defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...
Jews On First!
... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind
by Robin Podolsky with Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst.org, September 7, 2010
1. Rab and R. Hanina, R. Johanan and R. Habiba taught: Whoever can forbid his household
[to commit a sin] but does not, is seized for [the sins of] his household; [if he can forbid] his fellow citizens, he is seized for [the sins of] his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is seized for [the sins of] the whole world. R. Papa observed, And the members of the Resh Galutha's [household] (the head of the Jews in exile) are seized for the whole world. Shabbat 54 (a tractate of the Talmud)
In what ways are we, as citizens of a democratic republic responsible for the national response to Park51? How might we be part of the discussion? What actions should we take?>
2. A recent
World Gallup Poll revealed a link between anti-Semitism
and Islamophobia, indicating that contempt for Jews makes a person "about 32 times
as likely to report the same level of prejudice toward Muslims."
What blanket statements about Muslims have you heard in your communities? In private conversations? How did you respond, and how would you like to respond in the future? What kind of support would you need to respond as your best self? What kinds of blanket statements about Jews have you heard; especially when the speaker(s) did not know that you were Jewish?
3. ...one of the Cordoba Initiative's founders, Daisy Khan, was
by conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham. Khan said that one of the main motivations
for establishing the center, then to be called Cordoba House, so close to Ground
Zero was to deal "a blow to the extremists" because, "We Muslims are really fed
up with having to be defined by the actions of the extremists." In addition to teaching
"tolerance, love and commonalities with other faith communities" the center would teach "what it means to be Muslim and also what it means to be
Can you think of times during this part year when you felt as though all Jews, or you personally, have been judged or defined by the actions of other Jews whom you don’t believe to have been acting from Jewish values? How did you feel? What sort of support would you have wanted from your non-Jewish friends at the time?
4. ...there are Muslims included
among the 9/11 dead and among those first responders whose heroism provided Americans
with inspiration and hope at that terrible time. Among them are: Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old New York City police cadet
and part-time ambulance driver, whose family was questioned by law enforcement officials
about his post-9/11 disappearance until six months later when his remains were identified
near the North Tower, along with with his EMT medical bag; and Rahma Salie, a passenger
on American Airlines Flight 11, who died seven months pregnant with her first child,
whose family members were barred from taking flights to her memorial service.
Did you know that there was a Muslim prayer center in the South Tower of the World Trade Center before it was destroyed? Does this change your feelings about Park51? Support them?
5. On September 11, 2010, Christians at the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida will ceremoniously
burn Qurans. According to Pastor Terry Jones, Islam is "of the devil." (The same group
plans to protest Gainesville's openly gay mayor, Craig Lowe.) Mosques and construction
sites for mosques in Texas, in northern and southern California, Tennessee, Connecticut, Washington
DC and in New York, where an attacker yelled "terrorist" and urinated on a prayer
rug, have been vandalized and subject to ongoing harassment. In New York a cab driver
was slashed across the neck and face by a customer who asked his religion and attacked
when the driver said that he is Muslim.
Can you remember times when synagogues have been vandalized? Can you think of a time in our history when copies of the Talmud were burned? When Jews were attacked physically for being Jews?
6. From Pat Robertson, television pastor to millions, and anonymous internet trolls
alike, we hear the same accusations: Islam is not a "real" religion. It is an international conspiracy
of conquest. The center was only going to be called Cordoba House in order to signal
a victory over those Westerners too ignorant to realize it. Muslims will smile at
your face and lie behind your back.
Have you ever heard accusations that Jews are part of an international conspiracy? That Jews will stab you in the back? "Jew" you down? Have you heard of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
7. We have been told that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology because
it has a holistic system of laws for daily living. Shall we then call Judaism a
political ideology because of the system of Halachah?
What do you know about the similarities and differences between Islamic Sharia law and Jewish Halachah? Is there an aspect of life that is not covered by Halachah? In your own life, how do you balance the requirements of Jewish law and US citizenship?
8. As Jews who are fully
integrated into society, we have reclaimed our yarmulkes, our chai pendants
and our ancestor's surnames; when we are asked to work on Shabbat, we speak up.
Jewish Americans are rediscovering the richness of Jewish study and communal life,
and we do continue to shape our country as we continue to let it shape us. Now that
bagels are as American as apple pie and egg rolls and a first run movie is called
Dinner for Shmucks--more profoundly, now that we boast Ginsbergs among our
Supreme Court Justices and treasured national poets, has our nation fallen apart?
Or is it a richer, more interesting place for everyone?
Why would we want anything less for our Muslim compatriots? Just as Ginsberg has
become an American name, so will Ahmed. Just as yarmulkes are American articles
of clothing, so will be hijab. Just as employers are learning to accommodate Saturday
Shabbat, so they will become aware of Friday Jum'uah. Just as our foodie friends
have embraced Kashrut, so will they discover Halal.
Have you anyone in your life who ever changed their name to sound ‘less Jewish’? Were you ever told not to stand out? Do you wear a yarmulke or a magen David pendant and do you ever feel exposed when doing so? When you meet someone with a name like Mohammed, do you feel differently from how you would feel if they were named John? Why?
Exercise: If you are a woman, try wearing hijab for a day. How do people look, or not look, at you? How do you feel? Can you make it through a whole day?
9. Do you have friends who believe that only acceptance of Jesus Christ earns anyone a place in Heaven? Do you discuss your religious differences? How do you find ways to stay in one another’s lives and respect those differences?
10. What does the name ‘Cordoba’ mean to you? Have you heard of Abraham Ibn Ezra? Moses ben Maimon? Al-Andalus? Did you know that there was a time, centuries before the Western Renaissance, when Jews, Muslims and Christians studied science and philosophy together?
11. What does the year 1492 mean to you? It was the year when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and, also, the Jews of Spain were expelled from their homes. What do those events have in common from a world-historical point of view?
12. We are told further, by both Christian and Jews, that the
presence of a community center containing a mosque near Ground Zero is as offensive
to New Yorkers as was the presence of a Carmelite convent on the grounds of Auschwitz.
What does the convent at Auschwitz have in common with park51? How are they different?
preaches that the United States is engaged in what a former Presidential called a "transcendental
struggle" against all of worldwide Islam—except for the good Muslims whom we can
recognize by their revulsion at the very notion of combining into social action
groups unless those groups have the sole purpose of telling everyone else who the
bad Muslims are. A Muslim ADL, we are to assume, must be an arm of the soft Jihad.
The Clarion Fund, which
distributed Obsession, has the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" splashed across its
website, which features a section, under the rubric "Homegrown Threat" called "U.S.
Mosques" and which accuses Muslims of "the infiltration of school boards, textbook
distributors, and government entities."
Do you agree that prejudice against Muslims is being used to influence electoral politics? How might you make that point constructively in political discussion?
One of the many things at stake here is the soul and shape of America. Are we to
be defined by our Constitution or by Plymouth and Jamestown? Those early colonies
were indeed religious enterprises, founded by Puritans and Anglicans seeking religious
freedom; but only for themselves to practice what they believed in, relieved of
the pressure to co-exist with others. It is certainly no accident (and almost too ponderously ironic)
that Pat Robertson, the man who wants us to know that Islam is no religion but an
ideology of conquestsaid on his website that, "we reclaim the holy covenant of
1607 (referring to the Jamestown colony in advance of a beach party planned to celebrate
the colony's founding) and we reaffirm that America "is dedicated to our Lord Jesus
Christ, for His glory and for His purpose...the Gospel will go out…to the entire
world."" (At the end Robertson quotes Jamestown's Reverend Robert Hunt.)
What does freedom of religion mean to you? How does it shape your life as an American Jew?
15. A certain gentile came to Rabbi Shammai and said: "Convert me on the condition that
you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Rabbi Shammai was incensed
and repulsed him with a builder's cubit that was in his hand. When he went before
Rabbi Hillel, he said to him "What is hateful to you do not to your neighbor: that
is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary thereof; now go and learn it. Shabbat 31a
How can we apply the message of this story to the Park51 controversy? What would we want our fellow Americans to do if it were a synagogue being attacked?