In which Snow Patrol reads my mind.

Ok, so how do you list mental groceries if your brain is empty?

Devoid of intelligence. Bereft of thought. Not even terribly interested in it.

I think I know what this is. It’s the fact of several insane weeks piling up to one grand finish in the pre-Passover madness and then the Seder and then – boom. Done.

It’s the fact of the holiday itself, yesterday, lovely and lazy and full of food and friends.

It’s the fact of the kids home on Spring Break, and, hey now, there they are! At every turn!

It’s the fact of other kids coming and going all day. It’s the fact of getting snacks — and weird, pesadika (kosher-for-Passover) snacks, at that — for kids all day. It’s the fact of kids wanting to be out front, and then inside, and maybe upstairs, and back out front all day.

It’s the fact of spring having sprung to the tune of, like, 75 degrees F today, warming the sap in my joints and slowing the sap in my head. It’s the fact of the ENTIRE neighborhood emptying out of their houses as if on command, everyone with a dog or in flip-flops or on a scooter or having a catch or all of it. At once!

It’s the fact of being here in the gentle exile of American suburbia when I want to be a Jew among the Jews, as the Jewish homeland continues down a path of self-destruction and heartbreak.

I haven’t turned on the news, I’ve barely looked at the blogs. I know the world is there, I know what awaits, I know my head will soon be un-empty, and I will be un-uninterested, but right now, I am as a blank slate. It will wait a few hours, maybe a day more. It won’t go anywhere.

*****

If I lay here, if I just lay here/ Would you lie with me, and just forget the world

Forget what we’re told, before we get too old/ Show me a garden that’s bursting into life

אותו דבר משוכנעת אני

Passover and the arc of the universe.

Of course — of course — at this point in the day, mere hours before the Seder, I have very little time at my disposal, indeed. Indeed, some might argue (me, for instance) that I am, in fact, out of time and nearly out of luck! The sun will set, the holiday will arrive, and it won’t matter if my skirt is ironed and my Pesach dishes out of their boxes yet — the sun has yet to pay much mind to my needs. At least the house is clean. (That’s what cleaning until 2 am the day before the Seder will get you!)

But I wanted to at least post a little something before the holiday comes, something about why this holiday resonates so strongly for me.

We as a people, the Jewish people, are a people whose very existence is predicated on the notion that the arc of the universe bends toward justice. We were slaves in Egypt, strangers in a strange land — and then we were freed.

It is the fact of our own cruel oppression that serves as the bedrock for all Jewish involvement in social justice movements anywhere and everywhere. We are to remember our bondage, our strangeness, and act righteously toward those in need of God’s hand.

You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there (Deut. 24:18)

I cannot help but think of the more than a million souls — strangers to us — living today in Gaza, many of them fatherless or widows by Israeli hands. How many dead, how many hungry, how many without medicine, how many without hope. An entirely human-constructed humanitarian disaster — and the humans who constructed it are my own people. The people who were freed from Egypt and told in every generation to think of themselves as having escaped Pharaoh’s lash themselves.

There are many political arguments swirling around the occupation of Palestinian lands, many fears, many military concerns. I do not doubt that Israel will have to remain on its guard, should we finally do the right thing and release our strangle-hold on the lives of millions upon millions of strangers who now live in our midst. Decades of murderous rage between two peoples do not end without leaving a mark.

But to continue this way, to continue the occupation, the settlements, the stealing of land, the starving of children — it is a shanda, a disgrace. It flies in the face of all that is good and right about Judaism — no, it spits in the face of all that is good and right about Judaism. It spits in the face of Moses, of Sinai, and of all those who for centuries upon centuries have tried with all their might to remember that we, too, were once strangers in a strange land.

He has told you, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

May this be the Passover in which we, the Jewish people, choose to act on our own story, and the command given us by God as we stood before Him in the desert. May this be the Passover in which we choose to act, not as Pharaoh, but as Jews.

A happy, healthy, and kosher holiday to all.

An open letter to conservatives. OMG.

I’m taking a very brief (too brief) respite from my Passover cleaning in order to try to draw even more eyes to what is really rather a stunning document: “An open letter to conservatives,” by Russell King. (I found it at TPM, where he cross-posted it, but Mr. King also blogs at Russ’ Filtered News).

King’s open letter is stunning for a variety of reasons, only starting with the sheer amount of labor that went into creating it — he has summarized, in trenchant and often wry fashion, and with a dizzying amount of documentation to back himself up, virtually everything that American conservatives have done badly over the past two-three years. And, sadly — “done badly” hardly begins to cover it.

I’m going to quote from the letter but not at much length, because I want to whet your appetite, but I really, really hope that you will click through and read the entire thing.

And why do I really, really hope that you  read the whole thing? Because, first of all, as I’ve said before (repeatedly) I honestly think that our two-party democracy really needs two fully functional parties if we are going to achieve a more perfect union.

But also because even though all of what King writes is public knowledge, much of it the stuff of daily conversation, he provides an invaluable service in pulling back and showing — in the starkest terms possible — just how deep, and dangerous, the rot is. I had a pretty good idea, and really: I had no idea.

So honestly, please: Read all of it! Look: here’s another link so you don’t have to scroll back to find the first one!

“Dear Conservative Americans,” King starts. “The years have not been kind to you.”

I grew up in a profoundly Republican home, so I can remember when you wore a very different face than the one we see now.  You’ve lost me and you’ve lost most of America.  Because I believe having responsible choices is important to democracy, I’d like to give you some advice and an invitation.

First, the invitation:  Come back to us.

Now the advice.  You’re going to have to come up with a platform that isn’t built on a foundation of cowardice: fear of people with colors, religions, cultures and sex lives that differ from your own; fear of reform in banking, health care, energy; fantasy fears of America being transformed into an Islamic nation, into social/commun/fasc-ism, into a disarmed populace put in internment camps; and more.  But you have work to do even before you take on that task.

Your party — the GOP — and the conservative end of the American political spectrum have become irresponsible and irrational.  Worse, it’s tolerating, promoting and celebrating prejudice and hatred.  Let me provide some examples — by no means an exhaustive list — of where the Right as gotten itself stuck in a swamp of hypocrisy, hyperbole, historical inaccuracy and hatred.

From this point on, the letter is split into four main sections: Hypocrisy, Hyperbole, History, and Hatred. I’ll provide just a taste of each, and then, again, urge you to click through and read the rest (look! It’s another link!)

Hypocrisy

You can’t flip out — and threaten impeachment - when Dems use a parliamentary procedure (deem and pass) that you used repeatedly (more than 35 times in just one session and more than 100 times in all!), that’s centuries old and which the courts have supported. Especially when your leaders admit it all.

Hyperbole

You really need to disassociate with those among you who:

History

You can’t just pretend historical events didn’t happen in an effort to make a political opponent look dishonest or to make your side look better. Especially these events. (And, no, repeating it doesn’t make it better.)

Hatred

You have to condemn those among you who:

All righty then, it’s back into the kitchen with this Jew, because Passover waits for no woman. But if you have anytime to read anything at all on the intertubez today, pleaseplease, make it “An open letter to conservatives.”

Thank you Russell King. It’s a very good thing that you’ve done.

It doesn’t happen often… (+ Q/A)

… but on occasion, I write and write and write — and then trash what I’ve just written.

Today was one of those days.

There have been a couple of questions lately so I’ll quickly answer those, and hope for greater inspiration next week.

  1. Commenter dmf asked if I will be returning to the MLK blogging, and I absolutely will. I’ve been so busy with other things that I keep putting it off, but sometime next week, I’ll be back on it. (He also asked “is that black radishes I smell?” and posted a YouTube from the movie version of Hair featuring a song that still, after all these years, breaks my heart so thoroughly that I couldn’t even watch it. So I will not attempt to answer the black radishes question! Sometimes the nose smells what it smells).
  2. Commenter/Sister-Friend in Real Life Karin asked: “Where did you find that sign?” and the honest answer is: Every damn where! A more helpful answer would be: here (via BoingBoing, though I can’t find that original post. I found these, though: “Breathe Deep and Let Go of Things” and “Get Excited and Make Things” ) and here, and here, and here. (I, myself, am holding out for the rug, but like yesterday’s Doc Martens, I fear I shall have to go without).
  3. Commenter sueswartz wrote: “You can write about me – and I’ll write about you. Won’t that be fabulously interesting?” To which I can only answer: Yes, yes it would! Please go see the sweet thing she wrote about me, and then tool around and check out the rest of her place — you’re sure to find something pretty cool that hadn’t yet crossed your mind!
  4. All the cool kids are wondering if they should spread the news about my blog and Twitter feed, and really, all I can do is blush modestly and say: Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes!

Peace out, my peeps. Have a great weekend!

Good stuff: great stuff.

In keeping with yesterday’s promise, I am not writing today about a short list of things with which this blog has been very much preoccupied lately. Yeesh! Enough already!

Indeed, I’m hardly going to write at all — rather, I’m going to present an odd, and fairly random, assortment of really great stuff I’ve come across lately, stuff that you may enjoy as well. (Please feel free to add your own great stuff in the comments!)

Und zo:

Here’s some great stuff:

  1. Have you seen the movie Crazy Heart? There’s this moment, this amazing, almost indescribable moment when all we can see of Jeff Bridges’s face is one eye — and the man does more acting with that one eye, conveys more sorrow and pain and shame and longing in that one moment, with one fucking eye, than most actors do in the course of entire movies. They should have given his eye an Oscar, too.
  2. Winnie-the-Pooh: When we were down in Disney World last month, I realized that it was time to read Winnie-the-Pooh to the girl. We took the books off the shelf sometime soon after our return home, and have been wending our way through the Hundred Acre Woods ever since — and oh, my word, that A.A. Milne. Such a writer! Such humor and beauty and Getting It, whatever It may happen to be. Just marvelous. And I realized that every time that I capitalize Words Of Particular Import or Phrases Of Deep Meaning, I am, apparently, getting my A.A. Milne on. My how I love those books.
  3. Robin’s Eggs: Oh, Christians! With your co-opted pagan rituals celebrating the return to life of the slain god whose flesh you symbolically eat on Sundays! I kid, I kid (ask me about how I’m cleaning every possible crumb from my house right now, so as to celebrate the Israelites’ escape from slavery) — I mean: With your totally fabulous Easter candy! Every year as spring rolls around, I buy a few bags of Robin’s Eggs, and have the husband hide one, to surprise me with at some later date.Ah…. That’s the stuff! [Update: For reasons that surpass my poor tech understanding, the image that I had inserted of Robin's Eggs has just plain disappeared! I haz, as they say, a sad].
  4. These Doc Martens (though, at $130, I fear they shall never be mine. Alas).

5. This sign:

PS: A promise for tomorrow.

I’m not sure if this promise is for me or my readers, but here’s a short list of topics I will not be covering tomorrow:

  1. Israel/Palestine
  2. Israeli-US relations
  3. Islam
  4. the Middle East
  5. Health care reform
  6. American politics
  7. death and/or bereavement

I, at the very least, am in need of a break! (Hopefully I won’t be writing about my Passover shopping, either.)

Islam – a reading list.

As promised yesterday, I’ve compiled a short list of books about Islam, but first I must offer the biggest caveat I can muster: I am not an expert on Islam.

I know a whole lot about Israel/Palestine; I know a good deal about American-Israeli relations; I know a fair amount about American foreign policy in the Middle East generally; I know a bit here and there about other countries in the Middle East, enough to know where my lacunae are and how to find the answers I need. Because of all of these cultural learnings, I also know a little about Islam. More than the average American.

But studying a faith that is not your own nor that of your surrounding culture, at a time in which the entire world is absorbed with vilifying or defending said faith, cannot be as straightforward as studying history (which is, it turns out, never as straightforward as we like to think).

So the following is a short list of books that I have found helpful as I attempt to make sense of a faith that carries meaning for more than a billion people, some of whom have recently claimed to represent it through means murderous and inhuman. I do not believe that the ugly face shown to us by extremists is a true reflection of Islam, and part of why I don’t believe that can be found in the books below.

I know that some disagree with me mightily (Osama bin Laden, evangelical preacher John Hagee, and former Muslim [and author of Infidel]Ayaan Hirsi Ali come to mind), and I cannot say that I have seen nothing but peace, love, and understanding in what I have learned about Islam.

But there is ugliness, and violence, and oppression in all three Abrahamic faiths, recorded in our Scriptures, and often treated as holy command by people who believe themselves to be godly. There is ugliness and violence and oppression in almost anything to which humans lay their hands. Just as Sister Helen Prejean, known for her death row ministry, said about individuals — “people are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives” — I believe that humanity and our individual faith communities are far more than the worst things we have ever done. I do not believe that Christianity is summed up by Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph and their anti-abortion terrorism; I do not believe that Judaism is summed up by Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein (or those Jews who recently celebrated his heinous murder of 27 29 praying Palestinians); I do not believe that Islam is summed up by Osama bin Laden or the Taliban.

But I am not, as I say, an expert. Whatever I may think I know about the differences between Sunnis and Shi’ites, about the Prophet’s wives and what he thought about veiling, about the intersect between an ancient faith and modern society, all of it exists under the fundamental understanding that I am, at best, a student. I offer this list as nothing more than a way to learn and form questions and then learn more. There will inevitably be titles missing if you feel you have a good one to recommend, please do so, in the comments.

Islam – a reading list.

  1. Islam: The Straight Path (1998) – John L. Esposito. Esposito is a world-renowned Islamic scholar and the founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (not to mention being the general editor of the four-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World). Islam: The Straight Path is an excellent and accessable introduction to the faith, its history, and the building blocks of a Muslim life and a Muslim community.
  2. The Vision of Islam (1995) – Sachiko Murata & William C. Chittick. Most books about Islam deal with the birth the faith, and the basic obligations and behavior that Islam requires of the faithful, but it’s often hard to find a discussion of Islamic theology — questions like the nature of God, revelation, and prayer. The Vision of Islam is a little more esoteric, then, than other works that deal with the faith, but for me, it was also therefore among the most interesting. For those who are made nervous by a lot of new terminology, rest assured: It has a great glossary!
  3. Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2007) – John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. This is the same John L. Esposito from Islam:The Straight Path, only here he and co-author Mogahed analyze the results of Gallup’s epic, multi-year study of Muslims living in 35 different countries. From the introduction: “Many of Gallup’s findings challenge conventional wisdom and therefore will surprise and even anger many people. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, we encourage readers to question and challenge what they learn. As Albert Einstein said, ‘The important thing is to not stop questioning.’ He also said ‘A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.’… Let the data lead the discourse.” PLUS, bonus good news: It is an easy, interesting read.
  4. After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam (2009) – Lesley Hazleton. As I said earlier: If this book were a person, I would marry it. OMG! It’s just that good! I reviewed After the Prophet for the Dallas Morning News back in September, and here’s just a slice of my effusion: “Reading these voices from the seventh century,” [Hazleton] writes of her source material, ‘you feel as though you are sitting in the middle of a vast desert grapevine, a dense network of intimate knowledge defying the limitations of space and time.’ One might easily say the same of this remarkable book. Surely anyone with an interest in the Muslim world or U.S. foreign policy should pick up After the Prophet at the first opportunity — and so, too, should any reader interested in a story of human passion and consequence, told with consummate skill.” OMG!
  5. Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation (2007) – Eboo Patel. Patel is an American Muslim who drifted away and came back. He has a doctorate from Oxford in the sociology of religion, can be read on Newsweek’s “On Faith” blog, and is a grassroots interfaith activist whose work has been recognized and funded by Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative — so I’ll just let the President tell you about the book! “Acts of Faith, a beautifully written story of discovery and hope, chronicles Dr. Eboo Patel’s struggle to forge his identity as a Muslim, an Indian, and an American. In the process, he developed a deep reverence for what all faiths have in common, and founded an interfaith movement to help young people to embrace their common humanity through their faith. This young social entrepreneur offers us a powerful way to deal with one of the most important issues of our time.” Not bad praise, if you can get it!

Plus - Two books I haven’t read yet but that I fully intend to finally get to (!):

  1. Islam: A Short History (2000) – Karen Armstrong. Recommended to me by the world at large, and more specifically, my own sister.
  2. Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (2002) – Michael Wolfe (ed). Recommended to me by Eboo Patel, above.

Added recommendations gratefully accepted!

No comment. (Other than this: Yay!)

President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010.

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Anti-terrorism fatwa.

A friend from Balloon Juice, the lovely Leelee, told me about some good news out of England: Pakistani-born Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a leading Islamic theologian and former Pakistani lawmaker, recently issued a scathing fatwa condemning terrorism. Announcing his ruling first in London on March 2, and then again in Islamabad on March 18, Qadri was absolutely unequivocal in his denunciation, going so far as to say that those who commit acts of terrorism are guilty of kufr, disbelief:

Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses of ifs and buts. The world needs an absolute, unconditional, unqualified and total condemnation of terrorism….

[Suicide bombers] can’t claim that their suicide bombings are martyrdom operations and that they become the heroes of the Muslim umma. No, they become the heroes of hellfire and they are leading towards hellfire. There is no place for any martyrdom and their act is never, ever to be considered jihad [holy struggle].

I am no expert on Islam. Far from it. But I have read enough to believe that there are two particularly notable things going on here. First of all, Qadri is a jurist from deep within the Sunni mainstream — John L. Esposito, one of the world’s leading experts on Islam, wrote this about the fatwa and Qadri himself:

Qadri’s fatwa is an exhaustive, systematic theological and legal study of the Islamic tradition’s teachings on the use of force and armed resistance to support an absolute condemnation of any form of terrorism for any cause. Its significance will be felt in Pakistan, where Qadri over several decades has become a prominent scholar and religious leader as well as a religious media star. It will also have an impact in the West young Muslims in Britain, Scandinavia and Canada, many of whom are of Pakistani backgrounds.

Qadri is a Barelvi Muslim scholar (Barelvi and Deobandis, who claim to follow a more pristine version of Islam, are the two major Sunni Muslim groups or schools of thought in the Indian subcontinent). The Barelvi are estimated to be the largest Muslim group in Pakistan, India and Great Britain. Qadri, noted for his liberal and tolerant views, promotes greater unity among Muslims and inter and intra faith dialogue, reaching out to other theological schools like the Deobandi and to Shiah Muslims and Pakistani Christians. He emphasizes religious, social, and cultural teachings of Islam.

Pointing out that other scholars have issued similar fatwas in the past, Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, explains why this ruling carries different weight:

Dr. Qadri is a prominent mega-Imam who enjoys a large popular following. He also happens to be well ensconced in the traditional Islamic heritage. His is clearly a loud voice of the hitherto silent majority.

…Dr. Tahir ul-Qadri’s fatwa against terrorism might actually have an impact. It is comprehensive, direct, does not dodge any issue. It has come at a time when there is very strong abhorrence for terrorism, specially in Pakistan and it will strip terrorists of what little legitimacy they might be still enjoying in the eyes of Muslims who fear that Islam is under attack by Western powers.

As in any faith, it matters who says what. It matters that a man widely known and respected for his scholarship and representing significant numbers his of co-religionists has made this statement. It won’t lead Osama bin-Ladin to see the light, but many are likely to sit up and pay attention. “Those who are already hardliners will pay no attention at all,” says Tim Winter, a scholar of Islamic studies at Cambridge University. “But ‘swing voters’ — poorly educated and angry Muslims, who respect mainstream scholars, will probably take note.”

And then there’s the fact that Qadri goes out of his way to say “these folks who do these things? They’ve forfeited their faith.” Everything I’ve learned tells me that such a statement carries enormous weight among faithful Muslims, and directly contradicts anything that Muslim terrorists might claim about heavenly reward or the line drawn between the faithful and the infidel.

None of which is to say that the road is not still long. Another well-regarded jurist, Sarfraz Ahmed Naeemi, issued a similar, verbal fatwa on national Pakistani television just last year, and was assassinated. It makes Qadri’s effort that much more moving to know that he was a good friend of the assassinated cleric.

I hope that the people who are running our wars and trying to win hearts and minds have been following this turn of events. Far too many non-Muslim Americans continue to treat Islam as a pariah faith. That has got to change — particularly if we’d like to end the wars.

(And if you’d like to learn more about Islam, I’ll be back tomorrow with a short reading list!)

**********************

Note: I’ve read (here, for instance, and here) that the 600 page-long fatwa should be available online in English, but I haven’t found it. I have found the website of Qadri’s organization, Minhaj-ul-Quran, and their coverage of the event in Pakistan (with a lot of photos, which I found kind of fascinating) — and I’ll be honest, the likelihood that I would make it through 600 pages of Islamic jurisprudence was pretty slim, anyway…!

HCR – FTW!

I will post something else later, but the day cannot begin without me first saying:

WHOOOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOOO!!!

There are all sorts of reasons to not love this bill, there are probably even more reasons to be unhappy about the way it came about.

But it’s a really good start, and it’s just possible that it’s very hard for a democracy to be anything but very, very messy. And last night, America took another step toward becoming a more perfect union, and the arc of the universe bent that much closer to justice.

I only wish that Teddy Kennedy had been here to cast his vote.

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