Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Open Letter to My Friends at Hillel

[IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The following open letter is not meant in any way as a critique of the Hillel organization or its students. The issues raised are certainly not unique to the students of Hillel, they are part of what goes on in our community generally. As the title and closing suggest, it is a note to friends from a friend. I shared it because I trust that we (Jew, Muslim, Christian or Atheist)are a community who is ultimately concerned about values. In the Jewish community, there has been a lot of public criticism lately and making federal cases rather than opening discussion. This isn't that. This is asking for a change of heart not a change of policy. If you have any comments or questions please direct them to me.]

Shalom Aleichem,

I really enjoyed seeing you all the other night, sharing my one Chassidic joke (the "Mental Floss" picture should remind you) and a Rebbe Nachman story. I love being around college kids. Its energizing and alive and I like that. It was hard though hearing some of your “comedy.” I am not exactly sure why prefixing any concept with the “f” word is supposed to make it more funny. But, ok, maybe that’s just generational. What got me was the denigrating humor. You pretty much hit everyone, blacks, gays, the “f*****g” Latina maid, even the Asians. Then there was the joke about the Jewish guy who refuses to commit to Judaism because he just wants to ***** Muslim girls. Did the joker happen to notice who was sitting next to me? Did you see the young lady in the hijab who dipped her toe into your world only to have it scalded? What do you think she might of thought at that moment? How do you think she might have felt? I suspect she struggled with herself to be generous. I, however, was mortified and ashamed for us.
Now, you know I am close with lots of folks at the MSU. I imagined myself at one of their gatherings, and honestly, I can’t imagine anyone saying anything like that. Publicly denigrating others just would not be acceptable. And if someone had said something that was offensive, I would feel perfectly comfortable walking up to him afterwards and saying, “Ok, that is totally against your values and mine. Its not right and its not ok.” I am confident that I would be heard with respect. It saddens me that didn’t feel that I could do that with you. I don’t feel like we share a common set of values. I don’t feel like I can count on the deeply Jewish sense of respect that I wish you had. I don’t feel like I can appeal to your desire for Jews or Judaism or Hillel to stand for something of ethical or spiritual value because I am not sure that in your eyes it is meant to stand for anything at all. The Tribal gathering is enough. Our institutions are simply grateful that you call yourself Jews and that you choose to socialize with other Jews. We, the elders of the Tribe, are afraid to ask you for more. I was afraid even to tell you, as fundamental as it is to who we are, that denigration of others is not what our tribe is about. I didn’t think you would get it. I thought you would push me away.
I hope you won’t see in this letter an old bearded dude waving his finger at you. I don’t mean to do that. Please see it as my expression of confidence in you in your ability to connect to a Jewishness rooted not just in genetics but in values.
King Solomon in the book of Mishlei (Proverbs 9:8) taught,

Correct a wise person, and they will love you.

This letter is meant to express my trust both in your wisdom and in your respect. I look forward to our continuing friendship.
Shabbat dinner at the Weissman household is really pretty special. I hope you will join us sometime soon. Just email me for a date at or find me on facebook.

Kol tuv (All the best!)
Lee Weissman

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Elephant in The Room: A Fresh Approach

Clearly in any discussion between Jews and Muslims, Israel /Palestine, “Zionism” vs. “Anti-Zionism” is the veritable elephant in the room. I have been contemplating how to approach that subject in a way that is going to be helpful, interesting and promote discussion rather than push everyone to their respective corners. Let me continue with that analogy for a second, the analogy of a room. Most rooms have 4 corners, so you are stuck with 4 possible positions to which to retreat. Imagine however an ever expanding geodesic dome (if you don’t know what that is, you should look it up) in which there are lots and lots of corners, representing a wide variety of potential opinions. If I can create that “space” (I am such a hippy huh?) then maybe we can avoid the solution-stifling rhetoric of “stand with us!” and “whose side are you on anyway?”

So here is the simple plan. Let me know what you think of “Zionism” (Whether you generally identify yourself as a "Zionist" or an "Anti-Zionist” or a "Non-Zionist" (even if you have some discomfort with those labels)in a paragraph in which you do three things.

1) Give your tightest most clear definition of what you mean by the term “Zionism”
2) Explain in personal terms, as if talking to a friend who actually cares what you think and feel, why you think or feel the way you do. How and why do you choose to identify yourself.
3) Give me a short demographic description of yourself - whatever you think folks need to know.
So I might say about myself, “50 years old married Jewish teacher, Interested in Breslov chassidus, living in the United States with grand children in Israel.”

I will then post your responses. Postings will be anonymous and will include only the demographics you provide.

Please invite others to send them to me as well. The more I have the better.

I think it will be a great exercise and a chance to see what real people really think.

Please post directly into the comments or send your comments to me at to repost for you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

To Destroy a Life is to Destroy a World

My continuing meditation on these verses which I presented last week…

For this reason was Adam created alone, to teach us that whosoever destroys a single soul, the Torah regards as guilty as though he had destroyed an entire world; and whosoever preserves a single soul the Torah ascribes merit to him as though he had preserved an entire world.
-Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37a

Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidences, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allah by committing the major sins) in the land!.
-Qur’an 5:32 (The Noble Qur'an)

In Jewish thought, we distinguish between two kinds of religious knowledge, aggadata, stories and narratives which convey a moral or spiritual message, and Halacha, law. The verse above is clearly aggadata, a broad moral directive. Its lesson is clear. It teaches us that all killing is the spiritual equivalent of genocide.
Halacha (Law) is much more practical. The Torah’s justice sometimes demands a death sentence (albeit very rarely meted out). That is legal killing. War can also be legal killing. The law is that after a call to peace (which often simply means surrender) a defensive war is sometimes justified. Once justified, there is a recognition in the Halacha that it is a condition of war that both combatants and non-combatants will be killed.
There would seem then to be a kind of disconnect between the aggadata and the Halacha, between the moral ideal of Torah and the its embodiment in law.
It seems to me that the same situation exists in Sharia. The general principal is that all killing is the moral equivalent of genocide. The verse in the Qur’an even references the Jewish teaching. And again, justice sometimes demands a death sentence. And again, war is sometimes justified after an offer of peace. Sharia then limits attacks on non-combatants but again recognizes that sometimes civilian casualties are inevitable.
(This is a quick summary of the Halacha and Sharia. I would be happy to do a more in depth comparative study of the texts that relate to this, if anyone is interested. Please correct me in detail if I am mistaken.)

There would seem to be the same disconnect between the Sharia which allows forms of legal killing and the spiritual direction that all killing is equivalent to genocide.

One way to bridge the gap perhaps is offered by the medieval Jewish scholar, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the Ramban) writing in 13th century Spain on the verse..

G-d spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to the entire congregation [of] Bnei Yisroel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy. (holy=qodesh = quds)
-Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:1-2

Ramban comments..

“You shall be holy” Just as I keep away from worldy pleasure so you should keep away from wordly pleasure. According to my opinion this is not just referring to keeping away from inappropriate sexuality as suggested by Rashi. That kind of separation is mentioned many times in scripture with the word “separation”. The fact is that the Torah warns us about forbidden relationships and foods but permits us to have relations with our wives and to eat meat and wine. So we find that a person of a lusty nature has room to engage in licentious behavior with his wife and to guzzle wine and be a glutton with meat. He can do as he pleases in all the areas of foolishness which the Torah otherwise forbids. Observe, that one can be a boor within the bounds of Torah (or with the permission of the Torah) Naval b’ reshut ha Torah..

In other words, a legal system, even a Divine one, in order to be livable by real people in real societies needs to take into account the basic sometimes base drives of human beings . It must be able to accommodate special cases and circumstances. We believe that G-d knows his creatures. It will have loopholes and allowances they may allow people to act pretty badly and still be “within the letter of the law.”

To kill one human being is to destroy a world. It seems to me that these verses are reminders to us that compelling and disturbing spiritual reality to inspire believers to restrict ourselves from the allowances of the law, to be strict with ourselves in our respect for human life. In a generation where so many demonstrate their piety by strictness in ritual observance, this is a call to express our piety in the observance of morality, to choose to refrain from violence against one another.
It also calls us to think very differently about when we do choose to use violence. For example, in western Just War theory, there is as the “doctrine of proportionality.” Here is a scholarly description.

According to the doctrine, a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante. That said, experts say the proportionality principle is open to interpretation and depends on the context. "It's always a subjective test," says Michael Newton, associate clinical professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School. "But if someone punches you in the nose, you don't burn their house down."

This is a profoundly civilized concept and it makes perfect sense that when it comes to killing more is worse, that a violent response even in self-defense should not be excessive. This is a big part of how we talk about the use and abuse of violence. It is a big part of how we justify violence and for why we decry violence. We weigh the numbers. These verses come to challenge our thinking. They tell us that, in relation to the act of killing, the core of the concept of proportionality is ultimately spiritually obscene. There are no formulas for the weighing of human life. You cannot put infinity on two sides of an equation in any meaningful way. The deeper reality is that human life is infinitely precious. Anyone who has lost anyone they love knows this and yet its so easy to overlook and so easy to forget.

Baruch Hashem, Alhamdulilah - G-d sends us reminders.

Ribbono shel Olam / Rab ul Alameen, help us to be mindful always of the absolute value of each and every one of us. In the acknowledgement of that reality, please help us set the highest standards for ourselves and to encourage others around us to sanctify ourselves even in what is permitted to us for the preservation of every human life, for the preservation of Your world.

The Man on the Bike Goes Into Advertising

From the moment that our common father Avraham / Ibrahim opened his four-sided tent to the world (so says an ancient Jewish source) and demonstrated the power of the One True G-d and practice of kindness, we have been taught to be extraordinarily careful about the welfare of others, both others of our own people (and hopefully its clear by now) those who are not "US." Knowing what others need and providing it is all about the details. Its not about sound bites, its about those who know a situation well, those who have a stake finding out what folks need and providing it. The recipe is simple in concept and extraordinarily difficult in execution.
I read the following article yesterday.

I thought to myself, "So this is what happens when the man on the bike meets Madison Ave." Organizations are competing for our support with slogans and images, some more benign than others, but all meant to convince us without teaching us, to persuade us rather than help us to really understand. Some of them are meant to make us afraid of one another, to make us keep our distance, to close our ears and close our hearts. Even worse, they expect the fate of millions of Palestinians and Israelis to depend on what we come to believe from their advertising. The battle cry for the Jihad of communication is "We can do better!"

My suggestion, close your eyes to the billboards (but keep your eye on the road) and open the flaps to your tent!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Open Letter to the Anonymous Man on the Bike

To the anonymous bike rider,
Greetings of Peace!

You may remember us from Saturday morning. I was the Jewish guy in the round hat and the long coat. I was walking with my daughter, the one with the curly reddish hair. We were just over the bridge headed toward the lake when we met you, well kind of met you. Its our Sabbath and we were on the way to synagogue. We don’t drive so it gives us time to talk and solve all the world’s problems. A whole bunch of bicycles passed us in a big group. I think you were just about the last in the pack. As you turned the corner and rode past us you shouted “Free Palestine!” (I found out later that you have done that before to other religious Jews on other Saturday mornings in the same neighborhood.) I joked to my daughter, that to give you the benefit of the doubt, maybe you believe that either my daughter or I are superheros (my daughter could be, I for sure am not) and you figured that we could free Palestine with our superpowers right then and there. Ok, sadly its not so simple but at least your heart would be in the right place. But, as generous as it is, its an unlikely hypothesis.

Lets face it, what you really wanted was to piss me off. Granted, maybe it’s a fair bet. A lot of Jews probably would be upset at the message itself. (Though, you might want to get a field guide to Jews because guys with round black hats and long shiny coats don’t tend to be real political and are often not Zionists at all.) So you were pretty sure this was going to make the Jewish guy angry. Well, you were right but for the wrong reason. Having never met me or spoken to me in our lives, you simply assume that I am a rabid nationalist (I am not) or that I do not want peace and freedom for Palestinians (I do.) Instead of seeing my daughter and I walking and enjoying each others company on their way to pray to G-d, you see a cardboard cutout of your favorite villain at which you can feel free to toss your bumper sticker message like a verbal grenade and run away on your bike. Yeah, I am angry at you, not because you support the cause of Palestine but because in the way you communicate to me you demonstrate that you don’t see ME at all. You don’t see my daughter at all. You are interested in scoring points and not in communication. That makes you part of the problem instead of part of the solution. How much longer do you think we can afford the luxury of talking past one another? How much longer do want to keep dehumanizing each other? Next time, do us both a favor and get off your bike and talk to me. It’s the courageous thing to do. Had you talked to me you might have seen that I am not your enemy, you might have seen that my daughter is one the kindest people you will ever meet and you might have had a forum on this blog to communicate your thoughts with all sorts of people, people who might actually be able to hear you.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything one experiences in life has a positive lesson for the service of G-d. I did learn something from you. You were working pretty hard on riding that bike, and yet as busy as your body was peddling, the cause was on your mind and the very moment you saw me the words leaped from your lips.

Ribbono Shel Olam (Rab ul Alameen), no matter how hard I work in this world, no matter how hard I spin my wheels, let my thoughts never stray far from You and may Your great Name always be on my lips. May Your praise leap from my mouth the moment I see the beauty of Your creation. Give peace and purity of heart to my new teacher, the anonymous man on the bike.

Kol tuv (all the best)
I hope we talk soon
-Lee Weissman

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Value of a Life Part I: The texts

For the next two weeks or so, with the help of G-d, and with your assistance, I want to explore some of the implications of these two texts, one from the Talmud and one from the Qur’an. I think they contain very fundamental insights into how we should regard and value human life, including our own. For the moment, let me put them out there for your contemplation and comment. In a few days, I will try to share some thoughts about them.
I am especially counting on my Muslim friends to point me to appropriate tafseers and related Hadiths to help me understand. Please don’t be shy.

Here are the texts…

For this reason was Adam created alone, to teach us that whosoever destroys a single soul * , the Torah regards as guilty as though he had destroyed an entire world; and whosoever preserves a single soul the Torah ascribes merit to him as though he had preserved an entire world.

Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men,
That one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than
yours, and that heretics might not say, there are many ruling powers
in heaven.
Again, [we are taught that we descend from one man] to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be
He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one
of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged
to say: the world was created for my sake.

-Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37a

[* In many versions, the term “of Israel” will appear here, narrowing the application only to Jews. In the context though, given that it is talking about Adam as the progenitor of all mankind the more narrow wording just doesn’t make sense to me. I am certainly open to hear other’s insights.]

Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidences, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allah by committing the major sins) in the land!.

-Qur’an 5:32 (The Noble Qur'an)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An American in Palestine

We are bombarded by voices from the Middle East. Certainly when it comes to the Palestine and Israel, we have become used to one sided, often less than compassionate sources on all sides. It is hard for most of us to get any real sense of what life is like for either Israelis or Palestinians. The following link is to the journal of an American woman, about 23 years old currently living and studying in the Palestinian territories. It describes her experience of both Palestinian, and to some extent Israeli, society with a lot of heart and insight. (Look especially at August and September entries) I would generally say that its best to let people speak for themselves in their own voices. Nevertheless there is a lot to learn from an American eye and an American mindset discovering the situation on her own and talking to us in our own language. I think you will get a lot out of reading this and I look forward to hearing what you think of it.

Brain Storm on the Blog: Truth and its Consequences

The following is a guest posting from Robert H. baseball player, poet, lawyer, former legislative aide on Capitol Hill , community renewal worker, devoted husband, dog owner and dedicated do-gooder. In it he discusses some of the consequences of this blog and the kind of relationships it seeks to create. I would, of course, welcome your comments and thoughts on where this blog can and should go. Should I change the name? Any suggestions?

This blog can change the world. Finding common philosophical-religious ground can foment change, especially if it reaches the emotional roots that govern how we behave. As individuals we continually change one another through our interact...ions (or failure to act). I spent years working to help people form bonds of mutual support. We called these efforts building mutually enhancing relationships. Put more simply, when posited that when we befriend another, their friend can become our friend. Social networks formed. Building networks based upon caring relationships (embracing the notion expressed here of "protection") cuts against the cultural grain and can be heavy lifting. Forming networks that actually support and protect people who live in communities across the socio-economic spectrum depends upon an intentional consistency of concerted action. In practice, this means overcoming barriers of ingrained attitude and unbearable pain. When you seek to reverse the tide of death and vengeance in places like Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq...and the list goes on and on, reaching out to protect another group subject to the wages of violence takes both a network and a strategy that addresses the needs of those who have suffered terrible wrongs. My advice, build this human network as quickly as possible, but also recognize that such efforts, if effective, will attract a strong response from groups dedicated to violence and terror. In other words, this work places people of good will at risk. That's part of the "Struggle" and it takes genuine courage to provide actual security to those you seek to help. As a first step, a core group, if one should form from this effort should begin to formulate a plan of action for those who want to participate locally and from that experience go forward. I wish you all the best in this worthy endeavor, but caution that words are unpredictable agents of change.

footnote: with the use of "Jihadi Jew" you have invited scrutiny from NSA's ubiquitous internet screening. (They will look to find codes and whether the real bad guys can use this group to cloak their efforts). Since this is a medium difficult to control, if not impossible to censor, you may have to live with that. Conceptually, Jihadi Jew as a title and rallying cry seems uneven, one-sided, and somewhat a paternalistic approach of jewish networks to protect muslim brethren and create dialogue. Creating networks that encourage Muslims to protect Jews reciprocally seems to me more consistent with the stated aim. This, in turn, places all Muslims who act in behalf of Jewish friends in the sights of "anti-zionist" extremists. For those serious about genuine change, there's really no choice but to accept a very real peril. Yet who among us willingly paints a target on their backs or the backs of their children? These are very tough questions. At the outset, they must be addressed, and then put aside, because the strength to deal with them takes years of constant to building to address.

Anyway, as an "outsider" that's my take.

- Robert H.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Meditation on the "Golden Rule"

It happened that a certain Non-Jew came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a convert to Judaism, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the carpenter’s yardstick which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, [and said the same thing. Hillel responded, ] ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, all the rest is commentary; go and learn it.
- Talmud Bavli – Shabbat 31a

[Hillel and Shammai were Rabbis of the 1st century BCE. They were famous for disagreeing with other other while maintaining peaceful relations.]

A man came to Tawus and said, “Advise me."
Tawus said:

I advise you to love God so deeply that nothing is more beloved to you than Him; that you fear Him until there is nothing more feared by you than Him; that you long for His mercy so intensely that it prevents that fear from overwhelming you; and that you love for other people what you love for yourself. Now stand up and leave for I have summarized for you the knowledge of the Torah, the Gospels, the Psalms and the Qur’an.”

Quoted in Zaid Shakir, Treatise for The Seekers of Guidance. P. 223

[I assume this is Tawus Ibn Kaysan (8th cent C.E) was one of the narrators of hadith]

The similarity between these two texts is obvious. Relatively attentive public-school educated Americans of my age will recognize them as variants on the “Golden Rule”

“Do unto others what you would have them do unto you!”

This is really a paraphrase of line from the Gospels. (which of course they failed to mention)
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12) [ I couldn’t resist the King James English forgive me.]

I have often wondered why Hillel’s phrasing is negative “what is hateful to you don’t do to others.” My best guess is that it is more practical. I may not know what I want but I do know what I don’t want. My desires may be a jumble of conflicting motives but I know with painful certainty what hurts me. Neurobiologists have come to the conclusion that positive and negative stimuli are processed by two side-by- side systems. The Negative system is far more sensitive and acute. [That’s why criticisms so often sting way far more intensely than compliments tickle the ego. The glow of a compliment may last for moments. The pain of sharp critique can last forever.] So even if this won’t necessarily lead me to do overwhelming good, it will at least lead me to immediately do no harm. That is progress.

I will add that doing for other people what you would want them to do for you is risky business. Think of all those gifts that you got for someone else because YOU liked them. I suspect we are much more alike in what we find aversive than in what we find attractive.

In addition to introductory call to love and fear of G-d which is as kosher as it is beautiful, Tawus’ version adds a passion to the concept. LOVE for others what you love for yourself. Its not only about what you do. Its about really caring and investing yourself which, of course, will lead to doing for others.

And both sources agree, this is the BIG THING. This is the ultimate piece of advice.
The key to using this advice effectively and perhaps the most amazing similarity between these two texts is at the end.
Hillel says “Go and learn!”
Tawus tells his student “Stand up and leave!”
Now get up and do something about it. Go learn more. Go do what I said. You got the message. This is not information to sit on. You got the advice and now its yours and its up to you to decide what you do with it.
That Greek boy standing precariously balanced on one foot and Tawus’ anonymous seeker, who are they really? They are everyone and they are all of us. And the message to us is clear. We have been reminded that amidst the complexity of all that we do to serve G-d there is an inner simplicity. We are in amazing training programs designed to make us wonderful people who love and fear their Creator but the ultimate mission is the furthering of kindness in the world. Learning how to do that in the real world. is our job.
“Go!” says Hillel
“Stand up and leave!” says Tawus.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Raising the perfect grapes: The religious significance of the Land of Israel

I was recently asked by a Muslim student about the religious significance of the Land of Israel to Jews. This is of course a huge and important question. I am a little daunted. Rather than try to give an answer. (The truth as always is that there are multiple answers) let me offer something to stimulate our thought. This material is from a famous Judeo-Arabic book the Kitab –Al Khazari by Rabbi Yehudah haLevi, written in the 11th century.

The book is framed as a dialogue between the King of the Khazars (a Turkic tribe in search of a religion) and a Rabbi. In the course of their discussions, the king asks the Rabbi ”Just how important is the Land of Israel?” The king is genuinely perplexed by the whole concept of a “Holy Land.” Land is land? So what is the "holy" all about. I think a lot of us share his question.

[A note on terminology .The 19th century translation of the Kuzari uses “Palestine” as the then current geo-political designation which I preserved. The Hebrew translation of the original Arabic text uses “Eretz Yisrael” “the Land of Israel”. Many religious Jews, including myself, may avoid the use of the simple term “Israel” to distinguish between “Medinat Yisrael” the “State of Israel” “Eretz Yisrael” the “Land of Israel.” The latter has clear religious significance as the land given to our ancestors for the particular service of G-d. The former may or may not. That itself is a great subject of debate within contemporary Judaism.]

Here is what the Rabbi responds on the importance of Palestine/Land of Israel…

“The Rabbi: Here is how important it is in our scriptures. It says: All roads lead up to Palestine [The Land of Israel], but none from it. Concerning a woman who refuses to go there with her husband, they decreed that she is divorced, and forfeits her marriage settlement. On the other hand, if the husband refuses to accompany his wife to Palestine, he is bound to divorce her and pay her settlement. They further say: It is better to dwell in the Holy Land, even in a town mostly inhabited by idolaters than abroad in a town chiefly peopled by Jews; for he who dwells in the Holy Land is compared to him who has a G-d, whilst he who dwells abroad is compared to him who has no G-d. Thus says David: 'For they have driven me out this day from abiding in the inheritance of the Lord, saying, Go, serve other gods' (1 Sam. xxvi. 19), which means that he who dwells abroad is as if he served strange gods. They praise him who is in the land more than him who is carried there after death. This is expressed thus: He who embraces it when alive is not like him who does so after his death. They say concerning him who could live there, but did not do so, and only ordered his body to be carried thither after his death:. Other sayings are: Fines can only be imposed in the land itself; no slave must be transported abroad, and many similar regulations. Further, the atmosphere of the Holy Land makes one wise. They expressed their love of the land as follows: He who walks four yards in the land is assured of happiness in the world to come.”

This paragraph expresses nicely just how important the Land of Israel is to Jews.
Still it doesn't really answer the why.

Later in the book, The Kitab al-Khuzari addresses the "Why?" question an analogy or parable (a mashal) which beautifully describes the relationship between the Jewish people and the land. He compares to Jewish people to a grape vine and the land of Israel to a hillside which is perfect for growing grapes. Other plants could grow there but its perfect for grapes. Similarly, the grapes could grow somewhere else but they would never be quite as sweet. This hill has just the right kind of soil and just the right exposure to sun for growing grape vines. Now, if you planted these grapes on that perfect land but failed to water and fertilize them them, they might survive but they would be stunted and bitter.. Rabbi Yehudah haLevi compares the commandments of the Torah to the watering and nurturing of the plants. So when you take the grape vine of the Jewish people [just the right people] and put them in that land [just the right land] and nourish them with the commandments of the Torah [just the right treatment], they flourish and produce the perfect fruit. So the flourishing of the Jewish people depends both on being rooted in the Land of Israel and on the nourishment of G-d's commandments.

It is a beautiful parable and I have often contemplated it. It raises some interesting questions.

What does it say about the diaspora experience? (Grapes planted on foreign soil)
What does it say about non-Jews in the land? (Other plants)
What does it say about the secular state? (a vineyard without cultivation)

I invite others to share their thoughts. These posts are really meant only to stimulate thought and discussion.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is support of Israel the religion of American Jews?

I do not want to be accused of avoiding the elephant in the room, or better, in the closet. I think of this blog as a little like my Shabbat table. It’s a place for different kinds of people to come together, sing, talk about G-d and spiritual stuff and share wisdom. Now imagine you are at my home for Shabbat and you hear a polite but insistent trumpeting from the closet. You might want to open the closet and check it out. If you are smart you are not going to swing that door too wide. Just enough to peek and formulate a plan for getting a closer look at that elephant. That elephant is “Israel” and this post is my first attempt to crack open that closet door.

Let me begin by saying that figuring out what Israel means to Jews is really complicated because what it means to Jews is really complicated . Its also very diverse. In my experience, that diversity is not well understood either inside the Jewish community and worse outside it. I hope that my Jewish brothers and sisters will step up and contribute their perspectives so we can see them. They range, as you will see, from an religious almost mystical connection to the Land of Israel as a holy land to purely secular and often very pragmatic views of the State of Israel.

In America, support of Israel (emotionally, financially and politically) has become for many their primary expression of Jewish identity. The following is an excerpt from an opinion piece by Eric Alterman from Moment Magazine “The New Religion for America’s Jews: Israel” (Noveember/December 1010) p. 19. I found it provocative and I thought it might make a good launch point for discussion.

When memory is the primary content of one’s Jewish identity, the identity fades as the distance from the remembered experience (like the memory of the Holocaust) grows. And yet in an ethnically defined America in which everybody is something, Jews need a way to feel themselves Jewish—to connect with that part of their identities—in the absence of any knowledge or much interaction with the texts and community that have sustained Jews for centuries.
Without these, many have turned to the defense of Israel as a kind of religious precept and the result, too often, is a repetition of political talking points as if they were the Amidah. [the main standing whispered prayer at the heart of all Jewish prayer services] They are not and will not sustain generation after generation with what is, after all, vicarious experience, and one that is based less on a genuine attachment to Israel than to a mythic version of it. And therein lies the still unsolved dilemma.

see the full article at

This raises some powerful questions:

Has the support of Israel replaced Judaism as the religion of many American Jews?

Is the Israel they support the Israel of reality or the Israel of mythic idealization?

If support of Israel becomes a point of “piety” does it prevent us from thinking about it critically and force us into denouncing those who do as “heretics”?

Where does support of Israel (or even critique) fit into the viewpoints of those who are Observant Jews and do have strong connections to Jewish learning and practice?

How might understanding this quasi-religious force help Muslims and Jews communicate more effectively? Does misunderstanding now act as a barrier?

I look forward to your sharing your thoughts

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Manners of the Righteous

I learned the following this morning with my students in the Talmud Bavli, Taanit 5b. I was touched by its simplicity and beauty. For a moment I was able to envision a world in which people practiced derech eretz/adab in the most casual interactions. The English word "etiquette" fails to capture the delicacy and depth of a mode of behavior that proceeds so naturally from inner sweetness and righteousness. May G-d help us learn from this example and find these qualities in ourselves.

When they were about to part, Rav Nahman said to Rav Yitzchak: Please Master, bless me. He replied: Let me tell you a parable — To what may this be compared? To a man who was journeying in the desert; he was hungry, weary and thirsty and he came upon a tree the fruits of which were sweet, its shade pleasant, and a stream of fresh water was flowing beneath it; he ate of its fruits, drank of the water, and rested under its shade. When he was about to continue his journey, he said: Tree, O Tree, with what shall I bless you? Shall I say to you, ‘May your fruits be sweet’? They are sweet already; that your shade be pleasant? It is already pleasant; that a stream of water may flow beneath you? Behold, a stream of water flows already beneath you; therefore I say, ‘May it be G-d’s will that all the shoots that grow from you should be just like you.’. So also with you. With what shall I bless you? With the knowledge of the Torah? You already possess it. With riches? You have riches already. With children? You have children already. Hence I say to you, ‘May it be G-d’s will that your offspring be just like you’.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Ending the Cult of Condemnation

One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies. Apologies have the power to heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness on the part of the offended parties. For the offender, they can diminish the fear of retaliation and relieve the guilt and shame that can grip the mind with a persistence and tenacity that are hard to ignore. The result of the apology process, ideally, is the reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships.
- Aaron Lazarre On Apology, p.1

I like apologies and the expressing of condolence. There is something beautiful and peace-making about expressing pain when others are harmed and taking responsibility when I am guilty. I can apologize not just for myself. As a Jew, I believe that all Jews are mystically intertwined and I can’t and shouldn’t distance myself from responsibility for the action of fellow Jews. I can apologize for them too.

For the modern Believer it is not the condolence or the apology which is called for but the “condemnation.” One is called on on again and again to condemn the beliefs and behavior of co-religionists. In the aftermath of the tragic attack on a Coptic Church in Egypt, Muslim leaders have rushed to condemn the action. I imagine that for public-minded leaders in the Muslim community this has become a major part of their job.
On a decidedly smaller scale and in relation to different issues, Jews and Christians face the same need to condemn the behavior of others.

Here are two examples so we don’t feel left out.

I find the condemnations sterile and formulaic. Even worse, I find them totally ineffective. With all the condemnations by all the religious leaders, things are a still a mess. Condemnations do not change behavior.

When dealing with the largely legal traditions of Islam and Judaism, it seems to me that the reason for that failure is clear.

My thinking on this has been shaped by an interview I heard with Tariq Ramadan a well- known Swiss intellectual, philosopher and Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Orienal Studies at Oxford University.

French Prime Minister Sarkozy accused Ramadan of defending the stoning of adulterers. When asked about the practice Ramadan said that he favored “a moratorium” on such practices but he refused to condemn the law outright. Many were outraged. Here is how Ramadan explains his position.

“Personally,” he said, “I’m against capital punishment, not only in Muslim countries, but also in the U.S. But when you want to be heard in Muslim countries, when you are addressing religious issues, you can’t just say it has to stop. I think it has to stop. But you have to discuss it within the religious context. There are texts involved. I am not just talking to Muslims in Europe, but addressing the implementation of huddud [this punishment] everywhere, in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Middle East. And I’m speaking from the inside to Muslims. Speaking as an outsider would be counterproductive..”

His point, I believe is a powerful one. No believing Muslim or Halachic Jew cares what I think. My personal condemnation based on my personal views and scruples is simply not of interest. In the post-enlightenment West where individualism rules supreme perhaps the condemnation of an individual has some teeth, but for religious folks ruled by text and interpretation of text, they mean little. The words of someone outside the tradition are simply in the wrong language. For those of us outside, before entering the discussion we need to learn the language.
Even from inside the tradition, the critique needs to come from an accurate and educated exposition of text. The morality of an act is not determined by personal opinion but by a normative tradition of textual interpretation. Both for religious Jews and for religious Muslims, morality is determined by law. Of course, there are larger broad values, protection of human life, kindness, peace, fairness, concern for property, but those are acted upon through law. Legal decision can work where condemnation fails.
It is through appeals to a real grounded morality with centuries of tradition behind it that real change be made.
Clearly however the traditional formats of communicating these decisions may not work. The legal pronunciation (fatwa for Muslims, psak or teshuvah for Jews) in its traditional form was made for a different kind of world. It was made for small, localized communities of believers. To use the American idiom it was all about “preaching to the choir.” The powers of persuasion were left to sermonizers whose job was to stir the heart and not necessarily the mind. In these tight insular communities this works pretty well. Scholars make decisions, post them on walls and the masses comply. Competing opinions are posted on other walls, there is a scuffle here and there, pamphlets are published and codified into books and somehow it all works out in the end. In the Global Village, this is not going to work. Scholars need to use new media and new forms of mass communication that convey the beauty of their message while speaking to people in the information saturated grit in which they may they now live. Sermonizing without education almost invariably leads to bad behavior. Morally, religiously uneducated masses are dangerous. Morally educated masses could be world transforming.
There are those who have begun to do this. They are creating the alternative to the condemnation.

The following is a piece by Imam Zaid Shakir, co founder of Zaytuna College in Northern California. I present it as a model of how to address a pressing topic without simply issuing a “condemnation.” I applaud Iman Zaid for his creativity, his pragmatic earthiness and his commitment to the sound principles of his religion.

I sincerely hope his estimation of the IDF is wrong.

[a whispered note to my fellow non-Muslims…
It may seem to you that all of a sudden there are these “moderate” good Muslims out there and I am performing some slight-of-hand by quoting them while ignoring “radical” opinions. I do not believe there is anything “moderate” about the message beyond the moderation that may be part of Islam itself. That moderation is in my estimation completely authentic and grounded in a normative textual tradition. The existence of less grounded understandings with loud and violent adherents doesn’t change that. What you hear in scholars like Imam Zaid is a fresh and authentic voice from which we can learn.]

Letter to a Would-be Mujahid
14 December 2010

Recent developments have forced me to put some things on hold to write you this letter. You might ask how I know you. I have met you at student events, in mosques, and at conferences. I have listened to your arguments and I have made my counter arguments. Oftentimes, my arguments have been somewhat formal. I figured I would write you a letter, since that is a lot more personal and less formal. Perhaps this way you will be more inclined to listen.

To begin with, whenever you are criticized for your bloody, anarchistic ideology, you point to the bloody abuses of the American war machine or their Zionist accomplices. This diversionary tactic on your part does not impress serious and thoughtful people. It is simply an abdication of your moral responsibility. It is as if you are saying you reserve the right to violate established Islamic principles, such as those guaranteeing the protection of innocent life, because the American military or the IDF do no respect innocent Muslim life. That would be a credible argument if the American military or the IDF claimed to be operating on the basis of Islamic principles. They don’t, but you do. I hope, without further elaboration, you can immediately sense the moral dilemma you are creating for yourself.

Along those lines, please allow me to remind you of something else. Your misguided attempts to kill and maim innocent Americans only make it easier for the American military to kill more Muslims with greater impunity. Your actions help to create a political climate that removes any moral restraint from the actions of the American military, the IDF and soon the forces of India’s increasingly Hindu nationalist armed forces. You see, fear is a very potent emotion and when it is carefully manipulated it can lead to very irrational politics. That most extreme form of those politics is called genocide.

Fear can be especially dangerous when it is combined with another emotion, insecurity. You are so divorced from reality that you probably haven’t noticed that a lot of Americans are extremely insecure right now. Especially, the white middle class or what is left of it. They don’t know if they will soon lose their homes, if they will have a job tomorrow, if their money will be in the bank next week, if they will be able to send their children to college or if their retirement funds will be stolen or totally devalued. Those insecurities combined with the spectre of the “Muslim terrorist next door” are a lethal combination that a group of people called demagogues is exploiting to justify an all out war on Muslims.

Those demagogues use the fear of you to prevent people from building the kind of grassroots, popular, movements that are necessary to challenge the corporate rape of our society and from challenging the destructive logic of permanent war. For example, remember the growing movement to challenge the new invasive TSA screening procedures at airports? Did you notice how it disappeared after the would-be mujahid in Portland allowed himself to be trapped into the scheme to blow up the Christmas tree ceremony? Do you think the timing was accidental? It is a shame that you and your ilk are so mindlessly complicit in such schemes.

Now you think the mujahideen can win an all out war against the Americans. Look at what the mujahideen are doing to them in Afghanistan. Sorry, but Afghanistan is not what all out war looks like. I’ll give you a clue what all out war looks like. Remember a couple years ago when the Israelis were bombarding the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Muslims, for all of their courage, couldn’t do anything except appeal to outside powers to stop the carnage? Or a few years before that when Jenin was flattened? Think of the scale of that devastation expanded to encompass all of the major cities of the Muslim world. Imagine America unleashing a new generation of “tactical” nuclear weapons being designed to be used specifically against Muslims targets raining down on Muslim capitals and there is no Muslim strategic deterrent available to stop it. AK-47s and RPGs will be of no avail. Imagine the calls to human rights organizations to stop the slaughter finding no ears to hear them because the neo-fascist forces your stupidity has helped to unleash have swept those organizations away in its maddening torrent.

I have heard you counter that such an argument is a manifestation of a lack of faith. God has promised the believers victory. Indeed, He has. However, it is very pretentious of you to assume that someone who murders women, children and innocents with blazon impunity in the Name of God are the believers that victory has been promised to. He has promised the believers victory, but that promise is not unconditional. God is not going to give victory to people who murder in His Holy Name.

I applaud your courage, but how it manifests itself puzzles me. You have the courage to fly halfway around to world to engage in an armed struggle, but you do not have the courage to knock on your neighbor’s door to explain Islam to him or to give him your take on world affairs. I am also baffled at how you can smile in his face, but are ready to blow him up if he happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What calculus do you use to assume he would not be amenable to your message? What has he done to you to be the target of your bloodlust?

You claim a refined understanding of Islam, so refined that you can make grave decisions concerning life and death, decisions with huge strategic implications –yet you seem to perceive nothing of the divine wisdom of your being in this country. You have an opportunity to be an educator at a time people are looking for a new way. You have an opportunity to be a guide at a time people are looking for a new direction. You have an opportunity to provide a source of spiritual solace at a time people are confused, angry and afraid. You have an opportunity to be a fierce advocate for truth at a time when lies are transforming the image of your religion and the direction of your country. You have the skills, the command of the language, the knowledge of the people to do all of that and more, but you choose to run away from this battle to join one you do not even know who the commander is.

Did I say that? “To join a battle you do not even know who the commander is.” No! I didn’t say that. Do you think that if the FBI can send fake mujahids into mosques all around America to find confused, vulnerable Muslims, develop fake bomb plots, with fake bombs, for very real political objectives, the CIA couldn’t do the same thing abroad? No, wait a minute. Didn’t the CIA build the Afghan mujahideen network? Didn’t what’s his name, Zbigniew Brzezinski, describe the Afghan operation as the CIA’s finest hour?

They would never use fake mujahids, operating through fake websites, to recruit confused and desperate Muslim youth to engage in operations that keep the climate of fear alive, would they? They wouldn’t do that to keep support for bloodsucking, treasury-draining wars alive at a time when there is no money for the poor, the elderly, health-care, education, infrastructure or investment in the green economy. No! It’s preposterous. Those would be psychological operations (psych ops) and that would be cheating. America never cheats, we’re the good guys!

I apologize, I’m tripping. On a serious note, I hope you don’t one day end up feeling as stupid and abused as young Antonio Martinez or Mahomed Osman Mohamud, the Somali kid in Oregon, are probably feeling right now. They have been tricked, deceived, used, and abused by fake mujahids and then thrown in a dungeon to rot for the rest of their lives. Do you think your fate will be any different? Don’t be a fool.


Imam Zaid Shakir

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Don't always believe what you see!

The seal of the Holy One, Blessed be He is truth.
-Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 64a

Rashi [note for Muslims, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki called “Rashi” is the foremost medieval commentator on the Torah] tells us this saying refers to the Hebrew word for truth, emet, formed from the first letter of the alphabet, alef, the middle letter, mem, and the final letter, tav. The G-d of truth is found wherever there is truth and His absence is felt wherever there is falsehood.

“O you who believe! Be afraid of Allah, and be with those who are true (in word and deeds).” [Quran, al-Tawbah 9:119]

Ibn Kathir [note for Jews: a commentator on the Quran as widely used as Rashi is for us] glosses : “It means: be truthful and adhere to truthfulness, and you will be among its people and will be saved from calamity, and this will make a way out for you from your problems.”

Baruch Hashem (Alhamdulilah!) I have friends on virtually all possible sides of nearly any issue you can think of. Out of their love for keeping me informed, I receive daily emails purporting to give me the absolute truth on the latest atrocity committed by someone or another. Others are posted on facebook, the ultimate source of all that is true and good. (Kinda..) Usually it is a multimedia presentation including a youtube video or a few photographs and you often get the same one over and over again in various forms. It can be bewildering. At the time of the Gaza Flotilla boarding by Israeli soldier, I received films from all sides of the issue, with little lines and circles and arrows purporting to tell me the real story. While it was clear that the smudges and lines were not hugging and kissing, it was not clear who was hitting who or what they had in their hands. I have also received supposed interviews with Israeli “settlers” who look and sound like they should be in a mental hospital. These are hardly the folks that I know who live beyond the “Green Line.” I have also received pictures of the overflowing markets of Gaza to convince me that post-war Gaza is really a thriving garden spot. The occasional Holocaust denial pieces are so outrageous that they mostly speak for themselves. (One hopes!)
I take these things with appropriate gigantic grain of salt.
My friends are not liars. In their personal relationships they would never be untruthful. They are good folks, people of integrity. But in their zeal to share their “side” of the conflict, the need to “score points” seems to obscure the need for truth. It is what Reb Nosson of Breslov called “Netzachon” the blind desire to win, that is the killer of all truth and peace.

I have decided to make this a point of activism. If you send me one of these emails, you are going to hear from me and you will hear me tell you not to try to poison me with your paranoid half-truths, generalizations and confabulations. (I get 10 points for using that in a sentence)

I will use these blog pages to expose them from time to time. I hope that you will too. (That includes Anti-Muslim, Anti-Jew or Anti-Israel stuff which falls into this category.)

Let me start with this one which actually was sent on to me by one of the smartest people I know with a note saying something like “What do you say to THIS?”

At last, there was actual proof that Jewish college students are surrounded by maniac Muslims who admit to being “Nazi Youth” and to their genocidal fantasies. One member of the UCSD MSA had finally let the cat out of the bag to David Horowitz (renowned speaker on “Islamo-Fascism.”

This video was everywhere accompanied by articles proclaiming the "Aha!" moment. This was the proof.

Pretty damning stuff huh?

What didn’t get so much publicity was the letter written by the student Jumanah Imad Albahri which responded to the video and its distribution. Its well worth reading.
Do I agree with everything in it? No. [anti-semitic in “normal” use means anti-Jewish, no need to play semitic semantics with it] Should she have matched Horowitz's sarcastic tone with her own? No. Her story however is very plausible. It makes perfect sense as you view the film again. You can see how this piece of video was created and deployed to misrepresent the truth.
Are there people who get caught doing outrageous and wrong things on film? Of course. Do they represent their religions or civilizations? Probably not. But some things are just plain false. This young woman was wronged. So before you believe everything you see, put your commitment to the truth into action and do the research. I offer this only as an object lesson.

Here is the letter. You judge for yourself…

UCSD Muslim Student Responds to David Horowitz Event
Posted on May 16, 2010 by fortruthforloveforjustice

To the General and Campus Communities:

As you are all well aware, I am the one who spoke at the David Horowitz event this past Monday May 10, 2010.

Allow me to begin by stating that I do NOT condone murder, I do NOT condone genocide, and I do NOT condone racism under any circumstance whatsoever against Jews or anyone else. These accusations are lies that I refuse to allow David Horowitz and his allies to perpetuate in their irresponsible and hateful smear campaign against those who disagree with or differ from them.

On April 19, 2010 I volunteered to speak at the Racism/Genocide Holocaust Event last April only because of my strong convictions against genocide like the Holocaust. I was there every step of the way during the protests denouncing racism on campus last quarter—from the very beginning to the very end. Never have I uttered a negative syllable towards or about any person because of their ethnicity or religion on campus or otherwise, Jewish or otherwise. Regardless of my participation in these events, for Mr. Horowitz to insinuate that I am anti-Semitic is ridiculous; I am a Semite.

I attended the event as an individual, not as a representative of any organization, least of all the MSA. My presence was solidly founded in my academic and personal quests to hear diverse viewpoints. Unfortunately, Mr. Horowitz is a seasoned polemicist whose intent is not to encourage academic discussion by expounding his arguments or even supporting his positions with hard facts, but to excite the passions of an audience. Mr. Horowitz spent an hour indiscriminately attacking liberals, students, Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians, utilizing verbiage that completely departed from an academic tone and delved into hate speech—especially labeling groups and individuals that support Palestinian rights “terrorists.”

Insofar as my references to Hitler and the Nazi Youth programs: it was Mr. Horowitz who spent a substantial amount of time referring to the MSA as the “Hitler Youth” and its Justice in Palestine Week as “Hitler Youth Week”— pejorative titles that as a human being, a student of history, and a person of faith, I find disgusting. I uttered them in a sarcastic manner only to point out the ridiculous and slanderous nature of Mr. Horowitz’s labels—Nazis sought the extermination of anyone who was not “white,” and this racial category excludes the vast majority of the Muslim population.

I asked Mr. Horowitz to explain the purported connection between UCSD’s MSA and “Jihadist Terrorist Networks.” His pamphlet did not mention the organization; rather it focused on other groups like UCI’s MSU and Berkley and LA’s MSA chapters, and offered supporting grounds that can be characterized as shaky at best, with sources that had little credibility. He chose not to engage my question (his opening arguments were the verbatim generalizations made in the pamphlet, though my question asked for specifics) but instead decided to subject me to an interrogation because of my headscarf and Palestinian kuffiyeh. The fact that Mr. Horowitz claimed on a respected national cable news network that the MSA receives forty thousand dollars to put on Justice in Palestine Week, speaks volumes to his status as a gross exaggerator who should not be trusted to deliver opinions on anything. The information can be found here on UCSD’s official website

Towards the end of the exchange, I became emotional. I could no longer hear Mr. Horowitz speaking and so did not even hear his injection of Hezbollah’s credo of “rounding up” Jews in his last tangent. I could no longer contain my anger at being implicitly and improperly labeled a terrorist, an anti-Semite, and a proponent of genocide. The answer I was coerced into giving grossly misrepresented my beliefs and ideologies.

My answer, “for it,” in the context in which it was said does NOT mean “for” genocide. I was referring to his initial question that asked me for my position on Hamas, a topic that for his own political reasons he was relentless in pursuing. “For it” was not a legitimization of Hezbollah’s or anyone else’s credo for that matter that Jews should be exterminated. In fact, Mr. Horowitz’s intent was to entrap me with his barrage of questions so that he could avoid answering my question, and construe any answer that I would provide as anti-Semitic, genocidal hate speech in order to further his political agenda.

I am not a member of Hamas, nor have I ever given support to Hamas, nor do I agree their actions or stances wholesale, but I refused to offer Mr. Horowitz a blanket condemnation of Hamas that night. I felt that doing so would be a blanket condemnation of the Palestinian cause. I refused to throw the baby (the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people) out with the bathwater (Hamas.) In addition, Mr. Horowitz asked me to condemn Hamas as a genocidal organization; which to my limited knowledge on the subject, is another unsupported claim made by Mr. Horowitz.

My opinion of Hamas is not as simple as condemn or condone, “for it” or “against it.” I firmly believe that the killing of civilians, even as “collateral damage” regardless of creed, politics, sexuality, nationality, or ethnicity is one of the highest crimes in the eyes of God and is morally reprehensible and abhorrent. But I condone Hamas in its ambition to liberate the Palestinian people. I condone Hamas as the duly elected representative government of the Palestinian people granted governance in an election overseen by our ex-President Jimmy Carter; and characterized as fair, open, and fully democratic. I condone Hamas in its desire to end the inhumane siege of the Gazan people. I condone Hamas in its struggle to free the 10,000 Palestinian men, women, and children unjustly locked away in Israeli prisons. It seems that in Mr. Horowitz’s logic, my support of freedom, peace, and justice makes me a “terrorist.”

David Horowitz can try to erase my history, the history of my grandparents, the history of the Palestinian people, he can call me a terrorist, he can mischaracterize my faith as bloody, and my God as false, but I will NOT allow him to vilify me as a racist or a proponent of genocide and remain silent.

For Peace, For Love, For Justice,

Jumanah Imad Albahri