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Reactions by BT Members to Alice Walker's talk
Many people had strong reactions to the Alice Walker talk. Their reactions went in many different directions, as you'll see. The names of members have been withheld because we wanted to get these posted right away and did not have time to get permission of the authors to do so under their names. Each was addressed to Rabbi Lerner so when they use the word "you" it is referring to our Rabbi. If any of you who did write a response printed below wish to authorize us to now add your names to your letter, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to find time to put those names in.
1. Yom Kippur service today was beautiful and meaningful to me. Thank you for all of your hard work and for putting your heart and soul into the service. I especially enjoyed the beautiful voice of the cantor during the Torah service!
As you may have noticed (or not), I walked out toward the end of Alice Walker's speech. It is the first time I have ever done such a thing. I completely support Tikkun's position on the Israeli/Palestinian issue. And, I thought your introduction of Alice Walker presented a balanced and compassionate historical synopsis of anti-Semitism and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I experienced Alice Walker's words and the tone of her speech as being hateful and frankly blatantly anti-Semitic. I was offended and very uncomfortable staying in the room. I had to leave.
I am holding onto the experience of the Yom Kippur service and letting go of Alice Walker's speech! I just want you to know that my issue here is with Alice Walker and not with you.
The services were great! except for alice walker, who pretty much topped the scales for sheer arrogance. i have trouble deciding which was more obnoxious, her instructing us to "get more involved in america," her accusing the entire israeli military of rape from a few stories she heard in gaza, her reference to her previous husband as "a nice jewish boy" at our yom kippur service (that put even my feminist-activist partner over the top, who was totally excited about seeing alice walker), or her complete indifference to the obligation to give a talk with actual content besides "i'm alice walker, i went to gaza and it was horrible, and you better do something about it any questions? the only good thing was, she packed the hall so people got to hear your absolutely brilliant synthesis of the history on anti-semitism...thank you for everything you did...love
I'm glad you promptly wrote about what you felt, and I appreciate hearing of your post-Yom Kippur research. To me, Walker unfortunately invalidated a lot of good points by her approach, especially by 1) dismissing your intro as irrelevant 2) bringing up Jewish "dual loyalty," telling us we owed America more commitment and 3) telling us Israel, because of the human rights abuses, should not exist as an actual land for the Jewish people, but should be theoretical "in our minds" (like we haven't tried that for a couple thousand years!).
I'm surprised you hadn't met her I was surprised she started by saying she wasn't going to relate her experiences unless we asked questions, and I wondered if you knew she was going to do that. [NO] Sounds like you didn't know her format, let alone what she might say, although you had clues from the Tikkun article she contributed.
Personally, I don't feel like blaming you for anything. I hope any tongue-lashings you might receive from attendees are done in a spirit of love and respect. Beyt Tikkun members are adults who can handle all kinds of 'difficult' experiences, I think, and I hope the group cohesion isn't hurt in any way by her appearance. That would be a real tragedy, if we couldn't "talk out" any issues this has brought up.
4. Thank you for your open letter about your concerns regarding Alice Walker's Yom Kippur presentation. I too felt that her comments were dismissive and colored by her anger at the pain and suffering she recently witnessed (as well as what sounds like a bad experience in her marriage and divorce with a Jewish man). I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, but her attitude was hurtful and unconscious of who we as Beyt Tikkun members really are.
5. As a long-time feminist activist and admirer of Alice Walker's, I was disappointed by the way in which she felt the need to "school" a group of people who come together because they believe in the need for Israel to make different choices and because of their concern about Palestinian rights.
As a journalist, I immediately went home and searched the Internet for credible sources for the rape accusations. (Not because I don't believe Jewish men aren't capable of that, but because I had never heard of any mention of it.) Like you, I found none. I did find the Human Rights Watch report re: rape of Palestinian women by Palestinian men, and I do think that women who would report those rapes would also discuss/mention women they knew who had been raped by Israeli soldiers.
As a person who has long felt conflict over how to be Jewish and political, it was hard for me to separate out what was my own "stuff" that was infusing my response to her words. I grew up with the notion that Israel was a piece of land-- empty land--that had been given to the Jews after WWII. It was not until college that I learned this was a myth, that Palestinians had been living on this land, etc. It was part of my entire introduction to feminism and leftist politics, and, in that world, I did not know how to be proud to be Jewish while not only hearing criticisms of Israel but learning--for the first time--about the way the Israeli government was treating another people.
My parents were not religious. I did not go to temple as a child, and my political experiences in college and beyond pushed me even further away from the idea of wanting to be a part of Judaism. I did not feel at home in other temples because I felt that I always had to leave my "thinking" political self behind. (Not understanding Hebrew didn't help much either.)
Thank you for providing a place for people to come together to think critically about these topics. I only started going to temple because my partner wanted our son, Maddox, to have a bar mitzvah. We are attending temple with you because I don't want his bar mitzvah to be (just) a party. I want it to be an important opportunity for him to learn who he is and to understand his responsibility in and to the world.
6. , too, was deeply disappointed in Alice Walker’s display yesterday; it began when she abruptly walked out on your extraordinary introduction to her, rudely interrupting you with the excuse she was searching for water (anyone could have gotten her water, including Garret), and her dismissive comment to you as she was walking out, when you pointed out to her you were just about to introduce her (“oh really”); and then it continued when she dismissively rejected the history as irrelevant. But what really offended me was her undocumented rape claims (even the Goldstone report doesn’t cite those claims) (her ludicrous logic “well, if they use phosphorous, then they rape”) and her arrogant and dismissive “you should carry Israel in your heart” and become assimilated into the United States as our country.
She lost a great opportunity to heal and convince Beyt Tikkun Jews to work toward persuading Israel to move immediately toward moral and definitive action to end the Occupation, the human rights violations and the war crimes; much of the conversation instead was about the rabid, vitriolic and biased anti-Semitism that is currently going on in the SF Bay Area Left Wing political scene which has caused me to cease attending any so-called Peace Rallies.
What she’s done is to convince me that I must apply for and obtain an Israeli dual citizenship immediately.
Take care and thank you for your wonderful service(s)
7. read your response to Alice Walker's talk and thought it was exactly on-point and very well said. Walker squandered a great opportunity, b/c one turns to hear her voice for a deeper vision of what is and what could be but instead all we got, was visceral emotion, ungrounded in a real understanding of the situation and a very arrogant, dismissive, "You're all fools for not seeing this."
Perhaps it was a warning that she went to Gaza in the wake of the death of her sister, for whom, quite strangely, she didn't feel much compassion and was only "devastated" afterwards. She seemed to connect her sister's death to the death of the five children of the Palestinian woman, perhaps an understandable emotional vulnerablity, but obviously illogical. Also, it seems quite likely she is still carrying unhealed anger of the fact that she and her Jewish former husband apparently weren't allowed in synagogues, if I understood what she said rightly. But again, that's irrelevant to the issue of Gaza.
I think you're exactly right to hear in her cold, angry and dismissive voice the kind of anger that is building up in the world toward Israel. And this is extremely dangerous for the future. But I think the same is true of the U.S. As we all know, US actions throughout the world are sowing the seeds of an exceedingly bitter harvest. I think David Grossman called it "the yellow wind." It's hard not to be somewhat depressed about a world in which tragedies seem to beget more tragedies and they in turn even more, without end.
I hope you get some rest. I look forward to the beginning of the Torah cycle. Peace and shanah tovah.
8, I am a brand spanking new member of Beyt Tikkun and this was my first time attending your high holiday services. We had met once before during Beyt Tikkun's Hanukkah party and after much investigation into other congregations, I felt yours captured the spirit and essence of what I was looking for in a service and in a community. I'm 30 years old, a single woman, and often a bit shy when it comes to opening myself up to those around me who are more established and have families, etc. I came by myself to services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and even though it was a bit unnerving to be amidst so many strangers, I had the most marvelous, meaningful, and memorable High Holidays that I can recall in my lifetime. I wanted to thank you for pushing me outside of my comfort zone and for having an honest conversation about the real work that needs to be done to make the holiday count for something other than a checkmark for having attended services.
I listened to the entire speech from Alice Walker. My stomach churned and my heart ached. Even though I left feeling like I had the wind knocked out of me, it was not for nothing. Her words were strong and embittered, but the essence of her message was not lost on me and I felt changed for the better after having had time to absorb the speech. Sometimes it's better to take it all in and then pick and choose what works for you and what doesn't, than to have the whole thing watered down to an easily digestible but bland formula. So I hope you don't feel too terrible about having her speak, because it was interesting and a unique perspective from someone who probably shares many beliefs that the normative population shares.
I look forward to having the chance to meet you soon.
L'Shana Tova and best wishes for a healthy new year.
9. Having had a few hours to reflect on YK services which concluded about 28 hours ago, I thought I would throw a few ideas into the ring, recognizing that several others have already deluged you with their perceptions. While I imagine your invitation to Alice Walker to address the congregation will inevitably be seen as problematical – not the least by yourself – I was myself particularly grateful to hear her say precisely what she chose to say. Granted some of it could have been more felicitous, but under the time constraints she faced, I thought she did an impressive job of conveying some very sobering opinions to one of the few groups of Jews who would allow her to say anything at all about Gaza – much less to invite her speak from the bima on Yom Kippur. Moreover, it was not her goal to be felicitous, nor would her sense of urgency be served by a “feel good” speech. Instead, she sounded a clarion call to a conflagration which she believes will envelop American Jews as much as Israeli Jews if the current policies of the state of Israel do not dramatically change; and she sounded this clarion call while speaking softly and deliberately. I personally felt that she did this out of a deep regard both for Jews and for Palestinian Muslims.
In saying this, I do not endorse everything she said verbatim, nor do I consider Alice to be a systematic historian of world affairs, but what I find significant is her role as a Black woman of conscience and academic accomplishment who has weighed the conflict in Palestine/the Middle East in the crucible of personal experience, and has come to a definite conclusio n. It is altogether too easy to dismiss her conclusion as simplistically anti-Semitic* – and I heard a few people express that interpretation of her remarks. Such an interpretation is a serious tactical and perceptual error. (I also heard a number of people enthusiastically endorse what she said, so there was no uniformity of response.)
I previously had the opportunity to hear Alice speak about Gaza at some length in Oakland over the summer, and I personally consider her deliberative process to be quite even-handed, and indeed, far more generous toward Jews than the vast majority of the American populations would be, whether white or Black or Hispanic, if they perchance became disenchanted with the American propaganda machine and came to question its dominant narratives. Certainly as the social fabric unravels, quite a few people will have reason to doubt those media narratives; and outside the US, many already reject the American propaganda machine and many more are beyond its geographic reach. Many of these narratives which could easily crumble concern the sanctity of the state of < st1:country-region w:st="on">Israel and the allegedly benign role of Jews in American domestic policy and international financial affairs. (Of course, I know that you are aware of this risk yourself, but naming it is quite germane to a proper appreciation of what Alice was attempting to convey.)
I can imagine that Alice would have said several things differently if she had felt less pressed for time or had followed a written text. We could talk about that at length, yet to limited avail. However, what I was left with at the end of her talk was an acute sense of the isolation and abandonment of Israeli Jews, not by Alice Walker, but by the American Jewish establishment and by the Israeli leadership, exemplified most clearly by PM Ariel Sharon, who considered the tranquility of the region expendable for the greater glory and expansion of the Israeli State.
Moreover, in vigorously cultivating the arrogant and secular image of the Jewish warrior, Israelis are losing the c apacity to interact with the rest of the world – and hence to be considered fully human by the rest of the world. The ironic consequence of building a nation “like all other nations” has been the construction of the world’s largest Jewish ghetto, which is progressively isolated from international discourse and conspicuously unlike all other nations.
This is particularly poignant and problematic when you consider how different ordinary and fairly religious Americans are from ordinary, secular Israelis. The long-standing alliance between the two countries is built on a foundation of sand, which may explain why the AIPAC works so hard to appeal to religious conservatives and encourages some of the fantastical theological elaborations that emanate from the American hinterlands. But you can only fool people for so long.
So I think we need to appreciate the forthright frankness of Alice Walker, which I perceived to be deeply empathetic to the plight of Jews, but not at all accommodating to Jewish ego needs. This is what we expect of mature matriarchs, and this is what Alice delivered.
10. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your message on the website regarding Alice Walker. It made me feel a lot better! For the first few minutes, I had the awful feeling that something was very wrong with the presentation and I questioned if I was the only one feeling this. I'm glad I was not. Thank you for sharing your personal feelings, which mirrored mine and many others in the audience. I understand your reasons for asking her to speak and agree that the topic (but not her presentation of it) should be relevant to a spiritual Yom Kippur discussion. In the community's defense, the questions proferred were challenging, but respectful and polite. I was glad that one of the first responses questioned her sources for the soldier rape events. Her answer that it is all over the internet was spurious. We all are aware of how much non-substantiated info flows over the web. Your research last night certainly confirmed this. I am confident that this experience will not deter you from inviting provacative guests and teachers. With my love
11, Alice Walker. I thought she spoke as an anti semite and a racist. I left about half way through. I don't mind being challenged being Israel but I I couldn't and wouldn't sit through hate. But it did accomplish a few things. Yes are our eyes are now open to how the rest of the world might view Israel and us being Jewish. But it also brought forth many feelings to the surface about how important Israel is to us. How we are attached to that tiny piece of land. And how important it is for them and us to get it right and live by our mandate of kindness and generosity and doing social justice. Thank you for writing to us and writing on the web site.
12. Thank you for your response and explanation of the "Alice Walker talk". I opened the e-mail and read the entire article, I am especially grateful for the inclusion of the Yom Kipper reflections of Rabbis for Human Rights. I am also aware that we are not perfect and need to make amends for our mistakes and misjudgments both as individuals and a community. Hopefully this incident will open up the opportunity to educate and reflect on both the past and future consequences of actions, thoughts, and responsibilities of each of us. I also wish to hope and pray for a wonderful and productive year for our wonderful community and world.
I was appalled by Alice Walker's entire presentation. From her opening words, something like, well, I'm sure some of what Rabbi Lerner said is true (as if it weren't all historical fact)...to her estrangement from her daughter (totally inappropriate to bring up...esp. in light of her self-analysis - it's because the Jews rejected her for being biracial. I doubt that that was the main reason....judging from Alice's blaming and almost borderline way of thinking...I'll bet that estrangement has more to do with Alice's mothering!) And she talked about her her dying sister's being "annoying" (also inappropriate)...Everything was all about her; and the entire tone was insulting, shaming, critical, one-sided. How could someone enter into a sacred space, by invitation, and then attack her hosts.
I think it's clear she is pathologically identified with the Palestinians...and her inability to see the Spirit of God in each of the protagonists in this situation (as you do,in such a lovely way) for me rendered what she said useless. And I agree with you - b/c all we were able to do was put energy into defensiveness. Of course she made important points; but I'd rather hear them from you.
what a narcissitic bitch. How did you like how she had the gall to say that the black victims of the south saw every racist cop as a child of God. Duh....I doubt it. I think we should, as a community, write her something. Obviously, not me.
Now I feel better. It didn't really take away from everything else about the High Holidays that was so wonderful. I hope you're OK. I thought you handled the letter beautifully. I'm so glad you have returned so amazingly healthy. I am grateful to God for your contribution to my life. Blessings
[On further reflection]: Given where and when Alice Walker grew up...her anger at white people, and perhaps, sadly, Jews in particular, is understandable, though wouldn't it have been beautiful if she had also credited the same people whom she felt rejected her daughter, giving their enegy and sometimes their lives for the Civil Right movement?
Anyway, I won't belabor it....it is a teachable moment for all of us, perhaps, to take something different away from that talk....how fear becomes detachment for all of us when we can't keep our hearts open. I would personally like my teshuvah to have something to say to me about holding her in a different kind of openness and light and even love. Oy, it's so hard.
14. Thank you for your note. I was happy to see your posting on the website yesterday re Alice Walker's presentation. I agree with your words 100%. What was most disturbing was her attitude, her rudeness to you prior to going on the platform, and her comments about wanting to see Jews become more American because this country had been good to us, and that we do not need a land. These comments and her attitude and demeanor indicated to me at least, that she actually has an issue with Jews herself, apart from her concerns about Israel and Gaza. I was quite frankly appalled. Several things that she said disturbed me and when I went online yesterday to read more about her, I see that much of her attitude and thinking that we were witness to on YK, is truly who she is. I was a fan of The Color Purple and admired her from afar. But I wish to have nothing to do with her at all. She seems to be a terribly angry woman, with a huge chip on her shoulder.
15. In regards to Alice Walker…I am willing to give her some grace. I think that she had some expectations on getting to her presentation at a certain time, and was getting impatient. Everyone’s communication goes through their filter of images, thoughts, and feelings. Her images, thoughts and feelings were filtered by the conversations and observations that she had in Gaza. She was not in a position to hear about the Jewish history, and was not in a position to draw an analogy between Jewish history as it relates to the Occupation and African-American history as it relates to black on black violence. Perhaps at some time she will be more receptive, but it seems like her memories ere raw, and that she was willing to look at only one side. At this time we may be “the Other” to her, but she is a very perceptive woman. I don’t think that giving up on a dialogue is the answer and certainly don’t want to demonize her, even if her observations are one sided.
In regards to Alice Walker…I am willing to give her some grace. I think that she had some expectations on getting to her presentation at a certain time, and was getting impatient. Everyone’s communication goes through their filter of images, thoughts, and feelings. Her images, thoughts and feelings were filtered by the conversations and observations that she had in Gaza. She was not in a position to hear about the Jewish history, and was not in a position to draw an analogy between Jewish history as it relates to the Occupation and African-American history as it relates to black on black violence. Perhaps at some time she will be more receptive, but it seems like her memories ere raw, and that she was willing to look at only one side. At this time we may be “the Other” to her, but she is a very perceptive woman. I don’t think that giving up on a dialogue is the answer and certainly don’t want to demonize her, even if her observations are one sided.
Rabbi Lerner, I had never been at a Beyt Tikkun service prior to my coming to your synagogue's Yom Kippur service Monday, so I was present when Alice Walker spoke about her trip to Gaza, and her passionate condemnation of Israeli policy there and the Israeli position regarding house demolitions, humiliation of Palestinians at check points etc. Of course the most highly charged comments she made had to do with Israeli soldiers purportedly raping Palestinian women.
I speak as Jew who loves Israel and loved the Israeli people when I visited for the first and only time in 2004. And I do not feel you have anything to apologize for. I was very moved by the moral passion of Alice Walker's talk, even if the report of alleged rape by Israeli soldiers turns out to be false. I feel that the time for balance is when parties have equal power and influence. Wouldn't it be silly to blame slaves who acted badly in the face of slavery as being as bad as slaveholders? So I thought Alice's comments were moving, mainly true, and intended to alert us to the great danger that Israel poses to any prospects of a peace in the Middle East.
I would hope that you would invite her back some time. Like her, I too, would be inclined to rain rockets on Israel if my people were treated with the totally disproporotionate contempt and humiliation and destruction that Israel has inflicted on Palestinian civilians. And still I hope there will be peace in Israel-Palestine, but like Alice Walker, I am not terribly optimistic.
When I visited Israel in 2004 two colleagues of mine, a psychologist and psychiatrist were invited to dinner at the home to two Israeli Jungian analysts. The wife, spoke with tears in her eyes, in recounting how her 18 year old daughter, a soldier in the Israeli Army complained to her commander about the mistreatment of Palestinian women and children at border crossings, and was consequently transferred to another company -- she went on to say, with great sadness, "I fear that we are raising a generation of children with an occupier's mentality."
Thank you for a very much needed talk by a woman with a passionate moral center.
Beforehand, I was curious to hear her remarks, aware of her article in "Tikkun." However, from the moment she got to the podium and complained about the "long morning" and needing water (seemingly offended by the signs on the door explaining that it was a fast day), let alone leaving the room right before being introduced and dismissing your insightful and balanced introductoin--I felt her remarks as hostile--really as a punch to the gut--which made it difficult to take in all that she said. I had just stood right next to her and her partner under the tallit during the aliyah, in which we all committed to do our part to become closer to G-d and closer to manifesting a world of tikkun, and so her vitriolic remarks felt strangely even more like a type of betrayal--having shared sacred space together.
But what I also want to say is thank you for helping to educate me over the past 15 or so years that I have been attending your services about the Palestinian side. I grew up in a family of die-hard Israel supporters. My mother's father left Russia to go to Eretz Yisrael as an early Zionist, and was a follower and admirer of Jabotinsky and Begin. I grew up with my mother (z"l), idealizing her father and singing songs about the two sides of the river Jordan, both of which were deemed "ours". When I first started attending your services, while I loved many aspects of them, I was resistant to hearing the Palestinian side. Over the years, though, my eyes have been open. So, in a way, it was even harder hearing Walker's words, to not be validated in how far I've come in my thinking in empathizing with the Palestinian history. But, the whole experience of hearing her speak also motivates me to continue to educate myself, and advocate for a peaceful solution.
Aside from all that, it was wonderful to see you healthy and vibrant. I enjoyed reading aloud the Ten Commitments and have printed them because I think they are very comprehensive and well-stated, and I want to have them to regularly refer to.