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  • Eliot Watched Young, Jewish, and Left with Me
  • Wendy Kenin (bio)

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Figure 1.

Photo on page 148: Irit Reinheimer—co-creator— connecting with her aunt, Bertha Pappenheim.

Young, Jewish, and Left, a documentary by some of its own subjects, Konnie Chameides and Irit Reinheimer, is a thorough introduction to Jewish lefty activism in the U.S. whose alternative culture is often shunned or forgotten by the mainstream. Due to be released in 2006, the film offers interesting experiences and perspectives and lends voice to a less recognized portion of American Jewry. Reclaiming tradition in the face of the skeptical activist climate and the disapproving Jewish right, young Jewish lefties today are revitalizing their circle. If today's Jewish film festivals pick up YJL, it could make headway toward broadening American Jewish identity.

I was fortunate to have my 65-year-old father-in-law Eliot Kenin, resistance music historian and a seasoned communist in the Bay Area, at my side as we watched the message unfold. Knowing from the film title that the interviewees were young, Eliot preceded the film by informing me that it would probably relay the spiritual element of the Jewish activist community that evolved more significantly in the 1990s.

Eliot was right. Of the more mature story-tellers featured, we meet Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Rabbi Michael Lerner, both pioneer envoys who continue to spark the spiritual content of the Jewish left. Younger folks reveal their endearment of Jewish values, the inspiration those values provide for their work, and their creative spin on traditionally-inspired ritual. We learn from model/actor Micah Bazant that the alternative Passover Haggadahs created over past decades are serving as foundations for the continuous evolution of new ones that feel honest and resonate [End Page 148] with the current generation. Social worker Shira Hassan maintains that Judaism, which is always living and growing, has traditionally included such progressions to interpretation and ritual.

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Figure 2.

Photo on page 149: Micah Bazant—co-author of Love & Justice Haggadah; transgendered man— easier to be a Jewish male than European Christian male.

Rachel Marcus, third-generation radical, comes out as an activist Jew who reclaims her religious heritage whereas her parents had dissociated from religious affiliations in exchange for politics. Michael Lerner agrees that in the activist climate of recent decades, he faced the predicament of choosing between religious involvement and political activism.

We hear from And A. Luisa, who identifies herself as Rabble Rouser and as a New York Jew, that some Jewish lefties perceive much of the secular radical movement as having a predominantly Jewish constituency. Former participant and staff of Jewish Youth for Community Action Miriam Grant also recognizes the high concentration of Jews in the progressive movement, but discovered that among many Jews participating at a public rally, few were comfortable to come out and identify themselves as Jews. Shedding light on why some Jewish lefties might not reveal ties to their heritage, anarchist Jonna Shelomith left her community in the '90s when comrades couldn't accept her anguish after a visit to a concentration camp.

We come away from the film knowing that some who are proud to be Jews and still are against "the occupation" also feel misunderstood and alienated by the Jewish mainstream. I quote "the occupation" because the prominent right-wing standpoint disagrees with the term, asserting that the borders of Israel were legitimately expanded during wartime, even during battles where Israel was attacked and on the defensive. The Jewish right has branded Jews opposed to these new borders as "self-hating Jews" when in fact those relatives are actively practicing and identifying with Judaism. These American [End Page 149] Jews on the left are expanding the conventional definition of Zionism.

My co-viewer rounds out the story by providing some historical context. "After the founding of Israel," Eliot told me, "to teach Yiddish to kids, instead of Hebrew, was considered an anti-Zionist political statement by the American Jewish mainstream."

School of Unity and Liberation Educator Harmony Goldberg brings together via a Jewish vigil the planned execution of Mumia Abu Jamal with...


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pp. 148-152
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2012
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