Closed for Passover


A high end eatery shuts down for the holiday. On a walk up Amsterdam Avenue during the intermediate days of Passover. The joint is not kosher per se. According to my sources, “the smoked fish is kosher, the family is sabbath observant, and they sell chametz in the store, so totally separate from the question of the kashrus of the cooked food itself, they won’t own or serve chametz during Pesach. I know the family a little, they are very honest and and kind people.”

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(Symposium) Comics and Sacred Texts (Haverford College) (May 6, 2016)

comics and religion

Across religions, it’s state of the art. You can see the whole program here for this symposium at Haverford College on comics and sacred texts:

The last decade has produced critical and expressive studies in sacred canonical texts and comics. Witness, for example, the artistic works from R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis (2009) and JT Waldman’s Megillat Esther (2005), as well as scholarly publications from Karline McLain’s India’s Immortal Comic Books (2009), A. David Lewis’s edited volume Graven Images: Religion in Comic Books & Graphic Novels (2010), and Samantha Baskind’s and Ranen Omer-Sherman’s editorial work for The Jewish Graphic Novel: Critical Approaches (2010).

The symposium Comics and Sacred Texts at Haverford College builds upon these focused studies to develop a broader landscape of religious graphic expression of the sacred. The symposium will engage Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions, together with explorations of the superhuman body. The invited panelists will draw from their own disciplinary and cross-disciplinary perspectives—including religion, literature, theology, gender studies, art history, cultural theory, and anthropology—to energize a lively discussion about representations of the sacred in graphic narratives.

Comics and Sacred Texts is organized in conjunction with the Haverford-Swarthmore spring 2016 course “Reading Comics and Religion,” taught by Yvonne Chireau (Swarthmore) and Ken Koltun-Fromm (Haverford), and is presented by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, its Tuttle Creative Residencies Program, the Distinguished Visitors Program, and the Gest Program Fund, Haverford College.

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JVP Haggadah (2015) & Freedom Seder (1969)


Hermetically sealed, the JVP Haggadah is a didactic counter-narrative transforming the traditional text into a statement for Palestinian national rights and liberation. As a political document, readers of contemporary haggadot will instantly recognize it as part of a continuum. Of much interest is the attempt to make the intersection between radical Jewish values and Palestinian lives. Indeed, it would be useful to compare it to the original Freedom Seder from 1969 put together by Arthur Waskow in the wake of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King. You can read the Freedom Seder here. In both haggadot, the Passover story is meant to throw a critical and moral perspective on contemporary politics, highlighting universal norms of peace and justice.

But note the difference too. In the Freedom Seder, the traditional Jewish argot has been preserved. With the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement very much in mind, the Jewish narrative takes on a more universal political dimension. In fact, the story of slavery in Egypt has been highlighted in order to draw the story closer in to the African American experience. In contrast, that narrative barely appears in the JVP Haggadah. With a bare trace here and there, the story of the Egyptian bondage and the Israelite exodus has been lifted out of the document and left behind. There is a strong apologetic core linking the Palestinian nakba to the death of the Egyptian firstborn and to the drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea.

However you might understand it, “the Jewish perspective” has been eclipsed by the narrative of Palestine, the critical perspective unrelentingly turned in against the State of Israel. You can read the 2015 online edition here; and the 2016 edition here. The latter includes a new preface, invoking intersectionality, Black Lives Matter, and an expression of “fierce righteous rage.” For some perspective, Shaul Magid reminds me about the savage critique of the Freedom Seder penned by Robert Alter in Commentary, back in 1971. I’m trying to find a link, but for now here are readers responding to that issue in Commentary on “Revolutionism and the Jews,” where the same tensions between tradition and politics, universalism and particularism, rightwing Jews and leftwing Jews are brought to the fore. What critics of the Freedom Seder missed is how much traditional content was maintained in the text.

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Marijuana Kosher for Passover

kosher pot

This from the Times of Israel: “Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, widely considered the leading living ultra-Orthodox halachic authority, ruled that marijuana is kosher for Passover and can be either eaten or smoked over the eight-day Jewish festival, during which strict dietary laws apply.”

The marijuana was then blessed with this traditional blessing:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, בּוֹרֵא מִינֵי בְשָׂמִים.

 Baruch atah, Adonai, Elohaynu melech ha’olam, boray minay vesamim.

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the different spices.

If you listen with the right intention, it almost sounds like the letter “bet” dropped out of the last word, which would have rendered the blessing one that blesses God, creator of different drugs.

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Crude Moralizing, Bernie Sanders, and the Politics of Israel

sanders zimmerman 

About the politics of Israel, Bernie Sanders is showing himself to be incoherent. Already failing to coordinate ends and means, the candidate thinks he’s doing one thing only to undercut himself and the cause he sets out to represent. The candidate wants to secure genuine peace and security between Israelis and Palestinians on equal terms. Israel has the right to secure itself. Palestinians have the right statehood and dignity, but Israel does not have the right to “overreact” when attacked and does not have the right to build settlements in the West Bank. The United States should be a fair and honest broker between the parties. These are problems that have bedeviled U.S. policy in the Middle East for generations. With all his heart, Sanders believes he is the one, he is the one who can advance that righteous cause by grabbing the moral high-ground. Then the effort crashes in on itself, the aftermath of which will do only damage to the Jewish community at large, and the Jewish left along with it.

It’s a fiasco. Lots of people on the Jewish left and the progressive left were thrilled by the attempt by Sanders to introduce balance into the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by being critical of Prime Minster Netanyahu –only to be blindsided by the campaign firing Simone Zimmerman from her capacity as outreach director to the Jewish community. There’s a cost to posting crude invective online, but Zimmerman’s the victim here. The question concerns the Sanders campaign, not her. On what ground did she receive this position? A young person, she was never the right person to coordinate outreach to the Jewish community. Maybe she was the person to rally Jewish millennials, but that’s not the base of the community. How was she ever going to be able to make a wider pitch? It was a stupid decision on the part of the Sanders team. Zimmerman may in fact be the future of the American Jewish left-liberalism. But the future is not yet. As if set up from the very start to fail, a young woman gets the rug pulled out from under her, while the Jewish left, already marginalized in the community, already vulnerable, gets sent into a tailspin by the candidate so many of them are championing.

 Of much greater concern to many American Jews should be the way Sanders dangled Israel out in public at the debate in Brooklyn. A politician with more experience and better judgment might have understood that one has to handle a volatile object with more care. I have no doubt that the Netanyahu government has brought all of this on itself, this erosion of support for Israel in the Democratic Party, particularly among the young people represented by Zimmerman. This cause for this deterioration is not so much the war in Gaza as much as the nearly 50 year old occupation of the West Bank corrupting Israeli society. Absent a larger political horizon, Israel will have a hard time defending itself in the international arena. Nor is the problem supporting Palestinian statehood, which is now official U.S. policy going back to the administration of George W. Bush. What is going to rankle for a lot of older Jewish voters is not the substance of Sander’s remarks, but the crude way in which they were presented. What a lot of Jews will here is the way the candidate ginned up raucous booing of Israel from his supporters in the crowd. I am willing to bet that the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist slogan “Free Palestine” was not the remark Sanders intended to elicit from one loud voice in the crowd. He should have known better, unless he doesn’t understand contemporary leftwing politics. His attempting to nuance the discussion about Israel and Palestine in a volatile public forum turned out to rest on some very crude moralizing that undercuts the political work it was meant to accomplish.

 A lot of people on the left applaud Sanders for speaking truth to power, being honest, refusing to pander. But his own back and forth about Israel and his decision to let Zimmerman go suggest something less straightforward, more confused and confusing. Confusing politics and morality, Sanders will have done no one any good in the mainstream Jewish community and the Jewish left by these recent performances. If American Jews overwhelming support Clinton in the New York primary in still larger numbers than already seems to be the case, it won’t be because they have gone hawkish and neo-conservative. Self-righteous, Sanders will have made his own bed with the community at large  while undermining his own supporters. 

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Anyone From Anywhere (Mural) (Harlem)


Walking east down E. 115 towards Pleasant Avenue. Wrapped around the corners of this building, the mural has a multi-panel effect.

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East River Ducklings


Floating life on the East River on a sunny day in April.

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