Rebuilding and Being Built

Soul Journey
By Neshama Carlebach

neshama carlebach
From the moment I was old enough to know I was alive, I knew I wanted to perform. I trained as a singer and actor from when I was five years old, and began singing with my father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory, when I was fifteen. Never in my lifetime did I imagine that I was developing the strength, knowledge and skill to follow in his footsteps.

I began my singing career three weeks after I lost my father, my best friend. At first I felt compelled to sing, knowing in my heart he would have wanted me to. The beginning was a time of great sorrow, as I traveled around the world singing for thousands of people, all of us unable to accept the fact that we would never again be in his holy presence.

My sweetest father gave me lessons in life that have empowered me since I was a little girl. He said we need to love every person in the world at least as much as we love ourselves and those closest to us. He said when we see someone is suffering, it’s because we have been blessed with the opportunity to save a life. He said when we reach out to G-d with all our strength, that G-d rejoices in that connection and will absolutely answer our deepest prayers. He said when we open our hearts, we learn we are never alone. These words (all his teachings, really…) run through my head all day long, I know his influence has made me who I am. In this spirit and with great joy that I write this letter to you now, to share the beginning of a new and exciting life change for me.

Please G-d, over the next weeks, I will be solidifying the foundation of my new company,
souljourneylogo
Created as a response to the darkness of this time of economic crisis and spiritual uncertainty, Soul Journey will provide an avenue for people of all ages and faiths to find the hope, inspiration and empowerment that is needed now more than ever. My goal is to create the pathway for my shows and workshops to not only raise spirits (as we have been doing for all these years) but also raise capital for those in need. When words fail us all, it’s music that allows us to express our innermost longings, work through our fears and feel joy even in times of darkness. This is more important now than it’s ever been. In this endeavor, I draw inspiration from my father, who was essentially a one-man non-profit organization. He gave and gave of himself, running across the globe only to hug and comfort one lonely person. I pray that this structure will give me the opportunity freely and wholeheartedly to do the same.

Even though I’m still in the process of establishing Soul Journey, because I know it’s absolutely the right thing to be doing, I’ve taken on my first two events: a Shabbaton and concert for Selichot on Sept. 11-12 in Harrisburg, PA and a very important event and Fundraising (and Awareness) Campaign in New Orleans on Oct. 15. Please click here to read about Soul Journey and these two events that have come to mean so very much to me. I hope that you will join us in our Campaign and help us to Rebuild.

I look forward to sharing more about our upcoming work with you. I’m so elated to have this opportunity to use my father’s and my music to bring Tikkun Olam to all of us, to heal the world just one day faster.

With love,
Neshama

neshama5

Singer/songwriter Neshama Carlebach is continuing the legacy established by her father Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. His deep spirituality and his love of all humanity, filled every song he wrote and touched every person he encountered as he changed the face of Jewish music.

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Step Aside Marvel Comics

These heroes don’t wear tights or capes. They hardly need leotards to reveal how super they really are.

If you somehow haven’t yet heard, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein is a Jewish Community Hero. And by association–as well as kedushin, children and an inspiring partnership–so is his wife, Rachel.

Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein

Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein

If you haven’t met the Booksteins, this description might sound like an exaggeration. So don’t trust my word alone. For proof of their ability to leap tall hurdles in a single bound, just look to the leaderboard in the Jewish Community Heroes contest. Team Bookstein is currently holding No. 1, with a staggering lead of almost 10 grand. Sure the site only names Rabbi Yonah, but those who have witnessed Rachel in action know the Booksteins thrive working in tandem.

An astounding number of votes have been cast on behalf of this dynamic duo: 17,258 at the time of this posting at the UJC site, JewishCommunityHeroes.org. And thanks to their many friends and supporters, they netted more than 2,000 votes alone in the last 24 hours. What makes these mere mortals so super? Check out this nomination written by one of their students. The Booksteins are “…one of the reasons that thousands of Jews in over ten countries, most recently on college campuses Southern California, are proud to be Jewish, whether it be religiously, culturally, or politically.” The Booksteins founded Jewlicious Festival, “the largest Jewish college student weekend gathering in the country. Jewlicious brings together over 1,000 students from the USA, Canada, and Israel.” They worked for years at Long Beach Hillel until recently relocating to lead JConnectLA. Previously, Rabbi Yonah and Rachel led a remarkable effort helping revitalize the Jewish community in Poland.

I personally have been among the many who have benefited from their heartfelt efforts. I first met the Booksteins while they were running a Warsaw summer camp, where they welcomed my father and me for a Shabbat. I’ll always remember the beautiful respite the Booksteins gave us in the midst of a terribly painful exploration of my family’s roots in Eastern Europe. My father, a survivor of Buchenwald, hadn’t been in Poland since his childhood–when his parents and two of his siblings were murdered and he was enslaved in forced labor by the Nazis. After tefillot, my father told Rachel, “I never thought I would one day stand in Poland leading davening for a group of Jewish children.” Those children, some of them exploring what it means to be Jewish for the first time, were there solely because of the Booksteins and the generosity of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which funded their efforts.

Once they returned to the states, the Booksteins continued working to unite Jews of every stripe. They created “a place where they could come together – Jewlicious Festival. Jewish of all shapes and sizes, from bikinis to black hats, no matter their background, level of observance or affiliation, gather annually for three days of music, innovation, inspiration, connections and creativity. From jocks to hipsters, Ashkenazi to Sephardic Persians, Jews from all walks of life can network and connect with others who have also traversed continents and oceans for the Jewlicious Festival pilgrimage. Because he uniquely bridges the gap between modern and traditional paradigms, Rabbi Yonah has connected himself with Jews from every background, all of which who see him as “their” rabbi. Because he does not have his own synagogue, he is available to anyone and everyone, anytime, anywhere. In doing, so he has energized, inspired and empowered an entire generation of young Jewish leaders.”

Yesterday, in connection with the Heroes nomination, Rabbi Yonah expressed his desire to to continue the work that he and Rachel believe in. That’s because the single winner of the Jewish Community Heroes will receive $25,000 to support their projects. Here’s how he put it:

Dear Friends,

I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and well!

A few weeks ago, I was nominated by my former students for the UJC Community Hero Award.

Thanks to amazing grassroots support – we are in first place.

Because of daily voting, caring and persuasive emails to friends and family, Tweets, Retweets and Facebook status posts and shares, we are leading the pack of over 150 candidates in the contest.

But the race is far from over, and I need a moment of your time today to capture 1000 votes in the next 12 hours. With your help we can really secure a steady lead.

Winning this award will build support for Jewlicious Festival and JconnectLA and some of our causes: Jewish unity, connectedness, and innovation.

I hope that you will have a chance to bookmark the following link and use it every day until Oct 6. http://www.jewishcommunityheroes.org/nominees/profile/yonah-bookstein/

Feel free to forward this email on, vote well, and vote often!
Peace and blessings,

Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Executive Rabbi, JconnectLA
Director, Jewlicious Festival

Without the Booksteins, this blog, our festival and quite frankly–because of their support of so many artists and Jewlicious presenters like myself–our shared experience of contemporary Jewish life, wouldn’t be the same. So please keep clicking, spread the word and vote here every 12 hours.

P.S. There are a lot of wonderful folks in this competition. And since you can vote for as many heroes as you like, I’d be doing myself a disservice if I also didn’t ask for your support. I don’t want to detract from their crowning moment, but it sure wouldn’t hurt to have more than two women leading the Top Ten. Please share the ‘voting love’ with yours truly here.

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When Fashion Meets Frumkeit

What to Wear
By Mayim Bialik

Copyright 2009 Mayim Bialik / Photographer

Copyright 2009 Mayim Bialik / Photographer


Earlier this year, producers from the TLC make-over show What Not to Wear chose me to “fix.” It was eight months after I had given birth to my second son (my first was three years old ), and I had just completed a doctorate in neuroscience.

I had been wearing slouchy clothes since long before I had kids. I favored men’s oversized garments that hung loosely from my body and had never much cared for fashion or trends. For the most part, I spent little to no time on my appearance. From the time I was 19 until I turned 32, I devoted my time to studying, writing a thesis, and starting a family. But the acting itch never completely abated and I had decided to pursue it again rather than stay in academia. The actor’s life I want to pursue gives me more time to raise my children, rather than hand them over to a nanny. Getting a makeover seemed like a great opportunity to put together a new look that I could use on future auditions.

The WNTW producers asked if I have any clothing restrictions. Deep breath. “I don’t wear pants,” I told them. “I prefer skirts.” You see, I am what I guess you’d call a Conservadox Jew. I started embracing certain aspects of Jewish modesty, or tzniut, before my second son was born, and although I know many Orthodox women who don’t observe tzniut, the boundaries and framework of privacy it provides appealed to me.

I was raised in a traditional Reform household, the grand-daughter of poor Orthodox immigrants from Eastern Europe. For them, success in America came at the seemingly small price of relative assimilation. Growing up, I lived a pretty normal life; I had my own prime-time network TV show from the ages of 14 to 19, which meant my physical appearance and clothing choices were dissected on a weekly basis in gossip magazines and on television. I was pretty impervious to media critiques of my style. I had no real sense of my own physicality and took for granted the feminist idea that I should be able to walk around naked without harassment. But I soon learned that not everyone was a feminist. (more)

Mayim Bialik starred in NBC’s Blossom from 1990 to 1994. More recently she has appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Saving Grace and, this fall, will have a recurring role on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

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Belonging Everywhere

Classically trained dancer Adam McKinney is an African American, Native American, Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jew.

Adam_McKinney_Biography_Headshot_2

Reared in the Midwest, Adam did not often see Jews represented in books, newspapers, or films who looked like him. It was only during his visit to the Jewish community in Ghana–while teaching at the University of Ghana, Legon, that he understood how different his own life and the life of Jewish communities worldwide, would have been had he known about this and other non-European, Diasporic Jewish communities around the world.

The project Adam co-directs and co-founded with Daniel Banks, DNAWORKS, was funded by the U.S. Embassy in Ghana to lead an oral history project with the Jewish community, some 200 strong, in Sefwi Wiawso in the Western Region of Ghana about 120 miles from Accra. Adam and Daniel spent Purim with the community, their first celebration of this holiday, led a Purim spiel, and taught songs. They also spent Passover with the community and three Shabbatot. Adam is currently editing a film about this community; their experiences serve as a jumping-off point for DNAWORKS’ on-going dialogue and creative work about Jews of color and of African heritage.

In his film, “We Are All One: The Jews of Sefwi Wiawso,” Jewish men living in Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana recount stories of the House of Israel community and its return to ancestral Judaic beliefs and practices.

You can view a clip of this fascinating film here:
http://www.dnaworks.org/We-Are-All-One-The-Jews-of-Sefwi-Wiawso-trailer.php

We-are-All-One-Jews-of-Sefwi-Wiawso

Adam has performed with a number of acclaimed companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Switzerland’s Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Adam’s commissioned production, “Pathways,” opened November, 2008 in Jakarta, Indonesia to rave reviews.

Adam has served as a US Embassy Culture Connect Envoy to South Africa and artist-in-residence at the South African Ballet Theatre, and has taught master dance classes around the world, including the University of Ghana and University of Johannesburg. He has also organized programs on social justice and the Arts with a long list of organizational partners, including Ghana’s National School for the Deaf, Ghana State Mental Hospital, City Ballet Theater, and Agulhas Theatre Works, a South African mixed abilities contemporary dance company.

Adam’s awards include the 2008 Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant, the Gallatin (NYU) Jewish Arts grant for work with Ethiopian-Israeli communities in Haifa, Israel, and the Bronfman Jewish Artist Fellowship for his genealogical dance and film work “HaMapah.” Named one of the most influential African-Americans in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA by St. Vincent DePaul of Milwaukee in 2000, Adam currently leads youth programming for the Jewish Multiracial Network’s summer retreats and sits on the board of United with In Motion.

This material is excerpted from DNAWorks. For more information, visit www.dnaworks.com.

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Thoughts On Race and Gates

A Lesson for Jews in Gates’ Arrest?
By Aliza Hausman

AlizaHausman

Did you hear the one about the black Harvard professor who got arrested breaking into his own home? No, this is not a joke. It was the beginning of a Shabbos lunch that left me traumatized.

It’s always the same. I feel safe, comfortable and carefree, and suddenly, punched in the gut, violated, uncomfortable, and all the cares of the world weigh on me. When I feel safe, I feel part of the Jewish community, but when I do not, I feel like an outsider on the outskirts, not fitting in.

My husband and I started speaking out about racism in the Jewish community when a friend asked us to speak at a synagogue in Washington Heights, in my hometown of New York City. As an interracial Jewish couple (my husband is white, I am Dominican), our friend was sure we’d have plenty to say. I wasn’t. But as I started to write about my experiences in Washington Heights (from both white Jews, who thought I was dark and foreign, to Dominicans, who thought I was too light and American), I filled four single-spaced typed pages. I knew from the stories of other Jews of color that this meant I was lucky. I learned still others had been even luckier.

When every inch of my kinky hair is hidden away under a head scarf, people assume there is no one in the room to offend with their racist comments. My husband and I have sat in stunned silence around a Shabbos table. Non-Jews, blacks, Mexicans … no one was safe, especially not me, a convert with non-Jewish family, a light-skinned Latina with a brown mother and African roots. Even our Jewish real estate broker told my husband and his parents that our new neighborhood would be better because there weren’t many Hispanics. My husband informed her there’d now be one more (me!).

Topics unsafe for the Shabbos table: skin color, class and especially affirmative action, which people have insinuated might be the only reason I got into college. These loaded topics can lead to comments like “Why are they always playing the race card?” and “Jews didn’t use slavery as an excuse never to work again” and “Their cultural values are the reason they can’t get ahead.” When you are the darkest person in a room full of angry white people, your eyes dart for the exit, looking for the best escape.

But something changed recently. When the arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Obama’s initial response came up at the Shabbos table, my husband was not silent. He highlighted the issues between people of color and law enforcement. He tried to get everyone to look at the situation from every angle. A conversation that started out, “Doesn’t everyone agree Obama was stupid for speaking out about this case?” changed because of my husband’s input.

The longer we’ve been married, the more my husband has seen racism up close. He has watched me be subjected to routine, tactless interrogations and commentary about my race, my culture and, of course, my hair, in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. By seeing the world through my eyes, he has realized that even he is not without taint from the racism that pollutes us every day in the very air we breathe, no matter how much we fight it. And yes, we must fight it.

My husband’s new thoughts on racism are unwelcome outside of the classrooms we teach in. People have worried aloud that he is a race traitor. (I have been accused of the same for marrying him.) My husband says he has finally learned to really listen to the stories of people of color, especially Jews who are mistaken for the help at Jewish events, who must always defend their Jewishness and who ponder leaving the community altogether because the color of their skin makes things, like dating, harder.

I have been guilty of common mistakes. I didn’t listen wholeheartedly when Jewish friends of color discussed their dating woes. I wondered if they were exaggerating. I made it about me. After all, it hadn’t been harder for me to date in the community. My “exotic” looks drew in Jewish men. My black Jewish friends said that many white Jews dated them for an “exotic” adventure, but ended things with “Well, I can’t marry someone black.”

I couldn’t put myself into their shoes until a white Jewish friend told me point-blank she would “never date a black guy,” because it would kill her grandmother. “What if the black guy were Jewish?” I asked. Silence. She added further thoughts on interracial couples: black and Hispanics are less “jarring” together, as are whites and Asians together. She didn’t realize she was tearing my soul out from my body, telling me my marriage was “jarring,” and people like me should stick to our own kind, that white Jews and black Jews were not the same “kind.”

I wish the conversation had ended there, but like so many white Jewish friends, she began an intimate conversation about how blacks and Hispanics have unsavory cultural values. They assume I will agree with them, and they assure me quickly that as an educated, Hispanic woman, I am a “credit to my race.” I am not one of those people.

“Oh, it’s amazing your English is so good.” Hey, English is my first language. “Oh, you’re so articulate and educated for a Hispanic person.” So articulate and educated, a white college professor accused me of plagiarizing a paper, even consulting my other professors. I guess I didn’t expect to hear the same racist comments from Jews. I knew plenty about racism before becoming Jewish, having made an art of answering stupid questions about my skin color and hair. I just thought Jews were different in this way. I was naïve.

“How can a people that has experienced the Holocaust be so racist?” a young black prospective convert asked me, wringing his hands in total heartbreak. And on a regular basis, a white Jewish friend tells me “You’re too sensitive about race” and “I’m not racist, but…” So I have created a network of Jews of color, of white allies. With them, I know I can safely discuss the latest racist Jewish encounter that has left me raw, exposed, dying from the inside out.

When my husband and I feel safe, we still go out into that scary racist world and teach people (the non-Jews who call all Jews racist, the Jews who call all non-Jews anti-Semitic) about making this world safer for people of every color, every religion, especially our unborn Jewish children. These conversations are always painful, because change starts with getting out of our comfort zone, accepting that “everyone is a little bit racist” and, from there, becoming more sensitive and aware of our own personal biases in a way that will truly change the world.

Aliza Hausman, a Latina Orthodox Jewish convert, freelance writer, blogger and educator, blogs daily at Memoirs of a Jewminicana. This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and is reprinted with her permission.

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Freeing the Captive

Pidyon Shvuim
By Lisa Alcalay Klug

A Jewish man and an African-American woman are both imprisoned, thousands of miles apart, under very disparate conditions. On this national day of mourning, Tisha B’Av, both deserve our attention.

Noam Shalit, the father of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,131 days, is asking that the U.S.’ scheduled aid package of $300 million to Gaza be delivered only after the release of his son. Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas in June, 2006. Noam Shalit recently testified before the Goldstone Committee, which is investigating illegal conduct by combatants during Operation Cast Lead on behalf of the United Nations, that Gilad’s abduction was a war crime according to the definitions of the Geneva Convention. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the elder Shalit also testified the abduction of his son preceded all the other events in the Gaza Strip: “the IDF siege on the territory, the launching of rockets by Palestinian groups, and finally the Israeli offensive – and argued that that action had resulted in the subsequent actions.”

Gilad_Shalit
For the more than three years Gilad has been held in captivity, he has not been visited by the Red Cross. No one even knows what has happened to him. And at no point has Hamas been required to release this information as a condition of foreign aid.

Please take a moment to sign this petition , which urges the U.S. to make its upcoming $300 million gift to Gaza dependent upon the release of Gilad Shalit. This petition will be delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Please also share this message with your representatives in Congress. Just cut and paste this note into an email. The entire process takes only a minute or two.

Noam Shalit, the father of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas for more than 1,131 days, is asking that the U.S.’ scheduled aid package of $300 million to Gaza be delivered only after the release of his son.

Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas in June, 2006. Noam Shalit recently testified before the Goldstone Committee, which is investigating illegal conduct by combatants during Operation Cast Lead on behalf of the United Nations, that his son’s abudction was a war crime according to the definitions of the Geneva Convention. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that the elder Shalit also testified the abduction of his son preceded all the other events in the Gaza Strip: “the IDF siege on the territory, the launching of rockets by Palestinian groups, and finally the Israeli offensive – and argued that that action had resulted in the subsequent actions.” And for the three years Gilad has been held in captivity, he has not been visited by the Red Cross. And at no point has Hamas been required to release this information as a condition of foreign aid.

Please urge President Obama and your colleagues to make the upcoming $300 million gift to Gaza dependent upon the release of Gilad Shalit.

Almost half around the globe, in California, a woman wrongly imprisoned is nearing death behind bars. Debbie Peagler is a domestic violence survivor who, thanks to a tragic miscarriage of justice, has spent more than 26 years in prison in connection with the death of her batterer. Now she is dying of terminal lung cancer that has already spread throughout her body. According to one of her attorneys, Joshua Safran, who has been working pro bono on her behalf for more than six years, Debbie’s condition is so severe, she may not live beyond the summer.

free debbie
Earlier this month, on July 10th, Debbie was found suitable for parole. In light of Debbie’s terminal illness, the State of California’s Decision Review Committee agreed to expedite its review of the Parole Board’s decision, and it, too, found Debbie suitable for parole. These are big steps, but Debbie is still behind bars.

Debbie’s freedom now lies in the hands of California Governor Schwarzenegger. Under state law, he has 30 days to affirm or veto the Parole Board’s decision and thereby decide whether Debbie will spend her last days with her family or behind bars.

Because the Governor often reverses Board of Parole decisions, DEBBIE NEEDS YOUR SUPPORT NOW MORE THAN EVER.

Please take three minutes to go to http://www.freebatteredwomen.org/Alert_Deborah.html, Then drop down to parole issues. Please call or email Governor Schwarzenegger or send him a free fax and urge him to release incarcerated domestic violence survivor Deborah Peagler.

Please also express your support by reaching out to First Lady Maria Shriver. You can reach her at

State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

Please also express your sentiments to the Governor’s Legal Affairs Secretary’s office at this address:

Governor’s Office of Legal Affairs
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-0873
Fax: (916) 323-0935

It’s now or never. Every fax, email, and phone call matters.

Thanks to attorney Joshua Safran for bringing this to our attention.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and the founding editor of Tolerant Nation.

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Grey Goose vs. Black Bear

The bridge between Russian-Jewish relations is paved with rail drinks.
By Vicki Boykis

Often, when I am at one Jewish gathering or another, people ask me where I’m from. These kinds of questions have been particularly loud lately, with Obama’s visit to Russia, which ended with him being ejected out of the country in a cannon.

3obama35

Usually, they ask me because I’m wearing my “Ask me about my post-Soviet Jewish Troubles” button. “Oh, so gledd yu esked mi,” I reply perkily, dusting it off. “Ai em from Ruhsha. Mai famili eemigrated ven de Soviet Union kollapsed een 1991.”

“Oh, how was that,” the unsuspecting party usually asks sympathetically, associating Russia with refuseniks, Natan Sharansky and vodka made of 50% rubbing alcohol.

“It was pretty bad,” I say, conveniently omitting the fact that I was only five years old and the most stress I faced when leaving Russia was spilling airline food onto myself one hour into our trans-Atlantic flight.

“You know, I hear people are immigrating back to Russia. Things are getting better there for Jews,” they usually say, pointing their rail drink at me. (Side note: why do Jewish events always have rail drinks? Why not spring for the Grey Goose every once in a while? More fun + more hora!)

I stop to think about this. Can Russians and Jews live together, forsaking a 500-plus year history of Russians murdering Jews periodically in a number of rather creative ways? Sure. My mom and dad do. My dad is Russian, my mom is a Russian Jew. They threaten to periodically kill each other in a number of creative ways, but nothing rivaling the forced army conscription of the 1820s or Stalin’s clever and mischievous Doctor’s Plot, which thankfully never came to fruition as Stalin’s heart created a plot against itself and killed him. Besides, my mom never threatens to learn Hebrew, move to til the Holy Land and found the Histadrut. So, they coexist, if not peacefully.

Translation: Type of student: Jew.  Ah yes, the nose.

Translation: Type of student: Jew. Ah yes, the nose.

But, while there is a growing Jewish community in Russia and the former Soviet republics (just ask the Chabad operating in Moscow or Tanya at jewlicious.ru, who worked at Hillel in Kiev), I can’t help but think that everything is bad news (Russian black) bears for Jews still there. The strongest evidence yet? Russians dressing up monkeys as Jews in a Moscow circus. I mean, the costumes are cute. But couldn’t they have at least chosen giraffes? Emil Draitser, who has written extensively about his childhood growing up Jewish in Stalin’s Russia, explains,

“An American assumes you are a good guy,” he said. “You have to work hard to actually prove you are a bastard. In Russia, it is the opposite. They assume you are a bastard.”

The same is doubly true if you are Jewish.

So what do I say to the rail-drink-sipper? “Sure, things are better. But I wouldn’t want to move back any more than I want to drink the generic vodka available staring me in the face. Bring on the Grey Goose, bro.” I take a quick Russian sip, slam it on the bar, watch and hope.

Vicki Boykis is a trade economist with a penchant for Jewish Sorrow. She blogs at vickiboykis.com and Jewlicious.

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I Couldn’t Help But Wonder

By Lisa Alcalay Klug

In the words of one of my favorite fictional writers, I couldn’t help but wonder…

Is there really no such thing as bad PR?

Earlier this week, a Republican National Committee (RNC) web site began promoting the so-called “Obama Card.” It’s all part of http://www.gop.com/obamacard/ where you can supposedly shop with abandon, thanks to the reckless ways of Washington.

gopobamacard

Let’s say you’re ready to go do some damage with your plastic. Like a smart shopper, you throw a word into the search engine. Take “Jew” for instance.

Put “Jew” into the Obama Card search engine and what do you get? Several titles, including mine, Cool Jew. Oh, and a few others… like a little special somin’ somin’ in the lower left hand corner entitled, Jews and Their Lies.

RNC HATRED

Hello, RNC? This is your conscience calling. Isn’t this entire site one big whopper of a lie? There is no such thing as an Obama Card. And your shop is a fake filled with bigotry, pornography and… well, you take a look.

Just go to http://www.tinyurl.com/RNC.

Oh wait, what was I thinking? That doesn’t work. You have to add on a word. Try putting this in your browser:

RNC-HATRED.


Lisa Alcalay Klug is the author of Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe and the founding editor of Tolerant Nation.

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Could YouTube Have Stopped Hitler?

By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman
Simon Wiesenthal Center

In his recent acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said this before the Swedish Academy: “Who knows, if the Internet had existed at the time, perhaps Hitler’s criminal plot would not have succeeded-ridicule might have prevented it from ever seeing the light of day.” So do the dramatic protests in Iran, dubbed by some “The Twitter Revolution,” make Le Clezio a prophet in his own time?

There’s no doubt that cyberfreedom’s promise is limitless, its palpable impact truly global. Evidence: Blogger Xeni Jardin, who visited a remote Guatemalan village with no television or even telephone landlines but with a few inexpensive cellphones, and a nearby Internet café. Village elder Don Victoriano absorbed news of Barak Obama’s victory over his Hotmail account: “If a black man can enter the Casa Blanca, maybe a Mayan person one day can become president of Guatemala.”

In the 1960s, technological guru Marshall McLuhan trumpeted the emerging “global village” in which “the medium is the message.” Today, it still is for those who see the Internet as the herald of a new interactive politics of citizen activism via social networking, e-mail petitions, virtual town meetings, and online organizing. Those who view Obama’s campaign as the coming of age of “the Net Generation” also point to other global manifestations–from Ukraine’s cellphone-driven “Orange Revolution” to South Korea’s “mad cow” protests against tainted meat imports orchestrated by text messaging teenagers.

In terms of historical hypotheticals, it’s possible to imagine digital technologies — from web sites to cellphones and text messaging — making a real difference. Just think if these options were available to Soviet dissidents and refuseniks who, back in the 1970s, were limited to communicate by secretly hand-written Samizdats. Maybe Glasnost and Perestroika would have come a decade earlier. Or just possibly there would have been a different outcome in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had Chinese protesters had been able to communicate — and organize — instantaneously.

Or maybe not. It remains to be seen if real tanks or thuggish shock troops like Ahmadinejad’s Basij militia can be ultimately trumped by virtual protests. Would YouTube posts from inside the Munich Beer Hall where Hitler launched his abortive 1923 putsch made the Nazis look ridiculous — or, more likely, create a cult following among young people in search of a strong leader? Would smuggled cellphone videos from Auschwitz have horrified and mobilized the German public or world public opinion to stop the factory of death? Not likely, given that images of mass murder actually sent back home by Germany’s “willing executioners” failed to change anything. There is little reason to believe that the Internet could have stopped genocide in 20th century Europe any more than it has in 21st-Century Africa in Darfur. (more)

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Dr. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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Iran, From a Jewish Refugee’s Perspective

Roya Hakakian emigrated from Iran to the United States in 1985, seeking political asylum. Author, activist and filmmaker Hakakian discussed political upheaval in Iran on public radio today. Her interview is available online atWHYY’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross.

roya hakakian
Hakakian grew up Jewish in Tehran, an experience she recounts in her memoir Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran. Hakakian will return to “Fresh Air” next week to discuss her book with Terry Gross.

Hakakian book cover

Hakakian recently published a piece at CNN.com entitled, “Pray for Neda,” in which she reflects on the significance of the recent fatal tragedy in Iran’s political upheaval, as an example of the Iranian people’s 30 year quest for freedom. Hakakian calls for a memorial campaign that spans all religions lines to remember Neda.

Pray for Neda

by Raya Hakakian

With Neda’s death, the Iran I know finally has a face. The sequence of her death is the sequence of our nation’s struggle in the past 30 years: The democratic future that 1979 was to deliver collapsing, then trails of blood — that of so many executed or assassinated — streaming across its bright promise. The film of Neda’s death is the abbreviated history of contemporary Iran.

If history is a contest among competing narratives and icons, let the image of a young woman lying on the ground endure as that of Iran today. Let it loom so large to wipe away the memory of the thugs marching American hostages out of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Let the scarf that loosens and falls off her head to expose her dark hair be emblazoned in our memories as the metaphor for the plight of Iran’s women.

Here in the United States, I hope you join me and thousands of my compatriots in a memorial campaign for Neda by asking your religious and spiritual leaders to include a prayer for Neda and other fallen Iranians of the recent days in this week’s services.

For 30 years, Iran’s regime has appropriated God. Let us reclaim God from those who deny a family the right to properly mourn the death of their child through our prayers and help bring peace to a tormented nation.

Read the full article here.

A 2008 Guggenheim fellow, Hakakian is a founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center and a fellow at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center. Her most recent film, commissioned by UNICEF, is Armed and Innocent, a documentary about child soldiers in wars around the world.

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