Social Divisions & Politics In Israel Recap

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On Sunday, January 28, the Achshav Yisrael committee of Beth Sholom presented Social Divisions & Politics In Israel with Professor Michael Shalev, a visiting professor and political scientist at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies.

Professor Shalev explained that society in Israel is characterized by diversity, often superimposed on identity issues. How do these social divisions affect ideologies, parties, and voters in the Israeli political system? Shalev first described the various social groups he was talking about, including Haredim and members of the National Religious groups, North African or Arab Mizrachi Jews, African asylum seekers, people seeking work (i.e. foreign workers), Americans, Palestinian Arabs, Jewish settlers, Modern Orthodox Jews, and immigrants from the former Soviet Union (i.e. Russian speakers). He then detailed how these different social groups tend to divide themselves into specific parties and how important coalitions are in lining up political votes.

Shalev pointed out that Israelis vote for the party, not for a particular candidate. No party has ever won over 50% of the national vote. Coalitions are therefore critical, and sometimes small parties can be important players as they are needed to form a majority in a coalition. The President of Israel helps designate a party and encourages the formation of a coalition. As an interesting aside, Shalev noted that, unlike the United States, Israel does not allow Israeli citizens living abroad to vote unless they are diplomats.

Historically, the Mapai or Labor Party has been dominant in Israel. Labor primarily consists of Ashkenazi middle and upper class Jews. In recent years, Shalev explained, Labor has lost ground, and deepening ideological divisions among voters have led to the rise of some new parties as well as a general political shift to the Right.

Below, we've included some snapshots of attendees chatting with one another and Professor Shalev.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: David Agam, Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Maureen Samson

Social Divisions & Politics In Israel

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Buy your tickets for our upcoming Achshav Yisrael program!

"Social Divisions & Politics In Israel" will take place on Sunday, January 28, 2018, 3 - 5 p.m., in Koret hall.

Achshav Yisrael presents Professor Michael Shalev, a visiting professor and political scientist at UC Berkeley’s Institute for Jewish Law and Israel Studies. He is also Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology and Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Society in Israel is characterized by diversity, often superimposed on identity issues. How do these divisions affect ideologies, parties, and voters in the Israeli political system? Political camps are split by multiple cleavages: nationality (Arabs vs. Jews), religious beliefs, and ethnicity (based on countries of origin). As in the United States, class and gender also play important roles.

This talk will provide an overview of the Israeli political map in relation to social divisions, explain what underlies the varying political influence of different groups of Israeli citizens and residents, and discuss why this matters for elections and other political processes.

Professor Shalev’s presentation will be followed by facilitated breakout group conversations. A light Israeli appetizer buffet will be included.

Adults advance registration: $15
17 & under (or still in high school): FREE
Advance registration required for all ages (below or call 415.221.8736).


Those wanting to attend who can not afford the standard admission fee due to financial hardship should contact the CBS office in advance to work out an exceptional fee.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.

Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: David Agam, Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Maureen Samson

TDoR & Our Androgynous Creation

JLGBT_TDOR1It's Transgender Awareness Week (November 14 - 20), and people and organizations around the country are participating in events and outreach campaigns designed to raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The week culminates this Friday, November 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), an annual memorial to those who have been murdered as a result of transphobia.

Congregation Beth Sholom invites you to connect with Keshet, a national organization working for the full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Jews in Jewish life, to learn more about Transgender Awareness Week events and programming in the Bay Area. Also, mark your calendars for this Friday’s San Francisco Trans Day of Remembrance community gathering at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco.

We at CBS feel strongly that LGBT and transgender causes are also Jewish issues. Our Jewish history is our Jewish present, and we know firsthand the challenges, suffering, and tragedy experienced by “the other,” the “stranger.” Year after year, we’re reminded that “the strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19: 33-34) A few short decades ago, American Jews were on the front line of the Civil Rights Movement, but as we’ve grown more comfortable with our (much improved) social station, we’ve grown somewhat complacent. Many of us struggle to live out the Leviticus mandate; it’s been reduced to a platitude, albeit one we take pride in even as we (too often) willfully insulate ourselves from or deny the suffering of so many “others” in our midst. Sadly, the transgender community is an excellent case in point.

In a short video produced by I AM: Trans People Speak, a project to raise awareness about the diversity that exists within transgender communities, a rabbinical student observes,

As a Jewish educator, I am passionate about creating spaces for trans and queer Jews, if that’s in prayer, or educational spaces, or community. I think that right now, Jewish community is not a safe space, and there’s a lot of work we need to do. I am really looking forward to the day when a Jewish community does not need to create a safe space, it is a safe space; that Judaism in itself is a safe space for queer and gender-variant folks.

Indeed, there are few "safe spaces" for transgender people today. Joanna Ware, Keshet's Boston Regional Director and the Lead organizer of Keshet's Jewish Guide to Marking Transgender Day of Remembrance, writes that transgender people face “cutting words, cold shoulders, exclusion, and discrimination, and sometimes…violence.”

With this daunting reality in mind, CBS encourages our Jewish community to do two things. First, learn more about transgender and gender non-conforming people and how synagogues and other Jewish institutions can take steps to make our Jewish communities more welcoming — indeed, embracing — of genderqueer identities. Second, turn to our tradition for insight about the complications of gender. The rabbis responsible for compiling the Mishnah identified not two, but six different gender categories, described in brief here.

Zachar: This term is derived from the word for a pointy sword and refers to a phallus. It is usually translated as "male” in English.

Nekevah: This term is derived from the word for a crevice and probably refers to a vaginal opening. It is usually translated as “female” in English.

Androgynos: A person who has both “male” and “female” sexual characteristics.

Tumtum: A person whose sexual characteristics are indeterminate or obscured.

Ay’lonit: A person who is identified as “female” at birth, but develops “male” characteristics at puberty and is infertile.

Saris: A person who is identified as “male” at birth, but develops “female” characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam).

Gender-Symbol_Transident-300x300 Although it’s undeniable that the rabbis privileged the zachar, the conventional male identity, over all others, it’s instructive to acknowledge that non-reproductive, ambiguous, and hybrid gender categories were not considered degenerate. They were merely less common. Additionally, one Mishnahic rabbi interpreted the foundational text of Torah in an especially compelling way.

G-d created the adam [the first human being] in G-d’s own image; in the image of G-d He created him – male and female [G-d] created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

"Said Rabbi Jeremiah ben Elazar: 'When the Holy One, blessed be the One, created the first adam [human being],
[G-d] created him [an] ‘androgynos.’
” (Midrash Rabbah 8:1)

While it may raise a few eyebrows among biblical literalists, Rabbi ben Elazar’s interpretation is in keeping with contemporary sociological notions of gender and sexuality. One’s sex refers to the individual’s biological and physiological characteristics, whereas gender refers to the behaviors, roles, expectations, and activities of that individual. Framed another way, sex refers to male and female, while gender refers to masculine and feminine. And sexuality is a continuum of attraction and behavior, not a binary, gay/straight assignment. In other words, we’re born with our sex, but our gender and sexuality are yet to be defined.

CBS embraces Rabbi ben Elazar's freeing, beautiful take on Bereshit -- G-d created us androgynous. Together, let us toast our multifaceted creation and celebrate gender difference and genderqueer identities in our community.