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Ban the ‘Killer Bs’ – Bibi, Barack and Boehner – from your Seder!

This article was originaly published in The Jerusalem Post.

 

As we gather for Seder, the Jewish people are reeling: from the three killed boys, the Gaza war, the divisive Israeli election and rising anti-Semitism. With emotions rubbed raw by the hijinks of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, John Boehner and Barack Obama – how’s that for non-partisanship – many American Jews in particular will come to Seder ready to fight. These issues can become crowbars dividing Americans and Israelis, polarizing Left and Right, estranging family members. The mistake is only seeing Israel through a politicized lens – as a controversial “issue” rather than the Jewish homeland. This year, let’s ban the killer Bs – Bibi, Barack and Boehner – from the table.

Instead, let’s celebrate the greatest event in modern Jewish history, Israel’s founding, even if Israel isn’t having what we in our Base-10 culture deem a “big anniversary.” Actually, when so many enemies dream of your demise, every anniversary is a big anniversary. Let’s make our haggadas “Homeland Haggadot,” reading the Passover story not only through the freedom-slavery lens but through the home-homelessness lens.

Leave one empty chair at the table for a Jew who died violently this year. It could be one of the three kidnapped boys, one of the Jerusalemites slaughtered while commuting or praying, one of the soldiers killed in Gaza or one of the Jews murdered in Paris. Tell that person’s story. Leave an empty wine glass, too, moving from the particular to the universal. Our sensitivity to the many Jewish families with empty seats and broken hearts this Seder increases our sensitivity to all suffering, mourning all who died violently, including Palestinian bystanders. The empty chair will never be filled, those people are gone; the wine glass is aspirational, with hopes for a peaceful year next year ready to fill them.

When singing “HaLachma,” inviting the hungry to come eat, my family opens the door. This peoplehood moment allows us go outside ourselves and think of others in our community. Add a peoplehood action. Propose a new charitable initiative to help our people.

This conversation segues naturally into the Four Sons. The wicked child sinned by rejecting, not rebelling. Jews should not fear tough questions, even regarding Israel. The wicked “lachem” – to you – separates that individual from the Jewish people. Wherever we stand politically, let’s remain engaged – while recognizing the good, not just the bad.

Read Maggid, the telling, seeking references to home, specifically to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, the Jewish people’s homeland. Consider what having a homeland means and offers, even if you don’t live in it. A people becomes more fulfilled by returning to their natural habitat and taking responsibility through statehood. Tell the contemporary Jewish story from powerlessness and victimhood to power, yielding complexities – and opportunities.

Here’s a really radical thought: work in some good news from Israel. Talk about Waze, the Israeli GPS technology, and Re-Walk, the walking aid for parapalegics. Toast Israel’s president Reuben Rivlin, for making Israeli Arabs feel included as citizens, and hail Salim Joubran, the Israeli-Arab Supreme Court justice who chaired Israel’s election commission.

Explore how we react emotionally to good news or bad news about Israel, to understand our bond. End with a folk song like “This Land is your Land,” or contemporary songs like “Our Town” from the movie Cars, or just the chorus – the stanzas are X-rated – from the Diddy Dirty Money song, which most kids know: “I’m coming home, I’m coming home, tell the world that I’m coming home.” These songs speak of normalcy, anchoring, permanence, authenticity, contrasting with our fluid, rush-rush, artificial, superficial, hyped-up lives.

If, after all this homeland talk, people still want to discuss power and vengeance, us and them, just and unjust wars, “shfoch chamatcha,” the “pour out your wrath” prayer is the time. Remember to pour out some wrath over the delegitimizers and the terrorists who target Israelis and Jews. And accept the challenge to hate the haters without letting hatred infect our souls, guaranteeing that we never mirror the awful behaviors we have endured. However heated the conversation, everyone can greet “Elijah the prophet,” promising redemption, in song.

Singing “Next Year in Jerusalem” triggers discussion about Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state. Relate to Jerusalem as our ancient and modern capital, the home of Israeli democracy today. Avoid the trap of seeing “Jewish” and “democratic” as opposites. Key democratic ideas of liberty and equality stem from the Bible, developed in ancient Jerusalem, and flourish in modern Jerusalem. Seeing Jerusalem as our people’s historic capital reinforces that Jews are a people. Thus a Jewish democracy is not a theocracy, and we have a 3,000-year story as a people connected to this homeland and this city. When singing “next year in Jerusalem” even if next year will still be in New Jersey, imagine a rebuilt, perfected Jerusalem.

Finally, finish by doing what Zionists do – dreaming about a better future, using our national narrative, values and communal ties to improve Israel and the world. Zionism, the movement of Jewish national liberation, seeks to make the Jewish people a “Values Nation,” not just defend Israel against our many enemies.

This reading, rooted in Jewish, democratic, and Zionist values, parallels the curriculum my colleagues and I developed in the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Engaging Israel program. The key is to start talking about Israel where we agree, not where we disagree politically. Make it a values conversation not just a current events debate. The flow from peoplehood to homeland and statehood to power and its dilemmas to Jewish and democratic ends by dreaming about Israel as “a values nation.”

The delegitimizers win when we make every conversation about Israel political and confrontational. Let’s make this Seder a healing Seder, a dreaming Seder, a homeland Seder.

The Celebrity Dumbing Down of Protest Culture

This article was originaly published in The Daily Beast.

Two anniversaries this spring show how well-meaning but self-indulgent celebrities helped water down a great American tradition.

This month, two anniversaries seem to harmonize with one another. Fifty years ago, civil-rights protestors marching from Selma to Montgomery were rallying and singing and sometimes bleeding and dying for freedom. And 30 years ago, a feel-good anthem sung by rock stars to fight African hunger was climbing the charts. Moving from “We Shall Overcome” in 1965 to “We Are the World” in 1985 highlights African-Americans’ miraculous leap forward in those two decades.

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Dear Mr. President, Israel is not the enemy – nor is Netanyahu

This article was originaly published in The Jerusalem Post.

Dear Mr. President, I write having urged voters to retire Benjamin Netanyahu and having condemned his election demagoguery.

Still, I fear your overreaction to Netanyahu’s legitimate reelection is blinding you to the Middle East’s unpleasant realities. Rumors of revenge and reprimand are unworthy of you, your high office and our magnificent country. Dictators punish out of pique; democratic statesmen lead rationally, strategically, constructively.

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The next government’s to-do list starts with renewing Zionist can-doism

This article was originaly published in Uncategorized.

Since 1791, Georgetown, Delaware, population 6422, has celebrated “Return Day” two days after Election Day. The delay reflects the time it used to take to tabulate the election returns, hence the name. Today, winners and losers still patriotically parade together in horse-drawn carriages and antique cars, honoring America’s democratic unity, as local party leaders literally bury a hatchet in sand. Unfortunately, in Israel’s famously-fragmented democracy, as Election Day ends, Coalition Demolition Derby begins. Winners and losers haggle for political payoffs and plum jobs. Rather than burying the hatchet, party leaders sharpen their knives.

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The gracious speech Bibi should give – but probably won’t

This article was originaly published in The Jerusalem Post.

Beyond the question of who will form the next government, and whether a National Unity government that is not a Push-me-Pull-you government can emerge, there is an equally compelling mystery from today’s stunning Netanyahu comeback.  Can Bibi learn from his near-death experience?  One likes to think his confrontation with the very real phenomenon of Bibi-fatigue – which is not going away – may have humbled him, and will lead him to reorient his approach. One fears, however, that his last-minute demagogic pandering to the worst Likud yahoo impulses, the yetzer-hara, evil inclination, in the darkest recesses of Israel’s anti-Semitism-scarred soul, will leave him more arrogant and hard-headed than ever.

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Netanyahu’s unwittingly Churchillian argument for term limits

This article was originaly published in The Jerusalem Post.

Last week before the US Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed comparisons with Winston Churchill; next week on Election Day he may want to dodge them. The witty Winston said that, “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.” More ominously, while confidently expecting re-election in 1945, Churchill lost.

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The Last Sane Liberal

This article was originaly published in The Daily Beast.

Daniel Moynihan predicted the breakdown of everyday American values in black families 50 years ago. Why are so many of us still unwilling to admit that what he said applies to all families?

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan is being vindicated—fifty years too late. His once-infamous March 1965 “Moynihan Report,” is now considered prophetic, anticipating the dissolution of the American family, and not just in African-American communities. But for all the New York Times talk about “When Liberals Blew It,” as Nicholas Kristof boldly put it, liberals—and most Americans—are still blowing it. Until we confront the modern confusion between liberalism and libertinism, Moynihan’s true warnings will go unheeded, and American society will continue degenerating.

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Bibi’s Fear-Mongering Worked With Israeli Voters

This article was originaly published in The Daily Beast.

Much of Tuesday’s Israeli election result may be up in the air, but one thing seems clear: Benjamin Netanyahu’s shrill warnings about ‘the left’ and ‘Arabs’ won him a big comeback

TEL AVIV — (6:37 p.m. ET) And the winner in Israel’s election is….impossible to call. Mix a fragmented political system, a flawed and unpopular incumbent, an earnest but charismatically challenged opponent, and a deeply polarized electorate, and you get the kind of mess we are seeing in the Promised Land on Tuesday evening.

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The Dueling Histories That Will Decide Israel’s Next Election

This article was originaly published in The Daily Beast.

The two men battling to be Israel’s next prime minister represent the two histories of the Jewish State.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog, the two frontrunners in Israel’s election this Tuesday, are dueling Zionist aristocrats representing conflicting traditions. Netanyahu, Israel’s Prince of Darkness, plays a politics of fear with no illusions, while Herzog is auditioning to be Israel’s Prince of Light, peddling a politics of hope without delusions. More than most politicians, their opposing worldviews stem from their contrasting family histories.

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Who Really Controls The World’s Superpower?

This article was originaly published in The Daily Beast.

The battle for control of America’s foreign policy goes back to the country’s founding.

When Speaker of the House John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, it was seen by many as an unprecedented politicization of American foreign policy. Wasn’t the president the guy in charge of that? Weren’t politics supposed to stop “at the water’s edge”?

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