Ken Stern’s “Republican Like Me”: Building Bridges Within a Two-Party Country

By Steve Wenick

I was intrigued by the title of the book, Republican Like Me by Ken Stern, because the author was the former CEO of NPR and a life-long Democrat. Like virtually all of his family and friends, Stern readily admits that he spent his life enclosed in a liberal bubble. But his is a story of how he managed to burst that bubble and venture forth to environs unknown to him while keeping his liberal principles and values intact. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Great Partnership

Perhaps Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is prescient or maybe he simply recognizes truths that are self-evident. Either way, his book, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion and the Search for Meaning, is as relevant today as it was when his work was first published five years ago. The timeliness and timelessness of issues presented by Rabbi Sacks and the manner in which he examines them bear the hallmark of a classic.

Although Rabbi Sacks is a man of the cloth, the tapestry of his writing is not all black and white; it is color rich. His thesis throughout the book is that science and religion are not opposing pursuits but complementary ones. He proposes that science is the search for an explanation of how things work; religion is the search for what they mean. To support his point of view he derives proofs from both science and religion.

He points out that science teaches us that there are two hemispheres to the brain the left and right and each half specializes in certain functions. The left brain deals with things, objects, and details while the right brain is concerned with subtlety, nuance, and meaning. According to Sacks, one side without the other would produce laws without mercy, technology without morality, and knowledge without wisdom.

As for God, Sacks states that whether or not we believe in Him, He believes in us. He asserts that creation is as wondrous as it is paradoxical, for what God would create a creature which can choose to disobey Him or not believe in Him at all? That is something science has failed to explain but religion has. For the Abrahamic religions teach us that we are created in the image of God, which enables us to discern between right and wrong and possess the free will to choose one over the other. Without free will coupled with the ability to ask ‘why,’ we would not be human; we would be like the animals, neither good nor bad and accountable to no one.

With the art of a poet and courage of an explorer, Sacks embarks upon discrediting moral relativism. He points out that secular morality was unable to withstand the onslaught of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. But neither can society survive ruthless religious extremism. There are many ways to order society but the Judeo-Christian ethic has been the only one to succeed in the West. Its secret is that you must believe freedom is a right granted by God if you expect to wrest it from those who would deny it to you. To believe otherwise you would be at the mercy of capricious tyrants, heartless despots, and errant government bureaucrats.

Rabbi Sacks raises the question can an atheist be moral. His answer is yes. He contends that you need not believe in God to be good nor does being religious make you righteous. On the other hand, those societies that have adopted the secular state as their moral authority have spawned some of the worst of the worst genocidal tyrants in history such as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot. The problem with man defining absolutes in moral conduct is it depends on the whims of the moment. According to Sacks, the way to achieve continuity and sustainability of moral behavior from one generation to another is to follow the teachings of the eternal and immutable authority, God.

Rabbi Sacks does not shy away from presenting a variety of differing and even opposing opinions on the matter of the source of morality and the meaning in our lives. He presents the opinions of those with whom he agrees and those with whom he does not. He is eclectic in his citations; he provides a diversity of sources: Plato, Maimonides, Darwin, Nietzsche, Soloveitchik, Jung, Einstein and a host of others. Using that strange mix of minds, Sacks makes the case for the unique place the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) hold in world history. Much good and more than enough evil have been done in its name. Regrettably having God-given instructions of how man should treat his fellow man is not a guarantee those directives will be followed.

Rabbi Sacks believes that God created both the physical world and placed in it the spiritual man. As such we humans are made from the same stuff as the rest of creation. But we are the only life form which has been endowed with spirituality, for it was man who was bestowed with God’s gift of the breath of life.

Therefore, according to Rabbi Sacks, we have a special role to play in this imperfect world. Our charge in this life is to make the world, not only a better place, but a world as it should be, according to its Creator. Our search for meaning is our mission, and it can be achieved through “the great partnership” of science and religion working in concert to make the world complete, as God intended.

Book Review: “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”


Passover table

Why is Rabbi David Fohrman’s new book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, different from all other books? The answer is that the Haggadah’s account you learned, first as a child and then repeated as an adult, is not the whole story.

Rabbi Fohrman concedes that the Exodus narrative in the Haggadah may hold one’s interest the first few times read but over time you probably would have preferred the CliffsNotes version so as to get to the food sooner.

However if you learned nothing else during the annual reading of the Haggadah, and the ensuing discussions, it should come as no surprise that there were two biblical Pharaohs, one good — and one not so good. Joseph’s Pharaoh was good. Moses’ Pharaoh was bad. But that’s not where the story ends; in fact, that is where the hidden Exodus story begins.

Fohrman an Orthodox scholar, takes us on a journey full of unexpected twists and turns driven by his respectful exegesis of biblical texts and commentaries. He explores the passages in the Torah that the Haggadah is based on. For example, did you know that Israelites went out from Egypt, with Pharaoh’s permission, hundreds of years before the Exodus? (Genesis 50) Really, how could we have missed that? He calls the first exodus the Phantom Exodus because it has heretofore been hidden from view, since it isn’t featured in the Haggadah. In it, the key players are not Moses, Aaron and the Pharaoh of Moses, but rather those who preceded them, namely Jacob, Joseph and Joseph’s Pharaoh. He draws out amazing parallels between the two events, which shed light on their deeper meaning, God’s plans for the Israelites and for us, their descendants. [Read more…]

Get to Know Israel From Inside: Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

With Secretary of State Kerry’s peace initiative in the Middle East nearing a conclusion, this is a great time to read My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. If you have already read it, consider reading it again.

Shavit is a Sabra, and the son and grandson of Sabras. His British great-grandfather came to Palestine as a tourist in 1897, returned home to fight for the Zionist cause, and ultimately resettled his family in Palestine.

Shavit lived through the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and has been a kibbutznik, a soldier, and ultimately, a well-known journalist.  

Shavit carried out the direction in Genesis 13:17, and traveled the land, beginning in the steps of his great-grandfather. He interviewed both important and ordinary Jews and Palestinians, and visited sites of historic significance in the struggle between the Jews and the Palestinians.  

More after the jump.
In every page of this book, his love for the land comes forth. He asks the question, how did the best of intentions of the early settlers to live side-by-side with the Palestinians, turn into 60 years of confrontation with no apparent solution?

The book describes the massacres, the important battles, and the victories and defeats of both sides.

Shavit visited locations where Arab villages existed but do not anymore, or have been replaced by Israeli towns and cities. He visited Jewish settlements that have been, and in some instances are still, marauded. He pieced together the reasons that Palestinians departed or were driven away from them.

The title, “My Promised Land,” is misleading: After reading the whole book, “Our Promised Land” sounds more appropriate. Along with the victories and wonders Israel has accomplished, the Palestinian claim to a fair shake comes through loud and clear.

Shavit sets forth great achievements by Israel, far beyond any parallel development in Arab lands. But he also perceives several missteps. The most serious of these, Shavit explains, was the government’s decision to retain, at least for a time, the territories conquered in the Six Day War:

[F]rom the beginning Zionism skated on thin ice. On the one hand it was a national liberation movement, but on the other it was a colonialist enterprise. It intended to save the lives of one people by the dispossession of another.

In its first 50 years, Zionism was aware of this complexity and acted accordingly. It was very careful not to be associated with colonialism and tried not to cause unnecessary hardship. It made sure it was a democratic, progressive, and enlightened movement, collaborating with the world’s forces of progress. With great sophistication Zionism handled the contradiction at its core…

But after 1967, and then after 1973, all that changed… The self-discipline and historical insight that characterized the nation’s first years began to fade… You were wrong to think that a sovereign state could do in occupied territories what a revolutionary movement can do in an undefined land… Ironically, [occupation] brought back the Palestinians Ben Gurion managed to keep away.

After building a detailed history, Shavit examines Israeli society, politics, economics, government, and the competing positions between Israel and the Palestinians of today.  

[F]ive different apprehensions cast a shadow on Israel’s voracious appetite for life:

  • the notion that the Israeli Palestinian conflict might not end in the foreseeable future;
  • the concern that Israel’s regional strategic hegemony is being challenged;
  • the fear that the very legitimacy of the Jewish state is eroding;
  • the concern that a deeply transformed Israeli society is now divided and polarized, its liberal democratic foundation crumbling; and
  • the realization that the dysfunctional governments of Israel cannot deal seriously with such crucial challenges as occupation and social disintegration.

Through interviews with key political and government figures, Shavit explores each of these five apprehensions, gloves off and no holds barred.

For anyone trying to understand where Israel is headed and what might happen there in the future, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a must-read.

Book Review: One Egg Is a Fortune

miso marinated Atlantic salmon with shiitake mushrooms, grilled scallions and a miso glaze— by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

One Egg is a Fortune, edited by Pnina Jacobson and Judy Kempler, is three books in one: a high quality gourmet Jewish cookbook, a table book of magnificent food photographs, and an anthology of fascinating narratives from fifty contributing authors from around the world.

The editors put ten years into developing this beautiful volume, and it is perfect as a gift.

Taste test? The closest to that that we can do is to offer a section from the narrative of the former United States ambassador, Dennis Ross, and his excellent recipe as well. B’tayavon!

Ross’ narrative and salmon fillet recipe follow the jump.

I was sent as ambassador of the United states to meet with Arafat in Tunis in 1993. This was to be the first of many meetings. Arafat liked to play the host, insisting on serving our delegation lunch.

We were about ten people around the table, four from the United States. A meal of roast chicken and potatoes had been prepared. Arafat was determined to not only serve the meal, but also to carve the chicken.

Banter lightened the situation with words to the effect of, “Are you actually going to cut my food for me as well?” with a reply of, “If you like,” and my response of, “No, thank you. The last person to cut my food was my mother.”

Dessert followed and Arafat passed around an assortment of Arabic sweets such as baklava and kanafi, a Middle Eastern dessert made from cheese and brown sugar. The meal was, in fact, good and just what both parties needed to continue.

From then on food became part of the negotiation process. Dennis fish is a variety of bream found in the Red Sea, so when I walked into a meeting, I would ask, “Let me guess what we are eating today — Dennis fish?” Arafat would laugh and at least in this context, he had a sense of humour.

This repartee continued every time we met. I heard that even in my absence Arafat would mention this wordplay just to irritate the Israeli delegation. (Page 197)

All of the vignettes bring personal stories from very interesting lives to our attention. The contributing authors come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, Ukraine, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, England, Canada and the United States.

Salmon Fillets with Green peppercorn, Mushroom & Macadamia Nut Sauce

  • 6 × 180g (6.5 ounces) salmon fillets
  • garlic salt
  • 2 lemons, juiced
  • 15 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped


  • 50g (2 ounces) butter
  • 250g (9 ounces) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon bottled green peppercorns, vinegar strained
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  1. Sprinkle the salmon fillets with garlic salt. Pour over lemon juice and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Grill or BBQ salmon, skin side down until almost cooked through. Turn and cook the other side for a minute or two.
  3. Make sauce: Prepare while fish is cooking. Melt butter in a non-stick fry pan. Add mushrooms, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms wilt and just begin to turn in color.
  4. Spoon sauce over fish and sprinkle with nuts and herbs.

(Serves 6)

Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease

Book review by Rabbi Goldie Milgram

I wish this book would have existed when my mother yet lived. Edited by Douglas J. Kohn, Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease through Diagnosis, Adaptation and Moving On would have greatly expanded our family’s ways of interpreting, understanding and coping with my mother’s years with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though she died almost three years ago, it was healing to have each chapter facilitate retrospective tears, laughter and thoughtful reflection.

Eighteen contributing authors address the volume’s core question: “How might family members help the person accept the diagnosis and learn to live with its ongoing challenges?” Each chapter offers helpful perspectives and relevant skills, grounded in Jewish values, text and traditions. The authors are united by their experiences with Alzheimer’s disease in their own parents, extended families and work in the field of Jewish chaplaincy and medicine.

More after the jump.
Clarity through Jewish Values

The initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s tend to be apparent only in retrospect. This means that family and friends are often delayed in realizing that a parent may be covering up emerging cognitive deficits, often unconsciously. When we are careful to stay kind and supportive without being patronizing, acting annoyed or putting them down, the ground is laid for dignity and healthy coping strategies. The early onset of Jewish values can help families get through the process of care, loss and remembering with fewer regrets. This is the Jewish way, as Rabbi Paul Kipnes demonstrates in his chapter subtitled “Community as Support and Validation,”

In the midrash, Rav Joseph teaches “that the second set of tablets of the Ten Commandments and the broken tablets [that Moses shattered upon discovering the Golden Calf] were both kept in the Holy Ark. From here we learn that a scholar who has involuntarily forgotten his learning should not be treated disdainfully.” Kal vachomer, how much more so it is vital that our loved ones, those who like the broken tablets still retain their holiness, continue to be held closely by us, by their caregivers, and by God.

Rabbi Kipnes also provides us an approach to coping with the inevitable loss of memory:

“Where the person cannot remember for herself, we will remember with her and for her… We can be that beacon of light that provides a sense of safety and security, and a sense of connectedness. We can replace lost memory with unending love.”


I wonder about this, for while it is a helpful guiding aspiration, it is superhuman to be a consistent “beacon of light” while struggling to deal with losses and burnout.

The Language of Dementia

In “Early Responses: Talking to Dementia with Its Own, New Language,” Rabbi Bonnie Ann Steinberg provides us with invaluable anticipatory information, by teaching us to appreciate that those with dementia aren’t being bad, they are in a different relationship to reality. She emphasizes the importance of releasing attachments to social conventions as she describes her:

“… friend’s dad, a lover of ice cream, ate bowl after bowl, trying to mix it with his napkin, his body forgetting that he had eaten enough ice cream, forgetting that the white napkin was not part of the white ice cream. We let him have his pleasure…The good time is still worth it even if he won’t remember it.”

It’s true that, at each new normal, there can be good times. I recall having signed Mom out for a drive. Once we entered farm country, she suddenly began repeatedly pointing, as though counting something, while marveling aloud, “Amazing.  Amazing!” “What is it, Mom?” I asked. She replied: “Look. Look at what’s been invented! They are so clever these days.” What was I missing? Could it be that she’s pointing at each of the… “Mom, do you mean the cows? Those are called cows.” She didn’t look clued in at all.  So I tried again, in Yiddish, the language of her childhood. “It’s a beheima, Mom. A beheima.” She began giggling and quickly rejoined with, “I was just tricking you, honey. Of course it’s a beheima.I see them in my room all the time.” We both laughed hysterically at this.

Entering Their World: Methods and Ethics

Trained chaplains with supervised experience know how to listen to people well beyond what is on the surface; this is the great gift they have to teach us – how to listen deeply to ourselves, and others. During the poignant stage when self-awareness still resides, Rabbi Sheldon Mardur in “Doorways of Hope: Adapting to Alzheimer’s” brings us a related concept from the psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson termed “joining the patient.” This means “entering his world, trying to feel what he feels, expressing yourself in his language.” The example Mardur gives is of a text study, a poem where those with Alzheimer’s as well as some of the caregivers, find meaning and support in the metaphors that allow them to better “embrace a part of ourselves we tend to deny.” This also affords a reduced sense of isolation, illustrated by a Judy who reports: “…that’s me. That’s exactly how I feel. It’s like the phones are cut off. I’m always forgetting everything. Thank you. Thank you. It was so good to hear everyone talk about their feelings.”

Citing the Biblical example of Isaac being deceived in passing on his legacy to the son he’d not intended it for, Dr. Ronald Andiman brings a neurologist’s perspective to the vulnerability of those with Alzheimer’s to error and deception. “People with dementia…use poor judgment when they lack capacity and the consequences often are painful…” This is where the volume tangentially alludes to, but doesn’t outright state the critical need for advance estate planning and family briefings about end-of-life preferences and the mitzvah of organ and tissue donation. Keeping an eye on finances and tax issues, supporting the healthiest possible family dynamics is a major task, along with the odd little stresses that arise.

An example of an odd little stress that I vividly recall, was as a young child, watching my aunt wrestle my grandmother’s three-diamond engagement ring off the finger of a resistant thirty-something aide to whom my 96 year-old grandfather declared he had become engaged. Was she right to do that, take the ring back? At all?  In front of grandfather? Among several helpful sources, the author provides this text for our consideration:

When R. Eliezer was asked, “How far is a man to go in honoring his father and mother?” he replied, “So far that, should his father take a purse of denars and toss it into the seas in his presence, he would not put him to shame.” — Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 32a


Rabbi Elyse Goldstein is frank about the “painful, truly painful” experience of when “your mother doesn’t recognize her own grandchild.” Each transition, each layer of self and civilization as the disease causes these to be shed, can be difficult to acknowledge and witness.

My hardest day was when Mom looked in the mirror and asked: “Who is that woman?” planting her forefinger onto the reflection of her own nose. She didn’t recognize herself. “That’s you Mom-Libby!…. Mom…. It’s YOU…Mom? Mom! Oh, no!!” I quickly slipped down to my sanctuary, the basement, there gesturing wildly in grief while crying and ranting: “It’s not fair! Dear God, I want my Mommy back…” Until, eventually emptied of pain and rage, I could again pray for strength and refill with spirit.

Among the many therapeutic comforts to be found in this deeply touching volume, I loved Rabbi Goldstein’s way of permitting us to reframe our experiences. She writes: “Put personally, it doesn’t matter who my mother was; it matters who I remember she was.” She guides us toward memory that “is cast in a pleasant sepia tone of a romanticized past, that beauty helps me now retain the image of her as beautiful.”

Rabbi Goldstein notes that when she leaves the nursing home after a visit to her own mother that she has “…taken an oath, that my mom will be remembered even if she doesn’t remember. To remember and to be remembered are precious gifts, but they are different gifts…to be remembered is altogether possible.”

Dimensions of Shifting Awareness

Those with Alzheimer’s often checkout into long vacuous periods, only to shock us by occasionally emerging to make fleetingly articulate contact. Where do they go? Rabbi Michele Brand Medwin, in “Alzheimer’s and the Soul: A New Perspective,” suggests that at such times a dimension of the person’s soul is already “with God.”

Towards the end of life many enter into apparently satisfying encounters with deceased ancestors. Rabbi Mardur offers a unique take on this occurrence; he even deems it a form of applied memory:

…I could not help but wonder if there was something more specific happening deep inside Hannah. The more I listened to her, the more I thought there might be. As I told her daughter, I could feel Hannah’s soul turning to the most reliable source of comfort she had ever known in her life: the grandmother who raised her as a child. Now, in her last days, Hannah’s soul “remembered” exactly what she needed. She remembered the right words, the right language [Yiddish], and the right person. Hannah had become her own spiritual healer…

Surprising Blessings

Part III — “Moving On,” gives us permission to make a new round of choices before we lose our minds, marriages, jobs and more from caregiver burn out. Rabbi Richard Address offers a helpful quote from a spouse with end-stage Alzheimer’s: “I now hope I can provide an environment that will be safe for my wife, while still recognizing the need for my life to continue.” The staff ratios at Alzheimer’s wings in eldercare residences, where multiple hands are available to turn, bathe and to 24/7 deal with call buttons; often turn those early-on fearsome and unwanted options into necessary blessings.

Rabbi Address also courageously raises the issue of “circumstantial adultery,” a practice covered up by lonesome elders. Assisted living and nursing home staff tend to vary widely in attempts to avert or support extra-marital relationships among residents. Is it really any of their business? Rabbi Address provides precedents to ground this option in holiness within Judaism, and also references an article by Rabbi Bleich, an Orthodox expert in Jewish law.  With Dad’s permission, I set my parents up with rooms in separate wings at the Jewish Home in hopes he would have a chance to enjoy the community and programs offered, be able to sleep through the night, and make some new friends for his new chapter of life.

Miraculously, while mom yet lived, and dad was 87 years-old, he and the woman across the hall at Assisted Living became best friends. They’d zoom up and down the floors in their power wheelchairs singing opera arias and Kate Smith songs. We were enchanted to witness them steadily falling in love. One day I let on to knowing about this, by suggesting Dad buy his “lady friend” something for her birthday (we had already sent her flowers). He happily let me run out to a store for something nice and thereafter became comfortable including her in our visits.

Sometimes I’d enter the Alzheimer’s floor to find dad’s lady friend there, singing Yiddish songs to my mother. What an amazing mitzvah. She explained that she would do this every day possible, “in gratitude for the time I’ve been able to have with your wonderful father, with Sam.”

Future Substance

There are several topics begging for inclusion in a second edition of Broken Fragments. First is addressing the profound fear that comes when you take in that Alzheimer’s is part of your genetic legacy, and you find yourself witnessing the very ravages that may be awaiting your own person. Thoughts can churn so painfully: “Will this be my path? How will my spouse and/or children manage to care for me? Will Medicare and Medicaid be there for my generation the way it has been for my parents? At what age should I start planning?” Every bit of forgetfulness seems to herald the anticipated slide…most turn out to be normal midlife slips. One big wave of forgetting that I endured turned out, after an expensive work-up, to be secondary to menopause and caretaker burnout, it was not Alzheimer’s…at least not yet.

The journey of a family and loved one with Alzheimer’s requires us to appreciate the nature of trauma — that we many not be able to drive home safely after a major status change in a beloved parent, that we may not be fit to make decisions or react to staff properly until a major bout of grief or terror settles down.  This volume would do with a chapter on how to appreciate the power of trauma and ways to handle the effects.

Seeing a parent in pain can be unbearable – I can still scarcely believe that I, a professional, screamed at an inexperienced young hospice nurse one day. I was dad’s designated guardian angel, and zealous to a fault, when really, by that point so close to the end of his embodied journey, I needed help, too. The angels that arrived- my sons, also my first husband and my present husband took shifts for a “dad” they’d come to love, as did dear friends and amazing colleagues. It is a mitzvah to allow others to do mitzvot (pl), too, albeit not so easy for some of us to relinquish control.

Accompanying a dear one through personhood dissolving illness is a brutal experience. The compassionate, well-informed perspectives provided throughout Broken Fragments are, unfortunately, difficult to access in many healthcare systems. I encourage you to supply copies to every affected family, synagogue libraries, nursing homes, life long learning, hospice and healthcare training centers.

Love, longing and mitzvah — are poignantly and helpfully revealed in Broken Fragments: Jewish Experiences of Alzheimer’s Disease through Diagnosis, Adaptation and Moving On, edited by Rabbi Douglas J. Kohn. May we be blessed to fund, research and discover a cure, bimheyra v’yameynu — quickly and in our time.

Origins of Democratic-Socialism in Israel: Foundations and Leadership

Origins of Democratic Socialism in Israel: Foundations and Leadership by Ivan C. Frank, Ph.D.

— reviewed by Jerry Blaz

During our current moment when Israel seems to be a Jewish embodiment of an American state with the bad fortune of living in a more chaotic neighborhood, it is easy to forget that Israel and the Yishuv, the Jewish settlement in pre-state days, did not have as its goal to become a “free-market economy.” Much of the early Zionist immigration to Palestine was oriented to creating a working class. Indeed, they were socialists.

More after the jump.
They were more interested in getting Jews who would do the manual labor and the crafts that often were accomplished by non-Jews in many countries from which they came. At the same time, most of those who came to “the Land” during this period were socialists. They didn’t have confidence that the general socialist movements sweeping would solve the Jewish vulnerability of intermittent anti-Antisemitism of the region where they lived, mostly in the “Pale of Settlement” in Eastern Europe. These Socialist-Zionists reached Palestine and comprised the Chalutzim or pioneers, the most important segments of the population that created the State of Israel.

This little book by Dr. Frank is a source-book for the history of this movement that saw socialism as a solution for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael.  How and why this came about is explained in a cursory language for a story that could easily take a series of books, but is told in an economy of only 115 pages. For someone who believes that Israel was always a capitalist bulwark, and is unfamiliar with the real narrative, Origins of Democratic Socialism in Israel is a good eye-opener.

The origins in the Bilu movement — Bilu is an acronym of a Biblical expression meaning “House of Jacob let us ascend” (to Eretz Yisrael) — in the 1880s had more prosaic plans, like starting a farm and hiring local people to work the land for them, was sponsored by philanthropists like the Montifiore brothers and the more famous family, the Rothschilds. They created “colonies.”

The socialist emphasis of an aliyah (or “ascent” as immigration of Jews to Eretz Yisrael was [and is] called) came with the second aliyah, a wave of newcomers that became the workers’ movement, generally between 1905 to 1918. This period witnessed a great deal of experimentation in creating institutions, some of which didn’t “take hold” and others that at a later time, came to characterize the Jewish State. There was the organization of “kvutzot,” small groups of workers who shared their resources communally. There was the Jewish National Fund that began to purchase land in “the name of the Jewish people” (who doesn’t remember the omnipresent blue box?) and which held to that truth until the state took over much of the JNFs work.

In 1917 the first communal settlement, a kvutza called Degania was established on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Workers attached to the G’dud Ha-avodah or workers’ battalions went to work doing hard labor Jews did not generally engage in while in diaspora, like paving the roads and draining the swamps. These were key developments in the establishment of a new Zionist institutional structure.

The third aliyah commenced in 1919 and brought the idea of the large kibbutz, a commune comprising several hundred members. Ein Harod was established in the Valley of Jezreel, and a problem that had been previously discussed, the fate of the nuclear family placed in a communal setting, thus losing its economic function, was evident for anyone who made the commune home. At a later date, when the kibbutz/kvutzot movement reach a stasis and maturity, the communal children’s house was one of the first social institutions in the communal settlements to begin to disappear, with the children returning to the more conventional spending their nights in their parents’ quarters rather than under the watch of a kibbutz member, usually trained for this kind of duty, in the children’s house.

And it also created a divide that became almost permanent in the movement. Ben Gurion did not favor the large kibbutz, while Yitzhak Tabenkin, leader of the kibbutz movement, was in favor, and the ideological difference was felt through the movement and probably was an element in the great pillug or split-up of the United Kibbutz Movement in the 1950s, though the precipitating factor was external. Hapoel Hatzair becoming the larger part of the Labor Party, and Tabenkin’s group, Faction B (Si’ah Bet), which later became Achdut Ha’avodah. Achdut Ha’avodah joined with Hashomer Hatzair to create Mapam together. Later Achdut Ha’avodah quit Mapam over Soviet anti-Jewish actions, and was an independent faction for a period, and has been a part of Labor again for many years.  

As a result of these ideological differences, Hakibbutz Hameuchad movement had found some of its kibbutzim physically split up by the great pillug of this United Kibbutz movement, and was to suffer a smaller convulsive split several years later with the more radical elements of its membership over what was then called the Snehist faction, again over stances regarding the Soviet Union, which was also the incentive for Achdut Ha’avodah to leave Mapam and become an independent political party. These radical elements left their kibbutzim, some going to Yad Hanna, where the majority of the people were “Shnehists” and others going to the city. The term “Snehist” comes from the name of the leader of this movement, a former chief of staff of the Haganah by the name of Moshe Sneh, who went further left than the Labor Zionists.

This had already been reflected in the Mapai (Labor) orientation of the Chever Haq’vutzot (the kvutzah) movement while the Kibbutz Hameuchad movement was largely oriented towards Si’ah Bet. Perhaps, the largeness of some of the Kibbutz Hameuchad kibbutzim contributed to their problem when a large area of commonality of thought was necessary for a commune to remain intact, but I know personally of some of this ideological mischief occurring in small kibbutzim as well.

Nevertheless, the kibbutz movement, though inordinately influential during these early days, comprised only about three percent of the Jewish population of Israel. Yet its members were influential in the Zionist institutions and in the state institutions. In fact they were in the front-line of the creation of the state and were active in the Haganah and the pre-state “shock brigades” or Palmach.

Today, with Labor in the decline, history has been rewritten to give more credit to the right-wing underground movements like the Irgun Zvai Leumi, usually called by the Hebrew acronym Atze”l and referred to often as the “Irgun,” and its offshoot, the Lochmei Cherut Yisrael, known by the Hebrew acronym Lechi.

My own personal historical memory of a different pre-state history was the unwillingness of the right-wing groups to accept the discipline of the Zionist movement which had put limits on how the nascent state would oppose Arab opponents, like differentiating between friendly and non-friendly villages, treatment of civilians, etc.

When the state was established all the military groups accepted the discipline of the new state, and one of Ben Gurion’s first acts after the army was formed was to disband the Palmach because of its reputed leftish kibbutz orientation. The right-wing organizations were not brought in as organizations though many joined the army as individuals. These ideological differences continued and, to some extent, still continue to this day, a time when Israel is currently ruled by its most rightist government since its establishment.

Dr. Frank also outlines the development of other workers’ institution like union, the Histadrut, which began in 1920, its Sick Fund, Kupat Holim; its contracting arm; Solel Boneh, Paving and Building; T’nuva, the marketing cooperative of the workers’ settlements; Hamashbir Hamerkazi, which was the buying coop; Bank Hapoelim, which was the “workers’ bank;” the Labor exchanges where people could find employment, and even a publishing house, Am Oved. Most of these organizations were attached to the Histadrut through a holding firm called Chevrat Ovdim or Workers’ Community.  How these various industrial and organizational arms of the Histadrut  have developed since then is this description of Koor, which handled manufacturing of steel, and other manufacturing now describes itself:

Once a socialist vision, now a model of capitalism, Koor Industries is Israel’s leading holding company” and so it brags its capitalist characteristics, and is an indication of the changes that have occurred in Israel since the Labor-led governments have become a part of this past.

In general, the role played by the Histadrut can be summed up in the words of Ronald Sanders in his 1966 book, Israel: The View from Masada 1st edition:

The Histadrut was, in fact, in a unique historial situation; it had not only to serve as an instrument for organizing workers and as the creator of such welfare institutions as a system of socialist medicine but also had to be the medium for the development of an economy. In time the Histadrut became as much an entrepreneur — and a large-scale one, at that — as it was an organizer of labor. From the point of view of Histadrut ideologists in the early days, this arrangement made the organization all the more a potential instrument for the creation of a society that would be socialist and worker-owned from the outset. It is only in recent years that contradictions have clearly emerged from the fact of being both a national labor union and the largest employer of labor in the country.

During the pre-state days, while Dr Frank doesn’t dwell on it, there were at least three more waves of immigration which included the larger wave of German Zionist immigration, before the state-sponsored mass immigration called Kibbutz Galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles.  

Some of the personalities whose prominence Dr. Frank mentions in the establishing of a socialist-Zionist philosophy and movement were Ber Dov Berochov, A.D. Gordon, Berl Katznelson, Manya Shahat, who, with the aforementioned Ben Gurion and Tabenkin, and their roles are described by Dr Frank. Each individual deserves his or her own biography.

Today, Israel is a capitalist, free-market economy, and as such, has the internal problems of all such economies as the tent cities in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities can attest to, and socialist Zionism seems to have been eclipsed by this capitalism. Many kibbutzim have often ceased to epitomize communal living, but are now often members who have a cooperative share in a meshek or agricultural/industrial group of enterprises, very often worked by outside labor rather than members of the kibbutz, many of whom are already retired. Those members who do work, receive wages in addition to their share of any profits the meshek earns, and the wages are generally commensurate with the level of skill of the member-worker, just as it would be for an hired worker.

Their children have deserted the “old homestead” for other endeavors. After all, it was their parents’ choice to become Chalutzim (pioneers), and not theirs. So very often, after army service, many of the children find other life-paths. However, there have been cases during this period when the economics have created the aforementioned tent city protests, there have been reports about kibbutz children, now adults, returning. While the story isn’t finished, it would be a nice conclusion to say: “Your future is filled with hope, declares the LORD. Your children will return to their own territory.”Jeremiah 31:17.

Book Review of OyMG: Jewish Girl, Christian Camp, Holy Moly

OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy

OyMG is a provocative, important read and discussion for contemporary Jewish parents and clergy – first. Then give it to your teens and students to read and discuss with you. Issues of intergroup dating, in this case Jewish Christian dating, are vibrantly and frankly portrayed in this compelling teen novel format. You will cringe and cry and sigh and wonder and wish you had it in your hands sooner. I couldn’t put it down.

More after the jump.
It’s important for parent groups to get together to discuss this topic, inter-dating that is a vast reality in the melting pot reality that has finally arrived for most Jewish families. Amy Fellner Dominy tells it like it is and has all the characters of inter-dating scenarios spelled out so we can fully identify with their perspectives – the grandfather who collapses, the evangelical Christian grandmother who is after the Jewish girls; soul, the young couple, respectively Jewish and Christian who are in love, and the private school scholarship opportunity that challenges the Jewish girl’s willingness to keep a firm hold on her Jewish identity when a longed-for prize looms close at hand.  

Parents and educators, after you read and discuss this book with each other, then give it to your students/children ages 14 and up to read. There’s a discussion guide on the author’s website,  

I recommend you discuss the story closely with youth and encourage youth groups to take up the book for discussion as well. When with teens, your own, classes or youth groups —  listen for their ideas and values. Teens and adolescents won’t be able to take in your views unless you first listen theirs respectfully. When we meet youth where they are in their emotional, spiritual and physical lives and reflect back their views and experiences without judgement or they will be less likely to hide their actions and intents.

How to set them up not to resist our hopes and dreams, which can lead to their potentially endangering themselves, as well as losing their sense of commitment to Jewish lives and families, is not easy. Please blog-in with our views and approaches. While visiting South Africa, several women and men said their parents had phrased things very clearly and helpfully for them. “While we hope you will find a Jewish person to date and marry, we recognize the numbers are small here. So when you date, do be very clear with a non-Jewish person that you can’t marry someone who doesn’t first become Jewish, because having a Jewish family is one of the most beautiful and important things for you.” And, more often then not, , I meet South African spouses born in other traditions who are now Jewish and in many ways more involved Jewishly than even their own Jewish partners.

Relationship shift happen of necessity as we move from the commanding position of parenting children to guiding young adults. We will create dating policies for our youth, curfews and more to try to keep them safe and in line with our values and to keep them safe.  Even so, as a parent, step-parent and step-grandparent, I have noticed that it is our caliber of relationship with them will prove the most effective tool for holiness and happiness, safety and good decisions to prevail. Try OmGD, it will definitely create the basis for necessary discussion, parent-youth, teacher-student, and book groups, too.

OyMG is a tough subject presented in an open-hearted way with a fast-reading, compelling narrative. In the months since reading it  I’ve found myself recommending this powerful novel to many parents, educators and clergy as well as to teens who study with me privately.   I know the author would like it to just be put straight into the hands of teens, which you might elect to do. Hopefully your relationship with your children, grandchildren or students is such that a holy and healthy discussion of crucial matters for their lives like dating, is one of your important goals.  

OyMG by Amy Fellner, Dominy Walker & Company, Hardcover 256 pages, $16.99/$21.00 Can., Ages: 12 and up

Book Chat

— by Hannah Lee

As a Chinese-American, I am neither white nor black and I am privileged to observe the nuances of race relations in this country as a bystander (except when my own racial heritage is a source of grievance).  I wonder if an academic awareness of an issue allows one to appreciate the inherent complexities?

I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and I was riveted but very perturbed by its central issue of race relations.  Set in 1962 in Jackson, Mississippi, a young white woman interviews and edits the painful narratives of black maids about their relationships with their white employers.  I  wanted to identify a black perspective.  Another friend cautioned me that I cannot generalize to all blacks, as African immigrants and people with Caribbean roots do not share the same experience as those descended from slaves brought to America.  No, indeed, but I was sure that a black person would respond differently to the book.

More after the jump.
I spoke with a black staffer at my local library, someone whom I’ve known for the 21 years that my family has lived in this community.  She did not enjoy the book as did the white readers who have praised The Help, launching it onto the bestseller lists.  She could forecast how the plot would go, and she skipped over parts.  Her niece was bored by it and never did finish the book.  I asked her if it would have been a better book if it had been written by a black author, but she demurred at that.

Could the difference lie in perspective?  Events resonate more when they become personal, as Jews are instructed to imagine that they themselves are leaving Egypt during the Passover seder.  Issues become more painful.  It took me a few years before I could follow a friend’s recommendation for Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
, because the central character, a child, dies from an epileptic seizure and my child has the same disorder.I’ve read that people like horror films because they find it cathartic, a vicarious experience that leaves them relieved to be safe and ordinary.  I wonder if readers of The Help become more understanding?  Are some readers smug that they are not racist and do not harbor any prejudicial intent?  Or do they have a renewed sensitivity to insults to human dignity?  Do they speak out in protest?My Rabbi has noted that we do not feel pain to the same degree when a tragedy, a violation, happens to someone else.  However, the challenge is in the striving to maintain sensitivity and that is a hallmark of a compassionate person.

I attended a book discussion along with my friend who grew up in the South.  She found the novel realistic, and told me later that the others (all white women) did not appreciate the fact that though the overt theme of the book was racism, the same kind of prejudice and peer control exist in other times, other places, including our own.  I attempted to point out that the new theory on bully-behavior management, is not to address the bully directly, but to educate the silent majority, that they can take control of a situation by speaking up.  The queen bee, Hilly, from the novel could not have continued in her role, if the others did not let her do so.  However, most people were too afraid, ignorant, or blind to the racial divide in a society in which they had a comfortable perch.  I wonder if readers would become more conscious and sensitive to injustice around them?  I made a reference to To Kill a Mockingbird, which is now a classic.  Did readers of the time immediately take to its message?

The film version, starring Emma Stone as the ingenue reporter, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan, Viola Davis as her source, a black housekeeper named Aibileen Clark, and Bryce Dallas Howard as their nemesis, the controlling Hilly Holbrook, will open in the local cinemas on August 10th.