CHAMPAIGN – A group of students, faculty and community members from Champaign-Urbana gathered Thursday to observe the Jewish ritual of Tashlich. Tashlich takes place during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and involves a symbolic casting off of sins through the tossing of pebbles or bread crumbs into a natural body of water. In this particular Tashlich service, event leaders used an adapted script from Jewish Voice for Peace that took as its focus the casting off of both personal and collective sins, particularly those of the ongoing occupation of Palestine and the recent firing of Professor Steven Salaita.
The group of roughly 30 participants gathered on a bridge over Boneyard Creek on UIUC’s campus at sundown. Most wore stickers of the sideways letter “I” over their mouths, as in previous protests of the Salaita firing, to symbolize censorship at the university. The stickers used at the Tashlich service, however, contained an image of the Israeli flag inside the sideways “I”, symbolizing the particularly harsh censorship of dissenting views on Israel in particular.
With the reading of each collective sin, the participants tossed a pebble into the creek while responding in unison, “We take responsibility and we will work to make it stop.” The list of sins read aloud were as follows:
1. Allowing the attack, starvation and strangulation of Gaza and allowing the claim to be made that it is no longer occupied.
2. Allowing fear, instead of compassion, to dictate our actions.
3. Becoming pessimistic about the ability of lasting peace and justice to be built in Palestine.
4. Allowing violence against Palestinians to be committed in our name as Jews and as Americans.
5. Not speaking out against anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.
6. Not learning about the diverse experiences of Palestinian peoples.
7. Not fighting for the rights of Israeli Palestinians.
8. Elevating Anti-Semitism above other oppressions and refusing to see its interconnectedness with racism, classism, transphobia, homophobia and xenophobia in our communities.
9. Forgetting that Jews come from many cultural traditions
10. Making invisible and marginalizing Jews of color around the world, including Israel where they are the majority of the population.
11. Being afraid to speak because of stigmatization in our communities.
12. Distancing ourselves from religious practice or religiously observant Jews due to assumptions about what they stand for.
13. Hardening our hearts instead of remembering what it means to be oppressed and dispossessed.
14. Allowing the absence of a Jewish counterweight to Zionism in C-U and UIUC.
15. Feeling powerless in the face of the theft of Palestinian land, the destruction of Palestinian homes and the silencing of Palestinian voices, like that of Professor Steven Salaita.
The service, according to its primary organizers, myself and Zack Poppel, represented the beginning of a new, progressive, non-Zionist Jewish group in Champaign-Urbana. The group initially coalesced over the signing of the Jewish Community of UIUC Letter in Support of Our Professor Steven Salaita, in an effort to create a “Jewish front” in the battle to reinstate Steven Salaita.
At the heart of the Salaita controversy lie questions of anti-Semitism and Zionism. The founding members of this group therefore see a very important role for Jewish voices in the conversation over Salaita’s firing. Their letter reads: “By pointing to anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in an attempt to obscure politically and financially-motivated University actions, you minimize the Jewish voices of those who have resisted real and violent anti-Semitism. By conflating pointed and justified critique of the Israeli state with anti-Semitism, your administration is effectively disregarding a large and growing number of Jewish perspectives that oppose Israeli military occupation, settler expansion, and the assault on Palestine. We did not survive ethnic cleansing and carry on the legacy of our people to have our existence used to justify the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, or their unethical treatment when they speak out against the murder, violence, and displacement of their own people.”
Last night’s service was ultimately a collective commitment by a segment of the the Jewish community in Champaign-Urbana to provide what Poppel called a “Jewish counterweight to Zionism in Champaign-Urbana and at UIUC.” In addition, the group’s formation will provide a previously missing Jewish space for those whose views on Israel don’t align with institutions like Hillel or Chabad.
Jade Bettine, one of the group’s founding members, said of last night’s service, “I really appreciated the opportunity to do something again that I didn’t think would be part of my life any more (Jewish rituals/sing the songs/celebrate the holiday) with a wonderful group of people who are aligned with what I believe and interested in change.”
To get involved in the Champaign-Urbana Progressive Jewish Group (name is provisional), please feel free to join the Google group by e-mailing:[email protected].