Ap­ples, honey, and rad­i­cal Jewish­ness

Rem­i­nisc­ing on IJV’S cel­e­bra­tion of Rosh Hashanah

The McGill Daily - - Culture - Zachary Kleiner Cul­ture Writer

In­de­pen­dent Jewish Voices, or IJV, is an or­ga­ni­za­tion that gives a voice to Jews who refuse com­plic­ity in Is­rael’s con­tin­ued dis­re­gard for and vi­o­lence com­mit­ted against Pales­tini­ans within Is­rael and Pales­tine. Ac­cord­ing to their web­site, IJV Canada is “a na­tional hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion whose man­date is to pro­mote a just res­o­lu­tion to the con­flict in Is­rael and Pales­tine through the ap­pli­ca­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and re­spect for the hu­man rights of all par­ties.” Rosh Hashanah, lit­er­ally “head of the year,” sig­ni­fies the be­gin­ning of the year ac­cord­ing to the an­cient Jewish cal­en­dar. It marks the be­gin­ning of ten days of pen­i­tence, but it also al­lows Jews to re­flect on how to make pos­i­tive change dur­ing the up­com­ing year. I’d been search­ing for out­lets and or­ga­ni­za­tions in which I could use my Jewish­ness to­wards both cel­e­bra­tion and change, so I gladly at­tended a rad­i­cal Rosh Hashanah cel­e­bra­tion hosted by IJV Mcgill.

One of the most ground­ing as­pects of the cel­e­bra­tion was the pres­ence of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions of Jewish ac­tivists. Although most of the in­di­vid­u­als present were stu­dents, younger and older adults alike shared their back­grounds and their roots in Jewish ac­tivism and so­cial jus­tice. Never be­fore had I been in a space where I re­lated to Jews from older gen­er­a­tions, in terms of my pol­i­tics. Much of my con­ver­sa­tion with older Jews, in­clud­ing with my par­ents and grand­par­ents, has cen­tered around how they be­lieve Zion­ism is an in­te­gral part of a global Jewish iden­tity. How­ever, I felt as if ev­ery­one at the cel­e­bra­tion, re­gard­less of age, was work­ing to­ward the same goals of ad­vo­cat­ing for the lib­er­a­tion of marginal­ized groups, specif­i­cally those Pales­tini­ans who are tar­geted by Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion.

Be­cause IJV is a rad­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion with an anti-op­pres­sive man­date, the or­ga­niz­ers of the din­ner felt it ap­pro­pri­ate to al­ter the bra­chot, or bless­ings, over wine, bread, and other items to make them as egal­i­tar­ian as pos­si­ble. Gen­dered lan­guage was neu­tral­ized, and pa­tri­ar­chal phrases were al­tered or left out com­pletely.

Fol­low­ing bless­ings, guests of the potluck-style cel­e­bra­tion were in­vited to choose from a large se­lec­tion of home­made dishes, with both Sephardic and Ashke­nazi ori­gins. Many of the items were ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian, in­clud­ing stuffed cab­bage, ve­gan brisket, as­sorted sal­ads, and lok­shen kugel, which is a tra­di­tional noo­dle pud­ding served through­out the year in Ashke­nazi Jewish homes.

Sch­mooz­ing, feast­ing, and dis­cus­sion en­sued through­out the evening. Some folks dis­cussed the im­por­tance of learn­ing Yid­dish as a means of re­claim­ing an ever-fad­ing Yid­dishkeit iden­tity, another dis­cus­sion cen­tered around Jews orig­i­nat­ing from North­ern and Eastern Europe. Oth­ers played Jewish ge­og­ra­phy, a game com­mon amongst North Amer­i­can Jews, to see how many mu­tual ac­quain­tances were had. Gen­eral themes of the evening em­pha­sized co­op­er­a­tion, per­sonal growth, and or­ga­niz­ing for the up­com­ing year.

The ex­is­tence of anti-zion­ist Jews ne­ces­si­tates a con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing the im­por­tance of Zion­ist ide­ol­ogy to a greater Jewish iden­tity. Hani Abram­son, a Jewish ac­tivist, Jewish Stud­ies ma­jor at Mcgill, and mem­ber of IJV, ex­plains how re­li­gious as­pects of the Jewish New Year tie in with a rad­i­cal, anti-zion­ist Jewish iden­tity: “Rosh Hashanah is a time for re­flec­tion and spir­i­tual re­newal. Many of us view our ac­tivism as a deeply spir­i­tual ac­tiv­ity in­formed by our con­nec­tions to our Jewish iden­ti­ties. By fos­ter­ing a Jewish space to cel­e­brate Jewish cus­tom and tra­di­tion that stands for jus­tice in Pales­tine, we are de­fy­ing decades of ef­fort by the Zion­ist project to in­trin­si­cally marry Jewish­ness with the state of Is­rael.”

Although Is­rael was founded in the name of the sur­vival of the Jewish peo­ple, speak­ing out against Is­rael’s atroc­i­ties does not un­der­mine one’s iden­tity as a Jew. Is­rael’s founders were eth­ni­cally Jewish, but they were not nec­es­sar­ily re­li­gious Jews. In fact, be­ing crit­i­cal of Zion­ism per­pet­u­ates sec­u­lar Jewish val­ues of so­cial, racial, and eco­nomic jus­tice found amongst pro­gres­sive Jewish com­mu­ni­ties world­wide. It seems point­less to em­brace one’s iden­tity as a Jew with­out con­tin­u­ously ad­vo­cat­ing for and em­pow­er­ing marginal­ized groups, in­clud­ing Pales­tini­ans.

This year, Rosh Hashanah co­in­cided with a de­feat for an­tiZion­ist and pro- Pales­tine groups on cam­pus. Ear­lier in the week, the SSMU Board of Di­rec­tors voted Boy­cott, Di­vest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) un­con­sti­tu­tional ac­cord­ing to the SSMU’S con­sti­tu­tion and eq­uity poli­cies. The de­ci­sion cites the ex­is­tence of BDS as in­con­sis­tent with the their pol­icy against dis­crim­i­na­tion based on na­tional ori­gin. The de­ci­sion per­pet­u­ates the false­hood that BDS wholly ad­vo­cates for the abo­li­tion of the state of Is­rael. BDS seeks to end in­ter­na­tional com­plic­ity in Is­rael’s con­tin­ued oc­cu­pa­tion of Pales­tinian land. Speak­ing out against a state’s colo­nial atroc­i­ties is not equal to speak­ing out against stu­dents from that state.

What does this de­ci­sion on be­half of the SSMU Board of Di­rec­tors in rul­ing BDS un­con­sti­tu­tional mean for IJV and SSMU ser­vices that ex­ist to sup­port marginal­ized folks, in­clud­ing those marginal­ized at the hands of colo­nial states? Hani ex­presses her dis­taste for SSMU’S de­ci­sion: “The re­cent deal­ings re­gard­ing BDS at SSMU are not grounded in fact or rea­son. A small group can­not de- cide that vi­o­lence is not ‘ex­treme enough’ to war­rant po­lit­i­cal ac­tion. Also, as an Is­raeli na­tional who does sup­port BDS, I find the Jus­tice Board’s logic to be in­cred­i­bly prob­lem­atic.” This de­ci­sion not only en­gen­ders feel­ings of dis­en­fran­chise­ment amongst Pales­tinian stu­dents, but it also in­val­i­dates the hard work that has been done on be­half of anti-zion­ist and pro-pales­tine or­ga­ni­za­tions in pro­mot­ing the rights of those vic­tims of Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion. Pri­or­ity must shift to the recog­ni­tion of Pales­tinian voices which are not only present within the state of Is­rael, but must be heard in or­der to shift the de­bate over Zion­ism away from Ju­daism.

IJV looks for­ward to host­ing many up­com­ing events in Mon­tréal to cel­e­brate Jewish iden­tity and to ad­vo­cate for Pales­tinian jus­tice. Look out for a rad­i­cal Tash­lich to cel­e­brate the 5778 High Hol­i­days, gen­eral meet­ings, and a talk in Oc­to­ber with Rabbi David Mi­va­sair on Jewish iden­tity, Zionisms, and BDS. For more in­for­ma­tion on IJV, con­tact ijvm­cgill@ gmail.com, or check out their Face­book page! L’shanah tova, and cheers to a sweet and ac­tive new year.

Do­ing the bracha on the can­dles. Corey Bal­sam | Pho­tog­ra­pher

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