Why Israel doesn’t always suck (and is sometimes good at things)

This is perhaps my most Israeli blog title yet.

I’m writing you from a hostel in Barcelona, an absolutely stunning city.  It’s my first visit back in Catalonia in 10 years, and unlike my last visit, I also speak Catalan in addition to Spanish.

My experience here has been fantastic.  I visited the medieval city of Girona, the absolutely phenomenal and peaceful gem of Perpignan in southern France, and am now in the throbbing yet relaxed metropolis.

The best parts of my visit here have been the nature, the serenity, the smiles at strangers, the cleanliness, the general respect for boundaries, and not having to answer millions of deeply personal questions only to be judged for your answers.  Speaking languages I love.  And the delicious food on every corner.

It’s also nice to take my air raid and terrorism alert apps off my phone for a while and not see 18 year old soldiers carrying guns in the street.  It’s just more peaceful.

For the first time in a while, I found myself missing things about Israel.  If you’ve read my recent blogs, you might find that as surprising as I did.  Israel is pretty awful when it comes to human rights, to respecting diversity, to preserving Jewish culture, to living up to Jewish values, to treating people with respect, and to pursuing peace both within society and with our neighbors.

And there are some things Israel does well.  One is helping each other.  Today I found myself sick in Barcelona.  Both physically sick and feeling lonely.  I messaged a few Israeli friends and within seconds they were helping me figure out my insurance, cheering me up, and taking care of me.  Thankfully I didn’t need a full hospital visit, but if I had, my travel insurance would have covered every expense above $50.  Which brings me to something else.  Israeli healthcare is leaps and bounds better than anything I experienced in America.  Health is not just wealth- it’s survival.  Everything else is details if you can’t live.  Israel is a super stressful place to live and one stress I don’t have is that I’ll go bankrupt because I’m sick.

It speaks to a certain social(ist) value in Israel.  And when I say Israel, I mean both Jews and Arabs.  In Israel, anywhere you go you can charge your phone or refill your water bottle.  For free- you often don’t even need to buy anything.  In the places I’ve visited in Spain and France (and much of the U.S.) you need to buy something to charge up or you need to buy actual (expensive and wasteful) bottles of water.  These examples are not anecdotal- when combined with Israeli willingness to host guests (and sometimes strangers) for long periods of time, you sense a pattern.  When it comes to certain things, Israelis display a generosity found in few places.

While in Spain/Catalonia/France, I’ve met some people who reminded me why some Israelis are so nationalistic and racist.  There’s the Dutch guy who told me he could probably understand Yiddish because “it’s just fucked up German.”  There’s the researcher in France studying medieval Jewry who, instead of dialoguing with me, started lecturing me about my own people’s history.  I appreciate his work and would prefer someone not pin me in a corner and try to teach me about…myself.  There are also the formerly Jewish houses in Girona where you can see where the mezuzahs once hung.  And the historic synagogue that now houses an architectural firm.  I think I can understand how Palestinian refugees must feel about the remnants of their village in my neighborhood.

This is not to say that most people here are bigoted.  Most people when I say I’m Jewish or live in Tel Aviv are either neutral, polite, or even show great interest.  I’m grateful to cities like Girona that are preserving my heritage.  And to their archives for preserving Judeo-Catalan documents I got to see first hand.  And many of them were improperly labeled.  To the archivist’s credit, I submitted some corrections and she gladly marked them down.  It’s just an apt metaphor that even when some people are trying to get Jewish history right, it can feel uncomfortable.  I don’t want to impose or discourage them and I also find it irritating that most of their archived documents are upside down.  The documents of the people they expelled.  Some of whom live in their veins.

That’s the complexity of Judaism in Europe.  For 2000 years, we’ve called it home.  To this day.  And not just during the Holocaust, but over and over again throughout that time, we’ve been mercilessly expelled, burned, and murdered.  Property robbed and now turned into moneymaking tourist attractions.  That keep bits of our heritage on the map.  When I visit the Jewish quarter of Girona, I’m not just visiting a tourist attraction, I’m a Cherokee visiting the Trail of Tears.  It’s complicated, to recall the words of a Palestinian friend I talked with before moving to Israel.

Which brings me to what else Israel does well- it gives me a place where if people are ignorant about my tradition, they can learn on my terms.  It gives me a place where I’m in a position of power- as fraught as that is.  A place where if people want to expel us or lecture us or deride us, we don’t have to grit our teeth and put up with it.  Some people take this power a bit too far- and spending a bit of time outside of Israel reminded me why they do so.  Even if it’s not justified.

While in Barcelona, I went to Reform services.  I’ve been pretty fed up with God lately, tired of Zionism, and not even really sure if I feel Jewish anymore.  So I decided to see if maybe Diaspora Judaism, the Judaism I grew up with, still fit.  The services were wonderful.  They were in Catalan, Spanish, Hebrew, and English- a polyglot like me couldn’t be happier.  And it adds a spiritual dimension to share our hopes in different languages.  Hebrew alone bores me.  The people of all ages were warm and welcoming and treated me to a free meal.  As good Jews, there was tons of food.

I can’t say every part of the service spoke to me.  There are problems with Jewish liturgy I’ve only fully understood while living in Israel.  The idea that we’re the “Chosen People” or asking God to bless “His people”- that doesn’t work for me any more.  It feels racist.  I’m tired of the idea that religion should be supremacist- as pretty much every Western religion is in some sense or another.  Our prophet is the best.  Only our people go to heaven.  God chose us above all other peoples.  Try reading the words of your Friday night Kiddush in English.

And it’s my capacity to read Hebrew and my living in Israel that has shed light on these problems.  Judaism is due for a new reformation.  It has beautiful sparks as evidenced by the parts of the service and the dinner that lit my spirit again.  The music, the poetry, the community, the evolving tradition.

Much like Israel, Judaism needs a revamp.  No need to throw everything out, but the way it’s going isn’t working- at least not for me.  As I watched two Israelis living in Barcelona learn the Reform liturgy Friday night- and engage in gentler, more peaceful ways than I usually see in Israel- I see a bit of light.  Jews outside of Israel need Israel.  Yes, it’s a deeply f*cked place and I would rather the world not have states at all.  And I’ll keep fighting for that.  And the reality is we don’t know the next time anti-Semitism will strike.  Israel is the only state on earth, for better or worse, that cares about my healthcare- about my ability to live- simply because I’m a Jew.  That formula is problematic and perhaps sometimes necessary.  While we can’t live in paranoia that everyone is out to get us, the fact is some people are.  And because we’re a minority easy to scapegoat, some people always will be.

At the same time, to return to the Israelis I met in Barcelona, Israel needs Jews (and non-Jews) outside of Israel.  Judaism outside Israel is gentler.  It’s more spiritual than secular Israelis and softer than much of the religiosity I see there.  It can offer Israelis an escape valve.  A reminder than life in the Diaspora can be hard due to prejudice and it can be enriching when it engages with the society surrounding it.  It can remind us of our roots and the need to be sensitive and compassionate towards minorities.  Including in Israel itself.  As my cover photo says in French: “shared route”.  Let’s lift each other up, Jew and non-Jew, Israeli or not.

When you go on a trip, you can buy one of those souvenirs that says “I went to Barcelona and all I got was this shirt”.  I went to Barcelona and all I got was a complex textured view of the pluses and minuses of having a Jewish state- and Diaspora life.

More than I expected on a birthday trip abroad?  You bet.  But don’t worry, I’ll be having some chicken paella too 😉


Yiddish softens the heart?

Two weeks ago, I approached my friends at FluenTLV about starting a Yiddish table.  FluenTLV is a fabulous event (my favorite in Tel Aviv) where people get together to exchange languages.  I offered to represent the language and they were thrilled.

Last week, the first week we did Yiddish, probably 3 or 4 people came and it went well.  One German guy, a couple Jewish Americans, and an Israeli.  Given how stigmatized my heritage language is in Israel, I was pretty happy.

Last night, Yiddish came to life.  At the beginning of the night, an Israeli came in and tried to take one of the three chairs at my tiny table.  I said: “actually that chair is for Yiddish.”  He said “well, nobody is going to come anyways, so I’ll take it.”  I said: “nope, this chair belongs here, you can leave now.”  I asked him if he wanted to learn something and he said “sure, teach me a word.”  I did, he laughed, gave me one of those “everything is OK dude” Israeli high fives and left.  Probably without a further thought about what he had said.

The best part of the evening is that this guy was totally wrong.  Group after group came over to my table.  We didn’t have enough chairs.  When all was said and done, about 15-20 people had visited my table.  A German guy and two Dutch men explained how Yiddish had made its way into their languages!  A Brazilian Jew talked about Yiddish in her family.  I met Israelis whose parents or grandparents spoke the language and remembered some phrases.  Together, we read my copy of “Der Blat”, a Satmar Hasidic newspaper.  And I could see the glow in their eyes when they realized they could understand some of it.

What was also astonishing was how willing people were to learn.  I often find Israeli culture frustrating because of the bravado.  So many people here feel the need to be right trumps all.  Hence often endless debate, even when the facts used are minimal.  I’ve even had Israelis try to correct my English- knowing I’m American.  We often laugh that off, but after a while it wears on you.  It’s tiring having to constantly defend yourself.  Humility is not an Israeli value.

Yet at the Yiddish table, Israelis came to learn from me.  And subsequently shared about themselves.  Their families, their stories, their grandparents’ Yiddish phrases.  For the first time, I actually felt in dialogue with Israeli Jews rather than a lecture.  Or an argument.  There was a softness to our conversation that made me happy.  It warmed my heart and it gave me hope.

In a society where, as I see it, traumatized Jews faced 2,000 years of violent persecution with few options for safety and survival.  Sadly, some of these Jews ended up traumatizing and displacing Palestinian Arabs in a bid for a homeland.  Some of these traumatized Palestinians subsequently re-traumatized the Israelis.  And now we’re stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of violence.

That’s how I see it on regel aches- or “one on leg” as we say in Yiddish.  My Tweet-length version of the conflict here.  The saddest part is the trauma on both sides continues.  Anti-Semitism is not just the Holocaust.  It’s a two-millennia phenomenon that continues to this day from America to France to Iran.  I’ve personally experienced it in the liberal suburbs of Washington, D.C.  When Jews are persecuted, we often have nowhere to go, which is why some people believe in a Jewish state.  I’m not sure it’s the best solution and I completely understand why people feel we need it.  It’s not by accident that there’s a lot of French people in Israel- they’re Jews fleeing violence and bigotry.  Palestinian terrorist attacks on pizza shops and buses and schools only feed this narrative as we feel under attack yet again.  Trauma piled upon trauma.

And for the Palestinians, you have those who are citizens of Israel yet continue to face discrimination, racism, and often poverty.  Whose lands were robbed of them- and are still in the hands of the Israeli state 70 years later.  You have those in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who live in immense poverty, have little right to travel, have few if any civil liberties, and often face violence from the Israeli military.  And even some settlers who burn their trees, deface their houses of worship, and physically assault them.  And you have Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and elsewhere who can’t even come back to the land they once called home.  Who have no rights in the villages they come from and whose host states often extensively discriminate against them.

Sometimes its enough to just make you cry and cry and weep for humanity.  With no end in sight.  Ya Allah, God please send us all healing.

So in the face of all this sadness, what gives me hope?  Yiddish.  Because tonight, I saw the softer side of Israeli Jews.  When they don’t have to be “tough”- not against Arabs, not against other Jews, not against their own heritage.  Rather, by connecting to their roots- roots violently uprooted both by European anti-Semites and the Israeli state– they felt warmth.

I hope politicians can figure out a solution to this problem.  Given their proclivity for narcissism and greed, I’m not sure what they’ll do.  In the meantime, perhaps part of the solution is culture.  When you feel connected to something bigger- especially something a part of your heritage- it puts things in perspective.  Rather than having to show how “Israeli” you are, you can be the multifaceted Jew beneath the uniform.  The Jew whose family was persecuted by Polish Nazi collaborators, the Jew whose family escaped to Israel, the Jew who lives on Palestinian land, the Jew who wishes to reconnect with his heritage.  A complex one, of persecution and co-existence.  Of perseverance and of trauma.

A little less prickly sabra and a little more soft kneydlach.  Those fluffy yet durable matzah balls that comfort you when you feel sick.

Cover photo by Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31812266

Jewish Supremacy

Ok, so before a bunch of neo-Nazi trolls get excited, I need to define a few things.  First off, every country and most cultures have some similar manifestation.  Whether it’s the alt-right in America, the Front National in France, even Buddhists.  If you think your country is immune- you’re wrong.  It’s a global phenomenon.

Secondly, there are varying degrees of this philosophy.  Not all Israeli Jews agree with this approach.  And certainly not all Jews elsewhere.

In this post, I’m going to discuss both what is Jewish Supremacy and how it ultimately hurts both Jews and non-Jews.  And how it operates in ways you may not expect.

Let’s start with an anecdote.  Lately, I have been advocating for African refugees in my neighborhood.  The Israeli government, in the name of “national security” has decided to deport them- likely to their deaths or torture.  These are people who already live and work in Israel, who largely speak Hebrew, whose children ask them if there will be hummus and bamba in Rwanda.  That’s where they’re likely to be deported.

Not a single one has committed an act of terror.  And I can tell you from living in my neighborhood, the economy depends on them and takes advantage of them.  Which is why the Israeli government is negotiating with the Philippines to send more low-wage workers to replace the Africans already here.  And issuing more permits to Palestinian workers.

The Israeli government, then, is willing to deport these people who it views as economically beneficial.  Why?  Jewish supremacy and racism.

Let’s actually start with racism.  Some of my friends or blog commenters have been hesitant to use this word.  I get it- when you’re a persecuted minority (as Jews have been for thousands of years)- it’s hard to admit when our compatriots are being racist.  So many anti-Semites will rejoice at our introspection and it’ll make us feel protective and vulnerable.

And yet it’s the truth.  I’ve met people here who’ve called African torture and genocide survivors “infiltrators”, “fake refugees”, “rapists”, “criminals”, “n*ggers”, and worse.  Who’ve said: “if I wanted to live in Africa, I’d go move there.”  I heard an out-of-the-closet lesbian say the Africans need to be “cleaned up” and deported.  Lest you think it’s only poor Mizrachim who feel this way, I’ve met Ashkenazi Reform Jews who also “aren’t sure” about letting them stay.  As they munch on cheese in North Tel Aviv.

Even among some of the people who oppose the deportation, the racism is palpable.  To quote Haim Moshe from South Tel Aviv: “If they all walk away, it will be bad for the economy because they take all the jobs no one wants.  There are a lot of non-Jewish people living and working here, but when the Sudanese and Eritreans came it was like an invasion because they live together and are black.”

Save their lives to protect my pocketbook.  But damn, they sure are black.

It’s telling that the government isn’t stepping up enforcement of the thousands of Romanian or Ukrainian or Filipino workers.  Just the really black ones.

So now that we’ve defined the racist aspect, let’s move on to the stickier topic: Jewish supremacism.  One commenter on my last blog suggested deporting African refugees isn’t racist because Israel “absorbed” Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.  The first issue is that actually a lot of Ethiopian Jews here do experience racism.  In words perhaps even I would struggle to say, Ethiopian-Israeli actress Tahunia Rubel said: “Israel is one of the most racist countries in the world.”  And fellow community-member Revital Iyov: “Some people say that in other countries the situation is much worse, so we shouldn’t criticize Israel but only praise it because we’re better than the non-Jews.”

After having established that in fact there is a lot racism towards Ethiopian-Israelis, let’s go a step further.  The commenter does have a point.  Why is it that an Ethiopian Jew- also black, from a country bordering Eritrea (in fact Eritrea used to be part of Ethiopia)- is allowed to legally immigrate to Israel.  Whereas an Eritrean refugee, sometimes even speaking the same Tigre language as some Ethiopian Jews, is about to be deported.  Why?

Because the Eritreans are not Jews, and the Ethiopians are.  This may not be racism.  It is Jewish supremacy.  For the simple fact that these Ethiopians are identified as Jews, they are given a passport, Hebrew lessons, healthcare, job training- all the benefits I had.  It should of course be noted the Ethiopian Jews had a particularly tumultuous journey to Israel that was substantially more dangerous than someone coming from America like me.  But the contrast between how they can legally enter the country versus the deportation of their non-Jewish Eritrean neighbors stands.  The Jews get to stay.  The non-Jews must go.  Demographic threat.

This principle of course can be applied to both Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel.  There’s even an online database of over 65 laws that explicitly or implicitly discriminate against Arabs, including in land use, language, due process, religion, and politics.  If you have the courage, here it is.  I’ll have to save that for another day because I’m gonna need a lot of foot massages or punching bags to let out the stress after reading it.

To be a Jew in Israel is a privilege.  In the good sense, it gives our people a home when the world has turned its back on us for generations.  As we suffered and were expelled.  Much like the refugees living in my neighborhood now.  Or the Palestinians who used to live here before the establishment of the state.

Which is why it’s complicated.  Because when you establish a new nation state, it often displaces the people not considered a part of it.  The thing many Jews like about Israel- that it’s a “Jewish home”- is the very thing that hurts the people not considered Jewish.

“Not considered” Jewish because this even hurts Jews who don’t fit the society’s definition of Judaism.  Whether it’s a woman who converts with a Reform rabbi (which is not recognized by the state), whether it’s a French Jew who continues to speak French (instead of becoming a “real” Israeli who speaks Hebrew), whether it’s the Orthodox Jew who arrived with peyos (and whose kibbutz subsequently cut them off)- if you go outside the norm here, there are consequences.  For everyone.  This is how the state operates.  And it’s not entirely unique to Israel.  Think about how minorities, how “deviants” are treated in your country.

Put it this way- as a Reform Jew I have more civil rights in the U.S. than in Israel.  A pretty astonishing fact for a supposedly Jewish State.

Because in the end, when you build a state, you always exclude someone.  You may say it’s worthwhile, I’m not so sure.

And when you exclude someone, you put someone on top.  Privilege isn’t neutral.

In Israel, who’s on top?  Jews.  And specifically, the more “Israeli” or “sabra” a Jew is, the more privilege she has.  European (but not too Jewish-looking), physically fit, masculine, a loyal soldier, blunt, and aggressive.  Imitating Arabs but never being one.  This doesn’t describe all Israelis, but it does describe many of their ideals.  The darker you are, the more Diasporic you are, the more pacifist or effeminate you are- the more push back you’ll get.

In short, the Israeli ideal is not just different from the Judaism I grew up with in America- it’s the opposite.  It despises my Judaism.  My compassion for the other.  My social justice.  My love for diversity and all cultures, religions, and language.  It despises my interest in Hasidim as much as it despises my empathy for Palestinian refugees.

Which is why it despises my solidarity with African refugees.  Because I’m crossing three lines.  One, I’m helping people who are dark-skinned, vulnerable, and foreign.  Two, I’m helping people who are not Jewish “infiltrate” our land.  And three, I’m doing this in the name of my progressive American Jewish values.

Three strikes and you’re out.

Sometimes it can be scary to see the bigger picture.  If you’re new to my blog, I encourage you to read my other posts.  I’m not a troll and I’m a lifelong Jew who speaks fluent Hebrew.  I’m not here on a program, I immigrated to Israel.  I live in Tel Aviv and have traveled every corner of this land and met every community.  I’ve been involved at every level of Jewish life abroad and in Israel.  Accepting this difficult reality helps me realize my role in the process, uncomfortable as this might be.  It can help me figure out ways to make things better.

Other than the refugees themselves, the people who’ve inspired me the most the past few weeks have been Holocaust survivors.  Dozens of them are speaking out in favor of the refugees and offering up their homes to protect them.  An Israeli survivor, Veronica Cohen, said: “This Holocaust survivor remembers what it means to be a Jew, and remembers what it means to be an asylum-seeker.  Tell me, how is it possible for Jews to forget their past and join in this crime?”

Exactly.  Because a real Jew knows his history and remembers her oppression.  Because a real Jew doesn’t put himself above non-Jews.  Because a real Jew strives to accept and learn from all different races and cultures.

The reason I often don’t feel Israeli is because I feel Jewish.



I live on top of a Palestinian village

This is what I learned today.  Quite to the contrary of what I had been taught in Hebrew school, Tel Aviv was not simply empty land purchased by Jews.  A lot of the land was inhabited by Arabs, in some cases for many hundreds of years.  Even where Tel Aviv University lies today.

When I first heard this after making aliyah, I pushed it aside.  Yeah, that’s terrible, but I’m too overwhelmed and jet lagged to think about it now and in any case, every country destroys.  A sad fact (and true), and I couldn’t really bear to think of where I fit into this context.

Many good Jewish boys and girls like me in the U.S. are taught that basically Arabs (most of whom today identify as Palestinians) simply packed up their bags and left in 1948 with the hopes that the Jews would be destroyed and they could come home.  While it’s entirely possible some people felt this way and I wasn’t there to verify it, it seems rather implausible that an entire mass of people would abandon their homes to make space for someone else to commit genocide.

So I’ve done some research and lo and behold, there were other reasons why people fled.  For instance, the Deir Yassin massacre.  Over a hundred Arab civilians were massacred by two Jewish paramilitary groups – Etzel and Lehi.  The former is now the name of a street in South Tel Aviv where I buy yogurt.

Not surprisingly, a lot of Arabs fled the country fearing they’d be next.  It’s a complex issue and for sure, people have suffered and been killed on all sides here.  Let’s stop pretending that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians packed their bags for shits and giggles.  Or that it was easy for them.  Or that it was entirely voluntary.  There are documented instances of the Israeli military destroying Arab villages and to this day, not only can Palestinian refugees outside Israel not return, but even displaced Arab citizens of Israel can’t go back if they moved to another city.

Which brings us to today.  I had heard rumors that South Tel Aviv used to be an Arab village.  Not Jaffa, which is more well known and still has an Arab community, but one that was entirely emptied of its inhabitants.

That village, which my neighborhood sits on, is called Salamah.  It’s also the inspiration for the street called Salameh in Tel Aviv where a bunch of hipsters live.

Salamah looked like this in 1932.  I can still recognize the town center based on the streets today.  A few weeks ago when I picnicked in the area over Shabbat, I remember seeing an old abandoned building with no signage.  Which is strange in Israel because if it was “historically significant” or a tourist site, it’d have signs all over.  As I later discovered, it’s a mosque.

So today, I decided to explore and accept the reality of my privilege in this country.

First off, the old mosque is in a state of utter neglect, to put it lightly.  Barred so nobody can enter and now attached to some sort of shed with barking dogs, there is dung all around the rear wall.  There is Jewish graffiti spray painted on its walls.  There is trash everywhere.  It somehow still manages to be beautiful.  Let’s say that if this was my childhood synagogue, somebody’s head would be rolling by now.

I then headed to the mukhtar’s house.  A mukhtar is a village chief.  His house was one of the few other buildings left from a town of over 7,000 people.  Now filled with synagogues and menorahs and Stars of David and, sadly, poverty.

His house looked terrible.  For sure, you could see how once it was grand.  And it still had a charm to it.  It was in utter disrepair.  I think the pictures will speak for themselves:

It particularly kicks me in the kishkes- it wrenches my soul- to see Jewish religious graffiti on this building.  One about the Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov and another saying it’s a mitzvah- it’s a good deed- to always be happy.  How one could be happy looking at this ruin baffles me.  How one could think it’s Jewish to defame it infuriates me.

It occurred to me as I looked at these buildings, as I tried to feel the presence of their former inhabitants- that this is probably what the synagogues of my ancestors’ shtetls in Eastern Europe look like now.  If they still exist.  Abandoned, neglected, if we’re lucky turned into a tourist trap.  My people know from suffering and we have had our treasures robbed from us time and again– from Morocco to France to Poland to Spain to Russia- everywhere.

So why here?  And not only why did this happen but why can’t these people come home?  Why is their heritage neglected?  Why- this is the key question- was I given money from this government to move to Israel and become a citizen when a Palestinian born in Salamah can’t even come home?

These are the uncomfortable, difficult questions I wasn’t ready to answer when I arrived.  And now I’m starting to explore.

The concept of property is a difficult one.  Especially because I work towards a world where things are shared more equally, where borders are nonexistent or more fluid, and where all people are treated fairly.

Oftentimes Jews and Arabs get caught in a spiral of “who was here first?”  Jews claim God gave them this land in the Torah.  And that their ancestors lived here.  That Israel and Jerusalem have been a focal point of our hopes and prayers ever since the Romans expelled us.  And I can understand this and I agree with much of it.  And there’s a lot of history and culture to back it up.

The issue is that we’re not the only ones here.  And when we started coming back in record numbers- often fleeing persecution- the local people at the time were displaced.  Their lands were bought, often with the help of money from Diaspora Jews.  And eventually, 80% of them were driven out or left during the War of Independence.  And not allowed to return.

The Holy Land, to the contrary of what some people like to claim, was not some barren wasteland with no human life which Jews came to perfect and turn into one beautiful hiking trail from kibbutz to kibbutz.  Salamah, my town, had citrus and banana fields.  It had an elementary school for boys and one for girls.  It had Muslims and Christians.  It’s even listed in a 1596 Ottoman Census.

Were there Jews living here then too?  Sure!  I even met families up north that have been here since the Second Temple.

It doesn’t mean that these people – or anyone – needed to be kicked out.  Or that it should be easier for me to visit their mosque than it is for them!

That’s privilege.  Sometimes the word can twist us in endless debates but sometimes it’s useful.  The Israeli and American Jewish left-of-center ideology distinguishes between a Jew living in Tel Aviv and one living in a “settlement” in the West Bank.  The former is living in “internationally recognized” Israel and the latter is a vagabond.

Here’s the issue: they’re wrong.  The problem is much greater than that.  The reason I got money from the Israeli government to move here- something unheard of in most countries you’d immigrate to where they’re eagerly kicking people out- is because I’m a Jewish body.  I’m a settler.  And if you’re a Jewish Israeli, you are too.  We also have a reason to be here and I believe a right to live here- or anywhere.  It’s our Holy Land too.  I’m just asking us to recognize the way we got here.  And that maybe it’s not the most ethical or kind way to go about building a society.

What if instead of granting extra privileges to Jews and none to Arabs, we leveled the playing field.  Perhaps we’d keep open the option of aliyah, of Jewish immigration, to protect our people from distress and violence.  And come to an agreement that allows Palestinians the same opportunity.  In one state.  With everyone enjoying the same rights.

I’m not a big fan of the nation state.  I think all states, to varying degrees, protect the wealthy and the powerful and harm their residents at least as much as they help.  So while I work towards a more equitable and less hierarchical future, if we do need a temporary solution, I have an idea.  It’s called democracy.  And democracy means one person, one vote.  It means the government doesn’t favor any religion.  It means fair distribution of resources.  It means equality.

It means Muammar Qaddafi, despite being a brutal dictator, was actually on to something with his “Isratine” one state solution.  I can’t guarantee this will work.  There are many fractious states, like Belgium, that struggle to treat different groups equally.

I just think that whatever we’re doing now isn’t working.  So let’s at least start the conversation about some better options.  So my unknown neighbors living in a refugee camp in Lebanon can come home, hang out with me, share some hummus, and be friends.

My cover photo is my little protest from today.  On the metal fence surrounding the mukhtar’s house, I wrote my favorite Syrian proverb: “kull ta’akhira fiha khira”.  In every lateness, there is goodness.  It took me a while to confront the pain and privilege that is living on top of a depopulated village.  And the good – and hard – part is now I know.

Israelis love to blame each other.  Secular against Orthodox and Orthodox against Traditional and Arab against Haredi etc. etc.  In particular, Secular Jews like to rail against religion and religious Jews.  I have a special message for you: the Haredi brigade didn’t expel my neighbors from Salamah.  It was the secular Haganah.  I get that you’re angry about the direction of this country.  What you have to understand is that if Orthodox Jews in the government now are increasingly strident against Arabs, it’s because they’re trying to emulate many of your forefathers.  Who did this damage.

So let’s put aside the cycle of blame and realize we all need to look in the mirror, do some soul searching, learn, and build this place together.  Jews and Arabs.  Secular and Orthodox.  Everyone.

The name of Salamah today is Kfar Shalem.  The Complete Village.  It is anything but.  So let’s make it our goal to help this place- and our country- live up to its name.  To make it whole, to make it at peace.  So it may not only be Kfar Shalem, but also Kfar Shalom.  The Village of Peace.

May we make it so.


The No State Solution

I just got back from an amazing trip to Jerusalem.  I hung out in a mosque built in the time of Salah Al-Din, ate delicious Armenian and Arab sweets, met a hot German tourist who knew what Sukkot was (!), and visited dozens of churches- some over 1,000 years old!  I even got a tour of a Catholic church…in Dutch!  And managed to understand most of it- and communicate with the visitors- in Yiddish!  Tel Aviv has beaches and Jerusalem- it has roots.

Which brings me to a question I’ve been thinking about lately.  Politics makes me so angry.  My experiences working in the field in the U.S. were very difficult.  There’s a lot of ego and a lot of immoral behavior – and not just in one party.  The most inspirational experiences I’ve had in politics have been the spontaneous and organic ones.  The rally I organized at my university against the ex-gay movement.  The refugee rights rallies I attended by the White House- organized entirely via Facebook days before.  The 70 and 80 year old women who went door-to-door for Barack Obama and made me matzah ball soup when I was sick.  Pulling off a major upset against the St. Louis Democratic Party chair to become an Obama pledged delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.  The beautiful.  The unexpected.

I stopped working professionally in politics because I care more about my values than any candidate.  It was so hard for me to see my country more and more hateful and polarized during the last election.  Living in Washington, D.C., the most political city in the world, was so stressful.  Politics there seeps into every aspect of your life personal and professional.  You can’t fully escape it.  At times I felt like a recovering drug addict in a meth lab.  I wanted to distance myself from politics but it was on every sushi bar TV screen, at every party, on every street corner.

So I came to Israel hoping for some space to breathe.  I figured yes, there’s crappy politics here too, but at least I’ll be far away from the environment I had grown to hate.

The problem is that Israel’s politics, while perhaps more predictably bad than in America (where the pendulum swings a bit more), are just as bad if not worse.  And as a Jew I had never really had to deal with politicians speaking in my name.  Or trying to correct my Jewish identity.  Or expelling refugees simply because they’re not Jewish.  Or mocking religious Jews.  And on and on.

And this of course filters down.  To the “progressive” secular Jews who’ve tried to convince me why they should be able to say n*gger.  To the Mizrachi lesbian who wants the government to “clean the streets of refugees”.  To the Jews who told me Arabs don’t understand the concept of diplomacy and have no intellect.  To the Orthodox who’ve told me the secular are “empty vessels” with no culture.  To the Arab guy working at a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic theater in Yaffo who posted Facebook comments mocking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The hatred is palpable and people here mostly live separate lives.  In separate school systems (Arab, Secular, Orthodox, and Haredi).  Separate cities, separate neighborhoods.

It might sound odd given all the conflict in America right now, but things aren’t this divisive there.  For all our issues, we are one of the most integrated and diverse countries in the world where a good part of the populace is committed to advancing those values where they are lacking.  It’d be more difficult for me to think of friends who haven’t dated/married across racial, cultural, or religious lines than vice-versa.  And that is actually quite unique in the world.

That being said, we can’t pretend that the problems in Israel are only found here.  Every state privileges certain groups over others.  It’s not coincidental that racism is on the rise from France to Burma, from Russia to South Africa.  In every country, certain genders, sexualities, languages, religions, and other markers are given more prestige and resources.  As a queer Jew with olive skin, who has been profiled as Latino and Arab, I live these realities wherever I go.

Some minorities when faced with the awful reality of discrimination and violence choose to build their own states.  While, as you’ll see, I’m not sure that’s the best solution, I can understand it.  Tired of having their languages banned (Catalans), religion persecuted (Jews), race degraded (Black Americans), some people coalesced behind the idea of self-rule.  Which came to be understood as a state of their own.  For people unfamiliar with the Black struggle for self-determination, here’s an article from just a few years ago.  And the roots of the movement stretch back much further.  In short, minorities get tired of being trampled on and want to pursue their own dreams.

I empathize with this and it presents a problem.  Because there’s no such place as a country without minorities- of some sort.  Even the seemingly most “monocultural” places like Sweden have 450,000 Finns and hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Persians.  Which now makes me want to visit 🙂

So if we agree that between cultural, linguistic, and religious minorities- in addition to sexual minorities (LGBTQ) and gender- there will always be diversity.  The question is whether the state is capable of treating everyone equally.  If the model works to fully include all types of people.

The results aren’t great.  Israel has never had a Haredi, Arab, Orthodox, or Mizrachi Prime Minister.  It took the United States 232 years to elect a Black President.  I have yet to see a Muslim leading a Western European country- a thought so absurd right now that someone is laughing while reading this.  Or crying.

Because here’s some straight talk: if someone has more power, then someone else has less.  In other words, there is no such thing as “neutral” privilege.  If I’m gay and me and my partner are punished in the tax code, it’s not that we’re not equal.  It’s that your heterosexuality is subsidized.  So while left-of-center Israeli parties would like us to believe- perhaps in earnest or ignorance- that they will treat Arabs and refugees “more equally”, such a statement is an oxymoron.  Because there’s no such thing as more equally.  There’s equal or there’s discriminatory.  There may be such a thing as “less discriminatory”.  I just don’t find that a convincing or fair solution.

I heard a prominent left-of-center Member of Knesset the other day say that she’d let refugees stay under two conditions.  One, they have to be “real refugees” and not economic migrants- an Orwellian distinction in international refugee law.  As if fleeing grinding poverty isn’t a good reason to leave your country.  But then she took it a step further and said “we’ll give the refugees the jobs Israelis don’t want.”  And the two liberal American-Israeli women behind me couldn’t stop gushing about how wonderful this politician was.  I would guess they’re full of rage at Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu.  But not a politician on their own team who degrades refugees.

Some people might read this blog and say “well, then we need to reform the system!”  Perhaps- and I’m actually open to piecemeal reform if it gives people some relief.  I’ve worked in favor it.  I’d like to move the conversation beyond this because it’s a band-aid rather than a long-term fix.

As I’ve seen with my Jewish identity in Israel, having a state can be just as much of a curse as it is a blessing.  For sure, saving Jewish lives is important and shouldn’t be dismissed.  At the same time, when you give a small group of people the authority to dictate everyone else’s Judaism (not just the Rabbinate- also militant secularists), then you take the magic out of Judaism.  When you have to rigidly define something for the purpose of governance, then you end up putting it in a box.  When there is a state that purports to be Jewish, it then gets the power to decide who’s in and who’s out.  And so the thing many Jews like about Israel- that it is a Jewish state- is the very thing that makes Jewish pluralism impossible here.  Not unlikely- impossible.  Because someone will always be left out.

The magic of Judaism is that we didn’t have a state for 2,000 years.  So while Christian and Muslim empires fought for control and forced their subjects to follow this or that ideology, Judaism remained an untamed wilderness.  A beautiful one.  Sadly, a persecuted one.  And one worth living for.  A testimony to the chaos and diversity that can give rise to immense creativity, scholarship, and resilience.  It’s not for nothing that we have the famous Yiddish phrase “tzvey yidn dray deyes”- 2 Jews, 3 opinions.  Because unlike in faiths attached to a government, we were free to disagree, to question, to innovate.  No Jew had enough power to effectively extinguish rival ideologies.  They had to be debated or evaded on their merits.

As I wandered the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, I noticed a bunch of cop cars pulling up.  Apparently, we had to stand around and wait until Vice President Mike Pence could make his way to the Western Wall.  Why my beautiful day of cultural exploration had to be put on hold for this jerk, I don’t know.  I hope God had a good talk with him at the Wall and maybe he’ll search his heart for some kindness towards queer people, women, the poor, and refugees.

I ran away from America, but America followed me.

Leaving the city walls, I met a nice young Palestinian man named Ahmed.  We chatted in Arabic over tea as he told me about his studies of Sufism.  I’ve long been intrigued by this mystical spirituality and got to see a performance of whirling dervishes with my Intro to Islam class in St. Louis.  Ahmed impressed the heck out of me- he was familiar with Kabbalah, Torah shebe’al peh, perush, and so many other Jewish concepts.  And he allowed me to teach him about Hasidic Judaism.

Because for those who don’t know, Hasidism and Sufism are both extremely mystical movements.  Where, especially in their early years, there was little hierarchy and lots of room for experimentation.  Which is what makes them so beautiful.

What I’ve come to realize from being in Israel is that I’m not sure what the cause is of human suffering.  The modern state may be able to heal some of it and it’s also the source of much of it.  I’ve already come to a point of doubt about how beneficial it is to have a Jewish state, even as I see some of the good it has done and could yet do.

So I approach my Palestinian friends with this thought: be careful what you wish for.  I want you to have freedom, prosperity, dignity, and human rights.  To be able to live in your culture in peace and to embrace you as my brothers and sisters.  I think this is what most Jews wanted out of a Jewish state too.  But we may have gotten more than we bargained for and it is eating our religion and tradition alive.  I hope a Palestinian government wouldn’t have the power to define what that identity means- and who it will inevitably leave out.

What’s the best solution for the Middle East?  Perhaps for the world?  The no state solution.  For anyone.  We need a better way of organizing human life.  I don’t- and can’t- have all the answers because it’s something we need to talk about together.

Let’s put down the flags and get to work.  Because if you don’t think this is realistic, I don’t think guns and bombs are either.


A Jew, a German, and an Italian walk into a bar

No, this isn’t a punchline.  It’s exactly what I did tonight.

Tonight I was helping people practice their English at an event in Tel Aviv.  I love going there to speak other languages and what I’ve realized is sometimes I want to speak my native tongue.  And teach people about my culture.

It’s so nice to be validated as an American, an American Jew, and an English speaker in a place where these identities regularly lead people to discriminate against me.  To try to take advantage of me.  Or to tell me to leave my identities “in the Diaspora”.

So when I sit at the English table to help people practice, it’s nice to meet folks who are genuinely interested in where I’m from.

Tonight, after having fun at the Arabic table, I walk over to the English table.  A young woman, Mara, is sitting smiling at me.  Nothing reminds me of the world outside Israel more than a welcoming smile.  We start talking and it turns out she’s from Sardinia.  Sardinia is a fascinating island that’s part of Italy with its own unique history and languages.  I’ve learned some about it before, I’m very eager to visit, and I was thrilled to meet my first Sardinian!

We talked all about the language of her island– sometimes so distinct from Modern Italian that other Italians can’t understand.  She said she and her husband will speak in their dialects when they don’t want anyone in Tel Aviv to catch on.  Something a great many American Jews may recall about their grandparents and Yiddish.

Shortly thereafter, another woman joins us.  Corinna is German so I launched into a bit of Yiddish which made her smile 🙂  I love doing this with Germans.  It’s a friendly way to show something we have in common- the languages are distinct but share many words- and it’s also a way of showing pride that my identity survives.

Turns out Corinna is fascinated by Yiddish.  We talked about Germanic words in Yiddish and Yiddish words like meshugga and kosher that are in German.  We even had a good laugh at the word “blitzpost”.  In Yiddish, it means “email”.  In German, it’s a phrase you’d say if your snail mail arrived quickly.  Hence the connection.  But really neat to learn from my new German friend about our shared and different identities.  Really cool 🙂

Sometimes it can be hard to see progress when you’re living in the Middle East or watching the absolute catastrophe going on in my homeland right now where the government is literally shut down.

And sometimes you experience little miracles that make your spirits fly.  Who could’ve imagined, just 72 years after the worst genocide in Jewish history, that a Jew, a German and an Italian would be sitting in Israel speaking English?  At a bar?  Laughing?  Exchanging phone numbers.

And Mara and Corinna aren’t just ordinary Italians and Germans- Mara’s husband works at the Italian Embassy and Corinna interns at the German one.  They literally work for their governments.

From a Jewish perspective, you have to understand that if my grandparents met people from the German or Italian governments in Europe, they would’ve been dead.

And here we are.  Sharing a beautiful moment, a quotidian moment, a peaceful moment.  Making friends with each other.

I’d like to remember this experience for the days when I feel really sad.  There are things I see and experience here that are depressing.  I don’t think many Israelis or Palestinians or Syrians or really many people in the region right now feel optimism.  It just seems to be getting worse by the day.  And given the wars, the terrorism, the displacements, the cutthroat politics- I can understand it.  Trauma here is real- and in every group imaginable.

I would like to share a bit of hope.  If you were to ask someone in 1945, just after the Axis powers murdered 6 million Jews, if they could envision a day in which a Jew, a German, and an Italian would be hanging out in a Jewish homeland- they would say you’re fucking nuts.

And they’d be wrong.  Because that’s what happened tonight.  Because progress sometimes passes under our noses unnoticed.  I feel it is a real blessing to have met Mara and Corinna tonight.  We’ve buried the old Axis and made a new one- one that will hopefully be filled with visits to Sardinia, with learning about the German language, with visiting Yiddish libraries and concerts.

Because the seemingly impossible does happen sometimes.  When you lose hope, open up this blog or find something around you that makes you look in awe.

Don’t give up.


Why social justice isn’t just economic

When it comes to economics, I believe the more equal we can make our society, the better.  Ideally, that’d mean less state and corporate control and more resources in the hands of the people.  And as we work towards that goal, I believe in a strong safety net- universal healthcare, guaranteed housing, access to healthful food, free public transportation, and more.

What I’ve come to realize, particularly due to my stay in Israel, is that economic justice is not enough.

What does that mean?  What I mean is economic justice is crucial- it helps people survive.  If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, economic justice provides people with the foundation in order to reach higher goals in life.  It provides for your physiological needs (air, water, food, shelter) and safety needs (financial security, health, safety).

If you look at the pyramid below, you’ll notice that more emotional needs, like love and esteem are built upon the foundation of the needs addressed by economic justice:maslow.jpg

In other words, you need economic justice to give people the opportunity to build their self confidence, to be able to focus on their love life, and to realize their dreams.

And yet, what’s also clear is that economic justice alone will not help someone achieve these higher needs in life.  Having a good salary certainly can make me feel happy and secure, but it won’t in and of itself make me feel loved.

Which is where we come to culture.  First, let’s define culture.  Culture, as I see it, is art, music, language, food, religion, customs, clothing, and so much more.  In short, it is a series of practices that gives life meaning.  It helps us feel rooted.  It doesn’t mean that culture stays stagnant- it always changes.  Yet if we don’t have some reference point for how we interact with the world, our self-esteem suffers and we can feel devalued.  Especially when the surrounding society demands we abandon our culture.

Incidentally, when I did a Google search on the psychological benefits of culture, an Israeli researcher appeared.  Dr. Carmit Tadmor studies the role of multiculturalism as it relates to conflicts in Israeli society.  Both she and the American Dr. Francois Grosjean, whose article helped me find her, argue that biculturalism is a benefit.  That people with more than one culture tend to be more creative, more flexible, more able to wrestle with ambiguity, and more professionally successful.  And quite important for Israel- they are more willing to acknowledge different perspectives and consider their merit.

Considering all the benefits of culture, one can imagine the great harm involved in destroying it.  If access to your culture (and the ability to add new ones) gives people confidence and creativity, stripping people of their culture causes psychological harm.  When a Yemenite child is forced by his Kibbutz to cut off his peyos, his sidelocks, one does not need a great deal of imagination to fathom the psychological harm.  Or, in the case of America, when newspapers advertised jobs saying “No Irish Need Apply“.

This last example is particularly illustrative.  Professor Richard J. Jensen at University of Illinois-Chicago published a book entitled “No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization”.  He claims discrimination against Irish-Americans was exaggerated.  I’m pretty much always suspicious of someone who uses the phrase “myth of victimization” because it’s used to tell people their pain isn’t real.  To invalidate them.  Perhaps to invalidate themselves.

This attitude, unfortunately, is quite common in the U.S.  I once met a man of Irish ancestry- actually proud of his ancestry but not engaging with directly.  That is to say, he read books, he visited the country, but on a day-to-day basis, the food was cheese dip, the language was English, the music was Sweet Home Alabama- and that’s about it.  When I once asked him about his prejudices towards immigrants- why Latinos, for instance, couldn’t continue to speak Spanish- his answer was telling.

“When my grandparents came to America, they spoke Irish Gaelic.  But they never taught it to us because they were in America.  And here we speak English.  And I’m glad they never taught it to us because that’s not what you’re supposed to do here.”

In other words, he justifies his current prejudice towards immigrants who strive to maintain their culture by citing his own family’s pain- and even justifying that pain.  Invalidating the suffering his family endured.  That continues to leave his family rather rootless today.  And voting for politicians to expel his immigrant neighbors who suffer the same fate his family did.

Which brings us back to Prof. Jensen’s book.  As an American Jew and a Washingtonian, what I discovered made me so proud.  A 14 year old girl, Rebecca Fried, a student at D.C.’s Sidwell Friends School, wrote a thesis disproving Prof. Jensen’s claims.  It started with a simple Google search and she found tons of examples of discrimination, including racist job postings.  Prof. Jensen’s work was a sham- as other professors then began to discover he had an anti-Irish and anti-Catholic ideology.  It’s also sad because his last name is Scandinavian- he clearly has immigrant roots himself that maybe his own family was torn away from.  That he continues to inflict on others.

What makes me particularly proud about this?  First off, she’s a fellow Washingtonian.  We come from one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the world and it definitely helped me become the multicultural person I am today.  It’s basically impossible for you to live in the D.C. area and not interact with people of different backgrounds and like Dr. Tadmor’s research indicates, this changes your mentality for the better.

Secondly, I’m going to make an assumption – hopefully correct – that Rebecca Fried, daughter of lawyer Michael Fried – is probably Jewish or at least of Jewish ancestry.  The name is so so American Jewish that I’d be surprised if she wasn’t somehow connected to our tradition.  Although America always finds ways to surprise you 🙂

Working off this assumption, a 14 year old girl of Jewish ancestry helped Irish Americans reclaim their cultural identity.  And unravel a hateful argument against them.

Why does this not surprise me?  Because American Jews- perhaps all Jews outside Israel- understand what it means to be a minority.  And- most importantly- if we continue to identify as Jewish in any way we are in fact maintaining our culture.  All American Jews are bicultural.  And therefore we enjoy the benefits of this identity- and understand the challenges.  While we faced (and continue to face) pressure to assimilate in the U.S., our resilience helps explain why American Jews “earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”  Which is to say that because we’ve maintained our culture, even though our economics should push us to vote Republican, we voted 71% Democrat in 2016.

Not to say people of different parties can’t be empathetic to immigrants, but in the current climate I think it’s fair to say Democrats are more open to multiculturalism.

I believe our biculturality helps explain why American Jews tend to be more empathetic to refugees and more open to diversity when compared with their Sabra counterparts in Israel.

When Jews came to Israel, they had their cultures ripped from their bosom by the Sabras who already lived here.  Yiddish, Judeo-Iraqi, Ladino- thousands of years of Jewish history were thrown out the window.  Kids were shamed for speaking Jewish languages!  Within just a few generations, many of these languages had become extinct or endangered.  Not because of anti-Semitism in another country, but rather because of other Jews who denied them the right to maintain their culture.  Because of bullies deeply insecure about their own cultural identity.

So how does this relate to social justice?  First off, we started by talking about economic justice.  The Israeli state- especially in its early years- did actually have quite a focus on economic justice.  The social safety net that developed far outpaced anything we have in America.  The government was pretty socialist- this is the origin of the Kibbutz- a commune.  There was (and is) a communist party in Israel- in the Knesset.

And yet there was a blind spot.  Racism.  Culture.  The government may have thought that if it simply erased Diaspora Judaism- the “icky” Moroccan superstitions, the “grating” noise of Yiddish- that it could entice people with money.  With jobs, with education, with healthcare.  To switch their identities.  Not to have both- for example- Moroccan and Israeli identities.  But rather “Israel #1 only amazing awesome nothing better”- that’s it.

Well guess what?  That has never worked in history.  Because what happens when you strip someone of their identity?  Let’s say they have their physiological and safety needs taken care of (not always the case here, but roll with me)- what’s missing?

What’s missing is culture.  Something to root you, to comfort you, to enrich your life.  Because Sabra culture is not a culture- by design.  Sabras when creating the State of Israel wanted to be the “anti-culture”.  That by negating their roots, they were making something new.  True- but the issue is you can’t create something out of nothing.  Your mentality, your traditions, no matter how much you hate them, impact the way you see the world.  And simply by telling yourself that that’s not OK turns you into a monster.  Into someone who hates both herself and- in particular- her neighbors who continue to hold on to the traditions she despises.

I think this explains why in Israel, and in the U.S., the people who tend to be most anti-minority and anti-diversity are the people who had their culture stripped from them.  Who continue to operate in a vacuum of Palestinian falafel they call Israeli and pizza they call American.

The reason Jews have been- and in some cases continue to be- hated in the Diaspora is because of our tenacity.  Our desire to hold on to our evolving traditions even when they’re not the norm.  To celebrate our holidays, to embrace our sense of humor, to learn about our history, to wear a yarmulke, to want to pass these traditions down to the next generation.

Our willingness to remain different while enjoying the best society has to offer, our biculturality, is what makes us queer.  It’s what makes us more complex than economic justice.  Because you can give me bread, but I want roses too.  I want a sense of identity.  And so do Mizrachi Jews and Sudanese refugees and Latinos and Black Americans and religious Jews and Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazim.  As do many people alienated from their cultures- take this opportunity to learn!

In short, the right to a cultural identity not only makes you a happier person, it makes you more empathetic to others, it makes society more progressive, and it makes for less bitter people for the state to rally to hate others.

This new secular year, let’s make it our mission to realize that economic justice is crucial and not enough.  Our cultural identity changes the way we see the world and when we have the right to exercise it, it can help us be better people and make our society one worth living in.

May it be so.