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The director of Germany’s infamous Passion Play takes its antisemitic stereotypes by the horns

JTA - 2 hours 30 sec ago

BERLIN (JTA) — Nestled in the Bavarian alps, the city of Oberammergau has one major claim to fame: every 10 years, it hosts the world-famous Passion Play, which tells the New Testament story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

It has been doing so since the 17th century, almost without fail, and it happens to be on now, after a two-year, pandemic-related delay. About half a million spectators are expected to flock to the town by the time this season is over, on Oct. 2.

Over the centuries, the play — in which all roles are filled by local residents — has been a vessel for some of Germany’s most virulent, religious-based Jew-hatred, feeding into the antisemitic conspiracy theories of the Nazi years and beyond.

But things have changed, observers say. 

No longer are Jews depicted as eternal murderers of Jesus. The play now highlights the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers and clarifies that only the Roman Pontius Pilate — and not the Jews — could condemn Jesus to death.

Such shifts came about largely through the commitment of Passion Play director Christian Stückl, himself a native son, who has now helmed four rounds of the production. He has worked with Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as with educational groups in Germany, to raise awareness about antisemitism and reshape the narrative.

This week, the AJC recognized Stückl’s commitment with its Isaiah Award for Exemplary Interreligious Leadership. Stückl has helped turn the Passion Play into “an educational tool for post-Shoah Christian and German self-reflection,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, in an award ceremony held Wednesday in Oberammergau. Stückl has been engaged in dialogue with AJC leaders since the late 1980s. 

At the award ceremony, he said his greatest concern upon becoming the play’s director in 1990 “was to eliminate [its] anti-Judaism.”

The Passion Play was initiated in 1634 as a religious offering against the return of the plague to the alpine village. In keeping with contemporary Church teachings, the play depicted Jews as greedy and deicidal, proclaiming them guilty for all time. According to local legend, the plague never returned to Oberammergau, so to keep it that way, the town staged the play every 10 years. 

The current run, which began in May this year, features nearly 2,000 local residents playing all the roles (they don’t all make it on stage at the same time). Its covered auditorium holds 4,700 people and faces an open-air stage framed by soaring mountains. Reportedly, most of the local men involved let their beards and hair grow out during the season.

Ahead of this year’s performances, Stückl inaugurated a pilgrimage to Israel for the principal actors. He has been trying to view the play through the eyes of Jewish viewers, and to that end has met with Jewish leaders and with students, noted Jo Frank, director of the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk, a Berlin-based scholarship program for gifted Jewish students. ELES students first met with Stückl in Oberammergau some 11 years ago, and they have met with him again recently, Frank said.

Stückl had invited them not just to have Jews in the audience, but so that he could get their feedback before and after.

“It was really impressive, because he is always trying to reform the text in particular,” Frank said in a telephone interview. “And within the Christian setting, this is an interesting task to undertake, because the Oberammergau Festspiele still has this very strange papal status: the idea that what they show is basically the truth.”

In that context, to change things is “highly commendable. What he has done is reform and bend the rules as far as he could.”

This year, Stückl also engaged a Muslim actor, which “would have been unthinkable 10 years ago,” Frank added. “He really does deserve all the praise that he gets.” 

“For over 300 years we have told the story of Jesus in a spirit that has led to prejudice and hatred. For over 1,900 years the Church had told that the Jews murdered Jesus,” Stückl said at the award ceremony, noting that an American rabbi who saw the play in 1901 — Josepf Krauskopf — came away despondent, doubting that Jews would ever be “cleared of the heinous accusations that have been heaped upon [them].”

It is doubtful that such hate can be fully eradicated, but Christian Stückl “has demonstrated the power of one individual to make a tremendous difference,” Marans said.

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The secret Jewish history of ‘For All Mankind’

The Forward - 3 hours 12 min ago

The writers of “For All Mankind,” the Apple TV+ series about an alternative history of the space race, at one point in season 2 planned to have astronauts without space suits sprint on the lunar surface, holding their breaths for 15 seconds as they tried to prevent a nuclear explosion.

A Jewish former astronaut saved them from making that gaffe.

“Due to the pressure, a human would almost immediately explode,” said Garrett Reisman, the first Jewish full-time crew member on the International Space Station and now a technical advisor to the show.

He also advised that the astronauts, who lost their spacesuits in an attack on their spacecraft, should protect themselves during their moon run by covering themselves in duct tape. That suggestion made the final cut.

Recently renewed for a fourth season, “For All Mankind” pits the Russians against the Americans, but this time, the Russians make it to the moon first. Reisman, 54, who reads every script of the series before it’s shot, works closely with the show’s co-creator and showrunner, Ben Nedivi, 44, who was born in Tel Avi and whose grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. They each link their Jewishness to their obsessions with space.

In orbit, Reisman affixed a mezuzah to his sleeping station, and in 2008 spoke to the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, before meeting him on Earth.

Former astronaut Garrett Reisman, left, with former Israeli President Shimon Peres and Rona Ramon, right, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Roman, in 2009. Ramon died when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated in 2003. Image by

In the show’s first season, Wernher von Braun is played by Colm Feore as a beloved genius, the German scientist instrumental in getting the American spacecraft to the moon in 1969, but also as a man embroiled with his Nazi past — he was a member of the SS and the architect of Germany’s V-2 rocket program.

Nedivi said learning about von Braun’s complicity with Hitler astonished him. “The more we read, the more we were like, ‘Oh no, where the rockets were produced [was] very near a camp.’ So there’s no way he didn’t know.”

Revising history

Nedivi — and co-creators Ronald D. Moore and Matt Wolpert — also rewrite Middle Eastern history in the show.

Israel and Egypt, for example, do not make their historic 1979 peace deal — the show shows a newspaper headline on screen: “Israel and Egypt Fail to Reach Agreement at Camp David.”

If the Russians beat the Americans to the moon, and the space race intensified, that would have shifted attention away from earthly conflicts and “have a ripple effect on the Middle East,” Nedivi said.

Nedivi also notes how actual history, unfolding as the series unfolds, underlines the current conflict between Russia and the U.S. and its allies. In the “For All Mankind” universe, we see countries on the brink of nuclear war on Earth and in space.

But when the show was first conceived about four years ago, Nedivi worried the Cold War might not be relevant.

“It’s a reminder that history is a cycle,” he said, calling the realization both fascinating and depressing. “The moment you feel you’ve moved past something, it’s a reminder that these things can come back.”

Remembering Ramon Born in Tel Aviv, Ben Nedivi is a co-creator of “For All Mankind” a series on Apple TV+. Courtesy of Apple TV+

“For All Mankind” is full of tragedy.

“People talk about how there’s a lot of death on our show,” Nedivi said. “There’s a lot of death in the space program. It’s insanely dangerous. You’re sometimes inches from an environment that would kill you instantly.”

Reisman, now a professor of astronautical engineering at the University of Southern California, said that’s accurate. He recalled his own three spacewalks, between 2008 and 2010, which he described as astoundingly beautiful. “At the same time, you’re cognizant that other than the launch and the landing, it’s the most dangerous thing,” he said. Suits can malfunction. Debris can kill.

Nedivi’s understanding of space was shaped by his experiences as an elementary school kid whose teachers set a television up in his classroom so students could witness the January 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Like millions of other children around the world, he watched it explode in real time, 73 seconds into flight, killing all seven crew members, including the first teacher in space.

“I remember being unable to process it,” he said. “That defined the space program. Suddenly, that tragedy took our eye off going deeper into space.”

Then, in February 2003, another Space Shuttle catastrophe, this time upon reentry. The Columbia disintegrated with its seven-member crew, which included the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon. Redivi took pride in Ramon’s mission, and was once again struck by risks of space exploration.

“It shook me and was a reminder of the danger these amazingly brave people go through,” he said.

Ramon also inspired Reisman, who has been in touch with the late astronaut’s family. Rona Ramon, his widow, gave him a copy of the Israeli constitution.

Related A cameo — and a message

Reisman said he’s particularly glad to be consulting for a space show that “cares about getting it right.” But he was not expecting that commitment to accuracy to include his own casting — as an astronaut.

Reading a script for season 2, which was nominated by the Television Critics Association in the “best drama” category, Reisman noticed a character named for him, which he took for a friendly but inconsequential tribute from the producers. Actually, it was a part. They asked him to play the commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Reisman practiced his one line of what he calls “technobabble” and nailed it all but once in the dozen cuts for his scene, he told the website collectSpace. But he makes no excuses for himself.

“I actually wrote the line,” he said.

 

Both Reisman and Nedivi noted the technical challenges of producing the series, and take pride in its rich visuals and soundtrack — but also in the storylines, in particular the challenges its characters face.

“For All Mankind” presents the first Black woman in space, whose authority is questioned, the first American female president, who holds a secret that could get her impeached, and a gay astronaut who announces his sexual identity on television, live from space, knowing it may cost him his job.

Nedivi said it was important for the series to embrace social change and equality. He said he hopes it inspires people who don’t look like astronauts or presidents as they have traditionally been depicted on television.

Perhaps, he said, “you realize what’s possible for you.”

The post The secret Jewish history of ‘For All Mankind’ appeared first on The Forward.

The Forverts is going on vacation. Here’s how to access our content during the break.

The Forward - 3 hours 29 min ago

From Wednesday, August 17, till Tuesday, February 23, the Forverts editorial staff will be taking a break.

During those two weeks our readers can continue to read our English-language articles here or view our videos by clicking on one of the following:

  • YIDDISH WORD OF THE DAY: If you‘d like to find a specific topic in the series, you can search all the links by topic here. Or you can simply watch our playlist of Yiddish Word of the Day here.
  • OUR COOKING SHOWS: Watch a variety of cooks make all sorts of recipes in Yiddish with English subtitles, including Rukhl Schaechter, Eve Jochnowitz, Riki Rose, Gitl Schaechter Viswanath and Roza Jaffe, here.

The post The Forverts is going on vacation. Here’s how to access our content during the break. appeared first on The Forward.

The Forverts is going on vacation!

The Forward - Mon, 2022-08-15 23:56

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A Jewish mom and a famous dad he never knew: Jazz musician Roy Ayers

The Forward - Mon, 2022-08-15 22:01

Nabil Ayers carries the surname of a famous father he barely knows, except in the ubiquitous music of Roy Ayers – most famously in the 1976 jazz-soul-funk album by that name featuring the hit “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” For the younger Ayers, it pops up to surprise him when he least expects it.

Flashback to 1970, when Louise Braufman, a white Jewish former ballerina working as a waitress in New York took one look at the rising African American jazz composer and vibraphonist and thought she’d have a baby with him.

After a few casual dates, she asked Roy Ayers and he agreed, cautioning her that his career was his priority, and he wasn’t available for a serious relationship or any form of parenting.

Nabil Ayers was born of that union and grew up with a strong sense of self, despite his father’s absence. His new memoir, “My Life in the Sunshine: Searching for My Father and Discovering My Family,” explores his unconventional but richly diverse childhood, his own rise in the music industry and the search to connect with his father, which led to discovering paternal Black half-siblings and an enslaved ancestor.

Generations of Jewish ancestors

“Writing the book made me think about my identity and process it,” Ayers said. “I still don’t really identify as any race. There’s my mother who raised me and my father who was really just DNA, and there’s all the people who helped raise me. I felt like everybody contributed to my identity. How can I choose just one? And that absolutely includes the three generations of Jewish ancestors who are a huge part of that.”

The book title is from the opening lyrics of Ayers’ father’s signature hit, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” which was moderately successful when it came out in 1976. Recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City, the song has since become a cultural touchstone with a blend of soul, funk, jazz, rock and electronic music that blends genres with cross-generational appeal. 

And true to the name of the album featuring it, the song is everywhere. It’s been sampled more than 100 times by an array of artists from Mary J. Blige, Common and Tupac, to J. Cole, Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams and the Black Eyed Peas, and covered by D’Angelo and Cibo Matto. It’s also been used in commercials and movie soundtracks. “I’ve heard it in many different iterations over the years, a perennial, persistent reminder of my otherwise absent father,” Ayers writes.

Thanks to his mother, Ayers didn’t grow up feeling the lack of his father’s presence. Her brother, jazz saxophonist Alan Braufman, was a strong, steadfast influence. “Every important paternal moment was with him,” he said.

Culture more than color

He grew up with a solid sense of self in diverse communities in Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Boston and Amherst, Massachusetts. When his mother attended the University of Massachusetts, they lived in family housing with families of different races, multi-ethnic and multi-racial kids and single parents. Culture was emphasized more than color, he said. 

Related

Ayers’ Jewish identity came from family rather than religious institutions. During visits to his mother’s parents, who were Romanian and Russian Jews, and his grandmother’s father and his wife in Flatbush, Ayers enjoyed eating gefilte fish, learning Yiddish, and celebrating the holidays. (Interestingly, long before he met Braufman, a young Roy Ayers played with Herbie Mann, who hailed from similar ancestry.)

“I have incredible memories of all these Jewish Brooklyn experiences as a mixed-race hippie kid who felt very connected to it, not so much in a religious way but very much in a cultural way, really loving and respecting it. I felt very cool, and proud, like I belonged to something interesting as a kid.”

Related

His mother and uncle were drawn to the Baha’i faith which emphasized peace and equality. “My exposure to Baha’i and Judaism was about good people and great food, things that kids like,” Ayers said.

When he was 10, his mother moved them to Salt Lake City, the mostly Mormon city where he stood out as different. While some kids asked where he was from, whether he was adopted, and wanted to touch his Afro, Ayers said his sense of identity was intact from having not been “the weird kid for the first 10 years of my life.” He recalls a synagogue and JCC in Salt Lake City and feeling a connection with some of the Jewish students in his school.

Musical ambitions

Ayers longed to play music from an early age. But as a biracial boy, he couldn’t fully identify with the appearances of white or Black stars like the Beatles and Stevie Wonder. Then, at age 5, he discovered the hard rock band Kiss. The heavy makeup they wore obscured their features, enabling him to imagine new possibilities. “I found something attainable in Kiss,” he writes. “I had no idea what they looked like in real life and for that reason, I felt there was nothing that stopped me from looking like them.” Learning that Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley “were two Jewish guys from New York, strengthened my sense of solidarity with them,” he said.

Music remained a constant throughline in his life, courtesy of his father’s genes, his mother’s dance background and his Uncle Alan’s encouragement. He attended many concerts as a young boy, sometimes seeing his father perform, which stoked his young ambitions. Ayers played drums in bands with friends from third grade through high school, expanding his musical repertoire and tastes along the way. 

As a rite of passage when graduating high school, Ayers’ mother suggested that he might want to change his surname from Braufman to something easier to spell and pronounce. He agreed, becoming Nabil Ayers as he prepared to attend college at the University of Pacific Sound in Tacoma, Washington. 

It wasn’t his first name change.

While his mother was in the hospital after giving birth, her father had the middle name Sol put on Nabil’s birth certificate. “Once my mother got home, she changed my middle name to Ahmal after an opera she saw,” Ayers said. “I could have been Nabil Sol Braufman my entire life.”

A career of his own

Music continued to shape his identity and career. As a drummer, Ayers performed in several bands including The Long Winters and Tommy Stinson. On his own record label, The Control Group/Valley of Search, Ayers has released music by Cate Le Bon, Lykke Li, The Killers, PJ Harvey, Patricia Brennan, and his uncle, jazz musician Alan Braufman. He co-founded Seattle’s famed indie rock Sonic Boom Records store, which was sold in 2016. Today, he is the president of Beggars Group US, where he oversees the creative, marketing, radio, sales and other components of releasing albums for The National, Big Thief, Grimes, Future Islands and St. Vincent, as well as the reissue of albums including the Pixies’ “Doolittle,” which was certified platinum in 2019.

As an adult, Ayers finally connected with his father and learned the names of three half-siblings. Through contact with them and DNA testing, he became aware of more ancestors on his father’s side, including a great-great-great grandfather, Isaac Ayers, who was born into slavery and owned by a man named Dr. Ayers of Ashland, Mississippi.

As the missing parts of his paternal identity became clearer, Ayers found that being biracial impacted his attempts at dating. Online dating site apps required him to specify the kind of women he wanted to meet. “You can choose races that you like or don’t like, which I had a hard time with,” he said. Friends introduced him to women, most of whom were white. “I quickly found that dating was bringing issues of race to the forefront in my life, in a way few other moments had,” he writes.

A Jewish wedding

While attending a colleague’s wedding, Ayers met a woman named AJ. “I thought maybe she was kind of Italian,” he said. He introduced himself and they began dating. He overheard her talking to a relative on the phone who asked if Nabil was Jewish. She responded that he wasn’t. When he later explained his Jewish background, she shared hers, deepening their bond.

They were married in Hollywood four years ago in a Jewish wedding with a female rabbi. AJ’s parents walked her down the aisle to violin music from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while Ayer’s mother and her husband Jim walked him down the aisle to “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

“We did everything: chuppah, I stomped on a glass, and we were lifted in chairs to ‘Hava Nagila,’” he said. “It felt very powerful, very connected.”

Ayers and AJ meet with family for many holidays. Lighting their menorah reminds him of his great-grandparents. “It’s tradition – doing something that has the same food, the same prayers, reminds me of a time in my life 40 or 50 years ago,” he said.

While writing hasn’t replaced music in Ayers’ life, writing about race and music for The New York Times, NPR, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and GQ “is my new artistic thing.” As he tours with his memoir – which has received praise from Oprah and Black Jewish actor Daveed Diggs – he continues to expand his sense of self and family on both sides. “I’ve had so many great influences and parts of my life and my Jewish ancestors have been a huge, important, memorable part of that,” he said.

The post A Jewish mom and a famous dad he never knew: Jazz musician Roy Ayers appeared first on The Forward.

AIPAC broke spending records this campaign cycle — so why did it stay out of Ilhan Omar’s tight race?

The Forward - Mon, 2022-08-15 21:57

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The theory has preoccupied antisemites and pro-Israel strategists alike: If an anti-Israel political candidate loses, it’s because of pro-Israel money.

That theory came close to being disproved last week when Rep. Ilhan Omar, perhaps the most prominent Israel-critical member of Congress, nearly lost her reelection bid two years after cruising to victory — but pro-Israel donors didn’t play a role. It faces another test next week in a New York primary where a member of the Israel-critical “Squad” of progressives who was narrowly elected two years ago, Jamaal Bowman, is defending his incumbency — and where pro-Israel donors again have so far steered clear.

The lack of spending is especially noticeable in a year when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has made national headlines for lavishing for the first time in its history tens of millions of dollars on congressional races.

AIPAC officials haven’t said whether they considered entering the Omar race or what they plan to do in Bowman’s. And it’s possible that outsized spending by pro-Israel groups would have benefited Omar, not hurt her: After all, her margin of victory was far wider in 2020, when Israel donors spent big to oppose her — and possibly increased turnout by Omar’s supporters as a result.

Still, the dynamics this year are notable for challenging a number of assumptions about the role of money in politics.

One is the incumbent rule, a longstanding orthodoxy of pro-Israel giving, which posits that sitting lawmakers are too firmly entrenched to merit the expense. Even as AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, doled out $25 million on behalf of candidates in other races, making it the biggest spender of any nonpartisan PAC, AIPAC’s other PAC and their allies all bypassed Omar’s race, in part because they have forsworn taking on incumbents.

Don Samuels, whom Omar barely defeated, told Jewish Insider that AIPAC’s adherence to the rule was too inflexible. AIPAC should have understood “that there are different kinds of candidates, and that my potential for beating Ilhan was very high,” he said.

The other assumption being tested is the power of pro-Israel political giving. Omar’s struggle to pull out a win undercuts arguments that the main thing keeping Israel-critical politicians from winning elections is pro-Israel money.

Minnesotans had known for weeks that Omar was vulnerable, say insiders in the state; she brought in heavy hitters to campaign for her, including other members of the Squad, the headline-grabbing grouping of progressives she belongs to, belying her claims that she would easily skate in. Sources close to Samuels said his campaign was puzzled that pro-Israel groups were not taking a greater interest.

Jacob Frey, Minneapolis’ Jewish mayor, said in a postmortem that Omar’s siding with those who would reallocate funds from the police in a city suffering rising crime made her ripe for the picking. “This is the person that literally called out for and said to defund the police,” Frey told Fox 9, a local TV news outlet. (Frey backed Samuels, and they shared campaign staff.)

Frey also faulted Omar for being overly combative. “It’s not just about sending out vitriolic tweets and being mean-spirited, it’s about working with people,” he said.

The Minnesota squeaker also comes hard on the heels of Michigan’s primaries, when AIPAC spent millions to defeat Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, a Jewish self-described Zionist who is nonetheless critical of Israel. (The race was a rare instance of AIPAC opposing an incumbent, but this was because of redistricting: AIPAC backed another incumbent, Haley Stevens.) In one week, AIPAC’s opponents were handed a tidy critique of the group’s approach: AIPAC spent millions of dollars to defeat Jewish royalty, but not a dime to unseat Omar.

In a rare interview, AIPAC’s CEO, Howard Kohr, told The Washington Post that Levin’s Jewishness was not germane. “As we commonly say around here, not everyone who is pro-Israel is Jewish,” Kohr said. “It’s also the case that not everyone who is Jewish is pro-Israel. That has nothing to do with religion, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, etc. It has to do with an orientation. If you wake up every morning finding ways to consistently criticize only Israel, that sends a message.”

But what may be most noteworthy about the Omar primary election and its fallout is how new it is not: Dig a little into the poor performance of most any Israel-critical candidate, and one finds a lot more going on than Middle East policy.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, AIPAC ran on the reputation that it had ousted Israel’s two most outspoken critics in Congress, Illinois Republicans Rep. Paul Findley in 1982 and Sen. Charles Percy in 1984. Findley wrote a book about it, “They Dare to Speak Out,” depicting the pro-Israel lobby as a gorgon that none but the brave would take on.

AIPAC insiders at the time were happy with the reputation but privately admitted that both lawmakers did more to defeat themselves than any opponent, including the pro-Israel lobby.

Findley, defeated by Dick Durbin, was a Republican moderate who was no longer able to stir the increasingly conservative passions of the GOP base, which affected voter turnout. Reviewing “They Dare to Speak Out” when it came out in 1985, The New York Times called the book “the typical reaction of a Congressman who is offended at being challenged seriously for ‘his’ seat, especially if the upstart should go so far as to beat him.” Percy, preoccupied with foreign policy, was seen as neglecting Illiinois’ bread-and-butter issues, which contributed to Paul Simon’s win.

Perhaps the most apt analog to Omar’s tight race is the 2006 election that removed from Congress one of Israel’s most trenchant critics in that decade, Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

McKinney, first elected in 1992, had been ousted in 2002. Pro-Israel donors had played a role in that race, and her father, a state lawmaker, blamed her loss on “J-E-W-S,” which stirred concerns in the pro-Israel community that they had played too prominent a role and were providing antisemites with a target.

McKinney retook her seat in 2004, and pro-Israel donors stayed out of the race in 2006, at first, for a number of reasons: McKinney, having bounced back, now seemed unbeatable. Also, the perception advanced by McKinney, her father and others that Jews were targeting a Black congresswoman inhibited involvement.

That changed when one of several opponents in the primary, Hank Johnson, performed exceptionally well, and he and McKinney went to a runoff. Pro-Israel donors leaped in at that point and helped Johnson win. McKinney has not returned to Congress since.

There are differences between 2006 and last week: For one thing, Omar won, even if it was close. Plus, Georgia’s runoff system, which allowed the pro-Israel community to step in on Johnson’s behalf at the last minute, does not exist in Minnesota.

Like Omar, McKinney was a lightning rod who made as many enemies as friends, although McKinney stands out for the depth of her commitment to marginal ideas and confrontational actions. She once punched a Capitol police officer and entertained inside-job conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks. By 2006, her constituents had many reasons to want her gone from Congress.

Like the pro-Israel donors who were spooked by McKinney’s 2004 win, pro-Israel donors were wary of another confrontation with Omar, who won by a large margin in the 2020 primaries, despite big pro-Israel money. Pro-Israel insiders have said donors did not want to be once again exposed to the humiliation of a defeat, and at the hands of one of Israel’s most prominent critics.

That creates a paradox: Shout out loud that you’re critical of Israel, and AIPAC might be more reluctant to come for you. The AIPAC PACs, including the United Democracy Project super PAC, have not targeted prominent Israel critics. Instead, they have focused on politicians who have barely registered on the Israel issue, such as Summer Lee in the Pittsburgh area (who won, narrowly) and Jessica Cisneros in south Texas (who barely lost).

Another Squad member, New York’s Jamaal Bowman, may face a tough race in an Aug. 23 primary. Redistricting has cut the number of Black and low-income residents in his 16th District and added a substantial Jewish population center in White Plains, potentially making it more of a challenge for Bowman. He faces two moderate Democrats, one of whom, Vedat Gashi, has earned the endorsements of two of Congress’ more prominent former pro-Israel Jewish Democrats: Eliot Engel, who Bowman ousted two years ago, and Nita Lowey, who retired in 2020.

So are the AIPAC PACs reconsidering the incumbent rule? If so, it would present a dilemma: Ilhan Omar, version 2020, or version 2022: Jump in and risk the humiliation of Bowman soundly defeating the AIPAC endorsee, and of drawing national attention to one of Israel’s sharpest critics; or stay out, and risk being seen as overly cautious if Bowman barely squeaks in.

AIPAC’s spokesman Marshall Wittman adopted a wait-and-see posture. “We will continue to review races and opportunities throughout the remainder of the cycle,” he said.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

The post AIPAC broke spending records this campaign cycle — so why did it stay out of Ilhan Omar’s tight race? appeared first on The Forward.

AIPAC broke spending records this campaign cycle — so why did it stay out of Ilhan Omar’s tight race?

JTA - Mon, 2022-08-15 21:16

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The theory has preoccupied antisemites and pro-Israel strategists alike: If an anti-Israel political candidate loses, it’s because of pro-Israel money.

That theory came close to being disproved last week when Rep. Ilhan Omar, perhaps the most prominent Israel-critical member of Congress, nearly lost her reelection bid two years after cruising to victory — but pro-Israel donors didn’t play a role. It faces another test next week in a New York primary where a member of the Israel-critical “Squad” of progressives who was narrowly elected two years ago, Jamaal Bowman, is defending his incumbency — and where pro-Israel donors again have so far steered clear.

The lack of spending is especially noticeable in a year when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has made national headlines for lavishing for the first time in its history tens of millions of dollars on congressional races.

AIPAC officials haven’t said whether they considered entering the Omar race or what they plan to do in Bowman’s. And it’s possible that outsized spending by pro-Israel groups would have benefited Omar, not hurt her: After all, her margin of victory was far wider in 2020, when Israel donors spent big to oppose her — and possibly increased turnout by Omar’s supporters as a result.

Still, the dynamics this year are notable for challenging a number of assumptions about the role of money in politics.

One is the incumbent rule, a longstanding orthodoxy of pro-Israel giving, which posits that sitting lawmakers are too firmly entrenched to merit the expense. Even as AIPAC’s super PAC, United Democracy Project, doled out $25 million on behalf of candidates in other races, making it the biggest spender of any nonpartisan PAC, AIPAC’s other PAC and their allies all bypassed Omar’s race, in part because they have forsworn taking on incumbents.

Don Samuels, whom Omar barely defeated, told Jewish Insider that AIPAC’s adherence to the rule was too inflexible. AIPAC should have understood “that there are different kinds of candidates, and that my potential for beating Ilhan was very high,” he said.

The other assumption being tested is the power of pro-Israel political giving. Omar’s struggle to pull out a win undercuts arguments that the main thing keeping Israel-critical politicians from winning elections is pro-Israel money.

Minnesotans had known for weeks that Omar was vulnerable, say insiders in the state; she brought in heavy hitters to campaign for her, including other members of the Squad, the headline-grabbing grouping of progressives she belongs to, belying her claims that she would easily skate in. Sources close to Samuels said his campaign was puzzled that pro-Israel groups were not taking a greater interest.

Jacob Frey, Minneapolis’ Jewish mayor, said in a postmortem that Omar’s siding with those who would reallocate funds from the police in a city suffering rising crime made her ripe for the picking. “This is the person that literally called out for and said to defund the police,” Frey told Fox 9, a local TV news outlet. (Frey backed Samuels, and they shared campaign staff.)

Frey also faulted Omar for being overly combative. “It’s not just about sending out vitriolic tweets and being mean-spirited, it’s about working with people,” he said.

The Minnesota squeaker also comes hard on the heels of Michigan’s primaries, when AIPAC spent millions to defeat Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, a Jewish self-described Zionist who is nonetheless critical of Israel. (The race was a rare instance of AIPAC opposing an incumbent, but this was because of redistricting: AIPAC backed another incumbent, Haley Stevens.) In one week, AIPAC’s opponents were handed a tidy critique of the group’s approach: AIPAC spent millions of dollars to defeat Jewish royalty, but not a dime to unseat Omar.

In a rare interview, AIPAC’s CEO, Howard Kohr, told The Washington Post that Levin’s Jewishness was not germane. “As we commonly say around here, not everyone who is pro-Israel is Jewish,” Kohr said. “It’s also the case that not everyone who is Jewish is pro-Israel. That has nothing to do with religion, race, ethnicity, party affiliation, etc. It has to do with an orientation. If you wake up every morning finding ways to consistently criticize only Israel, that sends a message.”

But what may be most noteworthy about the Omar primary election and its fallout is how new it is not: Dig a little into the poor performance of most any Israel-critical candidate, and one finds a lot more going on than Middle East policy.

For much of the 1980s and 1990s, AIPAC ran on the reputation that it had ousted Israel’s two most outspoken critics in Congress, Illinois Republicans Rep. Paul Findley in 1982 and Sen. Charles Percy in 1984. Findley wrote a book about it, “They Dare to Speak Out,” depicting the pro-Israel lobby as a gorgon that none but the brave would take on.

AIPAC insiders at the time were happy with the reputation but privately admitted that both lawmakers did more to defeat themselves than any opponent, including the pro-Israel lobby.

Findley, defeated by Dick Durbin, was a Republican moderate who was no longer able to stir the increasingly conservative passions of the GOP base, which affected voter turnout. Reviewing “They Dare to Speak Out” when it came out in 1985, The New York Times called the book “the typical reaction of a Congressman who is offended at being challenged seriously for ‘his’ seat, especially if the upstart should go so far as to beat him.” Percy, preoccupied with foreign policy, was seen as neglecting Illiinois’ bread-and-butter issues, which contributed to Paul Simon’s win.

Perhaps the most apt analog to Omar’s tight race is the 2006 election that removed from Congress one of Israel’s most trenchant critics in that decade, Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney.

McKinney, first elected in 1992, had been ousted in 2002. Pro-Israel donors had played a role in that race, and her father, a state lawmaker, blamed her loss on “J-E-W-S,” which stirred concerns in the pro-Israel community that they had played too prominent a role and were providing antisemites with a target.

McKinney retook her seat in 2004, and pro-Israel donors stayed out of the race in 2006, at first, for a number of reasons: McKinney, having bounced back, now seemed unbeatable. Also, the perception advanced by McKinney, her father and others that Jews were targeting a Black congresswoman inhibited involvement.

That changed when one of several opponents in the primary, Hank Johnson, performed exceptionally well, and he and McKinney went to a runoff. Pro-Israel donors leaped in at that point and helped Johnson win. McKinney has not returned to Congress since.

There are differences between 2006 and last week: For one thing, Omar won, even if it was close. Plus, Georgia’s runoff system, which allowed the pro-Israel community to step in on Johnson’s behalf at the last minute, does not exist in Minnesota.

Like Omar, McKinney was a lightning rod who made as many enemies as friends, although McKinney stands out for the depth of her commitment to marginal ideas and confrontational actions. She once punched a Capitol police officer and entertained inside-job conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks. By 2006, her constituents had many reasons to want her gone from Congress.

Like the pro-Israel donors who were spooked by McKinney’s 2004 win, pro-Israel donors were wary of another confrontation with Omar, who won by a large margin in the 2020 primaries, despite big pro-Israel money. Pro-Israel insiders have said donors did not want to be once again exposed to the humiliation of a defeat, and at the hands of one of Israel’s most prominent critics.

That creates a paradox: Shout out loud that you’re critical of Israel, and AIPAC might be more reluctant to come for you. The AIPAC PACs, including the United Democracy Project super PAC, have not targeted prominent Israel critics. Instead, they have focused on politicians who have barely registered on the Israel issue, such as Summer Lee in the Pittsburgh area (who won, narrowly) and Jessica Cisneros in south Texas (who barely lost).

Another Squad member, New York’s Jamaal Bowman, may face a tough race in an Aug. 23 primary. Redistricting has cut the number of Black and low-income residents in his 16th District and added a substantial Jewish population center in White Plains, potentially making it more of a challenge for Bowman. He faces two moderate Democrats, one of whom, Vedat Gashi, has earned the endorsements of two of Congress’ more prominent former pro-Israel Jewish Democrats: Eliot Engel, who Bowman ousted two years ago, and Nita Lowey, who retired in 2020.

So are the AIPAC PACs reconsidering the incumbent rule? If so, it would present a dilemma: Ilhan Omar, version 2020, or version 2022: Jump in and risk the humiliation of Bowman soundly defeating the AIPAC endorsee, and of drawing national attention to one of Israel’s sharpest critics; or stay out, and risk being seen as overly cautious if Bowman barely squeaks in.

AIPAC’s spokesman Marshall Wittman adopted a wait-and-see posture. “We will continue to review races and opportunities throughout the remainder of the cycle,” he said.

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When Judaism considers the long term, it looks to the past

JTA - Mon, 2022-08-15 20:20

He asked them “Who is called a ‘wise man’?” They responded to him, “The person who sees the consequence of their action.” (Babylonian Talmud 32a)

(JTA) — Many years ago I was asked to speak, on short notice, at a symposium in Geneva about the future of the global climate refugee crises. It was an important opportunity, but attending meant I was going to miss my 11-year-old daughter Eliana’s choir concert, the one for which she had been rehearsing for months. I was crushed, but no compromise was possible — I’d be on the other side of the globe for every performance.

To my great shock, Eliana didn’t care, at least not exactly. 

“It’s okay, dad,” she said. “If you miss it, you miss it. But do me a favor. When you are here, how about actually being here?”

I was stunned, a little hurt, but I knew just what she was talking about. For the past year-plus, I’d been wandering around the house, conducting half my business by cell phone, distracted even when I was playing a board game with her. In the great way that children can state a complex thing simply and purely, my daughter had summarized our whole culture’s dilemma.

Stuck in a forever state of reactive short-termism — an almost obsessive focus on the near futureglued to our devices and grappling with never-ending “breaking news” and business plans measured in hours and even minutes, we’ve become too much tree and not enough forest. News about the most recent COVID variant, for example, is a tree. Being part of my kid’s growing up? That’s the forest. Our short-term addictions, understandable as they are, are obscuring our longer term potentials. 

In another story from the home front, my 9-year-old Gideon recently did something…improper. It’s not important what, but let’s just say he wasn’t being his best self. When I found out, I flipped out and really read him the riot act. 

My wife Sharon pulled me aside and whispered, “Ari: longpath.” The word is a mantra in our household — it stands for the deliberate practice of long-term, holistic thinking and acting that, at its root, starts with real, hard-earned self-knowledge. At that instant I saw how off I was. Instead of modeling behaviors of self-awareness to help my son grow, I was reacting, and probably overreacting at that, glued once again to the short term at the expense of the long-term relationship with my son.

On the highest level, I knew who I wanted to be in that moment with my son, but we are reactive creatures, easily prone to short-term decision making.

So why is a futurist, who works with multi-national organizations, governments and leading foundations, and whose TED talk has been viewed several million times, writing about conversations with my children? 

The future is not just about flying cars, jet packs and robots doing our laundry. Nor is it just about climate change, rampant inequality or the loss of global biodiversity. Taken together, these aspects — good and bad — leave us with an incomplete picture of tomorrow’s promises and perils. 

The huge challenges we face as a society are going to require significant action at a political level.We need to vote at the booth and at the check-out counter in a way that aligns with our values. But that is not enough. Shaping the future also entails doing something beyond the political, something in some ways more difficult and definitely closer to home. Shaping the future towards a world we want to see necessitates that we connect with each other — at the human-to-human level — in a way that has significantly more impact than just how we vote or consume. 

How?

Trim tabs. Trim tabs are the small edges of a ship’s rudder that, although tiny, can make a huge impact on the direction of the ship. The futurist Buckminster Fuller used the metaphor of a “trim tab” to explain how even small actions could have massive long-term effects, especially when scaled across populations. 

Shaping the long-term trajectory of society means connecting with others through a lens of empathy and with an eye on how those interactions will ripple out through time. What makes you a futurist — someone who cares and wants to shape society towards a better tomorrow — is putting your device down when your child enters the room and thinking about how your every action will play out over generations. This is the mindset of a true futurist. This is longpath thinking. 

At its heart, the belief in a longpath or “longer-term” mindset is a Jewish one. After all, we’re the people who have dragged our story along to every outpost — the people who have waited on and insisted upon a future return. And just as our Passover story promises a transformation that does not happen overnight, the longpath view says that, yes, you can be an agent of change, not just a slave to the current climate, but it’s going to take some work.

For me, the High Holy Days manifest the essence of a longpath outlook best of all. Rosh Hashanah both reaps the harvest of the past and points us toward our most profound wishes for the future year — but you can’t get there without a Yom Kippur. On this day of teshuvah, which means repentance and return, we understand that to look ahead of us requires that we first look back on the year past and engage in an honest reconciliation with all we have been and all those we have wronged — both in our own eyes and God’s. It’s hard work, but if we do this with an open heart, we have a chance to not only envision a better future, but to participate in creating it — for us and for others.

The longpath view doesn’t just look deep into the future, but deep into the past. It holds that you cannot consider the future without transgenerational empathy, a clear accounting of all the preceding generations went through. Then, when you are ready to face the days, months, years, decades and centuries ahead, you must do your future-oriented thinking with future generations in mind. After all, your community and your world will belong to them.

My father was a Polish refugee who escaped the ghetto and lost most of his family in the Holocaust — he went onto become a commander in the Jewish resistance. Years later, he used to say, “The future really started yesterday.” To move through the narrow passages and get to the land of milk and honey, we must adopt a mindset that integrates the far past and the far future. 

Transgenerational empathy is not merely a high-flown concept — it’s a practice, a way of taking the future seriously. On our mantel, along with photos of my parents and Sharon’s parents, and photos of us and of the kids, we have placed a few empty frames, a reminder of the generation to come. Seeing those empty frames is a subtle but persistent reminder that the decisions we make today, as individuals, as a family, as a community, are going to have everyday repercussions hundreds of years from now.

This Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of 5783 in the Jewish calendar. That means we’re only 217 years from the year 6000. Some say that’s the latest time for the messiah to arrive and usher in the redemption. Others insist the messiah can and will come earlier. The real question is: Where do we want the world to be in 6000, and what kind of longpath thinking will help get us there?

To give you a little context, 217 years ago Napoleon was crowned King of Italy, Lewis and Clark headed out on their expedition, Beethoven premiered his Third Symphony and the first steam locomotive had just had its first run. There was no electricity, no cars, no phones, no internet. The United States itself was a mere 29 years old.

Consider what can happen in two centuries. How would you like the world to look in Year 6000 and what are you willing to do to help make it that way?

It’s a mistake to think that the people who will be affected will likely not be your people. According to the handy Descendants Calculator, in 217 years, or eight generations, the youngest of my children, 13-year-old Ruby, could have anywhere between 500 and 87,000 offspring, depending on the average number of kids per generation. And that’s just one of my three children! 

What kind of a world do you want your descendants to live in? What do we have to do collectively to co-create that future?

We don’t need the answers this instant, but we do need to start making the small actions and asking the big questions right away.

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Take a number! A Manhattan party for Jewish singles comes back after a pandemic hiatus

JTA - Mon, 2022-08-15 20:11

(New York Jewish Week) — How do you stand out when everybody’s dressed in white?

On Thursday evening, nearly 700 Jewish singles in their 20s, 30s and 40s gathered in Manhattan’s Riverside Park to celebrate Tu B’Av, a minor holiday often referred to as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day.” As requested by the organizers, everyone in attendance wore white — but people interpreted the assignment differently. Many women wore trendy, designer dresses, doing their best to look elegant and put together. Some of the men, meanwhile, wore white, wrinkled polo shirts.

This was Bangitout.com’s first Tu B’Av White Party since before the pandemic began. Had COVID-19 not upended, well, everything, it would have been their 20th annual Tu B’Av shindig. Instead, it was an auspicious 18th convening of the summer event uniquely designed for Jewish singles in the greater New York area.

Founded by brothers and Yeshiva University alumni Isaac and Seth Galena in 2001, Bangitout started as a way to share Jewish content online. Over the years, it grew into a platform known for advertising kosher apartment shares, kosher restaurants and shiurim (lectures). They also became known for hosting signature Jewish events, like “Sukktoberfest,” a hybrid Sukkot and Oktoberfest party.

Guests mingle and watch the spectacular sunset over the Hudson River at the Tu B’Av White Party, held in Manhattan’s Riverside Park, Aug. 11, 2022. (Jackie Hajdenberg)

As for Bangitout’s other major annual event, the Tu B’Av White Party, it “simply enables singles to cut the crap and actually meet someone to marry,” according to the organizers’ marketing materials.

The Galenas claim nearly 50 couples who originally met and have gotten married through one of their parties. One couple, who met at the 2012 Tu B’Av White Party, got engaged at the same event the following year.

“These guys are the real deal,” Jordan, a lawyer and freelance writer at Bangitout.com, told the New York Jewish Week about the Galenas.

“You can really see the evolution of life through these parties,” he observed, referring to the matches — and subsequent families — that were made over the years

In fact, the Galenas’ own sister, Sarah, met her husband at a Tu B’Av party in 2008 — something she briefly demonstrated to a reporter by pulling out her phone and FaceTiming with said husband and their child.

Thursday’s White Party, like many singles events, employed a numbered matching system — everyone wears a sticker with a number on it, and a person can write down the number of someone they are interested in and place it in a large bucket. If the other person writes down their number, too, the pair will be set up on a date.

Still, some in attendance urged partygoers to flout the rules: Leora Schiffman, a matchmatcher, event promoter and founder of Leora’s List, encouraged singles to simply ask one another for their phone numbers, old-fashioned style.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” she asked.

The annual Tu B’Av White Party, hosted by Bangitout.com, is a singles event for Jews in their 20s, 30s and 40s. (Jackie Hajdenberg)

As the sun set over the Hudson River, tipsy singles took turns in the photo booth, refreshed their drinks at the bar, or listened to pitches from party sponsors, like Blink Date, a new audio-first dating app, or JScreen, a Jewish genetic screening service. Others pursued their mission single-mindedly: They were here to meet someone.

Two sisters from Flatbush, both in their early 20s, shied away from the crowd. They took seats at a picnic table, preferring to focus on their drinks and each other rather than approach a stranger.

But that’s OK, because a friendly stranger approached them instead. Howard — a young man from New Jersey wearing a white polo, navy pants, gray baseball cap and black, rectangular glasses — told the sisters why white is worn on Tu B’Av, when unmarried women in the Second Temple period would dance in the vineyards at the beginning of the grape harvest. “You wear white so you can’t tell the difference between a rich girl and a poor girl,” he said.

Historically, women would swap clothes so that even those who could not afford a new white dress would not be embarrassed on Tu B’Av.  Here in New York, the singles aren’t quite dancing in the vineyards, but they did appear to be enjoying themselves in the public park — perhaps even paying an unconscious tribute to the grape harvest by grabbing a glass of wine. Overheard conversations ranged from women trying to rescue their friends from close-talking interactions with uninspiring men, to discussions on topics that veered from TV to antisemitism.

“I stopped watching ‘Chicago Med’ because I heard one or two of the main actors are antisemitic,” one young woman said to a new male acquaintance, both clutching drinks.

An older man in attendance, maybe in his late 40s, also dressed in white, didn’t come alone: He nonchalantly walked his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel through the crowd. Upon closer inspection, however, the dog, named Chicken, was also looking for love — she wore a number sticker, too.

Even the dog was looking for love! (Jackie Hajdenberg)

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