Patinkin and friends take on ‘nerve center of fear’ in Jewish community

Jewish Voice for Peace had a fundraiser in New York at the end of April that I went to and where a number of Jews talked about the fears inside the Jewish community. It’s taken me a week to post because it was off the record, and I had to get permission. But these are compelling statements. 

Host Kathryn Grody, actress, Mandy Patinkin’s wife, called for deep listening. She told of visiting Sierra Leone three years after the people there were cutting one another apart and saw a sign, “Practice Deep Listening.” And she thought: “I could try and have a civil conversation with friends and strangers over this part of the world… I didn’t have to feel secretive about how I felt.”

Her husband had a gig that night, but he made a video appearance and challenged people to take on the “nerve center of fear” in the Jewish community, “to walk right down the throat of that fear and not be afraid to have a dialogue with your friends and family”– and even enemies.

Penny Rosenwasser, founding board member for JVP, described an action at the Caterpillar outlet in Northern California. JVPers got into the office and asked CAT to stop selling the weaponized bulldozers to the IDF — and then they all lit candles and Rosenwasser put on a prayer shawl and led kaddish for Rachel Corrie. Rosenwasser said JVP was trying “to tell the truth without demonizing anyone…. opening up conversations rather than shutting them down.” And they were not going to let “inherited fear” keep us from speaking out, but would use “our privilege to shift power and build community.”

Cecilie Surasky of JVP described reading history books as a child about black people having to sit on the back of the bus and asking her parents what they had done. And now she has an 8-year-old and some day he will read history books and ask what she did during the Jim Crow period in Palestine, “What is happening to the Palestinians is one of the great human rights and civil rights issues of our time.” And the U.S. in so many ways has been the problem, its culture of no accountability. And here there is an element of McCarthyism, people are afraid to speak out; and JVP is trying to provide safe spaces.

Elik Elhanan of Combatants for Peace speaks. He talked about his first trip to the U.S. (I believe in 2007, when I met him). Elhanan’s sister was killed by a suicide bomber in 1997. And here he was in the U.S., trying to get money, trying to get backing for a movement to restore human rights to Palestinians.

“We are not from the delirious fringes of the left. We are from the center of Israeli society,” he said. And this was one of the most devastating experiences of his life, not to be supported.

Then he understood that the Amercan Jewish establishment was lined up behind the narrow interests of one group in Israeli society, and the most fearful element.

P.S. There’s a world conversation about Palestine and an inhibited Jewish conversation, and the great challenge is to bring the Jewish conversation into the world conversation. I realize in spite of all the viciousness that people bring to bear on ethnocentrism, that is my work.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 7 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Les says:

    The ongoing blacklisting of Jews who don’t toe the line on Israel/Palestine is a reminder of the 1950′s Hollywood blacklisting that relied so heavily on Jews who informed on other Jews. Then, as now, our media helps to make the blacklisting the success that it is.

  2. The fear is not irrational. “Deep listening” implies respecting others’ fears, not only insisting that they “deep listen” to you.

    When you speak in any terms that imply ‘Israel does not have a right to defend itself’ as Jerome Slater implied in his comment that because Israel did not choose to negotiate with Hamas during the cease-fire, that their responsibility to defend civilians from shelling was void, you collectively pour salt on wounds. You invoke fear in that way.

    The way to remove irrational fear is to honor the fear, to allow it to provide information. To the extent that “deep listening” dishonors the fear, it is a suppression (with multiplied reaction) not a healing of the fear.

    • Yes, but what you mean with your weaselly words is that the so-called ‘right to defend itself’ actually means waging an annihilating war with a colossal arsenal of weaponry against people who have no armies or means of self-defence themselves. In other words it is crime against language to call such an offensive, brutal occupation and war as ‘self-defence’. It is clearly not and you are either hopelessly naive and uninformed, despite the copious evidence here and elsewhere, or a typical hasbarist spreading illusory excuses for Israeli apartheid.

    • RoHa says:

      In other words, pander to their self-centredness and stupidity?

  3. pabelmont says:

    Even psychiatrists, who are supposed to be trained to listen well, cannot necessarily “cure” or “remove” fears. They sometimes manage to get their patients to listen to themselves, especially to the events of their pasts which are playing over and over again like a record with a scratch in it (an image for you old-timers who know what I’m meaning here) as if it were fresh thinking about current life situations.

    Suppose one of these fearful ones is fearful (for whatever reason) for an Israel which has to bow to international law, or for an Israel which must share its land with the indigenes, or whatever. Where does the conversation go from there, from that realization?

    The conversation shouldn’t be with me. It should be with the fearful one’s own self, her own fears.

  4. Weiss: “There’s a world conversation about Palestine and an inhibited Jewish conversation, and the great challenge is to bring the Jewish conversation into the world conversation. I realize in spite of all the viciousness that people bring to bear on ethnocentrism, that is my work.”

    Phil, I’m guessing that a majority of your readers are Americans. The conversation among American non-Jews, in my judgment, is even more inhibited and hushed than among American Jews (the out-group must get permission, at their peril).

    Whether you recognize and intend it or not, your work also involves awakening American non-Jews to the swelling conversation. You help in giving permission and broadening awareness. But I do agree that purposeful ethnocentrism has its place, in some circumstances.

    You’re doing a great job; keep it up!

    • annie says:

      The conversation among American non-Jews, in my judgment, is even more inhibited and hushed than among American Jews (the out-group must get permission, at their peril).

      great pt thomson