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The Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading "ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT" were thick in the ground at the Open Hillel conference

Jewish Voice for Peace t-shirts reading “ANOTHER JEW SUPPORTING DIVESTMENT” were thick on the ground at the Open Hillel conference | Copyright: David A.M. Wilensky

I have returned from what turned out to be a very interesting weekend at the Open Hillel conference. Some reporting on the conference from yours truly is coming soon.

Derek Kwait, my successor as head honcho of New Voices Magazine, was there as well. In a blog post about the conference, Derek mentions some ideas that came up in an interesting chat he and I had the other day:

After the plenary, the previous New Voices Rebbe, David A.M. Wilensky, and I were discussing what the applauses at the plenary said about the student make-up of the conference, and he raised several excellent points: Though [Jewish Voice for Peace-affiliated] students are loud and proud at the conference (and significantly overrepresented among the organizers), the majority of students here probably fall somewhere in that murky area between J Street and JVP, nominally represented in the wider world by organizations such as Americans for Peace Now and Partners for Progressive Israel, that have next to no serious presence on campus, making students who might align with them choose an organization that is not really a perfect fit for them. Other Leftist Jewish organizations should note this and get on that.

You may also notice Derek has promoted me to rebbe. Thanks, bro!

He also makes this bold prediction:

Hillel International had no official presence at the conference, and while this says a lot about Hillel, it doesn’t mean much as far as the overall success of the conference goes: The point here was for the organizers… to create an Open Hillel-like atmosphere for students who don’t have one. These students will leave inspired by this model and empowered by the things they learned here to work seriously towards creating Open Hillels back home…. Whether these students can actually go home and make their home Hillels Open or not, I’m quite sure this will be the last Open Hillel conference without any presence from Hillel International.

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Help David A.M. Wilensky Get a Job

After two years, my term as Editor in Chief of New Voices and Executive Director of the Jewish Student Press Service is nearly up. I’m leaving New Voices and JSPS at the end of June to do… something else.

I may stay in journalism, I may move into communications or I may do something entirely new. I’m looking at and applying for a variety of things, all in either the non-profit world or the journalism/internet content world, most in the Jewish non-profit world.

If you know of something you think I could do, let me know!

Thanks, y’all.

UPDATE: I have a new job!

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Welcome, Jewniverse Readers!

If you’ve arrived here because of today’s Jewniverse email, welcome! (If you’ve come for some other reason, well….)

And if you’re a regular here and you don’t know what I’m talking about: My Jewish Learning does this great daily email called Jewniverse. The material in the emails is original — I don’t even think it appears online at MJL — and it’s all over the map.

The signup page on their site says it’s about “the inspiration, the extraordinary, and the just plain strange.” We’ll leave aside the matter of which of those three categories I fall into. So I’ll just say that I’m a big fan, I get it every day and you should too.

The text of today’s email:

Book reviews are found in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals. But what about prayer book reviews? Who can you go to for a good siddur review?

Writer and editor David A.M. Wilensky answered that question with his blog, the Reform Shuckle. Here, Wilensky posted lengthy reviews of any siddur or Mahzor (High Holiday prayer book) he came across. A true siddur enthusiast, he commented on everything from design and layout, to commentary, liturgical integrity, and of course translation. He dings one siddur for coming without a bookmark ribbon, and praises another for “sensical and elegant line breaks…with the blocks of English and the blocks of Hebrew mirroring each other in shape like a Rorschach ink blot test.”

These days Wilensky, who’s the editor-in-chief of New Voices, has a new blog, but you can still explore the archives at the Reform Shuckle, and read his thoughts on all kinds of liturgical texts, from old family siddurim, to new bentchers.

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ZOA response to my ‘irresponsible’ op-ed: I am ‘young and inexperienced,’ my writing ‘amateurish’

Crossposted to New Voices and Jewschool

Not to get too overwrought, but here’s my blog post in response to a Zionist Organization of America press release in response to my JTA op-ed in response to their JTA op-ed. Throughout the press release, notice how many of my points are avoided by going on an ad hominem rampage against me.

NEW YORK, May 1 — David Wilensky’s op-ed on “the correct use of Title VI” (Apr. 27, 2012) was an amateurish attempt to condemn an important new legal tool for Jewish students who are now protected from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  He claims that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) – which spearheaded the effort to achieve this civil rights protection – is misusing Title VI “to stifle legitimate discourse” and as a “bludgeon” to advance “far-right political viewpoints.”  These ridiculous charges are baseless.  Wilensky cites no evidence for his claims, merely engaging in silly name-calling.

I don’t know where they got “‘the correct use of Title VI'” from, but it doesn’t appear anywhere on the version of it on the JTA website. Given that they got the date wrong by about week (it was published on 4/18, not 4/27), I’m gonna guess that the mystery phrasing and the incorrect date were taken from the publication date and headline that accompanied my op-ed in one of the local Jewish papers that runs JTA material on about a one-week delay. (I could take a cheap shot at the ZOA for being so web incompetent that they don’t have a Google alert set up for the name of their own organization, but that would be “silly name-calling.”)

Speaking of which, can anyone point me to the part of my op-ed where I engage in “name-calling” of any sort — “silly” or otherwise? (Rest assured, when I do engage in name-calling I take it quite seriously.)

As for my writing being “amateurish,” I guess the “-ish” suffix lends that some validity as an opinion. As it turns out, I make my living doing this writing thing so I’m technically the opposite of an amateur. I hasten to point out that Klein and Tuchman are the amateurs here. I don’t know much about Tuchman, but she’s lawyer. Klein on the other hand is a well-known pillar of the professional reactionary community. I don’t think much of this screed, but since I’m no professional paranoia-peddler, I’ll refrain from passing judgement on its level of amateurishness.

The ZOA has never used Title VI to stifle free speech or to advance a particular political viewpoint. We have called on university leaders to exercise their own First Amendment rights and publicly condemn speakers and programs that demonize Jews, compare Jews to Nazis, and call for the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel – all of which is anti-Semitism according to U.S. government standards.

The claim that the ZOA is capable of taking any action that is not designed to advance their political viewpoint is suspect. That’s not a criticism, but a recognition of the ZOA’s purpose. Advancing a particular viewpoint is just what they do.

The ZOA has also called on university leaders to enforce their own rules. Thus, when a Jewish student is physically threatened or assaulted, the wrongdoers must be held accountable and punished. Contrary to Wilensky’s nonsensical accusations, Title VI is all about protecting Jews and ensuring them a campus environment that’s physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning.

Things are not so simple. There are dissenting opinions in all of the cases I’ve read about. Notice how Klein and Tuchman are unable to address the fact that all of the Title VI complaints filed on behalf of Jews at the college level have been unsuccessful so far. They’ll get no disagreement from me about punishing people who threaten and assault Jews; where we differ is which attacks on Jews qualify as anti-Semitic.

Notice how Klein and Tuchman went for a salt shaker of fun adjectives to spice up their writing. Too bad they didn’t give much thought to their meanings. There are so many negative adjectives that would have done swell job here, but their choice of “nonsensical” is just… (I hate to do this) nonsensical.

A dozen national Jewish organizations across the political and religious spectrums have supported the ZOA’s Title VI efforts, so that Jewish students would be afforded the same legal protections that other minority groups have had for almost 50 years. They joined the ZOA in a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, urging that Title VI be enforced to protect Jewish students.

Forty Members of Congress, including 31 liberal Democrats, also sent a letter to the Education Secretary, expressing concern about campus anti-Semitism and urging that Title VI be enforced to protect Jewish students.

Notice how they ignore the parts of the op-ed where I agree with them that this is not only a positive development, but point out ways in which it has already been used admirably and successfully.

Wilensky is young and inexperienced.

Despite all of the “silly name-calling” Klein engages in here, despite the personal nature of his attacks on me in this press release, marvel at my restraint in not pointing out that he is the old and out of touch yin to my “young and inexperienced” yang.

Hopefully he will learn that fighting anti-Semitic bigotry on campus is not a “right wing” or “left wing” issue.

I always try to be full of hope when I learn things. By the same token, I hope that Klein and Tuchman will learn to understand the arguments of those they disagree with a little better. A close (and by close I mean ordinary) reading of my op-ed will reveal that I don’t think fighting anti-Semitism is a right-wing or left-wing issue, but that the ZOA’s misuse of that fight is a tactic designed to advance their political cause.

The ZOA is proudly doing the same kind of work that other civil rights groups do, such as the ACLU and the NAACP.

Don’t flatter yourselves.

We filed a Title VI action against the University of California, Irvine, where Jewish students were physically threatened and assaulted. Recently, we filed a Title VI action against Rutgers University, where a Jewish student was physically threatened by other students and even by a university official!

Again, the facts in some of these cases are not as settled as Klein and Tuchman make them out to be. In some cases they are, but it’s still not clear that doing anything to anyone because of their stance in Israel is covered under Title VI; so far there is nothing to indicate that the Office of Civil Rights sees it as such.

There’s little doubt that Wilensky would support legal efforts by the ACLU or the NAACP to address the Irvine and Rutgers situations if African Americans were the victims.

Not that they’re putting words in my mouth or anything.

Here’s the issue: If an African American on campus is attacked because they’re an African American, that is racism and that is covered under Title VI. If a Jew is attacked because they are a Jew, that is anti-Semitism and that is now covered under Title VI as well. But if the same attackers would welcome a non-Zionist Jew into their fold (a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace, for example), that’s different. An attack on an Israel-related campus event is anti-Israel, while an attack on religious service is anti-Semitic. There’s a big difference.

It’s sad, shameful and embarrassing that Wilensky is so critical of these efforts on behalf of his own people.

Morton A. Klein
National President
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq.
Director, Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America
4 East 34th Street
New York, NY 10016

Cry me a river.

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Ha tomato anya: This is the tomato of our affliction

from an image by flickr user photon_de

Our weekly(-ish) editorials at New Voices are created by the New Voices editorial board, which consists of myself and two other editors. This week, as longtime readers of this blog’s predecessor will no doubt suspect, the idea to use our editorial as a chance to discourage people from putting the whole damn produce section on their seder plate was entirely mine. But, as always, the editorial we ended up with was a team effort.

Anyway, read it:

Behold the tomato: the new world fruit, the staple of Italian cuisine, juicy, red and a member of the nightshade family.

And, because of the often mistreated migrant workers who pick them, some say it should be the latest addition to that growing pile of produce on your Passover seder plate. (And when we say “that growing pile of produce on your seder plate,” we mean, that bushel overrunning your seder plate, overflowing its edges, truly in need of an auxiliary seder plate.)

If you follow the suggestion of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America (a branch of the Israel-based organization that is exactly what it sounds like) by adding a tomato to your Passover shopping list, your tomato will be “a symbol of the farmworker who picked it.” And perhaps it will join the already relatively venerable Miriam’s Cup or some of these other foods that have been suggested over the years:

  • Potato peelings (what Jewish ritual would be complete without some extraneous bit of Holocaust-obsession tacked on?)
  • A fourth piece of matzah (which has variously been used to represent DarfurSoviet Jewry, and others)
  • More potato (for Ethiopians, obviously)
  • An olive (to symbolize the hope for peace in the Middle East)
  • An orange (in recognition of the historical exclusion of women — its origin, by the way, is not what you think it is)
  • An artichoke (for interfaith families)
  • A plantain (for oppression in Cuba — no word yet on whether it’s for internal Cuban-on-Cuban oppression or the economic oppression of the U.S. trade embargo)
  • And — are you ready for this? — an oyster (for Deepwater Horizon)

And the list grows beyond food: There is also the brick that a Civil War soldier used in place of charoset and the empty picture frame for the Chinese law that prohibits the display of images of the Dalai Lama!

Passover and the seder are unique among Jewish holiday rites. It is by far the most complex Jewish in-home ritual. And it is by far the most widely observed Jewish holiday — not just by Jews, but by non-Jewish members of intermarried families, non-Jewish friends of Jewish families, African American groups who often cosponsor “freedom seders” with Jewish groups and, of course, the (somewhat misguided) efforts of church groups trying to understand what Jesus’ last meal was like.


Now go read the rest of it at New Voices. And like our Facebook page while you’re at it.


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