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A Town Tough vs. the Mighty Maccabees

By Alexander Carpenter
In the current New York Review of Books, Ian Buruma examines arch neo-con Norm Podhoretz’s toughness problem. Describing a short history of the Jewish wing of neoconservatism, Buruma goes back to a 1963 Podhoretz essay: “My Nego Problem–and Ours” in which Podhoretz complains about not being tough enough physically to stand up to the school yard bullies of his youth. For Podhoretz, the power to change life for the better is a physical more than intellectual thing — even ethnic — rooted in the history of Jewish resistance and loss and the 9/11 threat that evil was again trying to take away our change.
Cutting through this scaredy cant, Buruma concludes:
The key to Podhoretz’s politics seems to me to lie right there: the longing for power, for toughness, for the Shtarker who doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything, and hatred of the contemptible, cowardly liberals with their pandering ways and their double standards. Since Podhoretz, himself a bookish man, can never be a Shtarker, his government must fill that role, and not give a damn about anyone or anything.

However, beyond this bulvon way — an undergrad mix of Nietzsche and Rand — there now emerges a new mighty Jewish alternative for engaging the contemporary problems of the world. The current Nation reports:
A new wave of Jewish activists, from synagogues and other groups, seeks to challenge (and learn from) the rise of the religious right. They want to renew the Jewish ethic of tikkun olam–healing the world from social and economic injustice. Until the late 1990s, few Jewish congregations were involved in the burgeoning multi-issue grassroots organizing coalitions. By 2000 twenty synagogues had joined one of these local interfaith activist groups. Today nearly 100 synagogues are involved, and the number is growing steadily. The foundation Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) has helped catalyze this movement.

This JFSJ video features rabbis and lay leaders from synagogues around the country sharing their inspiring stories and reflections on getting involved in this model of social justice work.

Of course JSpot is happy about the coverage, yet they note that “. . .more than the numbers is the cultural shift this will have on synagogues – agitating them to be more relational (where congregants know one another’s stories) and less transactional (I pay dues, you provide me with services) – as well as learning how to operate in the public arena in interfaith partnership.”
This tough, but dividend-reaping work of religious community organizing — forming relationships, re-pairing the world — is what will actually save us from the inhumanity of the brutal school and the battlefield.

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