jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Pinkwashing and “Brand Israel”

by anzya

Sarah Schulman’s “A Documentary Guide to Pinkwashing” was recently published on Pretty Queer. It reveals the history of “Brand Israel” which explicitly aimed to promote Israel to young people and “liberals”. Some of this was also published in a shorter piece in the NY Times. But the longer one is definitely worth a read and is full of interesting info. For example, apparently one of the findings of a 2010 Israeli Policy and Strategy conference was “That many criticisms of Israel will stop when policy towards Palestinians is changed”. But, of course, the Israeli government preferred the tack of promoting Israel as a fun gay travel destination. Schulman reveals that the “Gay Israel” campaign has nothing to do with a concern for gay rights or combatting homophobia, but is rather a cynical strategy that appropriates gay rights for the sake of PR.  Here is an extract from the article:

What makes LGBT people and their allies so susceptible to Homonationalism and Pinkwashing is the emotional legacy of homophobia. The vast majority of Queers have had profound oppression experiences, often in the searing realm of Family, reflected by the lack of legal rights, and reinforced by distorted representations in Arts and Entertainment. The relative civil equality of white gays in The Netherlands and Germany has only been achieved within a generation, and still does not erase the pain of familial and cultural exclusion. As a consequence, many people have come to mistakenly assess how advanced a country is by how it responds to homosexuality. Yet, in a selective democracy like Israel, the inclusion of LGBT Jews in the military, or the relative openness of Tel Aviv are not accurate measures of broad human rights.


Palestinian Freedom Riders

by anzya

On Tuesday afternoon in the West Bank, a group of six Palestinian Freedom Riders inspired by the US Civil Rights movement attempted to ride segregated settler buses headed to Jerusalem and were violently arrested for their actions.

From their earlier press release:

In the 1960s U.S. South, black people had to sit in the back of the bus; in occupied Palestine, Palestinians are not even allowed ON the bus nor on the roads that the buses travel on, which are built on stolen Palestinian land.

In undertaking this action Palestinians do not seek the desegregation of settler buses, as the presence of these colonizers and the infrastructure that serves them is illegal and must be dismantled. As part of their struggle for freedom, justice and dignity, Palestinians demand the ability to be able to travel freely on their own roads, on their own land, including the right to travel to Jerusalem.

Palestinian activists also aim to expose two of the companies that profit from Israel’s apartheid policies and encourage global boycott of and divestment from them. The Israeli Egged and French Veolia bus companies operate dozens of segregated lines that run through the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, many of them subsidized by the state. Both companies are also involved in the Jerusalem Light Rail, a train project that links illegal settlements in East Jerusalem to the western part of the city.

From their recent press release:

In a scene reminiscent of the early U.S. civil rights movement, border police and army surrounded and shut down Jerusalem Bus 148, blocking the Freedom Riders at the Hizmeh checkpoint. The action clearly highlights the injustice and dispossession that Palestinians face under Israeli occupation and apartheid. The six freedom riders who boarded the bus originally as well as an additional rider, were arrested and are currently at the Israeli Atarot police station.

Reading about this I started thinking about the Australian Freedom Ride in 1965, and how powerful this kind of action and image can be, even around 50 years after the original Freedom Rides in the US. Here is Charlie Perkins talking about the Australian Freedom Ride (via Koori History Web):

For more on this…

Mondoweiss describes why transportation is such an important issue in Palestine:

In my visit to Palestine this past June, the problem of transportation was discussed in virtually every conversation. The limits on transportation for Palestinians tell you virtually all that you need to know about the racist Occupation. One graphic example is that there are different license plates for Israeli settlers from those of the Palestinians. A car with Palestinian plates cannot travel into Israel. And, in fact, there are roads within Occupied Palestine, on which Palestinian vehicles are prohibited. Another graphic example, which relates directly to the matter of the Freedom Rides, was explained to me at a border crossing where Palestinian workers were going into Israel for their jobs. I was informed that once in Israel they had to ALREADY have their transportation arranged. Naively I assumed that they could simply hop on a bus and go to work. Not so fast, it turns out. The Israeli buses will not stop to pick up Palestinian workers.

The Palestinian Freedom Rides aim to dramatize that there is no freedom of movement for Palestinians. They are a population suffering from an on-going occupation that has become, as I have asserted previously, a slow-motion annexation. Discriminatory transportation policies which privilege the freedom of movement of Israelis, and Israeli settlers in particular, are part of the low-intensity violence experienced by the Palestinians on a daily basis aimed at further and further marginalizing them until they feel forced to abandon their own land.

Also read +972 mag for photos and coverage. And electronic intifada.

mexican matzo ball soup

by anzya

A friend recently asked if I’d heard of a Jewish Mexican food blog she had come across. I’m now dying to try out this recipe and thought I just had to share my discovery. Also check out this article about the cook, Pati Jinich, from the NYT a couple years back.

Miko Peled on LNL

by anzya

Miko Peled was interviewed this week by Phillip Adams on Late Night Live. It’s a really great interview so I thought I’d share it with you here. Peled, if you haven’t heard of him, is a peace activist who is eloquently outspoken on the Israel/Palestine conflict. His father was Matti Peled, the IDF General who also became a vocal activist for peace, and his grandfather was one of the signatories to Israel’s Declaration of Independence. His book, “The General’s Son” will be out later this year. Listen to the interview here.

golden rosh hashana pumpkin soup

by anzya

With Rosh Hashana approaching I thought I’d share one of my favourite recipes from Claudia Roden’s “The Book of Jewish Food”. Apparently this was traditionally eaten by Jews in Morocco on the first night of the holiday. I’m guessing the delicious aromatic sweetness of the soup has something to do with bringing in a sweet new year.  It is worth splurging on some saffron for this recipe, it really makes the flavour, and besides a little goes a long way!

For my slight variation on the recipe you will need: 250g dried chickpeas, soaked for at least 1 hour before cooking ; 1 large onion, chopped ; 2 1/2 litres chicken/vegie stock ; salt and pepper ; 4 tablespoons sunflower/olive oil ; 1 stick cinnamon ; 1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger ; a pinch saffron ; 500g delicious orange pumpkin, cubed ; chopped flat leaf parsley

Put the soaked chickpeas, onion and stock into a pot and bring to the boil. Then simmer for 30mins or until the chickpeas are soft. Add the cinnamon, oil, ginger, saffron and pumpkin, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until pumpkin falls apart. Serve with chopped parsley on top. Enjoy!

some tuesday reads…

by anzya

While we’re on the topic of Passover, here’s a thoughtful article reflecting on a Seder with refugees and migrant workers living in Israel. It’s from +972 magazine – always an interesting read – which I’ve added to our little blogroll on the right. Some other additions are not afraid of ruins which is a cool Jewish anarchist blog made in our sister country New Zealand. And I’ve also added Lisa Goldman‘s blog (she also writes for +972). I find her writing to be a really engaging blend of personal experience, switched-on political activism and ideas, and, well, heart. I’ve been filling this list out little by little so if there’s any blogs or websites that I’ve overlooked (there are heaps I’m sure I have) or you’d recommend please let us know!

Photo from refugee seder in Tel Aviv

Haggadah Talk

by anzya

“The Wandering is Over” is a new downloadable, open-source Haggadah that’s been produced by the folks over at It’s a great project which takes a lot of the kvetching out of preparing and running a Seder, especially if you’ve never run one before. And because it’s downloadable as a Word doc as well, even an experienced Seder leader can easily chop and change it to fit their creative or intellectual bents and their Seder’s needs. In a jewonthis first, I interviewed David Levy from about the project…

How did The Wandering is Over Haggadah come about and what was your inspiration for it?

Getting involved in the Jewish Community can be really intimidating if you don’t know anyone, if you don’t have much Jewish knowledge, if you don’t know where to start. We have so many events going on here that if you don’t know where to start it can be really scary just showing up somewhere. So, we got to talking about what things we could offer online, and what do people need to make things happen. Two things that really came up were recipes (because Seders are, at their heart, meals) and Haggadah. So we said let’s do a little research and see what’s available online for Haggadot. There’s actually quite a few good options for online Haggadot. If you want to create your own by picking and choosing from different texts from different Haggadot there’s a website called which is great. But if you’re the person who wants to host the Seder but doesn’t have the time or the patience or the knowledge to sort through, my gosh, you know, the 15 different versions of the Four Sons to figure out which one is right for you, that can be really intimidating. So we decided that to make it easy we wanted to offer an Haggadah that would be really welcoming and useful for someone who maybe had never led a Seder before and wanted to lead one for the first time. And we also made it open sourced and downloadable and customisable so if someone does have the time knowledge or patience or whatever it takes to edit it in a way that’s more specific for them, they can do that too. I think what makes it really unique is that we’re not giving people the full text of Haggadah and we acknowledge that. It’s in some ways a very traditional Haggadah in that there’s nothing in this Haggadah that’s not directly from the traditional Haggadah. But it’s not traditional in that it’s primarily in English, and in that any piece that we felt didn’t speak to a contemporary audience that wasn’t deeply engaged with text and tradition, we cut it out.

What kind of response and feedback have you got about the project so far?

By and large it’s been overwhelmingly positive. In the first week we had over 1000 downloads which blew us away. We had no idea what the demand for this was going to be. There have been a couple of really nice pieces too. The San Fransisco Jewish newspaper wrote a really nice piece about us on their blog, and I just got a call from Philadelphia, their newspaper is doing a story about 30 minute seders and wanted to talk to us about our Haggadah. I did find one blog post from a guy in Teaneck New Jersey – which has a very orthodox population – who was complaining that this is Haggadah-Lite, and why were we cutting things out when people are smart enough to cut things out themselves, but the truth is he still gave a link for people to download it, so I was thrilled that he did it. The nicest comments actually are people who’ve written in to me and said, my kids are now grown up, and it’s time for us to rethink what it is to have a Seder for adults, and this is the perfect Haggadah to use for adults. We didn’t write in any games and things designed for kids, because we thought people with kids are going to want a Seder designed for kids (maybe next year we’ll have another version that does that!) It’s really a no-nonsense Haggadah. While we took things out, we didn’t add anything in. There are 6 or 7 points where we added some discussion questions. But other than that it’s a very straightforward experience. This doesn’t talk down to people, but it really doesn’t assume anything about what you know, and I think people appreciated that.

You’re also working on a version of the Haggadah with the Jewish Women’s Archive?

One thing about the traditional Haggadah is that there is a serious lack of womens’ voices in it. On the one hand the Passover story has some serious women heroines in it but they don’t make it into the Maggid section. Shifra and Pu’ah, the midwives, are hugely important to the book of Exodus and the Jewish people, but they don’t get a mention in the Haggadah. Miriam is hugely important as a figure, but doesn’t make it into the Haggadah. Now, you know, from a nerdy, liturgical perspective you could say the whole point of the Haggadah is to de-emphasise the role of human beings and really emphasise the role of God… but, then the rest of the Maggid section where we’re not telling the story is all this sort of Talmudic symposium stuff with all these different rabbis talking about studying until sunrise… it’s sort of a who’s who of dead Jewish men, and it does start to feel like, gee, weren’t there ever women that had anything interesting to say about Passover? But by the same token there are lots of great feminist Seders already available out there. The JWA is also an archive with really great resources. So, the project is more about remembering women who worked in different liberationist movements, whether that’s Shifra and Pu’ah and Miriam, or that’s the women of the labour movement of the early 20th century, or the early civil rights movement. We’re going to insert a little bit about  established rituals, like having an orange on the seder plate, or Miriam’s cup, but it’s much more a historical perspective about where did this ritual come from and who were the women who initiated it and what were the thoughts behind it. The JWA is also very invested in oral history as a forum or as a medium so around the Four Questions there’s going to be a piece about oral history and Pesach as a time when families come together across generations as a really time to stop and think about what is the oral history of our family and what are the stories that we have around this table.

Passover seems to be the most interactive and creative holiday – the encouragement to change the seder and add things in and do things that are unique to the people involved – that doesn’t seem to happen as much at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. And with the food, there’s that creativity in making cakes that don’t contain flour and so on, there’s something quite creative and fun about that too.

It’s also the one that is primarily celebrated in the home, which I think has a lot to do with it. You don’t need to go to a synagogue, you don’t need to belong anywhere, you don’t really need to know anything, because the primary ritual of it is one that takes place around the dinner table.

What will your seder look like?

This is the second time I’m hosting for my family, there’ll be something between 15-20 people each night which will be a mix of family and friends and colleagues, and a mix of people who would be very comfortable doing the whole Seder in Hebrew and people who have never sat through a Seder before. I’m going to insert back some of the Hebrew we cut out. My family, especially my mother and I, really like to sing, so Hallel is coming back in and probably Birkat Hamazon is coming back in… There will also be kids at my Seder so we bring out puppets and masks to liven it up a little bit. We have a set of Chad Gadiya masks so each kid gets assigned an animal and has to wear the mask and make an animal sound when that animal gets mentioned. And we have finger puppets for both the Four Questions and the Ten Plagues (though I think a couple of the plagues have gone missing over the years…) And I also think that we’ll be serving food during the Seder.  I forget who taught me this trick but someone pointed out to me once that once you’ve hit Karpas, you’ve said the prayer for vegetables, so there’s no reason not to eat vegetables… so I think we might do vegetable soup at that point, which I hope makes the seder feel less arduous. Instead of it being a countdown to the meal, it can be something that’s sort of a celebratory eat and talk and pray, all together. It’s funny, one of the last classes I took in graduate school was studying the history of the development of the Seder through the Talmud and the Jewish codes and things and in some ways it was actually always the intention. This ritual of dipping a vegetable in salt water originated because that was what a customary appetiser was at the time, and the religious significance of it was added on later. So it was actually something very tradition to emphasise that we want to eat earlier!

The funny thing too is that after taking this class is, my goodness, the seder has never been static and the Haggadah has changed over time, to such a greater extent… the Four Questions we sing are not the original Four Questions, one of the questions has changed, and it’s one of  those things that unless you’ve actually sat down and studied the Talmud that describes the Seder, you might not know, and once you’ve started to realise how many things have changed and how many things are suggestions versus requirements, it actually feels not only liberating —like, my goodness, I can make changes to the Haggadah—but almost obligatory. The Seder is supposed to be a time to really ask questions and get into discussions and think about things in new ways, and if you’re using a fixed text that’s the same text you’ve seen for 30 years, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Anything else you want to add?

We’ve added our text to Open Siddur and The Open Siddur Project were really helpful in helping us understand the right way to phrase the licensing so it would be as open source as possible. They were very helpful and it was nice to work with them a little bit. What’s really cool about is if you want to use sections from our Haggadah, and sections from other’s Haggadahs, it’s all right there, you can just pull it off and assemble it on their site, which is for some people easier than using a Word Document. It’s a fairly new site too.

We’ll also soon have a leader’s guide available on our website. It’ll be really short and so accessible to someone who’s never led before, but will have things on how to make sure you’re guests participate, and reassurances that it’s ok to mess around and add things and subtract things which is something you might take for granted if you know what you’re doing, but if you’ve never done it before, it’s nerve-wracking to think, oh my god, am I breaking the rules if I make changes! And the other thing is that some very generous people who downloaded our Haggadah said—this is great, I also wrote my own, do you want to see it? And they sent these to me and said we can offer sections from those online for people. So I’m working on getting more of that online too. The first one that went up was from Anita Diamant, who’s the author of The Red Tent and many other books, gave us her version of the orange on the seder plate. We’ll have one up on Holocaust readings and Israel related stuff. Some of the stuff from JWA is going to come up so we’ll be adding that stuff right up to the morning of the first seder! Actually something that I would love to have on the site is something about how we go through this seder to talk about our journey to freedom for oppression and then, in the Haggadah we say “next year in Jerusalem”, so what does that mean for someone who’s working to make Jerusalem a more free society?


You can download The Wandering is Over Haggadah here

Check out the Open Siddur Project here and here and the Jewish Women’s Archive here

And if any of our readers here want to share what they’re planning to include in their Haggadot or Seders this year we’d love to hear from you in the comments below!!


purim readings

by anzya

If you’d like to accompany the fancy dressing up and eating of baked goods with some reading this Purim, here are some places to start:

There’s a great article up on jewschool today which talks about using the story of Purim to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Jewish community. It also has some good links to resources and articles on this, as well as resources which give a feminist perspective of Purim.

One excellent article I read a few years back traces a feminist history of the delicious hamentaschen. It’s called From Prehistoric Cave Art to Your Cookie Pan: Tracing the Hamentacsh Herstory and is available from Lilith.

Finally, something I was reminded of this morning (though I realise besides the silly spirit of it, it really hasn’t much to do with Purim..)

holocaust stories

by anzya

A friend recently interviewed author Ghita Schwarz on her book Displaced Persons for the Brooklyn Rail.  It’s a really interesting conversation about writing and reading and telling stories about the Holocaust, and on dealing with trauma and its effects as it’s passed down through generations. Here’s an excerpt:

Rail: What I found to be unique about your book was the way you chose to focus on the subtle aspects of trauma that pervade the characters’ lives after 1945, rather than depicting the more horrific details of their war experience which we’re used to reading in a Holocaust narrative. This is a challenging thing to do. One of your characters, Sima, says herself that “sometimes Americans lost interest if one did not say the words ‘concentration camp.’ As if what gave the experience its importance was the form of torture one had endured, rather than the loss of everything…They preferred violence—‘the gory details’…to grief.”

Schwarz: One of the primary motivating feelings I had when writing the book was this weird feeling of being both turned-off and interested in the gory details myself, and noticing how in so much that’s written about not just the Holocaust but any sort of major historical, horrible human rights event, people really do focus on the machetes cutting off the arms, and the gas chambers, and it has a way of erasing the experience and making it into a horror that ends, rather than something that people go through and live with. When I used to hear stories, my father didn’t focus that much on a horrible thing he saw. He really focused on how he never saw his father again after this one time. So I wanted to equalize it a little bit and make the grief and the loss the focus of the book rather than the actual mini-events.

Read the rest here…

it’s hard to be a jew on christmas…

by anzya

Here are two variations on a similar theme, to cheer you up if you’ve been getting a lot of “merry christmas! i mean, uh, happy holidays? is that right?” & so on…  This one i happily discovered today via JWA:

The second; a classic:

But, we should perhaps be thankful that we’re not Jews in Eastern Europe about a hundred years ago. The YIVO Encyclopedia says that Yiddish terms for Christmas included “blinde nakht (blind night)”, “finstere nakht (dark night)”, and “moyredike nakht (fearful night)”, as Christmas Eve was historically a night of violence against Jews.