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April 11, 2014
 

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The Good Vlord By David ]Bornstein Abandoned by faith I came in on the middle of an interview on National Public Radio recently. I didn't catch the name of the interviewee, but he did catch my attention. "Religions," he said, "are too beautiful to be abandoned to those who believe in them." And early last year another program cited statistics that showed more and more young people moving away from religion. But why? Was the next generation really moving away, or merely cherry picking the aspects of faith they liked? And what did the speaker mean when he, in effect, challenged non-belieVers to pay attention to the finer points of religion? Was it doctrine he spoke about, or miracles? Was it the lessons of morality we are taught in Sunday school, or the ability, through examination, to explore the fundamentals of human existence? Miriam Nissly, raised Jewish, considers herself basically agnostic, and yet she loves going to synagogue. "I find the practice of sitting and being quiet and being alone with your thoughts to be helpful, but I don't think I need to answer that question [about God] in order to participate in the traditions I was brought up with." Yusuf Ahmad, raised Muslim, says he's an atheist. "Today if some guy told you that 'I need to sacrifice my son because God told me to do it; he'd.be locked up in a crazy institution." Melissa Adelman, raised Catholic, said "Starting in middle school we got the lessons about why premarital sex was not OK, why ac- tive homosexuality was not OK. I remember a theology test in eighth grade...where the right answer was that if you are homosexual, then that is not a sin because that's how God made you, but acting upon it would be a sin. That's what I put down, but I vividly remember thinking that that was not the right answer." I put myself somewhere in this mix. Not an atheist, but my interpretation of God tends more toward the spiritual "power of the universe" than a religious manifestation. I question scripture. I don't believe easily. I'm Passover and Jewish personhood By Rabbi Brad Hirschfield Who are Jewish Americans and what do we really believe? The approach of Pesach offers an especially good opportunity to raise that question. The seder, after all, is the single most widely observed ritual among Jewish Americans. Why might that be? Why, with thousands of possible practices, and millions of people choosing among them, has this one risen to the top? Perhaps most importantly, what can we learn from this phenomenon, especially in a year in which, thanks to the Pew Research Center study, the question of Jewish identity has been an especially hot topic. The Pew survey offered an answer regarding what Jews believe and don't believe, what we think is central to our Jewishness and what is more tangential, and the "experts" have.been squabbling about how to interpret the data since it was released last fall. Some see great opportunity in survey's findings, and others see impending doom, joining generations of past experts who also concluded--errone- ously-that our end was near. Who knows, perhaps the 21st-century Cas- sandras will be more accurate than their pre- decessors. I hope not, and actually think not. But that is not the point, since God, history, etc., will make those decisions, notany of us. Endlessly debating whether the cup is half full or half empty makes no sense. We would do better by acknowledging that the answer is both: The cup is both half full and half empty, as it pretty much always is. The question should not be which inter- pretations of the survey are correct. Instead, we should ask, given what we know about ourselves from the survey, how and where can Jewish experiences make the greatest possible contribution to the things all people seem to agree upon: creating happier: more meaningful, more purposeful lives; making some difference with the time we have on this earth; and leaving the world even the tiniest bit better for those we love. Rather than fighting about what the Pew survey means in terms of our collective Jewish future, or whether we have one, let's use what it tells us about the present needs and beliefs of actual Jews. It seems to me that the best way to secure the Jewish future is to respond well to the lived lives of present Jews--not who we wish they were, or wish they should be, but simply to who they are, as they are. In fact, that idea, conveyed in so many different ways around the seder table, is what makes this one ritual so popular. Here is one very concrete way to enrich your current seder, and quite possibly your life as a whole--a way that fits remarkably well with what we learned about ourselves from Pew. Passover, like most Jewish Americans' iden- tities as revealed in the Pew study, celebrates the personal and even the idiosyncratic. While Passover recognizes the importance of peoplehood, it focuses at least as heavily on the celebration ofpersonhood--ofthe dignity of each individual and his/her right to be free. Pesach teaches that we must experience ourselves as a free 'T' before we can come together as a true "we." The personal libera- tion of Pesach must come before we can speak of being a people, as we do seven weeks later on Shavuot. The Talmud teaches, "In every generation, each person must see themselves as going forth from Egypt." Exodus is a deeply personal experience, unique to each individual, even as Hirschfield on page 5A THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. [   CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE   ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 43 Press Awards Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Associate Editor Assistant Editor Gene Starn Kim Fischer Chris DeSouza HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $37.95 per year to Florida ad- Socidy Editor Bookkeeping dresses ($46.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Gloria Yousha Paulette Alfonso Central Florida Jewish News, Inc., 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage Account Executives paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices. Loft Apple Marci Gaeser POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Contributing Columnists Fern Park, FL 32730. Jim Shipley Ira Sharkansky David Bornstein Ed Ziegler MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Production Department Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 David Lehman , Gil Dombrosky email: news@orlandoheritage.com Joyce Gore HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 11, 2014 an iconoclast, a doubter. And I know I'm not alone. Many of my peers fall into the same category, and even more members of younger generations don't abide easily with blind, even half-blind faith. But they want to believe in something, as do I. Too often the world batters us with reasons to be bitter, with more evidence that our lives are made of unequal parts evil and good, chaos and order, pain and suffering and healing and enlightenment, and there is no way to tell which part wins, what comes out on top, what there is to believe in. Someone commits suicide. Someone's parent drinks and abuses his or her children. Someone is taught that God is good, and then watches the news. Why is it difficult to believe in religion? How could it not be? If it is so difficult, so problematic, perhaps the first speaker on NPR makes the greatest point. There are many who believe blindly, virtually thoughtlessly, and those bearers of the cross, those devout followers, are grounded in a faith they deem undeniable and unques- tionable. They may allow for interpretation of religious text, or take the word literally. They may believe in angels and devils, miracles and the voice of God speaking through people. They may believe so strongly because it makes them feel safe, or happy, or saved, sure of something in an unsure world. But maybe it's the rest of us who, in our own way, need to pay more attention to what religion has to offer. You don't have to be an unyielding follower to get the best out of faith. Without dismissing our upbringings entirely, perhaps what we need to do--what the skep- tics, cynics, individualists, subversives, free thinkers and rebels need to do--is look more closely rather than dissociate entirely. For it's religion that has taught us that everything is holy, that life is worth protecting, that doing good creates good, that miracles are possible. And it's faith that gets us out of bed on the darkest days, when it's hardest to believe in anything, and we need to believe the most. And that's the good word. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@ gmail.com. By Ira Sharkansky Israelis have been seeking accommodation for decades, depending on when you start counting, first "with Arabs and later with Palestinians. It is common, and perhaps justified, for Israelis and our friends to blame the'Arabs for.intransigence as well as violence. That is a cultural perspective, one that sees Israeliswith a prior claim, earned by purchase, settlement, military success and development, enhanced by attitudes and behaviors that value human life and oppose bloodshed as a means of set- tling disputes. Those are not, alas, the Muslim ways or perspectives. Attributing nasty motives and practices to Muslims does not accord with the fashion of the politically Correct. From a naive perspec- tive, mandatory among western politicians, we're all the same. But we aren't all the same. Culture matters. In thelarger picture, it ranks high amongwhat determines how we think, how we perceive history, and how we act. There is a cultural fault line a few meters from my home. We're different. We don't have to insist on being better. A multi-cultural perspective recognizes the differences, without necessarily demanding that one cave in to the other. Blame is irrelevant, except as part of a po- litical campaign to justify oneself. Both sides practice the blame game. It may be inherent in the human condition, but it helps to know what we are doing. Along with the narratives associated with each side, there is no shortage of controversy about what happened, who did what, with what justifica- tion. History is a slippery craft, dependent on perspective, and more properly assigned to the fuzzy faculty of hunnanities rather than to the more exact social sciences. I can have Palestinian friends, who share to a considerable extent a common understanding as well as friendship, and still recognize that most Palestinians are different from most of us. Over the course of decades, and almost one decade since the last wave of Palestinian violence petered out, Israeli and Palestinians of the West Bank have reached an imperfect accommodation, with the help of Americans and Jordanians who have trained Palestinian security personnel, only some of whom have gone bad. That may be the bestwe can do given the cultural differences, and the contrasting narratives widely accepted by each population. There are fewer security barriers, more in- teraction and commerce with the West Bank if not with the more violent and rejectionist people of Gaza. Too many Americans, including some who in or close to the White House, haven't learned the realities, and may be doing more harm that good. Kerry and his team have prompted the extremists of each side to express their reserva- tions, perhaps out of fear that their leaders are close to concessions. Those reservations, and even louder noises from each camp, make it unlikely that Israeli or Palestinian leaders can agree to whatever it is that Kerry has in mind. The leaders themselves may not want to make the concessions demanded, and may be relying on associates to express their rejections, while they prefer to avoid having to affront Kerry in any explicit fashion. Some Jews and even more Palestinians have turned to violence, with the people of Gaza saying that the armed struggle is the only way for them. Whatever the source or the nature of each party's politics, the process may get in the way of further accommodation, and cause reversals from the status quo. Another wave of Palestinian violence will produce Israeli responses aimed at the upris- ing and perhaps more extensive, along with a re-imposition of roadblocks, inspections, and other nastiness. It. is not appropriate for an Israeli to put on rose-colored glasses. Israel faces unknown numbers of Palestinian and other Islamic movements for whom the destruction of Israel is high priority and a cause for their excite- ment. There are also an unknown number of individuals--not part of organized move- ments--set on revenge for Israel's violation of their personal norms or the injury, death, or incarceration of family members. The prominence of the blame game in the case of Israel and Palestine derives much of its energy from centuries of religious rivalry focused on Jerusalem and its hinterland. The intensity has increased with modern Jewish immigration, the Balfour Declaration, and the establishment of Israel. Jewish Diasporas and Muslim religious and political leaders have been prominent sources of the rhetoric, as well as finance and other assistance directed at development or warfare. Since the latter part of the 19th century, the norms of democracy have developed to free western Jews from the incentive to convert in order to attain their professional aspirations. Well-to-d9 Jews aid the Jews of Israel, and advance the Israeli cause in their national politics. Arabs have used their oil, the masses of troops they employed from 1948 through 1973, and their votes in international forums. Christians have wavered from being inter- ested outsiders to active promoters of their own favored solutions. Currently they are competing with one another with pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian narratives. The basic reason for Israelis to defend them- selves may take some energy from the millennia of rhetoric, but is essentially much simpler. Israel's existence is reason enough, includ- ing what has been developed, and the sanctity of Israeli lives. People in need of more can add what they will by way of God's promise, or what they think happened in the past, including the assessment of blame. None of that is asimportant than what exists, which is as worth defending as what exists in any other western democracy. Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) of the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.