On rabbis and racism

By Julian Resnick
Julian Resnick has lived in Israel since 1976. He made Aliyah from South Africa and has worked in numerous positions for the Reform Movement, starting with NFTY in Israel 30 years ago, Netzer Olami, and two shlichuyot for the MRJ in London.  He is currently a Shaliach for Habonim Dror in NYC, and you can catch him at the Connections Conference in San Francisco in February. 
I have always loved being Jewish. At times in my life I kept this great love of mine fairly quiet and out of sight as I was part of a social and political grouping in which a fierce ethnicity was not really a dominant part of our culture. It was a time where our culture was defined by our participation in a struggle which transcended what were then perceived as narrow boundaries.

In recent years, probably due to the many, many years I have lived in Israel, or should this read, in spite of the many, many years I have lived in Israel (?), as well as the time I spent working for the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK and the powerful experiences of Jewish travel in my Jewish Journeys world, my every day has been a Jewish experience.

Last night lighting candles in my temporary home on the Upper East Side, just one road away from the 92nd St Y and an hour after seeing Black Swan, I felt so at peace and at home with my Jewish Identity. Just think of this: working as a Shaliach for Habonim Dror, the Socialist Zionist youth movement I grew up in, enjoying my Friday night services at Bnei Yeshurun (BJ) on the Upper West Side, lighting candles with Orly who is loving her Yiddish Studies classes at the Y and with Maya my 22 year old IDF officer thinking of spending her next year after finishing the army doing Social Justice work with Tzedek B’Tevel (Justice in the world) in Nepal. These are all part of my Jewish Identity.

And this is why I am so angry with the Psak Halacha (Rabbinical Ruling) a group of Israeli Rabbis officially employed by the Ministry of the Interior as Municipal Rabbis have just published in Israel calling on Jews not to rent to Arabs in the cities they work in. They are destroying this Jewish life and world I so enjoy. If we fall again as a culture and a people, it will be because of these spreaders of hatred, of senseless hatred.

I can live with Eli Yishai’s pathetic manipulations as he worms his way out of responsibility for the Carmel fire. I hate to say this, but the fire was not an existential threat to Israel as painful as it was. This is. We have to say it as it is. It is disgusting. It cannot be excused. If we, Israeli taxpayers, do not demand that people who spew out such filth in the name of Judaism are dismissed from office, then we must accept the consequences.  And, they could be many, but I will focus on one only: more and more great young Israelis, like my daughter the IDF officer, my medical student son, my young daughter who fought to be accepted by the IDF so she could serve in spite of a medical condition and who is now working with the most difficult of populations as an educator so she can make a difference, will all walk away from their Jewish identity and the culture which I so love.

I want to name and shame these rabbis as they should be known to all. Here are the names I know: Rabbi Ya’akov Edelstein of Ramat Hasharon, Rabbi Yosef Sheinin of Ashdod, Rabbi Moshe Havlin of Kiryat Gat, Rabbi David Wolpe of Rishon LeZion, Rabbi Avraham Margalit of Carmiel, Rabbi Tzion Sudery of Gedera, Rabbi Shmuel David of Afula, Rabbi Simcha Hacohen of Rechovot, Rabbi Azaria Basis of Rosh Ha’ayin, Rabbi Yitzchak Yakobowitz of Herzliah, Rabbi Yeshaya Meitels of Naharia, Rabbi David Tzedakah of Pardes Hana, Rabbi Avraham Ochion of Ofakim.

When I think of what we suffered at the hands of those who could not bear to live in the same neighbourhoods as we did, my revulsion is even greater and I thank the Rabbis of the Tzohar organization who have offered a different Halachic ruling for trying to prevent this rabble of rabbis from destroying what I care for so deeply.


good times in Shfaram or, no really, IRAC’s that cool

By Abe Roisman

The IRAC office is in a really nice building.  It has great lighting.  As much as I love it, it’s great to spend a day out in the shetach.

Last week I went with Keren B’Kavod to a high school in Shfaram, a city in the Galilee that is home to Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities.  A group of Jewish students from Haifa met us there, and together, after a few activities to get to know one another, we packaged over 100 boxes of food for the upcoming holidays–Eid al-Adha, Christmas, and Hannukah.

This was the best program I’ve ever seen that brought Arabs and Jews together in Israel.

I studied Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis, where I studied the history of the State of Israel, especially the situation of minorities in Israel.  I spent a year living in the Middle East, and during that experience I was able to participate in and witness many different projects that brought Jews and Arabs together to meet one another, learn about each other, and walk away with good memories that they would carry with them in order to hold onto some hope when a new issue might come and divide the communities even further.

But that was the problem.  They always walked away and rarely walked back.  The programs made the mifgash, the encounter, but there was rarely a situation when people could walk away from it saying they really knew someone from the short experience, that their situation felt different because they were no longer on one side of a line or the other.

Enter Keren B’Kavod, a humanitarian aid project of IRAC that has no lofty goals of creating world peace or ending decades of conflict.  In fact, in the program that we ran last Wednesday, the organizers never even told the 15-year-old kids “you are different” or “the purpose of you being together is to see that we can overcome this separation.”  They were all there, as equals, to package food and supplies for families living in extreme poverty.  Each student, regardless of their ethnic background or faith, was just as capable of filling those boxes, just as each of the people receiving our support were just as needy of it.

As the program ended, all of our participants walked away having accomplished something together.  They helped underprivileged people in their society, and they did it together.  The same group of students from these two schools will be meeting a few more times this year to do the same thing, but now they know each other.  Some of them are friends on facebook with one another, some have phone numbers and email addresses, and others may have been too shy to ask this time but certainly will next time.

I felt great being a part of this program, and I look forward to going back for the next set of holidays.  I can’t wait to watch these new friendships progress.  I really feel like this group of nice, outgoing kids have an opportunity to grow up in a way that most Israelis aren’t able to, and I hope that this has an impact on the direction of Israel’s future.

While IRAC’s work is very important in affecting change in policy and helping individuals to obtain their rights, let it be known that IRAC is also inspiring young people to deflect every wrench thrown at the system in order to build a better future where there is no need for organizations like ours.