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August 1, 2015 / 16 Av, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tribalism, Post-Tribalism and Counter-Tribalism

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Man begins with the tribe. The tribe is his earliest civilization. It is enduring because it is based on blood. The ties of blood may hinder its growth, the accretion of tradition holds it to past wisdom while barring the way to learning new things, but it provides its culture with a physical culture.

The modern world embraced post-tribalism, the transcendence of tribe, to produce more complicated, but also more fragile cultures. And then eventually post-tribalism became counter-tribalism.

Our America is tribal, post-tribal and counter-tribal. It is a strange and unstable mix of all these things.

The post-tribal could be summed up by the melting pot, a modernist idea of a cultural empire, the E pluribus unum of a society in which culture could be entirely detached from tribe, manufactured, replicated and imposed in mechanical fashion. The counter-tribal and the tribal however are best summed up by multiculturalism which combines both selectively.

Modernism was post-tribal. It believed that advancement lay with abandoning the tribe. Post-modernism however is counter-tribal. It doesn’t just seek to leave the tribe behind, but to destroy the very notion of one’s own tribe as the source of evil, while welcoming the tribalism of the oppressed.

The post-tribal and counter-tribals both felt that the rejection of one’s own tribe was a cultural victory. But where the modernists thought that tribe itself was the evil, the post-modernists think that it is only their tribe that is the evil. The modernists had no more use for the tribalism of any culture than that of their own. The post-modernists however believe that the tribalism of oppressor cultures is evil, but that of oppressed cultures is good. And so they replace their own tribalism and post-tribalism with a manufactured tribalism of the oppressed consisting of fake African proverbs and “Other” mentors.

Counter-tribalism is obsessed with the “Other”. It regards the interaction with the “Other” as the most socially and spiritually significant activity of a society. Counter-tribalists instinctively understand diversity as a higher good in a way that they cannot express to outsiders. They may cloak it in post-tribal rhetoric, but the emotion underneath is the counter-tribal rejection of one’s own identity in search of a deeper authenticity, of the noble savage within.

For the modernists, tribalism was savage and that was a bad thing. For the post-modernists, the savage was a good thing. The savage was natural and real. He was a part of the world of tribe and blood. A world that they believed that we had lost touch with. It was the civilized man and his modernism that was evil. It was the tribalism of wealth and technology that they fought against.

The modernists believed that culture was mechanical, that it could be taken apart and put back together, that fantastic new things could be added, the boundaries pushed into infinity in the exploration of the human spirit. The post-modernists knew better. Culture was human noise. Boundaries defined culture. When they were broken, there was only the fascinating explosion of anarchy and private language. Communications broke down and elites took over. They stepped outside those boundaries and lost the ability to create culture, instead they went seeking for the roots of human culture, for the tribal and the primitive, hoping to become ignorant savages again.

The modern left has become a curious amalgam of the modern, the post-modern and the savage. There you have a Richard Dawkins knocking Muslims for their lack of Nobel prizes and then side by side is the post-modern sneering at the idea that being celebrated by the Eurocentric culture and its fetishization of technology matters compared to the rich cultural heritage of Islam and the savage on Twitter demanding Dawkins’ head.

The same scenes play out on daily commutes in modern cities, where Bloombergian post-tribal social planners exist side by side with Occupier counter-tribals and violent tribal gangs acting as flash mobs in the interplay of liberalism, the left and the failed societies left behind by the systems of the left.

Muslim immigration is a distinctly counter-tribal project. The European tensions over it among its elites, as opposed to the street protesters who make up groups such as the EDL, is a conflict between the post-tribals who envisioned the European Union and the counter-tribals who view it as a refugee camp that will melt down the last of Europe’s cultures and traditions.

Chinese-Israeli Cultural Relations Blossoming

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

According to China’s Ambassador to Israel, Gao Yanping, “Culture goes beyond borders. Cultural exchanges constitute an important and dynamic part of China-Israel relations. Now the momentum is set. I am convinced that with our joint efforts the China-Israel cultural cooperation is bound to blossom.” To this end, the efforts of Israeli Barry Swersky are helping Chinese-Israeli cultural ties bud into fruition. In partnership with the Chinese Embassy and the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in China, Swersky is arranging an exhibition in Israel exploring the future of Chinese art through the eyes of young artists. Swersky is also fostering a collaborative relationship between CAFA and Israel’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

Swersky explains, “I have felt that Israeli cultural organizations, whether artists or orchestras, are seeking more ways to go to China. They went to China and started to look for contacts. They have been successful.” He added, “As the cultural organizations become more interested in China, they have found their way into China. People are discovering each other, so there is a greater flow. There are museums in China presenting Israeli artists.”

Since 2008 Swersky has been promoting Chinese-Israeli cultural exchange. Among Swersky’s many projects is a TAO Beijing Dance Company performance with noted Israeli oud player Yair Dalal, joint master classes for gifted young Chinese and Israeli pianists, and construction of sculptures in Haifa and Haifa’s twin city, Shanghai, in a project proposed by Israeli artist Peter Jacob Maltz.

Swersky is not the only Israeli to be active in Israeli-Chinese cultural relations, as Israeli singer David D’Or has developed a solid audience in China and Israel Sinfonietta Be’ersheva has performed there twice. According to Swersky, “Already in May 1993, Israel and China signed a cultural agreement. In 2011, the governments agreed on a program for the years 2011 to 2015, a program which in general terms covers subjects such as culture and art, cultural events, museums and exhibitions, cinema and television, publication and literature.”

“Governments place great emphasis on ‘soft power,’” Swersky explained. “The identification with some elements of culture always helps Israel have a strong image in dance and music. It’s part of a country’s image.”

Eitan Press contributed to this report.

Visit United with Israel.

Infidel

Monday, August 5th, 2013

I’ve written about Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few times, having heard her speak two years running now at the President’s Conference in Jerusalem. Each time, in her elegant and dignified way, she put the other speakers to shame. There were quiet and short remarks – there is great beauty is simplicity.

Last year, as several American Jews, diplomats and scholars, debated the need for Israel to surrender more, Hirsi Ali was handed the microphone and now, more than 16 months later, her words remain imprinted on my brain, “Even if you give them Jerusalem…EVEN if you give them Jerusalem, there will be no peace.”

Many clapped for this statement and the first thing I did after blogging about her was to promise myself I would learn more. With a great many excuses, a full year past and I was back again this past June at the President’s Conference, thrilled to have another opportunity to hear her speak. The room was packed – not a vacant seat (I grabbed the last three seats and called Chaim telling him he had to come hear this session). After hearing her speak again, I fulfilled that promise by ordering two of her books – “Infidel” and “Nomad.” These contain the story of her life – up to this point, whatever she wants to tell us – but certainly in much more detail than she could provide during her short presentations.

I learned so much about Islam – about that world on the other side of my borders. To be honest, I knew a lot of it, or suspected it – but she gave depth to my knowledge and then took me way beyond. She gave reasons, deeply rooted in Islam and in the Koran. I knew the results; she taught me the cause.

So here, I have a confession – I am a mother, a wife, even a grandmother, if you can believe that…and though I have joined others in condemning it, I only realized in reading her story what female genital mutilation was. I had no idea…and a part of me wishes I still didn’t know. How these men could do this to their daughters; how they could want this in their wives – I honestly and truly don’t understand.

That is, perhaps, the curse of Western civilization – we cannot comprehend the barbarity and because we are so naive, because we cannot understand, we tend to excuse, minimize the acts. We conveniently use the words and condemn the action…but to read pages that describe the act, the pain and suffering of these young girls – then and for years after was a startling revelation, a glimpse into a world that I had never imagined.

Can a mother want to do this to her daughter, as Ayaan’s mother chose to do to hers? How? In God’s name, how? I have never knowingly caused my daughter’s pain. And when they have been in pain, I have felt that pain throughout my body.

As to Ayaan, her story is amazing…what she survived…what she made of herself is a lesson to all of us – even those of us who, by comparison, have been blessed to live with relatively few hardships. I have never known hunger; I have never been beaten. Medical care has always been available, education, food, and love.

There were several things that got to me in her story (I’ve only read Infidel so far; I’m starting Nomad tonight) on so many levels – as a woman, as a Jew, as an Israeli, as a mother.

One of the first things that struck me, even as I found myself deeply involved with her personal story, were the few references to Jews. Until she was well into her 20s, I don’t think Ayaan ever met a Jew. I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry when I read, “In Saudi Arabia, everything bad was the fault of the Jews. When the air conditioner broke or suddenly the tap sopped running,t he Saudi women next door used to say the Jews did it…I had never med a Jew. (Neither had these Saudis.)” What I got from this was something I had already known – they really really hate us. They don’t even know us, but they hate us…go figure.

Another thing that bothered me, though I understood her reasoning, was her journey away from Islam. She describes a religion that demands absolute obedience; a religion that has no mechanism for change over time; and a religion that focuses on punishment and the Hereafter – all you do in this life is preparation for the Hereafter and there are seemingly thousands or more things for which you are regularly threatened to be condemned to hell. It seems almost as if it is impossible to get to this heaven, given the number of restrictions – in action and in thought – that are applied to Muslims.

Ayaan’s brilliant reasoning takes all of this into consideration and reaches a conclusion – there is no hell; there is no hereafter. The Koran was written by man, not be God…and from there – she decides there is no God. I’m simplifying it. For her, it was a journey of thousands of miles and many years. She embraced Islam, searching and searching to justify her beliefs. She found contradictions and still pushed on.

It is written in the Koran that you may beat your wife…and Ayaan properly asks, what kind of God would allow that? It is written that you can cheat and lie to an infidel…and what kind of God would allow that?

And while I agree with her, it is also the point where I lose my way in following her. I won’t argue whether Allah is God and God is Allah, but I will say that the God she describes is not my God. I do believe in God – but not this Allah that she describes. My God has told us to choose life, not death. My God does not allow a man to beat his wife and the value of a life – Jew or not, is important. You cannot cheat or beat a slave and even slaves have an “out” clause to their slavery such that they must be set free after a certain number of years. These are the laws given to my people, by our God, a God we refer to as merciful and just.

A man can sell himself into slavery to pay off a debt, knowing that when the debt is paid, he will be freed. I don’t want to get into a legal comparison of Jewish law versus Islamic law – I am an expert of neither.

But I do believe in the hereafter – only different from what Ayaan was taught. We are taught that God waits to the last minute of your life to forgive any transgressions; the Islam she learned involved having two “angels” over her shoulders, each writing down the good and bad you do – and the list of bad could be as simple as being alone with a man, seeing a movie, etc. If you wear pants, if you show any skin except for your face and hands, certainly not your neck, you are sinful and evil.

I don’t blame Ayaan for walking away from a culture in which a man can take several wives and beat them as he wishes; a culture in which a man can marry off his daughter to a someone she has never met; a culture in which a woman cannot move freely unless she is escorted by a man. I can only hope that had God put me in the same culture, I would have found the courage, as she did, to escape. And she didn’t just escape, she took with her a responsibility to try to help others.

I think it took tremendous courage to walk away, to flee and save herself and thousands of other Muslim women by the work she did in Holland and now does in the United States.

I just wish somehow that along her journey, she could have found a way to keep God. It seems to me that Ayaan’s logical conclusion should have been that if Islam is as flawed as she believes it to be…she should understand that their version and vision of God is flawed too. I do not believe in the God she worshiped as a child and a young woman. Flawed, vindictive, vengeful, and promoting inequality – no, these are not traits of the God that I have known.

This Allah she was raised to worship demanded absolute obedience – compare that to the story of Abraham arguing with God to save the few righteous of Sodom. We have been in a dialog with God for thousands of years – and He listens to us. It is a relationship of love, of gratitude.

In Israel, we have seen too many miracles to do anything but believe in God. Every time a missile hits…it is a miracle because moments before a car passed by, a person left the room, a class was in the library. We have seen it all and we recognize the source. I’m sure we have atheists in Israel, but even among secular Jews here, God is pretty much accepted.

The radio broadcaster will bless the memory of someone who has died; will say, “thank God,” when no one is hurt. God escorts us through our lives here and encourages us to be better, kinder, and more charitable. We are not measured by how many infidels we kill, how many women we force into modesty. This concept of honor killing finds no home in our religion or with our God.

We have seen the horrors of what man can do to man (and to woman) but to blame God for the actions of man seems unfair. There is evil in this world – we all know that. We are given the choice – to choose good and God or to choose evil and work against God.

I can’t explain why bad things happen, but I do believe even the horrible serves a purpose. What was done to Ayaan, and so many others, were terrible, almost unimaginable and yet, didn’t these actions form her into the person she is? Overall, as I read her book, I was left with the impression that she was happy with who she is and what she has done. God, yes, I believe God, gave her a task in this life – one that she accomplishes each time she spreads the knowledge of the culture in which she was raised, each time she forces us to open our eyes and see.

Would she have accomplished what she has, without the challenges along the way? I think the answer is obvious.

What I can say is that there is tremendous comfort in believing that there is a God looking out for you, guiding you, protecting you. And I wish Ayaan could have this comfort. God has a plan – perhaps the greatest evil comes when man attempts to control or redirect that plan; when man attempts to become master of that plan.

Perhaps the irony is that the religion of Islam’s greatest flaw is not that it targets infidels, but that it fails to understand what an infidel is. I would say an infidel is a man who beats his wife, mutilates his daughter, encourages his sons to commit suicide. An infidel is one who is so busy defining God for others, he forgets to understand it is not for us to define God at all.

In carefully defining every aspect of how you live, Islam has succeeded in defining nothing. What the Muslim man fails to realize is that when he blows up a building, murders and terrorizes – and it is he who will go to hell, not the poor woman who was seen talking to a man, not the family sitting in the pizza store in Jerusalem. There are infidels in the world – but these are the people who forsake the love of God, for a culture of death and misery.

(It’s still an incredible book and I highly recommend it…I just wish I could tell Ayaan Hirsi Ali that she is where she is in life…by her own intelligence, her own strength, and by the grace of God…if not Allah.)

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Vienna Hosts First European Jewish Choral Festival

Monday, May 13th, 2013

The Vienna Jewish Choir last weekend hosted the first European Jewish Choral Festival with a comprehensive repertoire of Yiddish, Hebrew, and Ladino songs, the European Jewish Press reported,

Hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish singers from 18 groups in Europe participated n the four-day event that drew approximately 1,500 spectators.

The festival, under the patronage of Austria’s Federal President, Heinz Fischer, is sponsored by the European Jewish Parliament, the European Jewish Union and the Jewish Community of Vienna.

The singers took part in intensive workshops to increase cultural exchange, learn specifically about techniques of Jewish music under the guidance of renowned teachers and exchange views on their interpretations of Jewish music.

Roman Grinberg, who hosted the festival and who heads the Vienna Jewish Choir, founded in 1989, said it “brings together these many initiatives in Vienna to a great musical fireworks.”

The event is to become an annual festival, and Rome and Paris are scheduled to host the event in 2013 and 2014.

Sounds Israeli: The Idan Raichel Project

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

Idan Raichel burst on to the Israeli musical scene in 2003, inviting collaborations from artists of multiple ethnicities and singing in languages as diverse as Spanish, Arabic, Amharic and Swahili. The resulting highly evocative music – blending African, Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds – made Raichel one of his country’s biggest musical breakthroughs.

Here’s a live version of his 2010 hit song “Mima’amakim” (Out of the depths).

Visit CifWatch.

Open Letter to Roger Waters: Music Is Our Shared Language

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters has declareed that a boycott of Israel is the “way to go”(“Roger Waters Calls For Boycott Of Israel,” Rolling Stone, March 20,2013). This statement is distressing not only because his numerous accusations leveled against the state are based on falsehoods, but are inflammatory as well. As members of the entertainment industry, we question Mr. Waters’ misinforming his fans in a way that only triggers further hostilities while continuing to dampen hopes for peaceful dialogue in the Middle East.

Mr. Waters blatantly condemns Israel, yet ignores the facts. Israel has never practiced or enforced racial segregation. As the sole democracy in the Middle East, Israel has always encouraged and legally enabled the integration of Arab peoples into all aspects of Israeli life. Arabs have been elected to the Knesset in every election since Israel’s founding and the Israeli Supreme Court guarantees all Arabs equal rights and full protection under the law.

The recently crowned Miss Israel was born in Ethiopia and quoted Martin Luther King in her acceptance speech! “There are many different communities of many different colors in Israel, and it’s important to show that to the world,” said the new Miss Israel.

Also consider that Israel has already elected a female prime minister, LGBT Israeli soldiers have the right to serve openly in the military, and married LGBT couples are ensured full adoption and inheritance rights. In fact, Israel’s official policies are often more advanced than America’s in promoting and supporting freedom of religion, women’s rights and gay rights, none of which exist in their neighboring nations or states.

Mr. Waters also proclaims his outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a frequently vilified organization that fundamentally questions Israel’s very right to exist. Even political author-activist Norman Finkelstein – a noted advocate of the Palestinian cause – has branded the movement “a hypocritical, dishonest cult” and said in a recent interview that BDS is “not really talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.”

One-sided cultural embargos such as those advocated by Mr. Waters are an affront to both Palestinian and Israeli moderates who seek peace. We too wish for a resolution to the complicated Palestinian-Israeli situation, and believe that the unique connection between artist and fan is part of the solution. Music can reflect politics, but should never be disingenuous.

Mr. Waters should remember that music is our shared language, one that transcends dialects of hatred. Fans are the same everywhere in the world, and today many of Roger Waters’ fans are severely disappointed that he chose the words he did instead of those spoken on the same day by President Obama: “The United States of America stands with the State of Israel because . . . it makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/guest-blog/open-letter-to-roger-waters-music-is-our-shared-language/2013/04/18/

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