Archive for the ‘Culture & History’ Category

Shomer Shalom Shavuot and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Posted on: June 4th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

The struggle of ordinary people for equity, dignity, and fair treatment has given rise to a unique document that enshrines a new global consensus of what constitutes fundamental and inviolable rights. On Dec. 10th, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a collective vow to ‘never again’ permit the occurrences of atrocities like those that occurred during World War II. The rights enumerated in the Declaration’s 30 Articles define the fundamental freedoms which all societies must secure by enacting progressive measures.

The adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a global ‘Sinai moment’ and the stories of ordinary people striving for freedom comprise the sacred narratives we recite to remind ourselves of the real human cost of violence and injustice. Stewardship of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights must be seen as a sacred obligation for members of the human family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its preamble and 30 Articles, and the stories that inform its creation and ongoing application can be integrated into our collective understanding of what constitutes compassion, justice and peace.

In response to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community has developed humanitarian laws and protocols that recognize the legitimacy of leveraging non-violent actions to secure fundamental freedoms. Securing and safeguarding human rights by waging nonviolent campaigns and employing nonviolent tactics such as public demonstration, strike, boycott, divestment, protection of a free press and many other forms of economic, political and social noncooperation has been taken up by hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

Liberation from mass incarceration, deportation, forced dislocation, economic exploitation, health care and education deprivation, gender violence, militarization, environmental injustice, deadly conflict, autocratic rule and genocide is a matter of life and death. Revelation is not a one time event. It is ongoing. As the Jewish community stands at Sinai in the year 5774, let us receive a Torah illuminated by nonviolence. The values so beautifully and hopefully enshrined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights carry the ancient struggle for freedom to new heights. They are reflected in the seven core principles of Jewish nonviolence as well. May these seven principles be studied by people staying up all night in order to reaffirm the sacred covenant of the Jewish people, as it is written: The Compassionate One desires the Heart.

Here are the Seven Middot/Core Principles of Shmirat Shalom to study on Shavuot:

  1. YHVH Ekhad: Life is sacred and inter-related. (Deut. 6:7)
  2. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Do not do to others that which is hateful to you. (Lev.19: 18; BT Shabbat 31a)
    דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד – זו היא כל התורה כולה, ואידך – פירושה הוא, זיל גמור.
  3. Great is human dignity. (BT Berakhot 19b)
  4. Nonviolently pursue restorative justice, truth and peace, as it is written, “By three things the world is preserved, by (restorative) justice, by truth, and by peace, and these three are one: if (restorative) justice has been accomplished, so has truth, and so has peace” (JT Ta’anit 4:2).
    רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר על שלשה דברים העולם עומד על הדין ועל האמת ועל השלום שנאמר (זכריה ח) אמת ומשפט שלום שפטו בשעריכם.
  5. Practice teshuvah: resolve conflict in the spirit of nonviolent reconciliation. (Deuteronomy 30:2)
    וְשַׁבְתָּ עַד-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְשָׁמַעְתָּ בְקֹלוֹ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ, הַיּוֹם: אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשֶׁךָ.
  6. Do not envy a person of violence. Do not choose any of his (violent) ways. (Prov. 3:31)
    אַל-תְּקַנֵּא, בְּאִישׁ חָמָס; וְאַל-תִּבְחַר, בְּכָל-דְּרָכָיו.
  7. Refuse to cooperate with and resist structural violence, colonialism and war with nonviolence, as it is written, “Not with (military) might, and not with force of arms; Only by My spirit, says Adonai.” (Zecharia 4: 6) What is my spirit? My spirit is nonviolence.
    לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ–כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.
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Passover: A Celebration and Exploration of Liberation

Posted on: April 10th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
sephardic-haggadah

The oldest Sephardic haggadah featuring the prayer: This is the poor bread our ancestors ate in Mitzrayim. Let all who are oppressed, come and feast with us. Let all who are in need, join the Passover Seder!

The ritual book used for Passover, the haggadah or the telling, starts off with a call: “Let all who are hungry, come eat. Let all who are oppressed come join the Passover celebration!” Since this is the night of telling there is a presumption that the community will hear from ‘all those who are oppressed.’ Hearing voices of people on the front lines of struggle against systems of violence is the narrative of Passover. Assessing how each of us unconsciously or consciously participates in or resists structures of oppression is key to observing Passover – the oldest and most beloved Jewish holy day.

For Jewish people concerned with our collective relationship to the State of Israel, history has transformed the context in which we tell the Jewish liberation story and radically reshaped our questions. For example, the last line of the haggadah, “Next year in Jerusalem!” has caused members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to consider this phrase from the perspective of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. From a Palestinian point of view, “Next year in Jerusalem” is experienced as Israel’s occupation policies of forced displacement from Jerusalem as new Jewish settlers take over former Palestinian villages and land. The State of Israel’s dispossession policies toward Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem encompass land appropriation, discriminatory planning policies, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, the denial of citizenship to Palestinian East Jerusalem residents, home demolition, settler vandalism and harassment, and the use of Jewish historical claims to take land.

This year, as many Jews break the matzah in two, and hide one until the meal is through, we will be contemplating next steps as solidarity partners in the Palestinian freedom struggle. Those of us associated with JVP and the Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence will continue to honor the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Working together, we can transform despair into hope and oppression into liberation. Next year, a liberated Jerusalem. Dayenu.

Syrian Charoset for Passover from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

Charoset is a symbolic food that has two meanings (like all the symbols). On the one hand, it represents the mortar Israelites were forced to use in Pharaoh’s building projects. On the other hand, it represents the fruits of the garden of Eden associated with liberation and delight. This charoset recipe is from the Brooklyn Syrian Jewish household of Stephanie Cohen.

  • 3 pounds dates
  • Water
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate extract (my addition) or sweet wine
  • Teaspoon of ground cinnamon (mixed with a pinch of cardamom and allspice)
  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts (optional)

Put dates in large saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until dates are very soft (30-45 minutes). Date skins will separate from the flesh of the fruit, and the boiling liquid becomes thick and syrupy. Mash everything up. Add other ingredients. Chill until ready to serve. Eat with matzah and bitter herb.

Hag Sameakh, a joyous Passover season to you!
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Gift giving and banquet diplomacy during the spring season of Purim and Norouz: shared peacemaking customs

Posted on: March 14th, 2014 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
A minyan on a weekday morning in Tehran, 2009

A minyan on a weekday morning in Tehran, 2009

Purim is a Jewish holy day that originated in ancient Persia. Many narrative features of the story reveal different aspects of Persian culture. Gift giving is an example of a valued custom and method of diplomacy which appears in the Purim text, and on bas-relief images carved into the walls of Persepolis. A line of diplomatics holding gifts, their hands on each other’s shoulders reveal the camaraderie of the moment. In Persepolis, both male and female workers were given three months leave after the birth of babies. The archeology of Persepolis also reveals the fact that queens inhabited their own castles. No wonder Queen Vashti demanded gender equality!

Gifts of food given at Purim are part of what we might call ‘banquet diplomacy’, a peacemaking tactic used in Jewish and Iranian society to welcome people from all nations and invite them to enjoy a feast and share in the bounty of the host. Jewish people preserve the ancient gift giving and banquet customs at Purim in the form of a religious obligation to distribute gifts of food to our community. We share these customs with contemporary Iranians who have preserved the ancient festival of Norouz which features gift giving during the new year’s spring festival.

The gift giving custom can be a foundation upon which we create a new/old vision of shared culture and traditions with the Iranian people whose ancestors first gave welcome to Jewish exiles and helped our ancestors rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews stayed in Persia. Shiraz was known as the city of Jewish musicians. There is much beauty to remember and celebrate, and many bridges still to build.

There are still between 12,000 and 30,000 Jews living in Iran, mostly in the cities of Shiraz, Tehran and Esfahan. Jews of Iran feel deeply connected to the Jewish history of Persia and preserve many ancient pilgrimage sites, including the graves of Mordecai and Esther. They represent the oldest continuous Jewish community in the world and possess a Torah that is 1800 years old which resides in Hamadan.

To read more about Jewish Persian culture check out: Esther’s Children by Houman Sarshar, 2002. This book is a must read for anyone interested in Jewish Iranian history and culture.

The two links below are about Louisa Shafia, a dual heritage woman. Her father came from a Muslim household in Iran. Her mother is an Ashkenazi Jew from Philadelphia. Her parents met, fell in love and married. Louisa’s mom learned traditional Persian cooking for her husband. Their daughter combined her knowledge of cooking with the traditions of her parents and produced a wonderful cookbook. Check out the results below along with an interview. Purim and Norouz are featured in the HuffPo article.

A Bouquet of Persian Purim Sweets (recipes from “The Jew & the Carrot”)

The New Persian Kitchen (YouTube video)

 

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