social justice opportunities for Jewish young adults in the Boston area. A recent GesherCity Boston event featured p r o fessor Cwikel speaking about trafficking. Learn more about human trafficking through www.At ZUM. org, an extensive resource for anti-trafficking work in Israel and for ideas about activism opportunities.


Learn, then Act

• Visit the task Force on human trafficking website at • Learn more about human trafficking in Israel at www.At and the hotline for Migrant Workers ( • Contact your local state representative about current United States legislation on trafficking, domestically and abroad (visit to find your local legislators) • host an information session with a local activist or professor who can educate your community on the subject of human tr afficking (contact At or t F


• “Smuggling? trafficking? What’s the Difference?” US State Department (online at: issues/human_trafficking/smuggling_ trafficking.html) • t he pa rliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the trafficking in Women, 2005 report (from At • Women as Commodities: trafficking in Women in Israel,” Levenkron, Nomi and Da han, Yossi, hotline for Migrant Workers, Isha L’Isha ( haifa Feminist Center), Adva Center, 2003. • ”human trafficking in Israel; At ZUM’s call to conscience—and to arms,” Levi D. Lauer and Yedida Wolfe (from At • Also check out “ten t hings You Can Do to End Slavery,” from PresenTense Issue 2, available online at


issue three 2007

f unny, y ou d on’t l ook Jewi S h

converts on the true colors and jewish community

Aliza Hausman

f unny, y ou d on’t l ook Jewi S h converts on the true colors

Yitz Jordan. photo by Avital Aronowitz

W hy does everyone stare at me in

shul? My hair is furrier, fuzzier

and a foot taller than everyone

else’s. Even among ‘my people’

in the Dominican Republic, I am considered rather pale; but in a crowd of Ashkenazi Jews, people tend to see my measly tan as exotic. My skin color, my hair texture and my facial features all betray my desire to blend in. I only wish I could tell all the gawkers outright that, just

two years ago, I was a non-practicing Catholic running around in cleavage-enhancing tank tops and short shorts. Why do people decide to convert to Judaism? It’s a question that converts—

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especially those of us who don’t aesthetically blend in—are asked incessantly over the course of our journey into Judaism. Many people make assumptions: “Oh, she’s just doing it to marry a Jew.” And for the non-Caucasian convert, the journey is complicated by race and ethnicity. I am Hispanic, a first-generation Dominican-American. I am black, white and Other. But being Jewish is what I identify with most of all, even though people can’t see it. At 12 years old, when I told my Catholic mother that I wanted to be Jewish, she slapped me silly. That was when I found out my family was staunchly anti-Semitic, despite the Star of David I stole from my mother’s nightstand.

(She also wore a cross, and I’m still not totally sure what it was doing there.) As the daughter of immigrants, I had only just realized that there were other options outside the mix of Catholicism and Santeria—Spanish voodoo—practiced in my home. Even living in Washington Heights, around the corner from Yeshiva University, I assumed everyone was also Catholic and had little altars at home where their mothers made offerings to saints. It took a visit from a Holocaust survivor, a trip to Yeshiva University’s museum, and one excursion to the local library’s religion section, and I was sold. After all, as a child

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too many assume that conversions are done for the sake of marriage. in fact, there are a growing number of converts who are drawn to Judaism in their early teens. We all suffer from infatuation in our teens, but for these converts, Judaism has etched its way into adulthood, as well.

in Sunday school, everyone had drawn Jesus when we were told to draw G-d, and I had only squiggled my yellow crayon around and said “G-d is light.” The nun was perturbed. But I cringed whenever I heard “in Jesus’s name we pray,” or when I saw all the idols in church. It wasn’t until after college, many non- observant Jewish boyfriends later, that I rediscovered Judaism. My best friend, a sworn atheist, had met a rabbi and gone Orthodox. Instead of freaking out, as many of his friends did, I asked him for books and websites, and when I told my family about it, my sisters said, “Well, great…didn’t you always want to be Jewish?” At the beginning of a religious conversion process, there can be a startling and unexpected chain reaction—a change or loss of friends, a new vocabulary, a new wardrobe and a less than supportive family reaction. “So, who are you converting for?” Um, G-d. “No, really? Don’t you believe in Jesus?” Um, no. “You’re going to hell.” Um, thanks? “I’m sure someone will marry you even though your hair is… nappy.”

And then there are those crowds of Jews, who—like some friends and family—simply don’t understand who they’ve encountered in meeting me. Although the American mainstream has largely accepted Jews as white, an increasing population of non-Caucasian converts is adding brown, black and yellow to the American Jewish milieu. My Muslim African-American student, Reggie, breakdanced with rabbis at my wedding and discusses Talmud with my husband, a rabbinical student. My aunt, always full of questions about Judaism, loves to tell those around her about her Orthodox Jewish niece. She wonders after speaking with a non-observant Jew, “Why call yourself Jewish if you’re not doing anything Jewish?” Do Jews who negatively react to my skin color forget that they were once slaves in Egypt and strangers in another land? Sticking out like a sore thumb in your own community—the only dark or different face in the crowd—is the struggling convert’s reality. These new Jews are causing ripple effects, perhaps raising the bar as they change how non-Jews look at Judaism and Jewry. The encounters of converts testify to their tenacity and dedication to staying the course, despite absurd and frustrating obstacles. As more converts from dissimilar backgrounds join the fold, perhaps people will stop gawking at us in shul. If nothing else, it isn’t very polite to stare.

Conservative rabbis are very welcoming of half-Jews who decide to convert,” Bernstein said. “They treat it as a homecoming.” And yet Bernstein’s conversion is one of those stuck in the gray. Bernstein converted through the Conservative community, and today, the validity of even some Orthodox conversions are suspect. “The impetus to finally push me to convert was wedding planning,” said Bernstein. “She wanted to get married in the Long Island Conservative synagogue where she grew up, and I needed to get official in a hurry.” As the son of a Jew, Bernstein feels connected to the community, but still is challenged by his own motivation and struggles with prayers and services. “Mostly,” he said, “it’s hard for me to get off my butt and learn Hebrew better.” One ex-wife later, Bernstein still lives a Jewish life, and his observant relatives still admire his decision to convert. “Although for those of them who are Orthodox,” Bernstein said, “a Conservative conversion is fairly meaningless.” Too many assume that conversions are done for the sake of marriage. In fact, there are a growing number of converts who are drawn to Judaism in their early teens. We all suffer from infatuation in our teens, but for these converts, Judaism has etched its way into adulthood, as well.

too many assume that conversions are done for the sake of marriage. in fact, there are
too many assume that conversions are done for the sake of marriage. in fact, there are

David Bernstein, 40, has a Jewish father and an African-American Christian mother. He was raised as a Jew. It wasn’t until his teens that Bernstein discovered he wasn’t considered Jewish according to Orthodox standards. Immersing himself in his Conservative synagogue has been pretty easy; although, like many non-observant Jews who join Conservative synagogues, Bernstein struggles with his lack of Hebrew and the unfamiliar prayers. He noted that his rabbi’s own experience moving from non-observance to becoming a rabbi himself helped him along his own path through conversion. Bernstein attributes his ‘half-Jewish’ status as part of the reason the community welcomed him with open arms. “In general,

Rivka, a 27-year-old African-American

convert, was “probably 15 or so” when she

became interested in Reform Judaism. “I was looking for something more progressive than the Pentecostal church I was brought up in. When I was 16, I inquired into a Reform conversion. The rabbi said I was too young.” In college, she joined Hillel and “identified solely with the Jewish faith as my own.” After graduation, she moved to Florida and converted under Reform auspices. But, she found she didn’t fit in at the Reform synagogues. “They were geared either towards empty-nesters or to parents of young children.” She tried dating Jewish men, but found it “pretty disappointing to see that many of these proud Jewish men had not been inside a synagogue since they were 13.” Already one of the most active and observant Jews in the synagogue, Rivka took

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her Jewish education into her own hands, and found Aish HaTorah. “I had no inkling they were Orthodox,” Rivka said. “Despite my negative feelings towards Orthodox Judaism in general, I stayed around for the education. Pretty soon, I found myself totally losing interest in the Reform movement. After my first Orthodox service (yes, behind the mechitzah [the partition between men and women in the synagogue]), I knew I had found where I belonged.” Is this a happy ending? Conversion is much more complicated than most people think, and Rivka’s story doesn’t end in a glorious homecoming. While most of the rabbis she has dealt with have been very polite, Rivka explained, “I’ve had to prove myself over and over in order to be taken seriously.” She attributes this struggle largely to her race. “I’ve gotten to the point where I have my friends,” she said. “People have seen me in shul enough to figure out that I am not a visitor or a lurker.” In fact, friends told her she needed a halakhic conversion, and, in spite of a few “downright rude” rabbis, she took every class on Judaism she could find. Forming connections with people has proven difficult for Rivka, as has keeping

kosher. “A lot of my favorite foods did not have a hekhsher (rabbinical supervision)! Like Combos,” she said. “I’m [also] irked by the insincere converts that make conversion out to be a sham,” she said. But what Rivka seems most worried by is the idea that she might not get married. “I don’t trust the shiddukh (religious matchmaking) system. My hope is that the Jewish people will live up to their potential for greatness and be able to see the neshamah (soul, or spirit) over the outside appearance.”

her Jewish education into her own hands, and found Aish HaTorah. “I had no inkling they

Gloria, a 30-year-old Hispanic convert living in Riverdale, NY, knew at an early age that she wanted to be Jewish. At ten, Gloria’s mother told her she wouldn’t impose any religion on her. “When you are ready, you can choose for yourself,” said her mother. “With your mind, heart and eyes open.” The first time Gloria attended Shabbat services, her Orthodox husband sat on the other side of the mechitzah. “I sat with a friend, who held my hand through it all. She whispered short explanations to parts of the prayer and helped me to find my place in the siddur,” said Gloria. “I didn’t know the order of the prayers and I hardly knew which way to turn the pages, but I

felt comfortable.” A month-long conversational Hebrew class and a trip to Israel greatly helped Gloria in her path to becoming a Dominican Jewess. “During the same trip to Israel,” she said, “I looked up and saw a Dominican flag…my two worlds living in harmony right there in the streets of Jerusalem.” Gloria searched for Orthodox rabbis to help her conversion along. “But most

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“i’ve had to prove myself over and over in order to be taken seriously.”

dropped contact after an initial meeting,” she said. She makes excuses for them. Gloria found a Conservative rabbi, and for the next nine months, she studied. All through that time, her rabbi made sure she

knew the Orthodox point of view. When she

finally made her kitchen kosher, she felt she was somehow cleansed, too. “I was purifying my soul,” she said. She left Conservative conversion classes and contacted Rabbi Avi Weiss at his modern Orthodox synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR). Sara Hurwitz, HIR’s Madricha Ruchanit, or religious mentor, returned Gloria’s call. Less than a year later, Gloria immersed in the ritual bath, a final rite of passage for any convert. On conversion day, she was surrounded by family, friends, her Beit Din (the rabbinical court presiding over her conversion), and Sara Hurwitz, whom she calls her spiritual sister. “The mikvah gave birth to me, and I was new again,” Gloria said. “I understood that I could call myself a Jew, but I have so much learning left to do.”

her Jewish education into her own hands, and found Aish HaTorah. “I had no inkling they

Yitz Jordan, 28, is an American convert with a café con leche complexion whose parents are Ethiopian and Puerto Rican. Jordan has made his face well-known in Jewish circles as Y-Love, and is a writer and hip-hop artist who won the award for Best Hip-Hop at the 2006 Jewish Music Awards. Heralded as “the scene’s next crossover success” by the Jerusalem Post, Y-Love represents the new face of Judaism, but still hasn’t been spared the struggles of a convert. “Being black does make the ‘convert’ title a bit more salient and readily evident within the Ashkenazi community,” Jordan explained. “I dealt with racism on a daily basis during the conversion process—but this changed 180-degrees after I spent a year in yeshiva at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem.”

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Batya, lawyer (Dominican) Batya’s boyfriend led her to Judaism, but she reverted back to Catholicism after
Batya, lawyer (Dominican)
Batya’s boyfriend led her to Judaism, but she reverted
back to Catholicism after an initial break-up. Trying to study
Catholicism left her spiritually empty and it wasn’t too long
before Judaism called to her again.
Today, Batya is working diligently toward her conversion,
even as she puts in 60-hour weeks at her law firm. She attends
conversion classes and wrestles with how to “come out” as a
convert to her family. She’s afraid that her conversion will
always be tainted by the fact that it was an ex-boyfriend that
started her on her path to Judaism. Batya is currently forming
an Israel trip that caters to converts.
in bonding with their adopted communities,” he said.
While preparing to convert, Bill is investigating the
possibility that he has Syrian-Jewish lineage on his mother’s
side. He said the most detrimental element in his journey has
been his occasional lapses, where he’s confused the religion
itself with those who attempt to pervert it or unintentionally
misrepresent it.
Bill, lawyer (Venezuelan-American)
Bill, a Hispanic in the process of converting, grew up in
Roslyn and Baldwin, NY. He was always one of just a few people
of color in his community, and believes that this formative
experience as “the Other” helps him to adapt and connect to
his new community. “Because of a lack of common experiences,
which often date from childhood, converts are often hindered
Wendy, mother (Dominican-American)
Wendy just gave birth to a ‘half-Jewish,’ half-Dominican
baby. Wendy and her Jewish husband have been studying
Judaism together, in an effort to mutually move toward Wendy’s
Orthodox conversion. She hopes her daughter will soon join
them on their journey. “My husband and I have decided that
this is a process, and one that should be taken slowly,” said
One of the most helpful parts of her conversion process
has been her rabbi. “He treated me as a friend from the very
first time I met him,” Wendy said. “That is what I appreciate
most about him.”

“Now,” continues Jordan, “I had ‘yeshiva friends,’ now I had ‘a year in Israel.’ At that point, many of the same people who wouldn’t speak to me previously were relentlessly inviting me for Shabbos meals.” Jordan finds the Hassidic community more accepting of his conversion. “The Hassidic community is such that if you want to come to the community, keep the halakhah, live the cultural mores and norms, and keep the traditions and speak Yiddish, you will be accepted more or less readily,” said Jordan. And then he adds, “Accepted as what is the question.” Jordan said he has wanted to be Jewish his entire life. Jordan began learning Hebrew from the siddur as a young teen, on his own. By the time he was 14, he was wearing a kippah and tzitzit, going to Shabbat services, and praying every night after high school. He says his instinctive draw to Judaism puts people off. “People expect to hear about this huge theological soul-searching process,” Jordan said. “For me, I always knew there was a group of people called ‘Jews’ and I wanted to be one of them.” Are the Jewish people who he expected they would be? “I lost my mother a few years ago to coke addiction and lost a number of friends to drugs and car accidents,” Jordan recounted. “One of the rabbis said in response, ‘You see, this is one of the problems with the black ghetto.’ I never looked at him in the same way again.” Jordan hadn’t mentioned to this particular rabbi that the friends he lost to drugs had been white, not black as his rabbi had assumed. Still, another rabbi, this one from Ohr Somayach, surprised him. “After I told him of how the N-word was said in my presence at yeshiva, he said ‘that young man is a baby, an idiot, he’s the reason

the Moshiach is not here!’” “Because there is so little interaction between many ultra- Orthodox communities and their non-white neighbors,” Jordan said, “there is no learned sensitivity that those of us who live in multicultural environments take for granted.” When Jordan tells me that he hopes to contribute to Jewish unity, I wonder if he realizes that his very presence in the community seems to be doing just that. He is open about his fears, about not reaching personal and professional goals. “My rav says that, today, we see people paying less attention to the Torah being said than [we do] to the person who’s saying it,” said Jordan. “I fear that people will not want to listen to me. I fear becoming overly reactive and withdrawing myself from Torah because of other people’s racism. And my biggest fear is that my words will fall on deaf ears for a century or two, until a bochur (young man) with a better last name and yichus (community status) repeats my words and is heralded as a visionary and a pioneer.” To shield himself against such fears, Jordan holds onto his grandmother’s memory. Though his mother didn’t support his decision to convert, Jordan’s grandmother told him that his decision to convert was the best he had ever made. “A black child born since 1980 has as much chance of being in jail by age 20 as he does being in college,” Jordan said. “Here I was, saying that I wanted to dedicate my life to Torah and to a strict life within the bounds of halakhah—who would be opposed to that?”

Batya, lawyer (Dominican) Batya’s boyfriend led her to Judaism, but she reverted back to Catholicism after

Aliza Hausman is a freelancer writer in New York City who suffers from an

addiction to literature, films, magazines



the nice Jewish boy she married.

features p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

Star- c ro SS ed l over S scenes from an interfaith relationship Neely Steinberg F

Star- c ro SS ed l over S

scenes from an interfaith relationship

Neely Steinberg

F or the past two years, my boyfriend, “Mr. Just Right,” has been an incredible presence
or the past two years,
my boyfriend, “Mr.
Just Right,” has been an
incredible presence in my
life, breaking through my walls, brick
by brick, layer by layer. He has loved me
Star- c ro SS ed l over S scenes from an interfaith relationship Neely Steinberg F

unconditionally, waiting patiently by my side while I’ve navigated the rocky terrain of self-growth. I have no doubt that I am deeply in love with him. But not all good things come wrapped in nice, little packages with pretty, pastel bows. Recently, one difference has forced me to re-examine our relationship: He is Lutheran, and

  • I am Jewish. I’m not alone in my dilemma. According to a 2001 American Religious Identification Survey, one-fourth of Jewish adults in America were members of interfaith families—a statistic that would make my late grandmother roll over in her grave. My Nana felt strongly that Jews should marry Jews and live an observant life together, and that this shared Judaism was integral to a successful relationship. I had always been adamant that religion should not be a decisive factor in matters of the heart, but Nana was always hopeful that I would come to understand this someday. But what happens when a previously inactive and irrelevant kernel of doubt lodges itself in your identity and prompts you to confront long-buried questions? In preparation for my brother Randy’s wedding, his fiancée, Danna, requested that I familiarize myself with the various traditions of a Jewish wedding. I happily delved into reading material on the subject. The more I read the more melancholy I became.

  • I felt confused and torn.

I had never been too religious growing up, but the notion that I might not celebrate my own Jewish heritage, the way Danna and Randy would be doing, was now becoming a potential—and sobering—reality.

It wasn’t just a longing for reassuring customs, like the signing of the ketubah standing underneath the chuppah, or having shared cultural references, that throttled my insides. Underneath it all was the fear that, if I married Mr. Just Right, a Christian man, I might never have the option to act on my latent desire to explore my Judaism

on a deeper level. A couple days after my spiritual crisis, Mr. Just Right broached the subject of children. “What if we were to raise our children Lutheran? You’re not very religious, so would it really matter to you?” he asked. Inexplicably, the idea terrified me. Yes, it would matter. If I raised my children in a different faith from my own, the last vestiges of my connection with Judaism—already precarious—might vanish completely. I am staunchly opposed to raising my future children as Christians; I am likewise uncomfortable rearing them as Jews with a gentile father. I turn over the options and questions in my mind compulsively, each time growing more and more unsteady. Secularism seems the least desirable route, since it would eliminate any kind of religious or traditional identity. But by observing both religions, numerous difficulties might arise: mutual animosity; confused and resentful children; and religious superficiality. Maybe we’ll settle for that, I think. We could gather

for dinner for a few Jewish holidays

(the way my family did) and celebrate Christianity with some Christmas stockings and Easter egg hunts. But even if I somehow convinced myself that I could walk this precarious tightrope, there is another, more serious question to consider: Given my current identity struggle, what if I grow to resent Mr. Just Right? I visualize myself waking up one day 30 years from now, lying next to him, still consumed by the same confusing feelings, only grayer and more wrinkled. Will I be sorry then that I chose now not to explore Judaism on a deeper level, with a Jewish man? And will I subconsciously blame my husband for that decision? Should this budding desire to become a more devout Jew continue to blossom, I suppose I could always “be Jewish” on my own, even if I do marry a Christian man. Still, I wonder if the desire I feel today would somehow be diminished, destroyed even, by a future union and life with a gentile. Perhaps I long for a Jewish man to help me rouse my own latent Jewishness? Perhaps I yearn for a Jewish partner to take this journey with me, and to encourage and inspire me along the way? I wish the pages of my final chapter were already written. But I guess a good book isn’t worth reading unless its characters go through a defining struggle. Will love transcend the differences between Mr. Just Right and me, or will the power of identity overtake our bond? Only time and continued soul-seeking will tell.

Star- c ro SS ed l over S scenes from an interfaith relationship Neely Steinberg F

Neely Steinberg is a freelance writer based in Boston. She can be reached at

Star- c ro SS ed l over S scenes from an interfaith relationship Neely Steinberg F

issue t WO 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G features

collin a poem Genevieve Dreizen
a poem
Genevieve Dreizen

small patch of leather placed upon his rusted head. green eyes and pale skin, fool shamrocks and ale. he is peasant stock, magyar. in boxers and kitchen he moves deliberately:

cup and saucer, english breakfast. milk. places his hands upon the counter, appraising his Long Island lawn, as if it were his, and shifting

exhales ‘gotenyu bentshn.’

collin a poem Genevieve Dreizen small patch of leather placed upon his rusted head. green eyes

Genevieve Dreizen is a religious studies major at New York University.

features p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

photos by Mauricio Quintero

issue three 2007

calling all convert S

blogging the burdens and blessings of conversion

Leah Jones

calling all convert S blogging the burdens and blessings of conversion Leah Jones I n my
  • I n my day job, I work in the social media department of a large PR firm. Every day I explain the power of the blogosphere to people who

aren’t participating in the online community. Major life changes like becoming a parent, getting married, moving to a new country or having a spiritual awakening are reasons that people become bloggers. The wonderful thing about online communities is being able to select the people you want in your neighborhood and then sharing your lives through bits and bytes. When I speak to a room of Jews, I often introduce myself by two names: my English name, Leah Marie Jones, and my Hebrew name, Leah Meira bat Sarah v’Avraham. The “bat Sarah v’Avraham” signifies that I am a convert to Judaism, a Jew-by-choice. When I began studying Judaism in the summer of 2004, my resources were books,

rabbis and classes. Very few online resources existed; I knew of only of one blogger who was “out” as a convert. One conversion site,, still hasn’t changed since I found the site in 2004. Because I was already blogging daily about very personal topics, my blog became both a natural outlet for documenting my road to becoming a Jew and a reference for others on similar paths. Every day my referral logs show hits for “why do I want to be Jewish?”, “mikvah blessings,” “what will the beit din [Jewish court] ask?” and “Jewish convert blog.” It used to be difficult for Jews- by-choice to connect with other converts, but thanks to the power of Google and other search engines, blogs like mine—which is now called Accidentally Jewish—have become an online resource and helped us find each other, both on- and offline.

expanding Jewish community

Converts have been coming to Judaism since Ruth told Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go, your God will be my God.” Traditionally, once a convert joined the Jewish people, her past—and thereby, her path—was not supposed to be spoken of. Therefore, the challenges and joys of becoming a Jew were also not addressed. Today, the blogosphere allows converts to find help on the path to Judaism, the path after mikvah, and to build a more diverse Jewish community. In other words, it helps us find others who also came home. The first blog I found about conversion was Sushi Kiddush, written by Akira Micah Ohiso. “My blogging helped after I converted when I was struggling to live as a Jew and figuring out what it meant to live as a Jew,” said 37-year-old Ohiso, now a new father who has very little time to blog. “I got a lot of support from the Jewish blogosphere with halakhic dilemmas, new feelings about being Jewish, and getting comfortable with my Jewish mother-in-law buying me underpants on sale,” said Ohiso, who converted in 2003. “[Becoming Jewish] isn’t like flicking a switch, it’s a process, and blogging helped.” “Conversion started out very lonely for me,” said Micah, the 36-year-old writer of Ger Toshav, who is from a growing cohort of converts who do not have Jewish spouses. He began reading converts’ blogs early on. “I didn’t talk to people about it very much. But I often felt like my beliefs were disconnected from everyone around me, including other family and friends–even the mainstream world. Blogging (and the Jewish blogosphere) was a door to a “connectedness” that I was lacking in my offline life—that there are others out there like me. It was extremely comforting to know that there was a community of folks out there who had—and were still having—similar experiences to my own.” We began blogging as individuals. But collectively, our blogs have created a living archive of what it means to become a Jew and, more importantly, how it felt to go through the study and cultural adjustments involved. While

rabbis and cantors are well trained to assist in helping a convert, very few know what it feels like, or the isolation that sometimes accompanies that process. For instance, Avi, the blogger behind Tikkun Ger, combs the Internet for video and podcasts that he shares with his readers. His in-depth essays have explored halachic conversion, Reform conversion, and since his engagement, he has written about creating a Jewish family life. “It’s been part of my Judaism because it’s given me a much wider Jewish community to participate in,” said anonymous blogger Orieyenta. “It offers a chance to be exposed to other elements of Judaism and to discuss Jewish issues with a much broader audience.” Camilla, a 21-year-old college student who is studying for conversion in an isolated community

and who blogs at Madame Blue Eyes said, “I learn a lot more about Judaism [because of] the Jewish blogosphere. I’ll read something and think “Wow,

  • I never knew/heard that before” and go off to learn more about that particular topic.”

Without blogging, I would be involved only with my local Reform congregation and the Young Leadership Division of the Federation.

But because of blogging, I also have Orthodox, secular, Israeli, and Canadian Jewish friends who are Jewishly different than I am; without our blogs we wouldn’t have a relationship at all. As a reader who converted 12 years before

  • I did and recently found my blog explained, “You didn’t convert to anything, or join

anything. You just came home.”

calling all convert S blogging the burdens and blessings of conversion Leah Jones I n my

Leah Jones is a writer in Chicago, blogs at AccidentallyJewish. com, and by day is a Conversation Analyst in the me2revolution at Edelman public relations.

Choice Blogs By Jews-By-Choice

issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G features

m ore o rgie S , m ore b abie S

a modest proposal

Ben Brofman

m ore o rgie S , m ore b abie S a modest proposal Ben Brofman

photo by Esther D. Kustanowitz

T he most popular Jewish pastime,

arguably, is our obsession with

numbers and the size of the Jewish

population, which, according to

most recent studies, is in danger. The questions reverberate across Jewish boardrooms and dinner tables: How many Jews are there? Why aren’t there more of us? If two Jews fall in the forest, how many opinions will they have, and can we arrange for them to fall on each other in a way that might help one impregnate the other? While the Orthodox community continues to grow apace, and its women have an annoyingly high total fertility rate, the non-Orthodox Jewish community seems to dwindle away with every new generation. Short of massive proselytizing and conversion efforts, what can we do to reverse Jewish population decline and avoid the fate of becoming a nation of stagnation? Luckily, help is on the way: the popular birthright israel program has had success in bringing young, horny, undersexed, North American Jews of prime childbearing age to Israel for the first time. But, while hook-ups are common on the free 10-day trip, its true potential remains untapped: not enough is being done to encourage unprotected sexual encounters. For shame! With a small

investment in intentionally defective condoms and some authoritative sounding, scripturally grounded bad advice, there could soon be a bumper crop of “birthright babies.” The solution to the Jewish population crisis should be immediately obvious to anyone with a seventh grade education:

to save the Jewish people, we need more babies. To maximize baby production, we need an orgy. It’s utterly simple, with but a few insignificant and nearly insurmountable difficulties. The annual IJO: the week-long International Jewish Orgy (perhaps between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but I’m open to Passover, too) will provide Jewish men and women with endless sexual partners in a non- competitive, pro-procreative environment. The fully-catered event will feature an open mustard and cold-cut bar to get the men excited and provide ample liquor as social lubricant. Sponsored and underwritten by Goldman Extramarital Sachs, the event will be a draw for paying male customers who step up to this important national service, to impregnate as many Jewish women as possible. And for women, the formula is simple: arrive on time, have a drink or twelve, and leave pregnant with the Jewish future.

While this plan is undoubtedly controversial, it is not without precedent. For a period in Jewish history, sex with multiple partners, free love, and communal possession of children was common within kibbutz communities—an outgrowth of egalitarian attitudes. These children belonged to and were raised by the community. Such creative reproductive actions taken by Jews living in the nascent Israeli state deserve contemporary emulation. As for providing community care for Jewish children and mothers, The Hebrew Mutual Benefit Society, Jewish Unmarried Mothers Services, and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum are all models we can build on for the disbursement of funds and assistance. Along with donations from wealthy Jewish benefactors, an endowment can be set up to provide for the unwed mothers and their bastard children. Reason cannot guide us; only fear can. The unmitigated fear of what might happen in a distant, unpredictable future must compel us to take radical actions that might otherwise be considered unwise, were we to pause and reflect rationally. And we must not wait. We must act immediately, before someone realizes how ridiculous this proposal actually is. As taught by the apocryphal thirteenth century Rabbi Menachem “the Weird” of Chelm, “The only way to fight the reasonable is with the unreasonable or, if that doesn’t work, poison their borscht.” It should be noted that Rabbi Menachem’s congregation consisted solely of nine chickens and a very large radish—barely a minyan by most shtetl standards—hence the name Rabbi Menachem “the Weird.” To this day there remains much debate whether he was actually a rabbi. But, I digress. Back to my point: the Jewish future. Orgies are the only way to ensure population growth. Some may consider this proposal absurd, offensive, or even unrealistic; but I would ask these critics to consider the millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust and, hopefully, in that moment of distraction, they will decide to criticize something else. As the Bard famously said: “Let’s get it on.”

m ore o rgie S , m ore b abie S a modest proposal Ben Brofman

Ben Brofman is a foole from New York.

features p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

f etal a ttraction

why orthodox jews will prevent jewish extinction

Eric Ackland

A t every dais in the diaspora, at fundraisers, and at singles events, Jews are urged to marry other Jews to save the Jewish people. This seems rational and imperative, for it takes little to see that Judaism in America has

a sustainability problem. The Jewish intermarriage rate in America is either 47% or 54%, according to the National Jewish Population Study of 2000-2001. (The two figures define Jews differently.) Despite decades of pro-intramarriage programming, this is a dramatic rise from a 13% intermarriage rate for those married prior to 1970. Most Jews, apparently, see little reason to marry Jewish. But intermarriage isn’t the only reason Judaism’s future seems imperiled. Jews who marry Jews tend to marry later than other Americans, and average 1.8 children per family (a level less than replacement). Of these 1.8 children, significantly more than half will marry out. The Shakers doomed themselves to a futile future through celibacy, and modern Jews seem to be moving towards a similar fate. Generally, Jewish organizations don’t advocate that in-marrried Jews have at least three children. Even if no one intermarried, with

40 issue three 2007
40 issue three 2007
f etal a ttraction why orthodox jews will prevent jewish extinction Eric Ackland A t every

photo by Rina Castelnuovo

this birthrate, the Jews would still dwindle, just more slowly. Most campaigns for singles hype finding one’s soul mate as the lure, and once they’ve made a match, only follow-up in the form of fundraising, rather than in urging couples to raise more than two children. Viewing marriage solely as personal fulfillment, and without understanding the larger value of Jewish survival, why not have fewer children and more luxury? Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, marry young, rarely outside the faith, and average an estimated six children per family. There are no hard statistics, but according to the National Jewish Population Study of 2000-01, 39% of Orthodox Jews are under 18 years old, and 51% are under 44, whereas for all Jews, only 20% are under 18, and 44% are under 44. Percentage-wise, almost twice as many Orthodox Jews are currently under 18 than are non-Orthodox Jews. If the Orthodox were excluded from the “all Jews” birthrate, it would be significantly lower than 1.8, and the intermarriage rate would also be higher. Even committed non-Orthodox Jews, who don’t intermarry, and who are committed to the Jewish people, rarely have more than two children; their commitment is expressed more in terms of tzedakah (charity), temple membership, and politics. These are also important commitments, but without the Orthodox creed, even those doing the deed are unlikely to breed (which is the

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G features

thing we most need). Orthodox Jews don’t need expensive campaigns encouraging in-marriage and procreation; they do it automatically, despite difficulties, because the Torah tells them that having children is a blessing and an obligation. Still, most Jewish organizations seem willfully blind to Orthodoxy’s success. Could this level of commitment to in-marriage and procreation be recreated outside of Orthodoxy? Would non-Orthodox organizations succeed with a campaign encouraging non-Orthodox singles to marry Jewish, marry young, and have large families? Given their track record halting intermarriage, this seems unlikely. Why should single American Jews limit themselves to dating and marrying less than 2% of the population? There are millions more attractive, kind, smart, and genuinely good Gentiles than there are Jews, and given our Western values of tolerance and equality, and the hardship of loneliness, there is no rational reason not to love and marry a good person of any background, short of the Torah being true. Why should non-Orthodox Jews not only in-marry, but marry

Other segments of Judaism fail to create the kind of commitment that keeps a majority of adherents from marrying outside of the faith and having enough children to replace themselves.

young, and have large families, given the sacrifices involved? For security? For posterity? Because of the charm of Jewish tradition and culture? Because if they don’t they’ll break the chain, handing Hitler a posthumous victory? Because they like bagels and lox? Just because? None of these reasons will persuade any serious person to make these perceived sacrifices, because they don’t answer the real question:

why it matters. What is the ultimate value in the Jewish people surviving as Jews? Do Jews exist for a purpose, and are we fulfilling it? Without a mission beyond security or preservation, any culture, society, or religion becomes self-indulgent: focused not on eternal ideals and a grander mission, but upon transient matters of pleasure, aesthetics, comfort, consumption, and matters of conscience that aren’t too inconvenient. Further, given that a focus on in-marriage may seem “racist” (or at best parochial), why should a sensitive modern human being limit, stigmatize, or jeopardize oneself this way? The lack of a good secular answer is why I see these trends as inexorable, and why Orthodoxy succeeds where all secular and liberal Jewish movements have thus far failed, encouraging Jewish growth and procreation. Orthodoxy holds that there’s a central and imperative purpose for continued Jewish existence: it’s our mission to heal the world, and we can only succeed if we adhere to the Torah. While other segments of Judaism claim adherence to Torah as well, they fail to create the kind of commitment that keeps a majority of adherents from marrying outside of the faith and having enough children to replace themselves.

features p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

Effectiveness is usually one good measure of the truth of a proposition. Because Orthodoxy has proven itself as the most successful predictor of Jewish survival over multiple generations, Jews ought to closely examine its claims in the context of the relative failure (not for lack of sincerity) of other Jewish segments in perpetuating and protecting the Jewishness of the Jewish people. Survival isn’t enough: humans need a transcendent reason for that survival. I believe Torah is that reason. If you don’t or won’t, yet still believe Jews and Judaism should survive, at least focus your campaigns on children and adolescents, rather than young adults, teaching them to see Jewish in-marriage and having larger families as an imperative. Play not to the idea of self-fulfillment through soul- mates; instead appeal to idealism about, love of, and sacrifice for the Jewish people for the benefit of the world, and–if you can handle it—for the love of God. Fund Jewish day schools more thoroughly, and advocate for aliyah more loudly. Create campaigns targeted at the folly of parents who allow their children to date Gentiles in high school and college and then become upset when they marry Gentiles. Most crucially, regardless of your own beliefs, fund programs that promote Torah to non-Orthodox Jews. In-marriage and larger families are often the by-product of increased Torah commitment. And let us merit to reunite the Jewish people as one nation under God, and thus heal the world.

thing we most need). Orthodox Jews don’t need expensive campaigns encouraging in-marriage and procreation; they do

Eric Ackland is a freelance writer and a yeshiva student. he’d love to walk the walk and have a large family, he’s just gotta get hitched first. that’s the trick.

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It’s more than Tay-Sachs
Carrier testing is available for all of these conditions which have a
higher carrier rate in the Ashkenazi Jewish population:
• Bloom Syndrome
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• Cystic Fibrosis
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• Gaucher Disease
• Mucolipidosis IV
• Niemann-Pick Disease
• Tay-Sachs Disease
• Fanconi Anemia
Genetic counseling is an important part of this program.
© 2007 AEHN
For more information,
call 215-456-8722,
1-800-EINSTEIN or visit
issue three 2007 4
paradigm S hift t he b iblical c a S e for i nt ermarriage why

paradigm S hift

t he b iblical c a S e for i nt ermarriage

why you can marry anyone you want

Ariel Beery

t he Jewish community is fighting to prevent Hitler’s posthumous victory. Across the denominational spectrum the threat is the same: intermarriage, scourge of Jewish continuity, boogey man of every caring Jewish mother and father. To defend good Jewish boys and girls everywhere from the threat of marrying out,

communal resources have been poured into projects which seek to engage youth in hip new ways so that they will choose to remain within the fold. Above all else the goal of continuity- seeking Jewish communal professionals and those who fund them is the same: prevent any non-Jewish partner that might be crouching at the door. It is not enough to dismiss the fear of discontinuity driving this panic by claiming, as did Simon Rawidowicz half a century ago, that the Jews are “an ever dying people;” the Jewish community really does have a crisis on its hands. The Jewish People is losing quality members to a general society that has so lovingly embraced it. But the culprit isn’t intermarriage qua intermarriage, and aiming communal energies at this particular symptom will not cure the true illness that has beset the Jewish People: indifference. Intermarriage is not the source of the illness because intermarriage itself has been with us as long as has Judaism. Let it be said: Moses did not marry a daughter of Israel. Neither did a good number of the greatest heroes of our tradition. Joseph married an Egyptian princess. King David, none other than the prophesized forbearer of the Messiah, married Batsheva, whose former husband was a Hittite–one of the original and circumscribed non- Israel tribes in the land of Canaan. Solomon, the ‘wisest’ of the Jews, followed the tradition

of his ancestor Moses and married an African, the Queen of Sheba. And let us not think that mating with those outside the tribe was reserved for the biblical men of our tradition—the Jews would have been decimated had Queen Esther not slept with the uncircumcised. Since we Jews have a long tradition of learning from the actions of our wisest of ancestors—what is now known as their Da’at Torah —one can’t ignore the lesson taught by this overwhelming minyan of heroes. True, the decree to stay away from the daughters of the other nations came early. Before we entered the Land of Promise, Moses relayed the Law that Israelites may not make marriages with the daughters of the tribes of Canaan because they may lead the Israelites to worship other gods. But that call came from the same Moses who had married the daughter of a foreign priest with divine sanction, Tzippora. When Moses’ brother and sister complained about his choice in a life partner, God punished Miriam with leprosy. In other words, it wasn’t intermarriage God seemed worried about: it was whether one would use intermarriage as an excuse to leave the community and follow other gods, or whether one would remain loyal and cleave to the covenant. Our heroes, then, might strongly disagree with the contemporary sages who have made stopping intermarriage their primary focus. Sociologist Steven M. Cohen of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College writes that “we cannot ignore a critical master-theme for Jewish policy formation: Intermarriage does indeed constitute the greatest single threat to Jewish continuity today.” Relying upon the highly-contested data generated by the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01, Cohen states that those Jews who have intra-married are many times more likely to raise their children Jewish than their peers who marry someone from outside of the fold. This situation, he continues, has created two Jewries: one that benefits the Jewish People while the other detracts by disassociating from communal institutions and depleting our numbers. Intermarriage, in this line of thought, is the existential threat—and those who would marry out are actively, if indirectly, inviting the destruction of the Jewish People.

photo by Cate Copenhaver

4 issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G paradi G m shift

But the real inconvenient truth is that intermarriage is not the cause of the downturn in communal affiliation. In the science of statistics one learns that sometimes, when two things move in union, there is actually third, hidden variable that is pulling the strings on both. This is known as a hidden variable bias, an affliction of many who try and proffer causal explanations for real-world events. In the case of intermarriage and lack of affiliation, such a not-so-hidden variable is one that few are willing to talk about, and some even dismiss out of hand as unimportant. That variable is the indifference felt by marginal members of the Jewish community to the Jewish People primarily, and the Jewish tradition, as a byproduct. To put it bluntly, most people don’t know why they should give a damn. The reason most Jews don’t know why they should give a damn is a subject worthy of an essay in and of itself, but suffice it to say that historical circumstances have thrust the Jewish People to a place we’ve not been for thousands of years. A state of sovereignty has arisen beside the warm embrace of open societies that want no more than to be our one true love. And surrounded by would-be suitors, many Jews view their Jewish identity as something which detracts from their otherwise post-modern experience:

placing limits on the foods they eat, cultural traditions they follow, and the people with whom they are allowed to fall in love. Faced with a lack of deep philosophical justifications for remaining Jewish, but somehow socialized into maintaining an affiliation to the Jewish People in name only, those with a foot and a half firmly planted in the New World look at their roots with the indifference that only a spoiled child could bring to bear upon a rich heritage. Indifference is the major difference between those empowering intermarriages of the past, the empowering intermarriages of the present day, and those intermarriages that siphon off our fellows and lead them to leave the Jewish People behind. Each of the married-out heroes of the Bible cared deeply for their Jewish brethren. They understood their membership in the People of Israel as a cause worthy of life and death. And it is based upon this supreme lack of indifference for the Jewish People that the Biblical narrative makes

its case for intermarriage: every marriage out can potentially tie more bodies and souls to the destiny of our Tribe. A person who lives the life of a Jew and sees oneself as inseparably bound to the Jewish collective can marry whomever he or she wants, because his or her deference for the People is so great that his or her partner will ultimately come to live among the Jewish People, recognizing that their partner’s people are their own. Take Roy Sparrow, who grew up in the Baptist South, as an example. When he met his soon to be wife, Miriam, in the 1960s, Sparrow told his beloved that she’d have to take him as he was (not Jewish) if she truly wanted to be with him. “I told her that she’d have to trust me to do the right thing,” recounts Sparrow, “and sure enough we were married, and once we had settled down I decided to become a Jew.” Sparrow continued his journey from the Christian South and ended up co-founding and co-directing NYU’s program for nonprofit management and Judaic Studies, playing a role

to our community, and we ensure that our community nourishes a Judaism that adds positive value to the individual and the world, that person may chose to become a part of our People. A member of the Children of Israel who believes in the importance of sustaining a Jewish life will, more often than not, share that conclusion with the person she choses to live her life with. And, if the relationship is a healthy one, odds are that commitment to Judaism will permeate the relationship, and perhaps even inspire a shared allegiance to Judaism’s values and traditions. When we use tactics of fear to push away non-Jews, however, we communicate the message that Judaism detracts from the world and restricts one’s choices unnecessarily—instead of drawing others into our community. Not to say that we should encourage intermarriage. But we should recognize that whether or not intermarriage depletes the Jewish People is dependent upon the content of the Jewish life lived by the Jewish partner in such a pair. Therefore, instead of

the biblical narrative makes its case for intermarriage: every marriage out potentially can tie more bodies and souls to the destiny of our tribe.

in the strengthening the Jewish future. Would those who think like Cohen say that Roy and Miriam, due to their initial intermarriage, belong in that “Other Jewry,” the second one that has no stake in the continuation of the Jewish People? I’d hope not. Even if he hadn’t converted, Sparrow became a communal Jew from the moment he decided to marry Miriam. “Your people are my people,” he told her, and it was due to her belief in the importance of her Jewish identity that he then later added on, “your God is my God.” It is no coincidence that the term ‘convert’ is foreign to the Hebrew tradition. Instead, we have ger, which literally translates to a person who “lives among.” When we let the ger in

investing in matchmaking for the masses, the community could do better to inspire answers to the questions facing Judaism and the Jewish People in today’s post-digital world. Instead of focusing on the growing trend of intermarriage, we should develop a culture of devotion to the Jewish family that follows the example of our ancestors. Instead of pushing families who marry “out” into the camp of the Other Jewry, we should be setting up their tents right next to our tents of Jacob, living with them as they live among us and bind their destiny to our ever-living people.

But the real inconvenient truth is that intermarriage is not the cause of the downturn in

Ariel Beery is the editor and publisher of PresenTense Magazine and is looking to marry a woman who will share a rich Jewish life.

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photoe SS ay t he a rt of r ebirth adisia crafts hope for ethiopian women
photoe SS ay
t he a rt of r ebirth
adisia crafts hope for
ethiopian women in afula
Yonit Schiller
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Hundreds of miles away from the tribal huts and villages they once called home, the Ethiopian women of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) absorption center in Israel’s northern town of Afula are sustaining an ancient custom in modern society.

Hundreds of miles away from the tribal huts and villages they once called home, the Ethiopian
Hundreds of miles away from the tribal huts and villages they once called home, the Ethiopian

ph O t O essay p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

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Under the guidance of Afula’s WIZO director, David “Dudu” Moatty, twenty women are busy bringing the
Under the guidance of Afula’s WIZO director, David “Dudu” Moatty, twenty
women are busy bringing the Adisia Project to fruition. “Adisia” is the Amharic
term for “renaissance”—a fitting label for a project that aspires to both revive
classic Ethiopian embroidery and re-energize the art form by pushing its
traditional creative boundaries.
Embroidering gives the women a chance to come to life. The act of creating art
empowers them by producing tangible proof of their efficacy, ingenuity, and
overall personal potential in Israeli society, as well as abroad. Indeed, Adisia’s
purpose, according to Moatty, is to “help [the women] find their future.”
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These remarkable women have endured much hardship. They fled from persecution and famine in Ethiopia, and
These remarkable women have endured much
hardship. They fled from persecution and
famine in Ethiopia, and upon their arrival
in Israel, encountered difficulty assimilating,
facing a language barrier and racism, among
other obstacles. The incredibly endearing, yet
astute, nature of the women of Adisia stems
from their combined experiences of suffering
in Ethiopia, followed by experiencing a major
cultural shift once they immigrated to Israel.
For these women, embroidery is also a social
act, providing a safe space for them to share
ideas and visions with women who have had
similar life experiences. Adisia enables them
to learn from and listen to one another in an
open, comfortable setting.
A new wave of excitement for Adisia is
engendering a ripple effect in the international
Jewish community. The World Diaspora
Mezuzah project, spearheaded by international
project coordinator Sharon Ungerleider,
is helping to bridge the gap between the
Ethiopian women and Diaspora communities.
The women of Adisia are very excited to be
creating embroidered Mezuzot with a variety
of artistic motifs, fusing traditional Ethiopian
embroidery style with the patterns and ethnic
symbols associated with Jewish Diaspora
communities around the world.
4 issue three 2007
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Ethiopian embroidery in Israel is much more than just an ancient art form. For these women
Ethiopian embroidery in Israel is much more than just an ancient art form.
For these women of Adisia, embroidery is their outlet of artistic expression,
their community, and their source of personal strength.
Yonit Schiller is a photographer based in Jerusalem
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p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
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review S

review S book S a b right n ew d ay optimistic futures for the jews

book S

a b right n ew d ay

optimistic futures for the jews

Phil Getz

  • I magine a world in which Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, and Egypt have cooperative tourism arrangements, Egypt has built a "Science City" in the Northern Sinai, and oil is “on par with coffee, sugar and tea in terms of its impact

on geopolitics.” Jihadists have been “neutralized”, and progressive Arab democrats are helping democracy blossom in the Arab world. According to Tsvi Bisk’s calculations, it’s the year 2020, and if the Jewish people take his advice, it is no dream.  Bisk’s new, timely, and worthwhile book, The Optimistic Jew, addresses head-on issues of concern to many thinking Jews today, such as the increasing rate of intermarriage, the failing (if not dead) Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the lack of Zionist fervor both inside and outside Israel. The revolutionary changes that Bisk discusses will not occur overnight, and they require a redefinition of both Jewishness and Zionism. The first part of the book is devoted to doing just that and presenting the problems facing the Jewish people and Israel. Some of Bisk’s initial remarks might seem unfair, or at least untactful, such as his assertion that “we must stop making a fetish of past suffering.”  However,

Bisk’s sincere desire for Jewish progress, evident throughout the book, will probably prevent people from putting it down. In the book, Bisk reminds us that the final aim of Zionism, the construction of a model society, remains elusive. Quite frankly, for all of its greatness, Israel, when compared with much of the developed world, is not a model of social justice. Social inequality and corruption have no place in the ideal Jewish State; nevertheless, they have found their way in. Of the relatively small percentage of young Diaspora Jews who care deeply about Israel and the Jewish People, many are eventually co-opted by the growing “advocacy industry.” The ongoing political and security situation has prompted the creation of partisan organizations on college campuses all over the world for both “friends of Israel” and “friends of Palestine.” Constantly presenting a positive Israeli narrative has the effect of

review S book S a b right n ew d ay optimistic futures for the jews

the revolutionary changes that bisk discusses will not occur overnight, and they require a redefinition of both Jewishness and zionism.

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distracting young Jews from real problems within Israel that need their attention. Instead of being educated about the problems Israel faces in maintaining its Jewish and democratic character and developing a vibrant civil society, young Zionist idealists are asked to praise Israeli democracy and culture to the sky, essentially blinding them to the fact that the Zionist project is not over and the dream has yet to be completely fulfilled. There is, of course, the possibility that these young Jews will eventually see some of the less praiseworthy aspects of Israel and feel compelled to make Israel live up to the visions they have developed. Let us hope that is the case. Bisk’s book, however, is focused on dealing primarily with

invigorating a wider base. He points out that many of the challenges

facing the Jewish people today both stem from and contribute to a

crisis in Jewish consciousness. A crisis defined by declining rates of

Jewish affiliation and participation, and the growing and increasingly

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visible tensions within the Jewish community. Noah Feldman’s less than favorable critique of modern Orthodoxy appearing under the title “Orthodox Paradox” in The New York Times Magazine, serves as an example of this tension, exemplifying this crisis of Jewish consciousness. Young Jews from all backgrounds reach a point in their development at which they must decide whether to continue to be active participants in the community or not. “Why be Jewish?” is the question lying beneath every challenge facing the Jewish community, which is reason enough for Bisk to devote an entire chapter to it, and he does. The general decline in substantial Jewish affiliation among Diaspora Jews, as well as the 50% intermarriage rate, reflects the reality that most Jews have yet to hear a compelling answer. Surprisingly, Bisk does not have an answer either. One would assume that a book about the Jewish future would contain a rational argument for the continuity of Jewish family life, based on its role in the Jewish mission on Earth. Nevertheless, he writes: “From a purely rational standpoint, this question has no answer. From a purely rational standpoint, assimilation is a perfectly legitimate alternative.” All Bisk can point to is a widespread “unarticulated feeling that Jewish identity is important, even though we cannot say why…We can use this instinctive feeling as a foundation upon which to build a new concept of Jewish identity.” Some will be appalled by this premise; others will be comforted and perhaps even inspired. The assimilation of the Jewish community is not a manifestation of Jewish self-hatred as much as it is of the universalist direction of the post-enlightenment world. Why hold on to identity? Why not let our different backgrounds and heritages coalesce into a tolerant, non-denominational world civilization? These are questions worth asking because they require honest answers that can at once instill a sense of pride and generate self-criticism. Through serious examination of the nature of Jewish identity, one can come to appreciate the uniqueness of Jewish heritage and tradition and, at the same time, acknowledge its challenges. Although Bisk makes some good points about the need for greater Jewish tolerance, his inability to present an accurate representation of the Jewish community creates a sloppy foundation for the rest of the book and leads to inconsistencies. For example, he proposes that Jewish identity should be more “pluralistic” and “based upon common norms of communal behavior and communal obligation,” which Bisk calls “Jewish citizenship.” The first problem with Bisk’s appeals for increased pluralism is that they are not strictly speaking, pluralistic. Bisk is willing to accept “numerous cultural accretions, as long as these do not contain beliefs, practices, or dogmas that contradict Jewish tradition.” And he continues, “The only universal norms of Jewish identity are the prohibition against idolatry and the

T HE O PT i M i ST i C J EW : A


th E J EWIS h pEO p LE IN th E 21 S t C EN t U rY

by Tsvi Bisk

276 pp, Maxanna p ress, $19.95, 2007.

requirement of unqualified individual responsibility.” Bisk fails to make it clear why we should accept such principles if his proposed foundation for Jewish identity is based on behavior, and not belief

revie W s p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

—that is, his “Jewish citizenship.” Further, for 2,000 years, faith has been at the very least one of the primary mechanisms of Jewish survival. In Humanistic Judaism, there is no room for God. Why should Bisk’s new, pluralistic Jewish identity accept a doctrine of no God, and not different gods? In truth, these problems do not render Bisk’s arguments useless. Discussing the nature of an identity and a people as complex as that of the Jews is often an exercise in futility. The book’s primary purpose is to give the reader a glimpse of what is possible if Judaism and Zionism are enhanced. The second part of the book, entitled “Realization: Looking Back from 2020,” is a hypothetical account of what the world might look like if the Jews take Bisk’s advice. The prospects Bisk presents are rather grand, some of dubious practicality. Although the first part of the book has more to offer, the utility of the second is that it contains what too many Jewish thinkers lack: vision. Bisk’s proposals are creative, as well as a bit self-serving (as many of the organizations he plugs in this section are those with which he is deeply associated). However, Bisk will not consider the Jews a failure if some of his initiatives are not realized. He uses his imagination provocatively. The inclusion of discussion questions at the end of the book demonstrate that Bisk does not expect his to be the final word on the subject of the Jewish future. Bisk wants to start a discussion. We would all benefit from taking part.

visible tensions within the Jewish community. Noah Feldman’s less than favorable critique of modern Orthodoxy appearing

Phil Getz is a senior studying history and philosophy at George Washington University.

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issue three 2007
film o y - b ay g oe S to the movie S shtarkers and the


o y - b ay g oe S to the movie S

shtarkers and the sweet science

Tomer Altman

film o y - b ay g oe S to the movie S shtarkers and the

photo by Steve Rhodes

W hen you say “Jews” and “sports,” you’re inviting

self-deprecating humor or someone’s impassioned

invocation of Sandy Koufax. But you can almost

bet that people aren’t likely to mention boxing. But

maybe they should—as this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival illustrated, back in the 1920s, boxing was the only professional sport in which significant numbers of American Jews participated. At this year’s SFJFF, the largest and oldest continuously-held Jewish film festival in the world, there was a proclaimed focus on Jewish Boxers:

Shtarkers and the Sweet Science. Though it might clash head-on with the common image of the spindly, wimpy nebbish, as boxing historian Mike Silver wrote, “All but forgotten today is the fact that, during the first half of the 20th century, boxing was a major spectator sport, rivaling baseball in popularity, and by 1928, a full third of all title contenders

were Jewish.” But then again, most young adult American Jews identify only our modern day middle-class life as the typical Jewish experience, which is obviously far from historically accurate. The film that opened the festival, “His People,” a 1925 black-and- white silent work recently found and restored by the National Center

Watching this film was a shared Jewish communal experience, where we laughed, cried, cheered, and booed at a film that exhibited our collective heritage and our conflicts.

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for Jewish Film, provided the audience with a precious reminder of the roots of the immigrant experience of American Jewry; in presenting scenes of a bustling ghetto street market and boxing venues, the film displays a rough and crowded Lower East Side experience where families worked hard and fought to feed their families. The film focuses on the Cominskys, a family of Russian Jews living on New York’s Lower East Side. The eldest and cherished son, Morris, is educated and begins a promising law career, but resents his immigrant roots. The younger son, Sammy, works as a newsie and then as a professional boxer to put Morris through school and support their family. Morris is studious and graduates law school, while Sammy is uneducated, participates in a blood-sport, and has a romantic interest in an Irish girl in their tenement. Initially, one might peg Morris as the proverbial “good son,” and Sammy as the “wicked son.” But as the movie progresses, we see that Morris is self- absorbed and embarrassed by his family. Sammy, on the other hand, gives all of his prize-fight winnings to his doting mother, even after his father, David, throws him out of the house upon discovering his participation in boxing. Since it was made during a time when filmmaking was both costly and difficult, that some authentic Jewish expressions avoided the cutting room floor was a pleasant surprise. A Shabbat dinner scene is surprisingly thorough, showing the benedictions over the candle-lighting, the wine, the hand-washing, and the bread, with special focus on Rose Cominsky, the family matriarch, as she recites the prayer over the Shabbat candles.

The audience packed into San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre erupted in viper-like hisses as Morris, about to wed his boss’s daughter, dismisses his father from his pre-nuptial banquet, telling guests that he’s never seen him before in his life. And thunderous applause, and even whoops of joy, broke out when Sammy drags Morris home, in front of all his guests, by his ear. Watching this film was a shared Jewish communal experience, where we laughed, cried, cheered, and booed at a film that exhibited our collective heritage and our internal and external conflicts, played out by a Jewish family. This is the authentic movie-going experience, which can never be replicated, even by home entertainments that are increasingly high-tech. The film reminds us that such seemingly innocent examples of integration, in the context of the intervening decades, now serve as portents of the assimilation of American Jewry. As upright as Sammy is, and as educated as Morris is, neither is focused during the Shabbat meal, neither one wears a kippah, nor do they study Torah. Sammy ends up with an Irish girl, and instead of staying in a large Jewish community, David and Rose move out to California. In their struggle to survive economically and to keep their family together, it seems as though David and Rose Cominsky fail to pass on yiddishekeit, a feeling of Jewishness, to their sons. A contemporary young Jew, awash in internet and iPods, might dismiss the film’s relevance. But it seems that the issues facing our immigrant-ancestors are not terribly different than our own.

for Jewish Film, provided the audience with a precious reminder of the roots of the immigrant

Tomer Altman is the editor and publisher of, a community for San Francisco Bay Area Jews.

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issue three 2007
1 Borochov St. Azur 58012 • P.O. Box 121, Azur 58008
Tel: (972)-03-5589656 • Fax: (972)-03-5589657 • e-mail:
p re sen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
theater b lood b rother S masked uncovers the conflict Lonnie Schwartz photo by Aaron Epstein


b lood b rother S

masked uncovers the conflict

Lonnie Schwartz

theater b lood b rother S masked uncovers the conflict Lonnie Schwartz photo by Aaron Epstein

photo by Aaron Epstein


oth Palestinians and Israelis have blood on their hands. In Ilan Hatsor’s arresting and poignant play Masked , this image remains salient throughout the show’s tense 85-minute performance. The compact yet incendiary

work about what happens when politics intersects with family is set in the thickets of the Arab-Israeli conflict, yet–unpredictably–it doesn’t admonish either side. Nor does it glorify. Flooded with bright, unflattering light, the play opens on a dingy, sparsely furnished room with putrid yellowish-gray walls, blood stains, and sharp metal hooks. In this space, three Palestinian brothers will pace and circle one another like predators as they launch into a battle of will and words, unraveling an intricate story of betrayal. How fitting that the entire action of the play occurs in a slaughterhouse: a gnawing reminder of man’s inclination to kill. The butchery is the workplace of Khalid, the youngest of the three brothers, and the determined

neutral territory for the heated reunion of his diametrically opposed siblings: the self-righteous Daoud and the diabolical Na’im. A bit of synoptical background to get you oriented: the brothers’ fourth sibling–a boy far younger in age–has been shot by the Israeli

army at a Palestinian rally that the Israelis infiltrated. Word has it that a Palestinian traitor leaked information of the rally to the army, and all suspicions point to Daoud. To complicate matters, Na’im has risen within a violent militant Arab movement that hunts down and kills any Palestinian with collaborative ties to Israel. In short, Na’im’s next target is his older brother. Daoud takes temporary refuge in the butchery as Na’im–who cares for his brother despite opposing ideologies–preps him with the sort of interrogation questions he will likely receive from the other radicals. As the brothers uncover information that mark both as potential traitors to the Palestinian community, a fierce anger builds based on tensions both personal and political. Israeli-American director Ami Dayan deliberately entangles the aggressive and malevolent threads of these scenes with threads of love and concern, until the room becomes a knotty web of conflicting, ambivalent sentiments that can only arise when family is involved. As militant compatriots of Na’im’s surround the butchery, he seems to want to both feed Daoud to the wolves and protect him from harm. Similarly, Daoud views his brother simultaneously as a radical

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whose militia has “killed more of us than the Israelis,” and as the sole individual who can save him. Khalid, sensitive and timid, is less enmeshed in the dramatic core of the conflict, though he proves integral to the story’s surprising climax. His singular pursuit, it seems, is for his brothers to communicate–without hatred, without violence. The dynamic three-actor cast infuses the play with tremendous energy. And though they look absolutely nothing like brothers, they all channel an admirable amount of heart and guts into their roles. Arian Mo’ayed, who plays the vindictive Na’im, seems to be carrying daggers everywhere: in his eyes, in his threatening gait, and in his words. Daoud Heidami, who fills the role of Daoud, occasionally suffers from over-acting but well exudes the burdensome persona of the oldest child weighed down by responsibility. Sanjit De Silva as Khalid gives perhaps the most touching performance as he imbues his character with an earnestness that is heartbreaking precisely because such sensitivity gets muffled amidst an angrier cacophony of his brothers’ hostility and rage. The entirety of Masked is unique and impressive not only because it is a work written by an Israeli about Palestinians. It is also a work that–almost impossibly–depicts the complexities of the Middle East conflict without a single polemic that resembles favoritism. Hatsor’s and Dayan’s achievement is the acknowledgment that to polemicize is, by definition, to neglect. When arguing a particular side of a debate, one must emphasize the details that enhance one’s side and neglect the details that don’t. Otherwise, the only possible conclusion is that “it’s complicated.” And such an understanding is precisely what makes this play successful. While the play expresses the idea that both Palestinians and Israelis are flawed, Hatsor doesn’t finger-point. Nor does he offer any grand resolution or declaration of blame through the guise of dialogue as many political playwrights attempt to do. If a conflict is so intricate that it cannot be solved politically, why pretend that we can solve it artistically? In the director’s note of the play’s program, Dayan makes a large request of his audience. He writes, “Please put aside preconceptions and political doctrine,” presumably meaning, “remove yourself from the mire of cultural stereotypes and ideological leanings”—a tall order, indeed. But perhaps the least we can do is to contemplate a situation’s complexity before assigning immediate blame to the Other;

the room becomes a knotty web of conflicting, ambivalent sentiments that can only arise when family is involved.

to recognize that no single polemic will ever define a conflict. Masked is a terrifically ambitious and moving work. It conveys poignantly and almost painfully that hatred turns men into butchers. How further complicated things become when the killer is of one’s own blood.

Masked is currently running at the DR2 Theatre in Union Square in New York City.

whose militia has “killed more of us than the Israelis,” and as the sole individual who

Lonnie Schwartz is PresenTense Magazine’s theater editor. She is currently pu rsuing her MFA in t heater at Columbia University.

whose militia has “killed more of us than the Israelis,” and as the sole individual who

mu S ic

c ommon Spark S f or ever w ithin

finding forever lacks common’s sense

Margaret Teich

whose militia has “killed more of us than the Israelis,” and as the sole individual who


ne of hip-hop’s most renowned rhyme- rhythm teams is back at it. Rappers

Common and Kanye West have joined forces on new album “Finding Forever.” With their last collaboration on album “Be” receiving much media acclaim, “Finding Forever” has a tough act to follow. It feels almost like an ugly step-brother to “Be,” yet marginally hints to previous classic albums like Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate” (2000) and Kanye West’s “College Dropout” (2004). This album doesn’t deliver like their others, not because of any lack of snappy beats nor spot-on delivery. Instead, it’s because Common’s usual “ruah” and unintentional Jewish values, that make his other records so divine, are absent from this album. Whereas Common isn’t Jewish, conscious hip-hop is based on some of the most important Jewish values. While his music can surely pop off a party, its purpose is also to strengthen the community, educate listeners, encourage questions, and challenge the status quo. In fact, these issues make up a short list of Common’s favorite themes. For example, in the song “Faithful” from the album “Be,” Common muses, “I was rollin’ around and in my mind it occurred/what if G-d was a her?/Would I treat her the same?/ Would I still be running game on her?/ In what type of way would I want her?” This idea of a shekhinah is reminiscent of the Shabbat Bride whom we greet with L’kha Dodi at Friday Night services. In addition, Common touches upon the Jewish value of perpetual questioning in “The Questions” from “Like Water for Chocolate,” where he delivers a nudnik-worthy series of both obvious and complex questions for the listener to ponder and discuss. Common doesn’t even try to answer the questions, even more so a Jewish behavior. The lyrics of “Finding Forever” do contain some elements of critical thinking, present on previous Common albums. In track three, “The People,” Common flows with assured sensibility over West’s complex and dynamic beat. In addition, he also forces his audience to think of racial and socio-economic divisions, when he says, “While white folks focus on dogs and yoga/the people on the low-end trying to ball and get over.” In addition, Common utilizes a questioning tone on “U, Black

Maybe,” when he says, “I heard a white man’s yes is a black maybe/ I was delivered into this world as a crack baby.” While “U, Black Maybe” introduces intriguing questions, two other tracks on the album—“Drivin’ Me Wild” and “Southside”—

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issue three 2007

make statements that are great to bop to, but lack the complexity we’ve come to expect from Common. Actually, “Drivin’ Me Wild” features a catchy hook sung by Lily Allen and re-examines “all that glitters is not gold” in the pursuit for material possessions. While this is still a good point to make, it is a little too Kanye-esque (“All Falls Down” from the album “College Drop Out”). One of Common’s most impressive lyrical abilities is to create great female-empowered love songs. Common proves he still has the knack for these songs with track nine, “So Far to Go,” featuring O’ Mighty Sexy Voice Himself, D’Angelo. The song examines what it means to be in a real romantic partnership. The flow sounds as fluid as “The Light” from album “Like Water for Chocolate,” and D’Angelo’s vocals definitely help. Yet, Common’s description of what it is to deeply

love isn’t as convincing, and if you ask me, hasn’t been since he and Erykah Badu parted ways, but that’s a whole other story. Maybe it’s because it stimulates critical thinking, or because we have an ongoing history of suffering and overcoming oppression, or perhaps just that we rock our bodies and bob our heads while davening, but for whatever reason, hip hop is a genre that resonates with young Jews. And although Common isn’t Jewish, he sure has a yiddishe kup –a Jewish head on his shoulders.

make statements that are great to bop to, but lack the complexity we’ve come to expect

When she isn’t pondering Maimonides, roaming her hood in Queens, or listening to hip-hop, Margaret Teich c an be found producing t he Lazy Envrionmentalist, a live daily program about greening your life in style on S i rius Satellite r adio channel 114.

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art S



p ortrait of an i nt ernet Strategi S t

Profile Friends Networks i nbox art S facebook p ortrait of an i nt ernet Strategi

photo courtesy of Randi Jayne Zuckerberg

randi jayne zuckerberg

Adam Finkel

i nformation
i nformation


or a time, Randi Jayne

Zuckerberg was convinced

that she was destined for

cantorial school. But that

was before her brother Mark created the

biggest social networking application on

the face of the planet. Now Randi is

the Director of Market Development

at Facebook, and the 2003 Harvard

graduate is using the opportunity to

feeling so deeply moved by everything I had seen and experienced. It

was probably the most powerful feeling I’ve ever had.

birthright was also a fantastic experience because I got to meet so many

awesome people and share the experience with people my own age.

It was even more meaningful because I was there with my boyfriend

(now fiancé!). It was his first time going to Israel and I was so thankful

to share that experience with him. It really helped bring us closer

together and helped us understand how we want to integrate Judaism

into our lives when we have a family. My final night on the trip, I got

reconnect with her musical aspirations in an interface that can only be

described as “Career 2.0.” Randi spoke with PresenTense’s Adam Finkel

up in front of the group and sang “Yerushalayim shel zahav ”—it was

thundering and lightning out and everyone was crying. Because music

candidly about her passion for music, family and Jewish life. And of course,

“the F-word.”

is my life, being able to sing a song is one of the most personal gifts I

can give someone. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that evening.

With a name like Zuckerberg, I’m gonna guess: you’re Jewish, yes?

My parents always emphasized the importance of culture and tradition

and we always celebrated the holidays in our home growing up. My

parents also embodied Jewish culture and tradition in many of their

values. Education was always the number one priority and our parents

definitely instilled in us the drive to achieve as much as we could.

Clearly they succeeded. You also got a lot of musical support

from your connections to family and to Jewish life.

I’ve always loved to sing, act, and pursue anything creative and




right before I went to college, I started to think a lot

about how that could go hand in hand with my Jewish identity and

upbringing. I had one of those “eureka” moments and decided that I

really wanted to be a cantor! I took four semesters of intensive modern

Hebrew, and started studying music theory and piano. My little

sister had her bat mitzvah during my freshman year of college and

our cantor at our synagogue couldn’t make it. She just said, “it’s ok.

Randi will do it!” So I did. It was incredible—standing up there on

the bimah and being involved in the bat mitzvah ceremony in such

a deep and meaningful way. I think that is so much more rewarding

than pursuing a career in music to be “famous.”

You first went to Israel for your sister’s bat mitzvah on Masada,

and more recently you participated in birthright. What impact

did those trips have on you?

We went to the Western Wall the first day we arrived and I remember

feeling a little disappointed, like “that’s it?” However, after spending

ten days touring and really absorbing everything, we returned to the

Western Wall on our final night. I remember seeing it and crying and

Will we someday be able to call you Cantor Zuckerberg?

  • I think that I’ve always kind of known in the back of my head that I’d

use my twenties and early thirties to try a bunch of different things

and hopefully start a family



then, after I’ve gotten all of that

out of my system



the cantorial school path again.

Speaking of family projects, we have to ask: how’s life at the

‘book? It seems like a dream come true.

The fun of joining a company really early is that you get to do so

many roles and your job changes really often as the company grows.

  • I started in marketing, moved to sales, and as of last fall, joined the

business development team where I work on big partnerships with

media companies. Right now I’m working with Comcast to produce

an internet/television show called “Facebook Diaries” that will run

on Facebook and Comcast on demand. I’m also very passionate about

video production and online media, so in addition to my day job, I

also do a lot of video production work for Facebook.

Last question—because our parents keep asking us: how is

Facebook good for the Jews?

  • I think if something really important came up that required the Jewish

community to rally together, Facebook would be a pretty incredible

tool for helping that happen. Around Passover, I saw a Facebook event

someone had created that said “Passover Seder—Hosted by God, it

starts at sundown tomorrow night.” Tens of thousands of people had

added the event to their profile. That was pretty neat.

Profile Friends Networks i nbox art S facebook p ortrait of an i nt ernet Strategi

Adam Finkel, a senior at the University of Michigan, can be reached at

arts p resen t e nsema G azine. O r G

issue three 2007

t a S ty b ite S to Smite y our e nemie S

rosh hashanah’s symbolic foods

Miriam Segura

t a S ty b ite S to Smite y our e nemie S rosh hashanah’s

food has an accompanying “yehi-

ratzon ” (literally—may it be your

will): invocations to God to protect,

enrich, bless, and redeem us. Often,

the connection between the food and

the request will be symbolic: apples

dipped in honey for a sweet new year

is the most universal.

Another big theme is increase, or

multiplication–of our children, of our

funds, of our merits before the heavenly

court. For these, anything goes: from

rubiya (black-eyed peas—the related

Hebrew word ribui means increase) to

mehren (Yiddish for carrots—a pun on

the Hebrew maher, fast, quickly). Also

eaten for the symbolism of meritorious

increase are pomegranates, which have

many seeds, to represent the multitude

of our good deeds.

Lest we think all of these symbols

are sweetness and light, many of the

symbolic foods have quite violent

implications–towards one’s enemies

or oppressors. Consumption of leeks

(karti ) is followed by a proclamation

that our enemies should be cut down

( yikartu). Chard, spinach, or beets,

which are all botanically related

and were collectively called silka by

various Jewish communities of the

Middle East and the Spanish diaspora

are eaten with an invocation that our

enemies should be expelled from our


osh Hashanah—the summer is ending, the harvest is

beginning, and the best part of the Jewish holidays are

kicking into high gear—the culinary part, of course.

Without the menu restrictions of Pesah (no bread!)

or the spatial concerns of Sukkot (hope you like your chicken soup

lukewarm!), Rosh Hashanah shines with gastronomic potential.

Beyond the obligatory exotic fruit to enable the saying of the

blessing on new foods and experience– sheheheyanu , a wild array

of vegetables and fruits elevated with symbolic significance and

protective, meritorious, mystical, and auspicious properties enrich

the first dinner of the new year. The exact varieties of fruits and

presence ( yistalku).

Not all of our enemies are people,

though–sometimes our worst enemies are our own actions. This

contingency is recognized by the invocation recited upon eating

gourd or pumpkin (kra): that God should tear up the evil of our

decree (kra roa gzar dinenu) and, instead, our merits should be read

( yikru) before the heavenly court.

Here are some delicious recipes for preparing symbolic foods

for the Rosh Hashanah meal. While most of the symbols are fine

eaten raw, my family’s custom is to prepare as many of the symbolic

foods as possible as parts of the meal and spread out the invocations

as each course is served.

t a S ty b ite S to Smite y our e nemie S rosh hashanah’s

vegetables prescribed by custom vary greatly–sometimes even

from region to region in a particular country. Each symbolic

Miriam Segura is a Biotechnologist, a Foodie, and a talmudist. Catch her trademark variety of cute snark at

issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G arts

beet salad

Boil 4 unpeeled, washed beets in salted water until tender when

poked with a knife. Let cool, then peel off skins and discard. If you

are using red beets, this can get messy, so be careful, or use golden

beets instead. Dice into small cubes and dress with vinegar or lemon

juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. If you wish, dress them up

with a bit of crushed garlic and some diced parsley or cilantro.

black-eyed peas, syrian style

or boil the diced leeks until tender. Drain well, squeezing to remove

as much moisture as possible. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1lb of

ground beef or turkey with the cooked leeks. Add 5 large eggs and

enough matzah meal to enable the mixture to be shaped into patties. For

fried patties, heat a thin layer of olive oil in a skillet and fry the patties

until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. For baked

patties, dip finished patties in more matzah meal or bread crumbs and

place on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil and sprayed with

non-stick spray or oiled. Mist patties with a small amount of nonstick

spray or olive oil and bake at 375F until golden brown and crispy.

If using dried peas, soak 1 cup of peas for 3 hours or overnight in tap

water, then drain. (Skip this step if using frozen or canned peas.) In a

heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine beans with twice their volume of

water. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer until tender. (Time will

depend on age of beans and whether you used dried or frozen. Canned

beans need only be heated through.) Drain. Add a 4oz can of tomato

sauce, salt and pepper to taste, and a few generous sprinkles of cinnamon

and allspice. Let simmer until flavors meld. Serve as a side dish.

leek patties (keftes de prasa)

A traditional Sephardic way to serve leeks for Rosh Hashanah: wash

and trim a bundle of three large leeks. Leeks often have sand or fine grit

in them so wash them well. Dice leeks into rough 1-cm squares. Steam

pumpkin custard

Although not strictly traditional, this delicious pumpkin dessert is

quick and easy, and a great way to incorporate pumpkin into your

symbolic meal.

Preheat oven to 350F. Open 2 16oz cans of pure pumpkin (not pumpkin

pie mix) into a large mixing bowl. Add 4 eggs and a cup of vanilla soy milk

and stir to blend thoroughly. Season with either pumpkin pie spice or 1

tsp cinnamon, 1 teaspoon allspice, and a pinch of nutmeg (don’t overdo

nutmeg; it can ruin your custard). Add a generous splash of vanilla. Stir

to combine and pour into a greased 8-inch cake pan (2 pie tins would also

work well). Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and run a knife through the

cinnamon to create a swirled effect. Bake until set and no longer jiggly in the

center. Let cool before serving. Delicious with ice cream (soy or real).

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents i ssue three 2007
p resen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents
i ssue three 2007

S in S of our father S

S in S of our father S to hers on the open shelf. His large shirts,

to hers on the open shelf. His

large shirts, long enough for

her to wear them as dresses,

were still foreign to her.

Surveying the mix of men’s

clothes and baby blankets

that the community had

brought over because of

the early birth, she felt lost.

Was this her room? As the

baby sucked calmly on her

finger, Chava pulled on her

oversized dress, examining

the shape of her stomach.

T he baby’s wail pierced the silence.

Chava stood by the window

breathing quietly, listening.

Before turning to the baby, she

flung open the shade to stare at the three men

standing in a semicircle.

The first man shifted uncomfortably

When she was pregnant, her

husband had rubbed her abdomen, to comfort

the jumpy baby. Would he still do that now

that she was an empty woman again?

“She isn’t named yet, is she?” the first

man asked.

“Heaven forbid,” answered the father

“Born so early. You know that’s not allowed…”

on his feet when the shade above him flew

He shook his head as he trailed off. “What if

open. He turned, but found the window

frame empty. “They say that the evil spirits

sleep under rocks to avoid the sun. The baby’s

cries will awaken them.” The men stood with

their backs to the white clay house. At this

time of day, when the sun was its hottest,

all of the other curtains in the surrounding

houses were drawn. But a baby’s cry stirred

the settled quiet.

The baby’s father pulled on his beard,

his face wan and long as if he had stretched

it by the bewildered stroking.

“ Cry, baby. Cry loud so they can hear

you outside,” Chava crooned. She stood over

the cradle and stroked the child’s cheek. “You

were born so early, born too soon into this

wretched world.” Even the word “wretched”

sounded sweet on the mother’s lips. “I know

the sun hurts your eyes, but you will get used

to it. My Shachar.” Energy flowed through

Chava’s body as she pronounced the forbidden

name. The baby took Chava’s finger in her

mouth and started to suck hesitantly. Her

cries turned to whimpers and finally stilled.

Chava looked around the room. Her

husband’s clothes lay folded in a neat pile next

she dies? Chava would be torn to pieces, our

first-born more than a month early! Who has

heard of such a baby living? If we named her

it would just be so much more painful.”

“And it is against the law,” reminded the

third man nervously.

The father lifted his hand to his forehead,

first blocking the bright light from his eyes, then

wiping the sweat from his brow. “The sun is so

hot,” he said aimlessly, almost forgetting why

they were standing outside during the hottest

time of the day. The white town looked ghostly.

The short houses surrounding the main town

square were covered in dust, which swirled

around their feet as well. The only thing moving

was the stifling wind that seemed to smother

anyone who dared come outside. Another wail

rose from inside the house.

“Sippeettth.” The first man spat on

the ground, muttering under his breath an

incantation to keep the evil spirits under

their rocks.

Shachar’s chest heaved. She let out a

wail, forcing Chava’s finger from her mouth.

“Shachar dear,” Chava whispered, “you have

so much breath, such a strong tongue and a

a short story

Alieza Salzberg

strong voice. How could they think you will

die? You are so full of life. You have more

strength than they have. They sit and they

ponder the law, never coming to a decision, so

weak, so indecisive. You lay here and protest,

you scream. They have never screamed. They

have forgotten what it means to scream.”

Chava raised her eyes to Heaven, “ Who is

more alive?”

Shachar cried loudly, her body convulsing

with every shriek. Chava laid her hand firmly

on the baby’s torso, her palm covering her whole

baby from heart to abdomen, and the convulsions

lessened, but the cries continued.

The sun sank in the sky, making eye

contact with the men. Still they dared not

turn towards the house, with its open window

shade and crying baby inside. The two men

on either side of the father turned toward

him, trying to avoid the sunlight; the circle of

three tightened. The father’s pupils were tiny

black holes for he had been staring directly

at the sun. “Friends, what can I do?” asked

the father. “She cries to me. Not the baby,

my wife. I don’t know how to talk to her yet,

to calm her.”

With his eyes focused on his feet, the first

man summoned the courage to speak, “It is

against the law. The baby is on borrowed time;

it is as if it is not alive. It cannot be picked up

on the Sabbath…remember what the traveling

teacher said last week?” He continued to watch

the dust collect on his sandaled feet.

at this time of day, when the sun was its hottest, all of the other curtains in the surrounding houses were drawn. but a baby’s cry stirred the settled quiet.

0 issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G arts

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“But the baby cries so much. She cries

during the week as well, but not as much

because Chava can hold her and soothe her.

Chava has such a beautiful melody to her

voice, nothing she has ever said to me was

so beautiful.”

be saying of me? Does Chava know how to

take care of her baby? Didn’t her mother teach

her how?” Chava was sorry for speaking, even

though Shachar was but three days old. Chava

listened to the men talk in the courtyard. She

couldn’t make out their words, but she could

“It’s time for prayers,” the third man said,

still focused on his shoes. It was really several

minutes early, but he couldn’t stomach the

talking any longer.

“I will meet you.” The father turned

toward the house as his friends walked briskly

The third man answered with a sigh, “You

heard what the teacher said, she must just

wait a few more hours till the Sabbath ends.

Look; the sun is already climbing down its

ladder. It will be time for afternoon prayers

soon. The teacher will be back at the end of

the month. You can ask him then.”

The baby eased into a whimper. She

rubbed at her face with her small hands, trying

to reach her eyes. Chava leaned over the crib

and touched her lips to the baby’s eyes kissing

away her tears. “They are mad, my Shachar,

mad. They don’t want a mother to pick up

her own baby? I can’t feed my own infant all

Sabbath long? What kind of holiness does

their teacher believe in?” A wisp of Chava’s

hair fell out of its bun, brushing the bare scalp

of the baby. Now that the baby was quiet,

Chava could hear the men’s voices wafting

tell from their tone that they were arguing. Her

husband’s voice stood out above the others. He

was exasperated and whining to his friends.

“The rules,” Chava sighed. “He feels trapped,

just like you, just like me.” A tear dripped

from Chava’s bloodshot eyes on to Shachar’s

reddened cheeks. The baby let out another

moan and resumed crying.

“I can’t let this crying go on.”

“I know it is tough,” the first man offered

without much consolation.

“She can’t even feed her today. The

baby is too young to suck the milk directly

from my wife, but Chava isn’t allowed to

squeeze it out for her either. The Teacher

said it is like squeezing an orange for its juice

on the Sabbath: forbidden.” The two men

simultaneously scratched their heads. They

were made uncomfortable by the image of his

to the synagogue in the center of town.

He stepped inside his home and all seemed

black after he’d been staring at the sun for the

better part of the afternoon. He had traced

its slow descent, as if punishing his eyes for

the sight he was about to behold. Chava was

standing over the baby’s crib, her uncovered

breast hanging over the baby’s mouth. She did

not see him walk in. She was concentrating

on the baby’s wailing mouth, trying to fit

her nipple between the raging lips. “Drink

some, child. It’s good for you, like my finger,

but sweeter.”

Without saying a word he turned and left

the room, his heart as heavy as Chava’s bursting

breast. She heard him turn. “Did they have

anything to say?” Chava asked.

“Nothing more.”

“How will she drink my milk, if she doesn’t

in through the window. The rest of the town

wife’s breast, even though he purposely had

know how it tastes?” Chava left the obvious request

must be sleeping calmly. “What must others

not even mentioned the word.

hanging in the air. They had discussed this before.

 issue three 2007
issue three 2007

“Perhaps the

He turned to see her pleading eyes.

teacher will make an

“Does it hurt?” he asked awkwardly.

exception,” the second

“It hurts not to feed her,” she whispered.

man suggested. “You’ll

“How much longer till the end of the

ask him when he



His eyes melted to silent tears as he

“That will be

approached his wife, still standing with her

in three weeks!” the

breasts dangling over the baby’s mouth. He

father raged. “We

stood on the other side of the cradle and

can’t wait that long. I

reached out with both hands. He cupped the

sent word to him that

plump breast and softly caressed it as he had

she was born early, but

done only once before in their short months

he didn’t respond. If


it had been a boy he

“They say,” he sobbed, “that if two

would have come in

people sin together, neither can be held

order to perform the



A drop of warm milk fell on the baby’s

The men sensed

forehead, and the surprised baby stopped

that the father was

crying. Chava shifted her body the little inch

losing hope. “Just wait

needed so that the next drop fell on the baby’s

a couple more weeks. It

lips. Chava rested her head on her husband’s

is a deep sin to violate

arms as he continued to draw out her milk,

the Sabbath. Don’t

the two of them forming an arch over the

risk punishment.”

baby who swallowed hungrily.

The father waved

“I told you she would live.”

The father waved “I told you she would live.”

his hand in the air

silencing his friend’s

Alieza Salzberg is working on fusing talmud,

warning. “You don’t

Literature, and Gender Studies in Jerusalem

understand,” he threw

and blogging about it on


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i ssue three 2007


Eileen Levinson lives in Southern California. You can see more of her work at
Eileen Levinson lives in Southern California. You can
see more of her work at

4 issue three 2007

p resen t ensema G azine. O r G ba C kpa G e

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p re sen t ensema G azine. O r G CO ntents