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June 1, 2018

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 1, 2018 PAGE 5A y we By David Ellenson and Joshua Holo (JTA)--At the 2018 com- mencement of the Skirball Campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Re- ligion in Los Angeles, gradu- ation speaker and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon spoke out strongly, even provocatively, against Israeli policies in *Judea and Samaria. In the same address, Cha- bon also articulated deeply Jewish and Zionist commit- ments (not merely abstract or literary in nature, but specifi- cally religious, communal and even tribal). Not surprisingly, responses have mirrored the range of Chabon's comments, running the gamut in both position and stridency. Some said it was important for graduates of a Jewish institution to hear views on Israel with which they might disagree. Others said they preferred towalk out rather than hear a"reduction- ist" view of Israel. All told, the controversy raises some issues worthy of note: the principle of loyal opposition, the academic im- perative for disagreement and the appropriate tone for a celebratory event. Chabon himself proclaimed his embrace of Israel, even as he declared his zealous oppo- sition to Israel's military occu- pation of Judea and Samaria. We recognize that Israel's occupation rests in no small measure on a genuine and appropriate need for security. However, whether or not the occupation actually advances that security constitutes a le- gitimate matter of debate, not an unquestionable axiom or fact. Coherent counter-argu- ments abound, in both Israel and the Diaspora, and when a demonstrably Zionist institu- tion like HUC-JIR grants them a hearing (though we did not actually know what Chabon would say), we can reasonably expect it to be understood as entertaining a loyal critique. HUC-JIR educates rabbis, cantors, educators and Jew- ish communal professionals, all of whom spend as much as one full academic year on our Jerusalem campus. We also run numerous Israeli programs in Jerusalem, serv- ing civil society and ordaining Israeli rabbis. We are the only American Jewish institution of higher learning that backs its official Zionism with a campus of its own in the State of Israel. As both an Israeli and American institution, belong- ing to two proud democracies defined by lively civil dis- course, it does not occur to us at HUC-JIR to quash or vilify political criticism of Israel out of a preemptive fear of controversy. On the contrary, we know that the confidence to invite challenging ideas both defines and validates democracy in the first place HUC-JIR echoes those democratic values, moreover, in its embrace of disagree- ment as an expression of its academic mission. Indeed, the day after graduation, HUC-JIR hosted an event at which one of the honorees gave voice to a conservative Israel agenda; and only days ago, an HUC- JIR graduate penned her own rejoinder to Chabon. In the future, we would readily invite other comparably ac- complished speakers from the right and left. In fact, we urgently need to promote this energetic, fearless marketplace of ideas. What greater civic responsi- bility for a Jewish institution of higher learning than to encourage public conversa- tion on knotty problems of great Jewish moment? If anything, young Jews in this country have already begun to force the debate. Some unabashedly criticize Israel's occupation, and they shrug off any accusations of disloyalty as fear-based vituperation from a genera- tion losing its hold over Is- rael messaging. Meanwhile, Charles Bronfman, co-found- erofBirthrightand HUC-JIR's graduation speaker this year in New York, admonished us to remember our worldwide Jewish interdependence. In- deed, if we are to heed his call and bridge that gap, then we must resist the dismissal of any and all critique as simply "anti-Israel." Finally, this imperative, urgent though it is, must still contend with the legitimate question of venue: Is com- mencement the appropriate context for politicized and controversial speeches? One could argue for safety-in- ceremony at all costs because it maximally hedges against the risk of offense. And while we recognize the merit of this argument, it cuts against one of comparable merit at the heart of higher learning: intellectual vigor. The life of the mind only thrives when ideas jostle us, which inher- ently risks controversy, both publicly and in the classroom. This is not the first gradua- tion speech to have provoked Critic on page 15A By Ben Sales (JTA)--I never did anything like that with liver, but when I read "Portnoy's Complaint," I knew it was about me. Not the actual me, because I would never do any of the things thatAlexander Portnoy confesses in the 274-page rant about lust, parental guilt, lust, neurosis, non-Jewish women and lust by Philip Roth, who died Tuesday at 85. The misogyny threaded throughout the book and its constant, universal treatment of women as either sex objects or domineering authorities, or both aimed to shock in 1969 and is reprehensible. But the deeper currents that ran through the book--of inadequacy, anxiety, hyper- critical thinking and guilt-- struck a chord with part of my psyche that I had always sidelined. Growing up in a religious, affluent and confi- dent Jewish community, we had been taught to reject the stereotype of the weak, neb- bish Jew. This, we were told, was an example of self-hatred. And yet, here it was, my American Jewish id--un- apologetic, exuberant and glorious. Even the tone of the book--a stream of con- sciousness mixing academic descriptions of the primordial earth with an extended solilo- quy about ass-wiping--spoke to my inner monologue at its worst. On one break from college, my brother and I took turns reading the book in our best impersonation of Portnoy. I chose thevoice of an exasperated loudmouth. My brother, more appropriately, channeled something like Woody Allen. The passages that stick out in most people's minds are the sex scenes: Portnoy masturbating into a piece of liver, Portnoy masturbating into a baseball glove, Portnoy cajoling one girlfriend, who he refers to primarily as the "Monkey," into a threesome with an Italian woman. But to me, the most vivid scene remains the one where a young Portnoy and his father visit the shvitz, entering a place of primal American Jewish manhood. They walk past naked men getting mas- sages ("The sounds are of a tiny, unenthusiastic audience applauding the death scene in some tragedy") and to the steam room itself: The moment he pushes open the door the place speaks to me of prehistoric times It is as though all the Jewish men ducking beneath the cold dribble of shower off in the corner of the steam room, then lumbering back for more of the thick, dense, suffocating vapors, it is as though they have ridden the time machine back to an age when they existed as some herd of Jewish animals, whose only utterance is oy, oy They appear, at long last, my father and his fellow sufferers, to have returned to the habitat in which they can be natural. When I read the book, I had been to a proper sauna only once in my life, and it was on vacation as an exotic experi- ence. But in this urban shvitz, anxious Jewish men could be- come themselves, away from the gaze of a disapproving Other. It's a haven from what Roth called a"perpetual fear" in"The PlotAgainstAmerica," an alternate history where a pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh beats Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election. That paradoxical American Jewish sense of confidence and fear, of belonging and foreignness, was what Roth captured in his dozens of books. He satirized it in "Port- noy" and gave it a historical dimension in "The Plot" It's the common thread running through the short stories in "Goodbye, Columbus," Roth's first book. In one of the stories, "Eli, The Fanatic," a secular Jewish man in the suburbs tries to shut down a neighboring Orthodox ye- shiva for Holocaust survivors. In another, "Defender of the Faith," a Jewish soldier tries to finagle a Jewish officer to get him out of combat duty. But the tension was at its best in his masterpiece, "American Pastoral," the story of an all-American Jew- ish boy, Swede Levov, who marries a former Miss New Jersey, settles down in a nice, WASP-y, Republican 1950s suburb--and watches his life fall apart. The question at the core of the story is whether this was a matter of random chance, orwhether Swede was an imposter all along, never meant to enjoy the American dream he thought he had achieved. There is plenty to criticize Roth on page 15A By Stephen M. Flatow (JNS)---The Gaza border conflict is being fought on two battlefields simultaneously. One is the battle at the border fence, where the aggressors use Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, rocks, sling shots, burning tires and flaming kites. The other is the battle for the hearts and minds of the American public, where the aggressors use distortions, omissions, fabrications and innuendo. In the battle for public opin- ion, Israel faces two formi- dable opponents: the far-left wing of the Democratic Party and a large number of major news-media outlets. The two work hand in hand, feeding off one another, with belligerent political figures repeatedly appearing as commentators and then in turn issuing state- ments against Israel, which eager news hounds blast across the headlines. Israeli Deputy Cabinet Min- ister Michael Oren had some very interesting things to say about this problem last week in a conference call with pro- Israel activists in the United States. The call was sponsored by American Friends of Li- kud and the Endowment for Middle East Truth. Oren served as Israel's am- bassador to the United States from 2009 to 2013. He's a polit- ical moderate who represents the centrist Kulanu Party in the governing coalition. Over the years, he has emerged as one of Israel's most effective English-language spokesmen and is known for his measured tone. There are no hysterics when he speaks. He sure didn't mince words, however, in his assessment of those who are misrepresenting and even rationalizing the Gaza mobs. "I am deeply disappointed that Senator Dianne Feinstein is calling for an 'international investigation' into Israel's ac- tions, and that Senator Bernie Sanders has now gone so far as to call for the Palestinian 'right of return' to Israel," said Oren. "Calling for the 'right of return' is essentially calling for the destruction of Israel." Sanders's office last week circulated a video highlight- ing the "right of return." When pressed by reporters, he declined to say whether he endorses or opposes it. But if your staff circulates a propaganda video, and you don't specifically disown and condemn it, then that consti- tutes a de facto endorsement. Palestinian Arab spokes- men, by the way, are not at all coy about the issue. The say openly that their goal is to have millions of Arabs "return" to Israel in order to become the majority of the population so that it will no longer be a Jewish state. Sanders has also rational- ized the mass violence. In a May 15 tweet, he declared: "It's important to understand the desperate situation out of which these protests have arisen." Deputy Minister Oren said "the problem is that Senator Sanders, in many ways, is set- ting the tone for the policies of the entire Democratic Party." This, he warned, should be "a source for acute concern" among Israelis, as well as friends of Israel abroad. Seeking support for Israel among both Democrats and Republicans should still be Israel's goal, Oren said, noting that "it's important that nei- ther side should assume that they have the Jewish vote in their pocket." He added, "The historical example I always give to illustrate this prin- ciple is the fact that Franklin Roosevelt got 90 percent of the Jewish vote, and yet he did absolutely nothing for European Jews during the Holocaust." Oren acknowledged there are "significant obstacles" to winning over substantial sup- port among Democrats. Part of the problem, in his view, is the "political culture among young Democrats." Some of the values that are very im- portant to Israelis, "such as family, tradition and the need for a strong military," are "not necessarily prevalent among many younger Democrats." The Sanders's perspective is being amplified by large segments of the news media, Oren pointed out. "Many news media representatives couldn't care less when Arabs kill Arabs invarious countries; they only care about Arab deaths when Jews are forced to kill Arabs in self-defense." Oren also reminded us that the Western news media seldom report that "Hamas starves its own population, blocks trucks coming from Israel with food and manipu- lates young Palestinians to go to the border fence--all for the purpose of getting killed, so that their sympathizers can get on television and accuse the Israelis of being killers." He said that if the state- ments made by the senator and biased media outlets "per- REMEMBER WHEN AMERICA ACTED LIKE IT WAS THE ONLY S1JPER-POWER IN THE WORLD? suade Hamas that its strategy is working, so that it sends more young people to the border fence to throw bombs," then those media representa- tives and political figures will "become accessories to terror, abettors to terror--the blood of those young people will be on their hands." Stephen M. Flatow, a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America, is an attorney in New Jersey. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestin- ian terrorist attack in 1995.