Three Great Weekend Reads

In case you missed them…

Will the Mueller Report damage Trump?

Is press freedom degrading in America?

Can shame be a force for good?

The Mueller report didn’t deliver the smoking gun of unrealistic liberal fantasies. (“The money is being wired to the Cayman Islands. Love, Vlad.”) But beyond making clear how close Mueller came to recommending the indictment of a sitting president for obstruction of justice, the report is brimming with tantalizing clues about the uncanny synchronization between the Trump campaign and the Russians—and may increasingly diminish the public’s confidence in giving the president another four years.

The United States is now “problematic.” Although this conclusion might refer to a variety of suboptimal conditions, the international journalistic advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) applied it to the way in which Americans treat members of the Fourth Estate. In this year’s index of press freedoms, the United States has fallen to 48 out of 180 nations when it comes to freedom of the press.

Shame no longer unifies us by defining acceptable values; it instead divides us into separate groups who use shame to define the “other” and set ourselves apart from them, as if to say “we’re full of virtue and they are beneath contempt.” That’s one reason why political conflicts can feel impossible to resolve. Rather than responding to legitimate criticism, it’s become normal to heap shame upon those across the aisle: I have nothing to feel ashamed about, but you certainly do.

Three Great Jewish Reads

In case you missed them…

What does it mean to go from “Half Jewish” to “Jewish?”

Was AOC right about U.S. military aid to Israel?

What does Passover teach us about order?

Jewish law is demanding. When I struggled with Judaism’s exclusivity and claims to chosenness, I immersed myself in the Talmud’s complexity and tried to shield my children from my own contradictions. But now my daughter was as confused as I had been at her age. It had never occurred to me that I was creating a conflict, too.

What Ocasio-Cortez and her friends don’t understand about U.S. military aid is that it is as much a jobs program for Americans as it is a boost to Israeli security. Almost all of it is spent on U.S. munitions and armaments manufactured there.

Nor do Israel’s critics – or even most Americans taxpayers – realize that the intelligence sharing and strategic cooperation that is an integral part of the alliance is a huge bargain for the United States. They don’t understand that while the aid total that goes to Israel is the largest in the budget for any form of foreign assistance, it’s actually a fraction of the amount the United States spends on defending other allies.

Order is often confused with rigidity, and that is precisely why kids rebel against it. Children crave order and boundaries but detest rigidity. In fact, because Pharaoh feared that the Jews in Egypt would one day rebel, he made them slaves — precisely why they then had to rebel.

The truth is, rigidity — the inability to be flexible, to innovate — is actually a parody of order. Order is about restraint, harmony and unity; it speaks directly to our souls.

Commentary on Pesach

This week at the Jewish Journal, Pesach is under discussion. As you gather around the seder table with your family, we hope these three takes on the holiday will add depth to your celebration.

Rabbi Laufer: Judaism is not about routine and not about being in a box.

Shmuel: But Pesach, which is the celebration of freedom, is a routine. It happens the same every year.

Rabbi Laufer: But there’s a deeper dimension… Freedom isn’t always about doing whatever you want. It’s about reaching your true potential.

“An Aramean was destroying my father, and he went down to Egypt and he sojourned there with a small number, and he became there a nation: great, powerful and numerous.” – Passover Haggadah

Ilan Reiner: The haggadah wants us to experience the seder in historical perspective. This night is different from all other nights and we know why we’re celebrating. Or we think we know. What was the real threat from which HaShem saved us?

It’s the second, negative layer of freedom, the one we usually ignore, that has more bite. This is the freedom to do bad things, to hurt people, to harbor resentment and bitterness. This kind of darkness is more threatening because it’s so personal and intimate. It’s a lot simpler to tackle the impersonal darkness of societal ills like global warming or social injustice.

But it’s the personal that sticks.

Three New Podcasts to Check Out

Just in time for the weekend, three new podcasts to listen to.

Halie Soifer, Executive Director of Jewish Democratic Council of America, discusses Jewish voting patterns in the age of Trump.

Halie Soifer: We are concerned about millennials. We’re looking at that group of Jews specifically and their views on Israel. But the President is making a huge effort to politicize and personalize this issue. To make the U.S.-Israel relationship all about his relationship with Netanyahu.

Nir Braudo and Shmuel Rosner discuss the ways in which secular Jews can “re-build” the Passover Seder.

Nir: There are some people who are looking to do something traditional. There are many of them. We can feel it at our Seders around the world. They are looking to understand the ancient texts and to work with the content and to understand the symbols of the seder.

In just over a week, Jews around the world will recount the biblical story of the exodus from Egypt and celebrate ancient Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. Many will wonder if there’s any evidence for the Bible’s account of the events surrounding the exodus. In other words: did the exodus really happen?

Today’s Hot Issues

Three Great Weekend Reads Three Great Jewish Reads Commentary on Pesach Three New Podcasts to Check Out