James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘diaspora

The meditating Jews of Fairfield, Iowa …

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… is the topic of my recent piece in PresenTense magazine (available here).  The community is very unique and I hope people find the piece worthwhile.

However, there was also much that I was unfortunately unable to include in the piece due to space limitations.  Here just a few of them:

One of Fairfield’s residents is Emo Baer.  You can buy his self-published autobiography through resellers at Amazon.  It is an interesting book that follows a diary-like story written by Emo later in life, but recalling the earlier events in his life.  It illustrates his life fleeing Nazi Germany, settling in pre-state British Palestine, serving in various wars, and, eventually, following his family into Transcendental Meditation (TM) and half-way around the globe to Fairfield.

Haim Menashehoff is briefly mentioned in my PresenTense piece, but his story is much more interesting than I had room to describe.  He got tired of “running from Muslims” in the streets of Tehran, even during the time of the Shah.  After making aliyah to Israel, he traveled the world as an artist and settled in South Africa for a while before eventually being more fully drawn to TM.  That interest eventually pulled him to Fairfield.

An issue I could not explore in the article is something that our Orthodox Jewish friends would find familiar.  I mentioned the golden domes (note the plural) in Fairfield, but never explored why there was more than one.  TM is, presumably for reasons not dissimilar to Orthodox davening, practiced in gender separated environments.  There is a men’s dome and a women’s dome in Fairfield.  This is just one of a few more traditional aspects of a practice that is seen as non-traditional by many outsiders.

Fairfield is a very interesting place and it is worth visiting if you want to get a picture of one of Iowa’s more diverse communities.  Congregation Beth Shalom has a nice background on the Fairfield Jewish community on their website if you are interested.

One more thing.  I also was unable to properly recognize Ben Winkler and Yael Yaar for their help on the story.  Ben spent a fair deal of time with me helping me get a feel for Fairfield.  Yael was indespensible for helping me understand the intellectual, ideological, and religious dynamics at play.  Even though they were not mentioned in the final edited draft, both played a huge part in the story.

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Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Posted in judaism

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The Ghetto … worse than the films.

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A Film Unfinished is showing now at the Bijou Theater at the University of Iowa.  The Israeli documentary covers the known and lost footage taken by the Nazis of the Warsaw Ghetto.

I saw it last night and it is a very powerful film that makes even those familiar with the Holocaust pause in consideration of the terror of Naziism … well before the Jews were sent to the gas chambers.

Here is a preview:

Go watch it at the Bijou … between now and Thursday.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 5:44 am

Evangelical Christians show more tolerance than the Left.

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John Hagee

Pastor John Hagee at the 'Night to Honor Israel' in the Quad Cities.

On Thursday, I went to the Christians United for Israel ‘Night to Honor Israel’ in Davenport. The 2,400 seat Adler Theater was filled nearly to capacity with conservative evangelical Christians. This is not typically my sort of crowd.  Conservative preacher Pastor John Hagee, who is among the best known conservative evangelicals in America, was the keynote speaker.  The crowd was filled with people who have a strict view of a different faith than mine and who have fairly severe differences with me on a wide range of social policies.

And yet, I was warmly welcomed, as a Jew, among these people.  Hagee made clear that his love and support for the Jewish people is not based on any expectation that we convert to Christianity or any other sort of compromise of our beliefs.  The crowd echoed that view.

And so, I wonder, why is it that among the supposedly tolerant and accepting people on the left here in Iowa City, I feel no tolerance; while among the typically less tolerant and conservative Christians, I feel real tolerance … even acceptance?

By way of example, a far-left Democrat from here in Johnson County, told me at the state Democratic Convention that I was a disloyal American and that I should leave and move to Israel.  I feared nothing like that on Thursday evening.  In fact, I experienced the opposite … my Jewish identity was seen as a patriotic expression of my American heritage.  God bless these people for showing me real acceptance.

 

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Losing Iowa

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The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

The Atlantic covers Persian Jews in America.

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Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Jews can trace their history in Persia back at least 2,500 years to the time of Cyrus the Great, who restored the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile.  Sadly, in the last several decades, the Jews in Persia have been reduced to one tenth their previous size.  Most Jews fled Iran because of the rising antisemitism and persecution that accompanied the Islamic Revolution and went to Israel.  A very large number also fled to the United States.

The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Weingarten has an amazing piece discussing the recent history of Persian Jews in the United States.  Here is what she reports on Persian Jewish thought on the possibility of a military strike on Iran:

“Its very difficult for us,” explains Hooshang Nemat, the executive vice president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York. “You dont want to see your nation destroyed, and you dont want to see a conflict between your country of birth and the country that you sympathize with because of religion and because of shared history.” Nemat, a 67-year-old Mashadi Jew an small, ancient group from the Iranian city of Mashad, came to America in 1961 as a student at the University of Miami. He returned to Iran in 1972, and came back to the United States because of the revolution.

Like Nemat, most Iranian American Jews are against a military strike on Iran — whether it is from Israel or from the United States. But while theyd prefer a diplomatic solution, others say they would still support Israel in defending itself against a virulently anti-Semitic, and potentially dangerous, regime. Sam Kermanian, the former secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, believes that an Israeli strike “would be viewed as a justifiable act of defense,” adding that “the reaction of the Iranian American Jewish community wont be much different than the reaction of the majority of the people of Iran, who view the current regime as oppressive, and in conflict with the interests of the people of Iran.”

via Iranian Jews in America: Torn Between Homelands – International – The Atlantic.

This is just a small sample of what Weingarten shares.  The entire piece is worth reading and provides valuable insight on the views of religious minorities from Iran.

cross-posted at The View From Damavand

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 2:23 am

The lynching of Leo Frank.

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Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Jews have it pretty good in the United States.  Indeed, it is the only place where large numbers of Jews have lived as a minority with equal rights  and without having faced genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Even so, Jews have had reason to fear persecution in America.  General Ulysses Grant issued his infamous General Order 11 in 1862, expelling all the Jews of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.   It was revoked within one month – after President Lincoln ordered its revocation.

Even today, hate crimes are disproportionately perpetrated on the basis of an anti-Jewish bias.  Only anti-gay bias is more disproportionate as a motivation for hate crimes in the US.

But, perhaps the worst (certainly the most notorious) hate crime perpetrated against a Jew in the US was the lynching of Leo Frank, 95 years ago today.

Frank was a pencil manufacturer in Atlanta and was accused of murdering a young girl who was an employee at his factory.  He was convicted in a show trial and sentenced to death.  Reports of the trial describe antisemitic outbursts in the courtroom.  There is little doubt that the conviction was the result of an antisemitic animus and that exculpatory evidence was ignored in the trial.

The governor of Georgia commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison.  In an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Frank’s throat was slit by another inmate.

A group that would later form the (second) Ku Klux Klan began openly planning the lynching of Frank.  Dozens of people were involved.  They went to the jail where he was being held, removed him, and drove him in a motorcade 150 miles to near the home town of the murdered girl.  There he was hanged before a large crowd of onlookers.  No one was charged with his murder.

Frank’s lynching led to many things.  The perpetrators re-established the Ku Klux Klan.  Jews established the Anti-Defamation League.  Half of Georgia’s Jews fled the state.

Thankfully, no Jew has been lynched in America in the interceding 95 years.

Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm

This Shabbat in Iowa City … The Torah portion – Va-ethannan (1 of 3)

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Mezuzah

A mezuzah, which is affixed to the door posts of Jewish homes, contains a scroll with the Hebrew words of the Shema.

This is part one of a three part series. – Read Part 1 – The Torah portion – Va-ethannan Part 2 – Getting a minyan and Part 3 – The importance of egalitarianism in the Jewish hinterland.

On every Shabbat morning, Jews read a part of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, at morning services.  On the Jewish calendar, we read a section of the Torah each week such that we read the entire Torah every year.  This week, we read Va-ethannan, which is the second portion of Deuteronomy, or in transliterated Hebrew, Devarim.

This portion is unusually significant.  It contains two passages that are of major importance.  The first, which is recognizable to Jews and Christians alike, is that the portion contains one of the recitations of the Ten Commandments.

While Jews have 613 commandments in the Torah, there is no doubt that these ten are of elevated importance.  They appear in Jewish iconography and, as tablets, were the material representation of the entire Torah covenant between God and the Jewish people.    While today synagogues have arks to hold their Torah scrolls, the original ark in the Tabernacle and later in the First Temple contained these tablets.

Hearing the Ten Commandments read aloud in the synagogue in Hebrew is an important experience that happens only twice a year.  They are read first in Exodus, or in transliterated Hebrew, Shemot.  This week was their second reading.

The other passage of tremendous importance this week was the recitation of the Shema.  In English it reads, “Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.”  In transliterated Hebrew, it reads, “Shema, Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad.”  This is the only time it is recited in the Torah and if there is a single passage of Hebrew that a Jew knows, it is this one.  Observant Jews recite it every morning and every night and at every service.  According to the command following this verse, they bind the words in little boxes on their arms and forehead each morning, and affix them in little containers to their door posts.  If able, Jews should try to make these their last words.  Even very non-observant Jews do some of these.  There is no other verse that receives even remotely this level of attention.

In short, if one is compelled to come to services based on the content of the portion, this week was uniquely compelling.  It is interesting, therefore, that in Iowa City, there was a risk that we would be unable to read it.  And, indeed, in many Iowa towns, they probably did not read it.  That will be the subject of the next part.

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Posted in judaism, other

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