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

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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.

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