Monday, April 14, 2008

6 imams and 6 rabbis walk into a television studio...

Stop me if you've heard this one before.... But I bet you haven't! Check out the article below about a new anti- anti-Semitism and Islamophobia commercial featuring a dozen imams and rabbis. As they mention in the article, one of the things that's great about this little group is that it recognizes the difficulty inherent in starting Jewish-Muslim dialogue. To quote the headline, there's "no 'kumbaya'" in this group!

Read the article here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Stand up against hate

By Benjamin Chaidell

I'm sure everyone has gotten tons of e-mails about the swastika and SS symbols on Friday night. It's been great to see so much awareness raised about this incident. But more has to be done than mere condemnation. It's very easy to say, "That's wrong" or "I disagree with a swastika on Old Campus." What bothered me most about the swastika and SS symbol was not that one person perversely put these up, but that on a Friday night in the center of campus many Yalies stood by silently as elaborately drawn SS and swastika symbols were sculpted in their midst. Many, I'm sure, disapproved of what they saw, but they didn't think it a big enough deal to interrupt their evening, That attitude will not solve the problems that led to this act of hate. We must take an active stance against stereotpyes and prejudice within our community.

Seeing the swastika reminded me just how much hate hurts. When I heard about the racist grafitti on the walls of Pierson or "We love Yale sluts," I thought these incidents represented a despicable, but also marginalized and insignificant opinion on campus. I was among the ranks of Yalies who did not see the need for a rally at Commons against hate. It only gives those who committed these acts the attention they crave, I reasoned. While still not the biggest fan of a rally in this case, I now understand the impassioned reaction. I now read opinion columns about how the swastika is like a "CCCP" shirt of the Soviet Union and hear friends ask what the big deal is. It strikes me that only weeks ago I played the same role.

Now I seek to be more sensitive to any act of bigotry, since I now know how it feels to be its target. An attack against one of our community is an attack against all. A German pastor provided a chilling reminder of this fact when he reflected on the Holocaust.

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
Pastor Martin Niemoller

Let us speak out for each other here at Yale, and help build an even stronger and better community.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blogging Across Borders

One of the most important components of dialogue is that it be sustained. It is when relations between two groups become strained that dialogue becomes most important. Of course, it is at times like these that meeting in person can become hardest.

Two people, one Jewish and one Palestinian, one in the rocket-wearied Israeli town of Sderot and the other in the Sajaia refugee camp in Gaza, have been carrying on a blog together detailing their experiences of life in conflict. If a blog like theirs can be so successful, there’s every reason to think dialogue can be constructed and constructive anywhere.

Check it out here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

I think I'm proud to be a Muslim

By Nisreen

I think I’m proud to be a Muslim.

But perhaps I’m not. Perhaps I’m proud of being an anomaly, something out of the ordinary, something unique and different. Yeah, I’m an American Muslim, which is something rare in and of itself, but you know what’s even better? I’m also “breaking stereotypes,” exhibiting a type of moderate, educated, Muslim woman that doesn’t really exist. Or does she?

There is something in the exotic which appeals to Americans. I am not just American: I am German-Irish-American, I am Russian-Philipino American, I am an American Jew, I am an American Muslim. Religion in and of itself does not have a place in our pop culture unless it is something out of the ordinary, and then it must adhere either to a negative or positive stereotype. You know what I mean. If you’re not a moderate, culturally savvy, non-hijab wearing Muslim woman, you’ve gotta be a fully covered burka lady sittin’ in a circle around Laura Bush. Cool huh? I think not.

So where do we go from here? How do we appreciate the exotic without seeming Orientalist, and embrace home-grown traditions without condoning extremism? You tell me.

Friday, January 25, 2008

My Homeland

By Hannah Lupien,
Birthright participant, January 2008

From the time we got off of the plane it has been drilled into our heads that this is the Promised Land. This is our home and the home for Jews everywhere. But I don’t speak Hebrew, I don’t cover my knees in public, and I don’t agree with many of the actions of the government. I have never been persecuted for my religion, and while I feel for those who have, I doubt I will ever be in that situation. So remind me again why this is my home?

The piece of this puzzle that most bothers me is the attitude of many Jewish Israelis towards Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians. The Palestinians of Jerusalem are not citizens of their native land. Muslims are not required to serve in the army, and many are not even allowed to serve when they request to. The general feeling I get is that these people are treated as an undeserving, highly suspect people. In my opinion that is both unfair and unjust.

At this point I ask myself again: Why should this land called Israel be so important to me? The answer is difficult, in that it is by no means cut-and-dry. Jewish tradition teaches us to question authority and the status quo, which is especially important when it comes to the direction of our inherited homeland. At the same time that this homeland treats Jews better than other groups living here, it serves an important place in the heart of Jews around the world. Israel has inherent value as the only country where we are the majority because it gives us a place to feel “normal,” if that is possible.

I question and protest again my American government and the problems I see in the United States, but at the same time I love the country in which I have lived my entire life. In the same way Israel is my home precisely because I both love and hate this land that I have so newly met.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

JAM and MLK Day

The Torah Portion Jews read for Shabbat this past Saturday, Be’shalach, recounts the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. This Shabbat is also known as “Shabbat Shira,” “The Sabbath of Song,” because Be’shalach includes the “Song at the Sea” that Moses and the Israelites sing in thanks to G-d for delivering them.

Also this past Saturday, many Muslims fasted for the 10th of the month of Muharram, a voluntary fast recommended by Muhammad to commemorate Moses’s (Musa’s) fast to thank G-d for saving the Israelites from Pharaoh and his army. Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, while the Hebrew calendar is a mix of lunar and solar, the 10th of Muharram does not always fall on Shabbat Shira.

Additionally, on Monday Americans celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The language of the Exodus from Egypt also figures very strong in the Civil Rights Movement and the language Dr. King used to inspire it.

And so we have three important days on three different calendars, all commemorating the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

Thought I would hesitate to draw parallels between Jewish-Muslim dialogue and the Civil Rights Movement, there is one message relevant to both that I would like to communicate. At Shabbat services last Friday night, a fellow student spoke about Be’shalach and its relation to Dr. King and his goals. She noted that though G-d’s deliverance in safely bringing the Israelites out of Egypt was certainly a major and formative event, it was not as though the people left Egypt and directly entered the Promised Land and an era of peace. Rather, the Exodus was followed by a long and difficult journey – indeed, a passage so spiritually and physically arduous that almost all of the generation of the Exodus never made it to Israel.

Both the quest for Jewish-Muslim reconciliation and the pursuit of civil equality are grueling journeys that are easy to give up on. While each has its formative moments, no single event is enough the remedy the situation completely. But as a famous passage from the Talmud says, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it” (Avot 2:21). At those times when it seems na├»ve to hope for peace, we should at least hope that we have the strength to continue the journeys whose beginnings, rather than completions, Shabbat Shira, the 10th of Muharram, and MLK Day commemorate.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

JAM featured in the Blogosphere!

111For those who missed it, JAM was recently featured on the prominent interfaith blog, This Is Babylon. Of JAM, blogger Y-Love writes,

Speaking of meritorious events, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a group of students at Yale University had the foresight to realize that there was a need for dialogue with Muslims, especially between Jews and Muslims, and that bridges needed to be built after the towers fell. A group of undergraduate students formed JAM (Jews And Muslims) to bridge gaps and unite communities. Now, six years later, JAM has launched its own blog...Battling mutual fear with open and respectful idea exchange. May this be the way
all of humanity begins to cope with its fear of communities and ideologies.

For the complete post, check out or


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Where do our values come from?

By Sandor

People live their lives according to the values they subscribe to. But where do these values come from? For most people in the world, and in this “secular” nation, these values come from religion. Where, then, do religions get their values? And can adherents to a religion disagree with and contradict its values?

I was raised a “Modern Orthodox” Jew. The term is complicated to explain, but basically, Modern Orthodoxy holds that the Torah is literally the word of God and that its rabbinic interpretation – beginning in the second century with the Mishna and culminating in the writing of the Shulchan Arukh in the sixteenth century – is completely faithful. Therefore, with the exception of certain added laws that the system acknowledges are rabbinic in origin, all Jewish laws are to be treated as direct commandments from God to the Jewish people.

This sounds pretty orthodox. Where does the “modernity” come in? Basically, the Modern Orthodox movement – as opposed to Ultra Orthodoxy – sees inherent value in secular knowledge. The Ultra Orthodox (a scary, not self-chosen term), engage the world around them only to the extent that it allows them to make a living and sustain their own educational system. Modern Orthodoxy, on the other hand, actively promotes engaging the world through secular study and success, and contribution to the community at large – all the while strictly observing all commandments.

I should add that these commandments are extremely broad in their scope. Indeed, Orthodox Jews see the Torah as a guide for every moment, every breath of life. The Torah, or rather Halakha – its legal system – mandates everything from thrice-daily prayers and dietary laws to charity-giving and proper business conduct.

I am no longer Modern Orthodox. I fundamentally do not believe that the Torah was written by God or that its laws are in any way binding for me. While Halakha is generally based on and in agreement with values of compassion and responsibility, it contains many aspects which are unacceptable to me. Furthermore, these flaws are not divine mysteries – they are completely and typically human flaws and intolerances. Inequality across gender, sexual orientation, and religious lines is so incompatible with my beliefs on the nature of goodness that I simply cannot accept a system that upholds it.

I still love Judaism and am committed to being an active and proud Jew. But this is not because of anything God did or did not tell Abraham, or for anything God did to people who may or may not be my ancestors, or because we are better than other people. I love the culture, from the legends of the Bible to latkes on Hanukkah – it is the culture I grew up in, it is a small but loud group of people, and they’re my people. I love taking peeks at other religions’ or nations’ traditions and culture, but I do think the diversity of human culture is a great thing and I will work to maintain my own.

So culturally, Judaism is very important to me. But it does not provide me with a moral code. Where do I get my values from? How do I live my life? Accepting Halakha as God’s word did not always provide me with a clear-cut answer to every problem, but I at least had guidelines. And at least had qualified experts – there was always a rabbi I could ask! After all, if we share the same value system, I must be able to trust his opinion, right?

I don’t have a good answer. Where do my values come from? They’re constantly evolving, and they come from my life experiences. I try to consider what my favorite rabbis would say, being careful to be skeptical of traditional wisdom, but not too skeptical, still seeing value in the tradition.

I do not dislike the Torah for calling homosexuality an abomination, or for focusing only on the achievements of men, or for seeing the Jewish people as inherently more valuable than others. These are all bad and offensive aspects of the Torah. If this is God’s word, then I’ve got some issues with Her. But no – the Torah is a 3,000 year old document from a specific point of time, written by specific people, with their own, very human, thoughts, agendas, and of course, prejudices.

The clash between some aspects of traditional Judaism and my own, personal, secular values has been a large component of my life for the past few years. Indeed, most of my friends who grew up Modern Orthodox are now going through the same struggles. I would like to hear – what kinds of struggles do young Muslims face in integrating traditional/religious and modern/secular values? What is it like being at Yale, reading about the primacy of reason, thinking critically, being skeptical, and having God on your mind as well? Are there differences in how various mosques or communities approach this issue?