February 18, 2018

Zionism and Feminism 101: A Guide by Janet Freedman

By Amy Powell

Last year, sparked by two widely read articles in The New York Times and The Nation, a lively and contentious debate on the place of Zionism within feminism emerged with well known voices facing off on either side.

Is the controversy new? Prior to the publications of the articles that kicked off so much debate, the op-ed in The New York Times by Emily Shire, Bustle politics editor, Does Feminism Have Room for Zionists, and the rejoinder in The Nation, an interview with Palestinian-American feminist activist Linda Sarsour, Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No, the issue bubbled up often in within the history of the application of intersectionality in both the women’s movement and the academy.

In an effort to understand the context, vocabulary and history, Janet Freedman, resident scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center and member of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s Academic Advisory Committee, published “Feminism and Zionism” a free, downloadable pamphlet published through the Academic Engagement Network’s Pamphlet Series.

The pamphlet outlines the issues and their history along with useful definitions, turning points and trends. Subheadings include The Linking of Women’s Rights and Anti-Zionism: The United Nations Women’s Conferences, Ms. Magazine Responds, The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and Its Jewish Caucus, Coming Home to a Changed Community, Coming Out as a Zionist, An Assault on Academic Freedom and Democracy, My Experience in 2015, A Surprise That Should Not Have Surprised Me, Suggestions for Action and Conclusion: What Has Worked for You?

Freedman also discusses basic questions like, “Should you stay or should you go?” when an organization feels anti-Zionist or anti-Semitic. She urges people to continue to march, to join, but with greater knowledge of the platforms and issues espoused by various organizations and activist responses. For example, Freedman remained a member of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) despite the adoption of a pro-BDS resolution and is now urging the association to provide a hospitable and open environment for Jewish members that goes beyond defining Judaism in the simplistic framework of one’s view of Israel and Palestine.

“When you walk away, you ensure that your views are not heard,” Freedman says, “so, it’s important to stay and try to have a meaningful conversation.”

Freedman began publishing on Zionism and feminism two years ago. Between November, 2015 and March, 2017, Freedman wrote a series of blogs on related topics for Fresh Ideas and The Sisterhood  including A Statement in Opposition to the NWSA Resolution on BDS, For the Women’s Studies Association, the BDS Vote Was Over Before It Began  and Unfinished Business: Remaining in the NWSA, Post BDS about her experiences as one of the lone voices speaking at the 2015 National Women’s Studies Association conference in opposition to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanction resolution against Israel before the membership.

The Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization of faculty members, administrators, and staff members from American college and university campuses across the United States committed to opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, affirming academic freedom and freedom of expression in the university community, and promoting robust discussion of Israel on campus, invited her to create the pamphlet after she wrote these blogs. Her work on the Zionism and Feminism pamphlet led to another response to Shire and Sarsour in Fresh Ideas, co-authored with colleague Ruth Nemzoff,  a resident scholar at the WSRC, entitled, Not My Feminism.

One of the most useful parts of Freedman’s pamphlet is the Suggestions for Action, ways that “faculty members can work toward fostering a more positive climate on campus and in academic associations.” The goal is to find “the words to say it and the ways to do it” including the challenge of finding words to clearly explain one’s views in an increasingly polarized political climate.

Although this work grew out of Freedman’s experience within an academic organization, she is eager to discuss and encourage discussion of the controversy of Zionism and feminism outside the academy and to learn from the experiences of others.

Says Freedman, “My greatest goal for this pamphlet is that it serves as an impetus for productive dialogue on these important topics.”

Download a free copy of Feminism and Zionism. 

Dr. Janet Freedman is a Resident Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, a member of the Academic Advisory Committee of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and the author of Reclaiming the Feminist Vision: Consciousness Raising and Small Group Practice (McFarland, 2014). She has a grant from AEN to begin a study group on Zionism and feminism.

In Sara Levy’s Salon

By Rebecca Cypess

When, in 1798, the Jewish writer Wolf Davidson published his treatise On the Civic Improvement of the Jews, he joined an ongoing discussion among both Jewish and Christian thinkers of the Enlightenment concerning the merits of Jewish emancipation in Prussia and the participation of Jews in civic and cultural life. By way of justifying his agenda of emancipation, tolerance, and citizenship for Jewish residents of the kingdom, Davidson cited a long list of Jews, from philosophers and educators to practitioners of the mechanical arts, who were already making significant contributions to Prussian society. Among these, Davidson mentioned a handful of musical “Dilettanten”— amateurs for whom music was an essential component of the moral and cultural edifying process known as Bildung. One such dilettante who, Davidson noted, had acquired a reputation as a “prodigious keyboardist here in Berlin,” was a certain Madame Sara Levy.

Sara Levy, née Itzig (1761–1854), was a Jewish woman, salon hostess, musical collector, patron, and performing musician whose long life spanned a dramatic and tumultuous period in German history, and her distinctive persona and historical profile offer a vista onto these historical circumstances that has remained closed until now. Through both research and performance, my work attempts to open this vista, and to understand Levy as a complete and complex individual—a Jew, a musician, a woman, a modern individual.

With the help of two research awards from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, I have recently brought one portion of my work on Levy to completion: a CD entitled In Sara Levy’s Salon, released in June 2017 on the Acis Productions label, which proudly bears the logo of the HBI. The second phase of the project is a collaboration with Nancy Sinkoff, my colleague in the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers. Nancy and I co-organized a conference entitled “Sara Levy’s World” in 2014, and we have expanded that project into a book of essays with perspectives from musicology, Jewish studies, history, philosophy, and related disciplines. This volume is due to be published in the spring of 2018 by the University of Rochester Press. At the same time, I have undertaken a single-author book entitled Resounding Enlightenment: Music as an Instrument of Tolerance in the World of Sara Levy, which is in progress. My goal is to retell the story of Levy’s world by placing her at the center of the narrative.

Born into one of the few wealthy and privileged Jewish families in eighteenth-century Berlin, Sara and her siblings received the finest educations available—appropriate, of course, to their sex—including unrivaled musical training. The only known student of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710–1784), eldest son of the famed baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Sara was performing as a harpsichordist for family guests by the time she was a teenager, and around the time of her marriage she began hosting a salon with musical performance at its center. Like other salons, that of the Levy home brought together family and friends, artists and intellectuals, philosophers and socialites, Jews and Christians. And she went still further, appearing in public performances as a concerto soloist at the Sing-Akademie zu Berlin, a bourgeois amateur musical society with both Jewish and Christian membership, in an age when few aristocratic women would expose themselves to a public audience. By citing Levy’s musical skill as evidence of the contribution of Jews to society at large, Wolf Davidson asserted the power of music to act as an instrument of Enlightenment—as a bridge between diverse individuals within a tolerant society.

For some, like Davidson, Levy’s activities as a performer, patron, and collector of music fulfilled this idealistic promise. Yet for many of her contemporaries, Jewish participation in music was unthinkable: Jews, these detractors claimed, were inherently unmusical, and this unmusicality was both evidence for and a result of their immorality and errant ways. Levy’s connection to the Bach family highlights this tension: the legacy of J. S. Bach was fundamentally grounded in an orthodox, pre-Enlightenment Lutheranism colored by anti-Judaism, and his biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel, a close friend of W. F. Bach, included in his General History of Music (1788) a screed against modern Jews and their unmusicality.

Sara Levy knew of these tensions and debates, yet she left no written verbal testimony concerning them, nor any number of other pressing issues. She wrote no autobiography and no diary; all but a few of her terse letters are lost. Instead, what remains is the remarkable collection of some 500 musical scores that she assembled together with her husband, a banker and a proficient amateur flutist. Her collection did not appear by accident; instead, she cultivated it, shaped it, and left her mark upon it, inscribing each score with her name or stamping it with her distinctive ex libris. Seemingly in response to the accusation that Jews were inherently unmusical, Levy partook of German music and made it part of her own experience. In donating the majority of her holdings to the Sing-Akademie around 1815, she rendered her collection part of the Prussian patrimony and emerging cultural identity, and she inscribed herself—a Jewish woman—into that heritage. When her great-nephew Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy ignited the public “Bach revival” within the walls of the Sing-Akademie with his performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in 1829, he was picking up on family tradition.

If Levy’s participation in the musical culture of Prussia set her apart from other Jewish women whose salons focused solely on belles lettres, she stood apart from them in another essential respect as well: in contrast to many of the other salonnières, who left Jewish practice and identification, assimilated into the predominantly Christian society around them, converted, and married Christian husbands, Levy continued to identify strongly as a Jew throughout her long life. She provided financial support to numerous institutions of the Berlin Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), including a Hebrew publishing house and a Jewish school and orphanage. She was intellectually, financially, and socially engaged with the Haskalah to an extent unmatched by other women.

Levy is known among musicologists as a transmitter of important German music, and among scholars of Jewish studies as merely a peripheral figure in the world of Jewish salons. Consideration of the relationship among these aspects of her persona—unexplored until now—sheds new light on her life as an individual, and on the story of this tumultuous moment in European history as a whole. I argue that through her salon, her public concerts at the Sing-Akademie, and the cultivation of her collection, Sara Levy forged a common cultural environment with music at its center in which both Christians and Jews could participate.

***

Rebecca Cypess is Associate Professor of Music at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University, and an affiliated faculty member in the Rutgers Jewish Studies Department. A harpsichordist and musicologist, she is founder of the Raritan Players, whose debut recording In Sara Levy’s Salon was released in 2017 by Acis Productions. Her publications include Curious and Modern Inventions: Instrumental Music as Discovery in Galileo’s Italy (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and she is co-editor, with Nancy Sinkoff, of Sara Levy’s World: Gender, Judaism, and the Bach Tradition in Enlightenment Berlin, forthcoming in 2018 from the University of Rochester Press.

Sara Levy’s story is fictionalized in the novel, And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer, a book selected by several of HBI’s Conversations programs.

Reflections for the High Holy Days

Editor’s Note: To prepare for the High Holy Days, Fresh Ideas reprints three prayers, unique to the Rosh Hashanah service, from Marcia Falk’s book, The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season, published in the HBI Series on Jewish Women. In her book, Falk recreates the holiday’s key prayers from an inclusive perspective. – 

thedaysbetween_MarciaFalk

Introduction to Skofarot, Zikhronot, Malkhuyot: Calls, Recalling, Callings

Unique to the Rosh Hashanah service are three extended liturgical passages — Malkhuyot, Zikhronot, and Shofarot— each comprising a rabbinic poetic prologue, ten biblical verses, and a concluding petition and blessing. After the reading of each passage, the shofar is sounded.

The themes of the traditional passages, in their original order, are as follows:

Malkhuyot (literally, “sovereignty”): God as ruler and creator; God’s power over all creation and, by extension, His role as judge of our actions.* The tenth biblical verse of Malkhuyot is Judaism’s keynote, commonly referred to as the Sh’ma: Sh’ma, yisra’eyl, adonay elohe’ynu, adonay ehad, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), emphasizing God’s singular dominion over all.

Zikhronot (literally, “remembrances”): God’s remembering (taking account of, being attentive to) all creatures, and His fidelity to His covenant with the people of Israel.

Shofarot (literally, “rams’ horns”): The shofar calls out, and we hark to it. Some of the biblical verses describe with dramatic force God’s revelation of Himself to the world and His giving of the Ten Commandments to Israel. Other verses proclaim the advent of the festivals, including the New Moon and Rosh Hashanah.

*References to God as personified or gendered reflect the language and theology of the texts being quoted or paraphrased, not the perspective of this book.

The re-creation offered here reorders the sequence to create a progression of awareness. Each section is interpreted afresh, emphasizing the twin focus of the holiday: looking inward, to better know oneself, and looking outward, to strengthen one’s relations with others. I have distilled the liturgical text to a few of its key biblical verses (the Sh’ma is adapted), augmenting them with brief reflections. To these elements I have added Deuteronomy 30:12-14 and a poem.

The themes are re-visioned as follows:

Shofarot (Calls): The call to awakening the self and to hearing others.

Zikhronot (Recalling): Memory, imagination, and the forming of the self; the emergence of relationships.

Malkhuyot (Callings): The values we hold above all else. The Sh’ma is reframed: finding our place in the greater one-ness.

Shofarot: Calls

HEARING AND ATTENDING

Sound the shofar on the New Moon,

on our holiday, when the moon is still hidden.

–Psalms 81:4

The shofar calls, the crescent rises.

The new year is upon us.

O inhabitants of the world,

you who dwell upon the earth:

When the flag is raised on the mountain–look!

When the shofar is sounded–listen!

–Isaiah 18:3

The shofar quiets us, wakening us

to the silence within.

In the clearing, where the mind flowers

and the world sprouts up at every side,

listen

for the sound in the bushes,

behind the grass.

The shofar takes us into the self

that is hidden from the self,

then returns us to the world.

In the silence we hear the voice of the other,

we hear what has gone unheard.

Zikhronot: Recalling

MEMORY, SELF, AND OTHER

Recollections shape us, remind us who we are.

Imagination brings what is buried

to light.

With each moment recalled,

the kaleidoscope turns,

patterns change, colors shift places.

The selves within the self come into view.

I remember the lovingkindness of your youthful days,

your love when you were betrothed,

when you followed me in the wilderness,

in the land barren of seed.

–Jeremiah 2:2

From youth to age,

our bonds with others deepen,

become more truthful.

I will remember my covenant with you

from the days of your youth

and I will establish that covenant for eternity.

–Ezekiel 16:60

Reciprocity, fidelity:

the grounding of relationship.

Malkhuyot: Callings

SELF AND ONE

Lift up high, O gates,

lift the eternal portals!

–Psalms 24:7

The gates are open, portals

to possibilities:

What is it that reigns for us supreme?

It is not in the heavens, such that you might say:

Who among us can go up and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

 And it is not across the sea, such that you might say:

Who will cross the sea for us and get it for us and let us hear it so that we may do it?

No, it is something very close to you,

in your mouth and in your heart,

for you to do.

–Deuteronomy 30:12-14

We turn back to ourselves,

listen for our callings.

Hear, O Israel—

The divine abounds everywhere

and dwells in everything.

Its faces are infinite,

its source suffuses all.

The many are One.

–Adapted from Deuteronomy 6:4

Marcia Falk is the author of The Days Between: Blessings, Poems, and Directions of the Heart for the Jewish High Holiday Season.

Confession from an Israeli

By Tamar Biala –

Editor’s note: This blog was featured in the final issue of our e-zine, 614, “How Moving to the U.S. Shaped My Judaism.” – 

Spinoza got the better of me long ago. My Judaism is not based on faith in the Torah as the divinely revealed word of God. Rather, it’s based chiefly on a national identification with the Jewish people, on the feeling of belonging and shared responsibility for its fate, on being drawn to Jewish culture, and the motivation to help shape it.

I identify with ideas and principles in Tanakh and the tradition as it developed over the generations, and accept upon myself the mitzvot, as best I can (while also rejecting other ideas and principles, and some mitzvot, as best I can). I feel entirely a part of the Jewish people; for better or worse, I feel responsible for the fate and the essential character of the people as a whole. And this is the me who I brought with me when we moved to America three years ago, when I was 43.

When we arrived, the chief anxiety that I encountered among the Jews with whom I became friendly, was for the Jewish identity of the next generation. While worrying about Jewish existence was very familiar to me, it was not for spiritual survival, but physical. In Israel, the continued existence of Jewish identity is clear; what is less clear, of course, is how this identity will survive in the Middle East, and by the same token, what is the nature of the Jewish identity worth preserving, developing, fighting for, and sacrificing, even dying for. My question had less been how to preserve my children’s Jewish identity, but what Jewish identity do I want to pass on to them? A question, not of strategy, but of essence.

In Israel, this sense of the continuity of Jewish survival is natural. Responsibility for Jewish physical and cultural survival is basic and is internalized from early childhood on through schools, youth groups, the army, and volunteer organizations. This sense of responsibility has wonderful sides: youth mature earlier, the sense of solidarity – change though it does – endures, and Jewish culture flourishes in wonderfully creative and riveting ways. Yet there are also dark sides to this unmistakable Jewish identity: chauvinism and patriotism that cost ‘the other’ dearly, racist interpretations of Scripture, abuse and exploitation of religious institutions for brutality and injustice, and more.

In our years in Boston, I discovered, to my surprise, that I have a very hard time feeling solidarity with the local Jewish community. Personally, I’ve made new and wonderful connections, and strengthened some old ones. I get and give love, and actively participate in the synagogues we’ve joined, but overall, I can’t shake off my severe judgment of the choice to remain in exile. I’m perplexed to discover just how much my worry for the “Jewish people” all these years seems to be limited to those who dwell in Zion (and there, largely to the Zionists). Again and again I wonder: Can I change my beliefs and accept the choice of exiled Jewry to stay here and develop a Jewish culture of their own?

Some days I feel the Jewish people is split into sub-peoples who don’t share a common fate. I am utterly aware of how unjust my judgment is: American Jewry, in one way or another, has, does, and will support Israel; and, anyway, what the hell am I talking about – every fellowship I’ve ever gotten that enabled me to study in university, learn in a beit midrash, that paid my salary for teaching, and enabled me to publish the book that is my life’s dream come true, all came from American Jews who have tried to support me, and support the Zionist enterprise. Is it the drastic difference in daily life between Israel and American Jewry that keeps me from accepting the latter, and feeling some sense of belonging? If this exile were more miserable, would my judgment be more easily dissolving? In the end, I understand the tension between Babylonia and Israel that I encountered so often in the Talmud: The jealousy, competition, resentments, and anger.

I ask myself, what is “Jewish fate”? Is it possible to speak of one “Jewish fate”? Will I, can I, agree to live a Jewish fate that isn’t Israeli?

I understand it would be worth it for me to grapple with these questions rather than avoid them, while contenting myself with waiting, exhausted and embittered, for our return to Israel, to my natural community. I take it upon myself to try to accept the fact that there always was and always will be an exile, that just as I am pluralistic when it comes to how different Jews shape their relations to Jewish culture, to Torah and mitzvot, so must I try to be pluralistic when it comes to the place of Israel in their Jewish identity. But, somehow, it’s very hard for me. Very, very hard.

TamarBialaHeadshot2.2Tamar Biala is a Helen Gartner Hammer Scholar-in-Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and co-editor of Dirshuni: Midrashei Nashim (Yediot Acharonot, 2009), the first collection of midrashim written by contemporary Israeli women. A podcast of her recent lecture, “Bastardy, Incest, and Siblings Who Look After One Another in Recent Midrashim by Israeli Women” is available here.

Do Jews Need God?

By Michelle Cove

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614: The HBI eZine

That’s a question I’ve been thinking about ever since the Pew Research Study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” came out in 2013 showing that two-thirds of Jews polled said it is not necessary to believe in God to be Jewish.  I remember being shocked at the statistic when I first read it, although I’m not sure why exactly. I know many Jewish people who don’t believe in God, and are perfectly comfortable with their Jewish identity. I also know some atheists, to be fair, who struggle to feel connected to our religion given all the patriarchal language in prayer books and Torah stories. In a religion inundated with stories and prayers centered around God, there seems to be so much room and space to be Jewish and not believe. What makes some Jewish atheists feel at peace while others feel at odds?

For the latest issue of 614: the HBI eZine, I asked a rabbi, a few women authors, and an artist for their viewpoints on what it is to be a Jewish atheist and what the repercussions are. All of them struck me as confident and unapologetic about their beliefs.  After all, Jews are not only allowed to have our doubts, we are encouraged to grapple and question, which is pretty unique. Says Rabbi Lev Baesh, who is featured in the issue: “You should never be asked to agree blindly or to demean your own views for others (or theirs for yours, for that matter).”

There are plenty of Jewish leaders and thinkers who worry that Judaism can’t sustain without a central belief in God. In a September-October, 2011 article in Moment, entitled, “Can There Be Judaism Without Belief in God?” Senator Joe Lieberman stated: “There can be Jews who are good people without belief in God, but ultimately Judaism cannot continue to exist without belief in God because the Jewish historical narrative depends on it.” Rabbi David Volpe of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles, California, in the same article says: “Yes, there can be Judaism without God, but only briefly, as it cannot reproduce itself. Judaism without God is running on the momentum of past generations.”

What do you think? How important is a belief in God to our religion? Can Judaism sustain without a belief in God? We hope you’ll read the issue with an open mind, grapple, and weigh in with your own thoughts.

Michelle Cove is the editor of 614: the HBI eZine

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