Monthly Archives: July 2008

Travelling On A Prayer

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

Everyday I take the Long Island Rail Road to work, although it is not ideal to daven (pray) on the train I find it very peaceful. Yes, I could read the newspaper or a book like many of my fellow travelers, but I find it very rewarding to daven on the train. No one is rushing me and its calm and quiet.

The only shortfall of davening on the train is dealing with the uncomfortable and curious glances of the person next to me. “Why is she talking to herself? What is that odd language she is mumbling?”

So today like every other day, I was davening in my seat, when a young Asian women sat down next to me. I was prepared for the glances, when suddenly she took out a book of her own. She began to pray!

Granted it was not a siddur (Jewish prayer book) it was the text from Friday Mass, but I suddenly felt a certain kinship with her. Although no words were exchanged, an interfaith service was in progress.

Reading Ari Alexander’s blogs on the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid (which you should too) has actually given me some hope that a conversation can be had. After years of reading article after article on peace talks and interfaith conferences, Ari’s insights into a radical meeting changed my train encounter into an experience of togetherness rather than difference.

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Prisoner Swap With Hezbollah

This entry was posted in History on by .

In Lebanon, Hezbollah uses the swap to argue that the war had a positive outcome. (Haaretz)

Uzi Benziman argues that a specific set of “procedures … to guide future Israeli governments in dealing with situations of Israelis being kidnapped by enemies of the state� cannot be of as much value as “an overall policy that will remove, or at least reduce, the rationale for carrying out kidnappings.� Amir Mizroch reviews the overall arguments made by advocates of the trade. (Jerusalem Post)

The case, in international law, Jewish law, and Israeli strategic considerations, against the trade. (Jerusalem Post)

David B. Rivkin, Jr., and Karl R. Moor argue that the Hezbollah trade “constitutes not only … damage to Israel’s credibility … another humiliation for Israel and a victory for the forces of terrorism, but also a disturbing triumph of sentiment over sense and strategy in Israel’s political culture.(Haaretz)

A look at exaltation in the Arab world over the release of the prisoners. (Israel National News)

The deal involved releasing the terrorist Samir Kuntar, and TI’s Michael B. Kraft gives us historical background on how “Kuntar inadvertently helped strengthen the international counter-terrorism effort�. (Washington Times)

And Michael’s daughter Dina Kraft reports (“Prisoner Deal Reopens an Israeli Woundâ€?) from Nahariya, Israel, on two families, the Harans — victims of Kuntar — and the Goldwassers, whose body is being returned. (NY Times)

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Who is Paying?

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

Jacob Berkman, over at The Fundermentalist, asks an ethical question about a topic that isn’t addressed enough–excessive spending in the Jewish communal world. He’s looking for advice, so check it out:

A guy who works for a non-profit that we cover wants to get lunch today, on him — which presumably means on the non-profit’s dime.

He suggested the Prime Grill, a fairly posh kosher steakhouse in Manhattan. It’s not a bad joint for a date, but for lunch appetizers run between $17 and $25 a pop, and entrees range between $26 and $59.

As much as I was tempted – as the Fundermentalist budget doesn’t allow for many $75 lunches – I wasn’t sure about spending that much on dining, especially when there is a burgeoning food crisis in this country. I raised the issue about the price, and he suggested Wolf and Lamb, another nice, but relatively more moderate kosher steakhouse (appetizers $6-$13, entrees $13-$30), still on him. I agreed.

Did I make the right call? Does your non-profit have a policy about expenditures for work-related meals?

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Closing Ceremonies

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I am sitting at the closing ceremony now. On my left is the past speaker of the parliament of indonesia, the largest muslim country in the world. In front of me is the Secretary-General of the World Association of Muslim Youth. Two seats in front of me is the Deputy Minister of Culture of Saudi Arabia.

I spent the last coffee break with a guy who went to berkeley and studied international relations. He is walking his frail father around. His father is the vice-president of the international council of Muslim scholars.

Jr. is running an organization in jeddah and london for ‘fatwas’ to be filtered (his word) by younger scholars in order to figure out which ones should apply to modern times. He told me immediately that he wanted to get involved in children of abraham and invited me to visit him in Saudi.

I’m also surrounded by israel singer, david rosen, brad hirschfield, arthur schneier, bert vissotsky, steven jacobs. They are on ‘our’ side, but I’m not sitting near any of them.

There was a book with a thought-provoking title that came out when I was in college. It was called ‘Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” When I read that book, I thought a lot about self-segregtion and comfort zones. I understood the comfort, the familiarity, the safety in surrounding oneself physically with one’s own kind. Afterall, nearly 100% of my friends were Jewish for the first 18 years of my life.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to value the less comfortable choice, the one where I’m the odd man out. I’ve grown so much more from those moments and so each one builds confidence for the next that something good – and indeed unexpected – is likely to result.

And so I go back and forth between being a hometeam fan, surrounded by people in my uniform, and a visitor, an outsider.

The pope’s representative here, Rev. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, is now speaking. Why doesn’t he engage me the way my Saudi and Indonesian neighbors do? Because of the 40 years of work some brave, persistent and passionate Jews did to heal Catholic-Jewish relations.

I pray that my children will feel inclined to type away on their wrist-embedded computer chips when Saudi, Iranian, Syrian, Palestinian and Indonesian speakers address future conferences because of the tikkun we do to render Muslim-Jewish relations kinda boring.

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Religion & Politics

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I learned here that I wouldn’t have otherwise known.

King Abdullah, as custodian of the two holiest places in Islam, Mecca and Medina, is not imbued with religious significance in and of himself. Yes, he is king of the land that hosts these two places that are holy to all Muslims. But no, his convening this conference does not have religious significance in the sense of a world religious leader making a historic religious move.

In other words, the comparison to Vatican II suggested by some western press sources is probably misleading.

At the same time, the fact that he initiated this dialogue removes one significant obstacle that had stood in the way of the global muslim community in pursuing interfaith dialogue.

You should also know that this event is being covered by the arab (and the spanish) press at a totally different level than the general western press. The biggest pan-arab dailies such as al-hayat and asharq al-awsat, have photos and stories on the front page every day about the conference.

While the conference has generally steered clear of politics (with the exception of the fascinating exchange between 6 Muslim and Jewish leaders about Israel/Palestine during the Q & A of one of yesterday’s sessions), the interest in the arab media is likely related to analysis about the political ramifications of King Abdullah’s initiative.

Similarly, the Pakistani television reporter who interviewed me was clearly MOST interested in the potential of this gathering to impact Pakistani-Israeli relations. For him, King Abdullah’s overture to Jewish leaders led him to consider the possibility that countries, his specifically, in the Muslim world, might face a faster track to diplomatic ties and even normalization with the Jewish state.

Jews and certainly mainstream Jewish organizations, tend to care passionately about Israel. And the trend of interfaith dialogue has developed in a world with Israel. This often leads to Jews beginning ‘interfaith’ dialogue with Muslims far from a conversation about ‘faith’.

And yet, outside of the American Jewish community, it seems to me that Jews speak in interfaith dialogue settings much more about freedom to practice religion, rights and protections of minorities, rituals and spirituality.

It’s no wonder my Muslim partners in dialogue over the years cannot figure out whether we’re a political, ethnic, racial or religious community. This is a crucial intra-faith conversation I believe to be in its infancy in the American Jewish community. We haven’t caught up in our sense of self, in our internal conversation, with the drama of the generation in which our parents grew up – the years between the Holocaust and post-67 Israel.

I understand why some Jews have a single-minded focus in dialogue with Muslims – to get them to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Anything short of this or other than this carries little weight in their eyes. Their partners sign on the dotted line, so to speak, to at least a minimal acceptance of Zionism.

Such Jews are likely to deem anti-Semitic anyone who does not do so. They use this term because their Zionism is at the core of their Jewish identity. Anti-semitism and anti-zionism are now entangled accusations. Muslims have almost been forced to become Zionists or anti-Semites, and to deal with the consequences.

My approach to dialogue with Muslims self-consciously strays from the mainstream American Jewish approach. It centers on a process, beautifully described by Rabbi David Rosen yesterday in a passionate response to one of the panelists – a dialogical process where we seek to understand the other as the other understands oneself.

That is my not-so-hidden agenda. It is a two way street. That, for me, is the spirit of dialogue – and just as worthwhile at a family dinner table or local community center, as at a two-kings conference with religious authorities of global significance.

And it probably comes as no surprise that those with followings in the millions sometimes have less capacity to engage in this sort of dialogue than ordinary citizens.

But perhaps those who go through the transformative process catalyzed by this sort of dialogue with the other have the means to deploy the lessons learned to extraordinarily large numbers of people.

Let us hope that progress was made on that front here when the cameras were turned off. I saw many scenes here in Madrid to suggest reasons for optimism.

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Daughters of Sarah & Hagar

This entry was posted in History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I am happy to report that a woman just gave a presentation in this final closed door session. I commend the organizers for showing the flexibility and responsiveness to veer from the written word (here: the program) and internalize the interventions and subsequent applause throuhgout the day yesterday when the issue of women’s participation was raised.

At least three comments  were made during yesterday’s closed door session to make this point – one by an indian swami, one by a british muslim and one by an american rabbi.

The woman who was chosen to speak at the last minute was Dr. Mekia Najar, a spanish researcher. She said dialogue without women’s participation will fail, as the past has showed time and time again.

Posted on July 18, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Change of Pace

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

After spending the first 24 hours as a participant observer, I decided it was time to jump in. For me that meant being part of the shmoozing around coffee tables and the lobby.

It meant getting over my hesitation and even sense of being overwhelmed (a very significant rabbi told me he was feeling overwhelmed here, so I felt like that gave me the right to share that sense) – and approach people with a clear goal of getting connected to Saudis in a position to discuss possible partnerships with our work.

In addition to making my way to several exciting work-related contacts, I finally found out how I got here in the first place.

Muzammil Siddiqi, a former president of the Islamic Society of North America, wrote a personal letter on my behalf to the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League recommending that he invite me. I had spoken at the ISNA conference nearly two years ago and had no idea that my relationship with him could lead to such an unprecedented gesture of support.

On the topic of leaders in Muslim America, it’s also worth mentioning here that Sayyid Syeed, the current secretary-general of ISNA, made an incredible gesture of support in his own right – with much larger consequences – when he decided to tell the conference organizers that not only would many Jewish participants refuse to come, but that he too would not come to this conference if the invitation to Rabbi Yisroel D. Weiss, spokesman for Neturei Karta, was not rescinded.

In response to this mobilization, Rabbi Weiss was dis-invited. When I personally marvelled at his courage and conviction, he told me ‘you have to stand up for what you believe in.’

I have long known that the substance and content of these conferences are as valuable as the informal interactions one has. Today – day 2 – made this trip worthwhile. When details, B”H unfold in the months and years to come, today will always be remembered as the day of the planting of the first seeds.

Posted on July 17, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Look Mom, I’m on Saudi TV

This entry was posted in History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I was filled with emotions. There I stood, in the hotel lobby, watching saudi television with my new friend yaseer, who was about to interview me live on Saudi television at 8:15pm in Madrid, 9:15 in Saudi.

I could never have dreamed that this would be part of my life story. I had the chance to talk about being Jewish, about Children of Abraham, and about meeting the king of saudi arabia on prime time television.

The interviewer was so warm, the words came out of me as if they had been rehearsed (though my mouth belonged to the desert from where the audience took this in). It must have been six or seven minutes.

It happened. That wasn’t a dream. That wasn’t a dress rehearsal. Though they originally told me it would be two hours ago. And then I got mic’d by the wrong cameraman from the wrong station, and the guys from this one ran to track me down…eventually it happened. It can’t be taken away.

Wow. Who would have ever thought? I’m in shock.

I’ve sat in boardrooms and bathrooms, lay in beds on several continents, wondering how to get my message out where it is most needed.

Thank you God for enabling me to reach this moment.

Posted on July 17, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

On Television

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ari Alexander is guest blogging (via Blackberry) from the World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, organized by the Muslim World League under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I was interviewed today by the Pakistani television channel, AAJ, as well as by a prominent pastor of a mega-church in the DC area.

But in a potential highlight of the conference for me personally, I am going to be interviewed by the Saudi Television channel (al-ikhbariya) in 90 minutes.

When people ask me what concrete follow-up I expect there to be after this conference, I give many possibilities. But most important, I would say, is that even if nothing else comes of it, the fact that this television station – al-ikhbariya is broadcasting most of each of these three days from the lobby of this hotel, and spending the majority of saudi-studio based time talking about this conference, is nothing short of amazing.

In a country with well-documented record of religious intolerance, Saudi citizens and others around the region are having Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist leaders paraded one by one, onto their television screens, interviewed about their experiences of and reactions to the conference.

Millions of Saudis and other Arabs (it is a satellite channel that began broadcasting in 2004) are watching. It may not be an overstatement to affirm that this is doing more good for exposure to the ‘other’ than any single television news coverage in the modern Arab world’s history.

Posted on July 17, 2008

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy