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Mira Sucharov

 
MIRA SUCHAROV: RETHINKING OUR COMMUNITY SPEAKERS. AGAIN

by Mira Sucharov, 10 November 2011

Another community-wide event and I’m left impressed with the many volunteer and staff efforts to coordinate hundreds of women, set the tables beautifully, organize door prizes, get local business sponsors, corral table captains, and run a great party. But the next morning, I was left with a hangover. And it wasn’t from the kosher shiraz. It was a moral hangover, you might say, a somewhat queasy feeling that we are again missing the point.
Again we invited a speaker who was intelligent, engaging and dynamic. Miri Eisen is an example for women the world over who wish to chip away at the traditionally male-dominated military echelons. When Eisen retired from the IDF in 2004, she had earned the rank of colonel, a rare feat indeed for an Israeli woman.
But again we invited a speaker to deliver a message that I, for one, am both weary and wary of. Eisen spoke eloquently about the Gilad Shalit trade, framing it in terms of tough “choices” that governments have to make. But then her talk turned troubling. Having mentioned the term Jewish values, she went on to attack Arab culture in fairly unsavoury terms, including suggesting that specifically Arabs desire to view the corpses of their enemies. Referring to the Arab Spring, she noted that Arabic does not have its own term for democracy.
Now let’s unpack this. Can we have a discussion about Jewish values that does more than scratch the surface? Does everyone in the room even know them and feel them, or even agree on what they are? And most importantly, can we talk about Jewish values without needing to denigrate other cultures?
I’m going to leave aside the Gilad Shalit discussion here; readers can consult my perspectve on it on my “Fifth Question” blog on Haaretz.com. And to Eisen’s credit, she did attempt to shed light on how rationality and emotions can work together in interesting ways in diplomacy.
But let’s talk about the business about viewing dead bodies. The evening Eisen said these words, I reflected on what I had been doing that very same afternoon. Taking a short break from working on my book manuscript, I had clicked on footage of a bloodied Gaddafi being captured and attacked. Gross, huh? Indeed, I had to turn it off after a minute. Am I the only Jew who had clicked on this CBS video (incidentally posted by a Jewish Facebook friend)? And, aside from me, are Arabs the only viewers of CBS news? An absurd discussion, I know, but absurdity begets absurdity.
Let’s talk about Arabic and the word for democracy. As Eisen said, Arabs say “democratiya.” Well, Hebrew’s word for democracy is exactly the same. And guess what? So is the word for democracy in French, Spanish, English, give or take a consonant or a vowel; you get the idea.
At the end of the evening, one friend asked me whether I think it is possible to find a speaker who is both balanced and passionate. Awoken in the middle of the night by the musical beds that goes on in our house with two restless kids, I had a few minutes to come up with names of five Jewish women out there who can lend a perspective that I think is sorely needed at our community events.
A Ruth and a Naomi: Ruth Messinger, head of American Jewish World Service, has altered the way we think about tikkun olam and how we put it into practice on the global stage; Naomi Chazan, past Member of Knesset and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, is currently president of the New Israel Fund where she strives to make Israel a more socially just society. (Messinger spoke at another JFO event here in 2007; perhaps it’s time to invite her back.)
Two Rabbis: Sharon Brous and Jill Jacobs, both in the Newsweek/Daily Beast list of “top 50 influential rabbis in America” show how we can create dynamic and innovative sacred communities, and strive for social justice in all realms, even in the Israeli-Palestinian domain. Brous heads the spiritual community of Ikar in LA, and neither does she shy away from transformative thinking on Israel in her downloadable sermons; Jacobs is executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights.
Free to Be: Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine and a past-president of Americans for Peace Now, is at the top of her game in promoting women’s issues and nuanced thinking on Israel. And she consulted on my favourite children’s album: Free to Be You and Me, a transformative piece of work.

All these women have passion. All are complex thinkers. And any of them would help breathe fresh air into how we think about Israel, Jewish values, and social justice, while serving as an antidote to the Self-Othering messaging that this community seems to crave so desperately.

This article first appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.

 
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