The Conversation

By | Apr 25, 2024
Spring 2024

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Political activist and history professor Fania Oz-Salzberger’s column “A Quick Guide to Zionism in Hard Times” (Winter 2024) quickly garnered widespread attention, becoming one of Moment’s most read articles of all time. “This will be one of the ‘go-to’ pieces I share with people I know who throw the term Zionism around without much thought for what it entails,” said reader Stefan Andreasson. Oz-Salzberger’s call for a humanist Zionism has been translated into at least three languages and added to university syllabi. For many, it was a response to those who have called Zionism a racist term. Yoni Freedhoff, in Canada, said this piece is required reading “if the word ‘Zionism’ means anything to you other than the State of Israel’s right to exist and flourish being equal to that of any other country’s.” The column straddled political divides, with Natan Doron, an adviser to the mayor of London, commenting that the piece “provides a vision of another Israel.

The one that I hope will come to the fore once Netanyahu is out of power,” while IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said, “Do yourself a favor and read this beautiful essay, especially if you consider Zionist a derogatory term.” Reader Ben Rifkin said the piece will help you “reconsider what Jews mean (and what we can mean) when we say we are Zionists.”

After the column appeared, Oz-Salzberger spoke on a MomentLive! public affairs program, which also received a huge response on social media. In sharing the piece, @lopcute wrote, “This was a remarkable video that needs to be shared widely. In a way it gives me hope. The distorted impression coming out of Israel is not the real picture. I wish more people could understand.” Agreeing, @PhelanLmphelan added, “Everyone should listen to this interview with @faniaoz to understand moderate Zionism. In this, you find a center-left, measured and humanist belief in all people.

‘Peacenik not pacifist’ she speaks for me and my generation—that of her father Amos Oz.” Another proponent of the program, Paul Kleiman, wrote, “Whether you are pro-Palestine or pro-Israel or are genuinely concerned but uncertain about what is happening both in Gaza and Israel and its wider impacts, listen to this interview with @faniaoz. Clarity, sanity and humanism.”



Noah Phillips offers a broad and deep understanding of the Kohenet movement, which I knew nothing about before reading “Who Will Lead the Priestesses?” (Winter 2024). It provides another dimension to the exploration of visionary women’s roles and contributions to Judaism today. Each paragraph brought new thoughts and reflections. At a time of my life when, at 82, I think there is less to want to learn, this article draws me closer to the source of my identity as a Jewish woman. I came to appreciate Rabbi Jill Hammer and Taya Mâ Shere’s pursuit of who they are and the gifts they brought to women seeking new roles as priestesses. Thank you so much for continuing to enliven my days.

I must also praise Glenn Frankel’s review of Barbra Streisand’s My Name Is Barbra (“She Came, She Sang, She Conquered,” Winter 2024). Frankel shows great sensitivity toward Streisand, who conquered me and my husband at an early stage of our falling in love while listening to her records. We heard her poetic songs, her talent, her authenticity and, most of all, her strength to follow her dreams and become a woman in the fullness of being an artist. Frankel shared his own emotional attachments, which made it a special read. As a woman, I think no reader can resist her story.

As a Jewish woman, I am so very proud of what she made of herself and what she has given throughout her life. It’s not so easy to stand up for yourself when living in scary times. Barbra challenges us all.
Linda Gallanter
San Francisco, CA


I don’t think Kohenet necessarily failed. Yes, the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute closed, but we Kohanot are out in the world priestessing in the way that resonates for each one of us. I know Kohanot who are leaders in their shuls, people who are working herbalists, artists, musicians, carrying on Reb Zalman (z”l)’s work on aging, holding rituals and working in the field of ancestral healing. Who knows all the magnificent ways in which the seeds of Kohenet will blow? Failed? Maybe. Dead? No. Different? Yes.
Judith B.
Northampton, MA



I find myself both spiritually awestruck and pragmatically pulled down to earth by “The Courage of Eric K. Ward” by Jennifer Bardi (Winter 2024). As the profile astutely implies, it is no surprise that Ward, who has been a Long Beach punk rocker, a New York philanthropy expert and an intersectional Oregonian college activist, is now rightfully regarded as a leader in global anti-racism and the fight for social democracy.

Ward’s fondness for story and his moral courage to understand and confront difference build public safety and community good. Indeed, from the mostly all-white neighborhood to the neo-Nazi-filled concert hall, Ward’s ability to engage individuals from the far right-wing margins to the messy and disaffected middles shows that no political space is too narrow to enter in order to address unmet human needs and advance collective human survival.

In a world of selective outrage and shrunken silos, Ward pays attention. To racism. To poverty. To antisemitism. And to people—not just the ones he agrees with. As Bardi attests, this is Ward’s strength and, I believe, our best hope.
Devon Spier
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada


I commend you for publishing “The Courage of Eric K. Ward,” especially at a time of rising antisemitism and increasing attempts to divide the Black and Jewish communities. The article taught me a lot about the interdependency between the history of African Americans and Jews in the United States and the strong links between anti-Black racism and antisemitism.

Asked how his theory has been received in the Black community, Ward says, “I’m not here to create hierarchies of oppression around anti-Black racism and antisemitism. What I’m here to say is that they’re both killing us.” This is a good reminder for oppressed communities and their allies that we should support each other. We are stronger together and can fight for what is right and just.

When we are united, it is a lot harder to kill us. Thank you for giving me hope for a better future.
Ayelet Zur-Nayberg
Westminster, CO



I love the thoughtfulness of Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s “Right Now, the Political Is Personal” (Winter 2024) and the acknowledgment of pain and anguish of many groups impacted by events in Israel.

I also like that she encourages building Israeli-Palestinian alliances. However, it will not solve the problem of Jew hate and Israel hate. I grew up in a Muslim majority country and visit often because of aging parents. I have stood outside a small mosque and listened to a Friday afternoon sermon about Jews and how bad they are. No matter how much partnership Israelis and Palestinians build, it does not seem to touch the ruling Arab elite nor these groups preaching and propagating hate. There is too much political gain to using Jew hate.
Lisuan Poh
Atlanta, GA



I agree with Harvey Silverglate’s “no” response to the question: Should students be disciplined for chanting “From the river to the sea”? (Winter 2024). Aside from defamation and other well-known exceptions (e.g. falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater), speech that incites imminent danger can be prohibited. The question is what constitutes “imminent” danger. I think the task of colleges and universities should be to develop guidelines that implement the First Amendment protections, not limit them.

Additionally, arguments that campuses should keep silent about the issues of the day fall flat with me. Whatever happened to “teach-ins” like the ones used to debate the Vietnam War when I was a student? Speakers of all views should be permitted; students and others have a right to listen to those views or not, but they do not have a right to shout down the speaker. I remember as a college student, the American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell came to the Ohio University campus. I was one of a group handing out leaflets to urge people not to attend, for his views were well-known and abhorrent. I chose not to attend; others decided otherwise, which was their right. He spoke and the university is still there and continues to be a “marketplace of ideas.”
Alan Jay Rom
Chelmsford, MA


We should stop treating the U.S. Constitution as if it is the greatest guide in the world to a free and democratic society. There are many things wrong with both the Constitution (recognition of slavery and lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court, to name two) and the Bill of Rights (see the confused and irrational Second Amendment). There are other democratic countries where hate speech is restricted, but in America the First Amendment and academic freedom have become slogans; arbitrary decisions are made on other grounds of what is tolerated and what is not, while we proclaim allegiance to these principles. All public speech that expresses, proposes or incites hatred or violence on the basis of identity should be restricted. That doesn’t mean people cannot utter their thoughts in private or confess their prejudices in a forum. It doesn’t mean certain members of a self-identified group cannot be called out for an offense. It means that people are restricted from using public forums, whether a campus, a newspaper or an Internet site, to promote the idea that a certain group of people should be detested based on their identity. Allowing hate speech in public can make large numbers of people more susceptible to bigoted ideas, including participating in or condoning violence or repression. It therefore represents a tangible danger to the identified persons.

I taught on college campuses for 16 years. I believe in academic freedom. It does not need to include the right to characterize Muslims as “terrorists,” Israeli Jews as “settlers,” or other ethnic slurs, in order to keep the campus a lively place where many ideas contend. There is no value in allowing ideas that contradict the most basic humanitarian principles to enter into that environment; they are not what academic freedom is intended to protect.
Anton Alterman
Brooklyn, NY


In the previous issue, we asked if students should be disciplined for chanting “From the river to the sea.” We asked Moment’s followers on X (formerly known as Twitter) to weigh in. The vote was tied.

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