Member Stories

Rabbi Brian Walt

West Tisburry, MA

The prophetic call to justice is the core of my faith as a Jew and a rabbi. I grew up in South Africa during the Apartheid era. At age 15, I learned the famous words of Amos in my Jewish Day school: “Spare me the sounds of your pious songs….. but let justice well up like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Ever since then, Amos’ words and the prophetic tradition of Judaism has inspired me to work against Apartheid in South Africa, against Apartheid in America, and against Apartheid in Israel/Palestine.

The story of the Exodus teaches that those who wield unjust power and benefit from privilege will only give it up when there is a price for perpetuating injustice. The boycott against South Africa made white people in South Africa uncomfortable but I always felt grateful for those committed folk around the world who put pressure on the South African government to end Apartheid – and the boycott played an important part in the struggle for freedom.

Systemic racism in America and Israel/Palestine are no different. Those with power in the US and in Israel will only change if there is a powerful demand for justice. I support JVP as it is the only Jewish organization that supports B.D.S and because it is the only Jewish organization that welcomes Jews who are not Zionists.

I was a progressive Zionist for much of my life and supporter of progressive Israeli groups. I was one of the founders of Rabbis for Human Rights North America because I supported the work Rabbis for Human Rights did in Israel upholding a Jewish religious vision of equality and justice for all. In 2008, I came to finally acknowledge that home demolitions that I had seen, unrecognized villages with no public services, and many other shocking instances of discrimination and cruelty to Palestinians was not a “wart” or “blemish” on the Zionist vision; it was the inevitable result of Zionism, a ethnic nationalism that privileges Jews over non-Jews.

My commitment as a religious Jew to justice, equality and love for all humankind was in direct conflict with Zionism. I am a Jew with deep connections to Israel and to many Jews I love in Israel. I love Hebrew and Jewish culture in Israel. I am committed to the safety and security of Jews in Israel but not to privileging Jewish lives over the lives of Palestinians.

In JVP I find many people, including my beloved colleagues on the JVP rabbinical council, who have similar stories and share the commitment to work for a future of justice and equality for all in Israel/Palestine. It is such a joy to be part of a Jewish community committed to the Prophetic call for justice – it is my Jewish home.

Noushin Framke

Member Since: 2008
New York, NY

When did you become a JVP member?
We go back to 2008 when JVP came to the San Jose General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church – I guess I donated that year. I was so impressed with JVP members who came to help us at that GA back in 2008 – I felt an affinity for the Justice-minded JVPers there instantly and kept visiting them in the booth!

JVP’s passion for justice gave me hope in the midst of much unethical double-standards in the PEPs around me in my own faith community. And I believe that the key to justice in Palestine is in the hands of the U.S. Jewish community, so I am happy to be able to work with JVP towards more and more awakenings in the Jewish community here.

What does social justice mean to you?
As the granddaughter of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide and daughter of a dissident under the regime of the last Shah of Iran, I see social justice as treating all people with respect, meeting global needs for food, shelter, health and education so as to provide an equal playing field for all.

And most of all, I see as a key ingredient of social justice not meddling in the affairs of other countries, patronizingly telling them what’s good for them, and then forcing them down the path we deem best.

What connections do you see between your work with the Presbyterian Church and JVP?
Having been and outspoken advocate for justice in the Presbyterian Church, I am heartened by the JVP advocates who have come to our General Assemblies to stand with us on justice for Palestine and telling committee members they don’t need permission from Jews to do the right thing.

JVP has always stressed that Israeli human rights abuses that have impunity do not represent Jewish values. Demolishing a family’s home does not represent Jewish Values. Israeli discrimination based on ethnicity is not a Jewish value. The JVP members that I have worked with and count as my friends are proud of their Jewishness and stand strongly against equating Israeli actions as Jewish actions.

For me, it has been JVP that separates Jewish values and the teaching of the Prophets from the growing brutality of the Israeli occupation, which is presented to the world as actions of the “Jewish state.” I am grateful to JVP for keeping real Jewish values alive.

What inspires you, gives you hope for the future?
What gives me hope for the future is the young and energetic JVP members who are not afraid to stand up to massive powers supporting the status quo. I am inspired by young JVPers who disrupt and protest events that promote Israeli propaganda and are not afraid of being out front in a movement for Palestinian rights.

Seems to me JVPers rightly see the face of God in the faces of Palestinians. JVP members unmask the double-standard in Liberal Zionism. And because of JVP’s bold and fearless members, the position of the Liberal Zionists who think they can have it both ways (be liberal and zionists at the same time), has become more and more untenable.

So even in the darkest days during the Gaza War, or in the dark aftermath of the Paris and Brussels attacks, I have hope in the fearless and righteous members of JVP who stand up for equal rights for all and for real Jewish values.

Leslie Williams

Member Since: 2015
Evanston, IL

I have had Jewish friends all my life; I have felt an intense attraction towards Judaism every since I can remember. The values of scholarship and egalitarianism, the focus on ethics versus salvation, and especially the role of tikkun olam, are enormously appealing. This was why I made the decision to convert in my mid 30s; because Judaism felt like my spiritual and intellectual home.

The one stumbling block, the one grating pebble of self-doubt was Israel. As a non-Zionist, was it possible for me to find a place within the Jewish community? The reactions I would get when I timidly raised questions about the occupation, or the right of return, or the settlements, were not promising: the kindest, most even tempered people I knew would froth with rage or else completely shut down the conversation. This was Not To Be Talked Of.

I kept looking, and hoping. I knew, I just knew that in a population of such intellectually engaged and morally aware people, who held such diverse views on everything from circumcision to Christmas, surely there would be Jews who shared my qualms about Israel.

And there were, but they lurked in the twilight margins of the Jewish world. Every now and then I would recognize a Jewish friend at a Palestinian event, and it would be almost as though I had caught them in an opium den. Of course, there were prominent anti-Zionist Jews: Chomsky, Finkelstein, Larry Kramer, but they were clearly tarred as apostates. To be an anti-Zionist was to be ostracized from the Jewish community.

So I did what I had to. I joined a synagogue I loved, with intellectually engaged and morally aware people. I quietly ignored the Adult Education lectures on, “The Jewish National Home”, and the annual “Walk for Israel.” I swallowed my annoyance at the Israeli propaganda plastered over the classrooms and graciously accepted my daughter’s “gift certificate towards a trip to Israel” on her bat mitzvah. I took care not to praise Vanessa Redgrave movies. Occasionally I would slip up, like the time I mentioned that it would be nice if the followers of Moses and Mohammad cared more about the ideas they stood for as opposed to the rocks they stood on. A gasp, then dead silence. Never said that again.

Looking back, I feel a lot of empathy with closeted gays in the Pre-Stonewall era. I was a closet anti-Zionist. I had Jewish friends, but I always wondered, “What if they find out? If they knew what I was really thinking, would they still want me around?” Jewish holidays sickened me, with their “Next year in Jerusalems” and their triumphal call for conquering the Promised Land. I wondered if I was truly Jewish after all.

Then came 2008, the Gaza assault, and my Rabbi Brant Rosen’s shift towards active support for Palestinian rights. I started noticing other Jews, other synagogue members articulating the same questions and qualms I’d always had. I heard from other converts who had struggled with the same quandary, with born Jews who had felt the same disconnect, the same fear of being declared outcasts for their anti-Zionist beliefs. I realized that yes, there is a place for us within the Jewish community.

For the first time, I felt I truly had the right to call myself a Jew. For Tisha Ba-av 2014 I participated in a “Mourning Service for Israel”, one of the most moving services I’ve ever attended. I heard close friends weep as they grieved their youthful love for Israel, and the friendships and family ties they have lost due to their renunciation of an unquestioning Zionism. As a convert, my path has been relatively easy; I’ve strained a few friendships but nothing like the intense self questioning and pain that many of my born Jewish friends have experienced. Yet I’m not going back into that pre-2008 closet, and neither will this younger generation of Jews. So thank G-d for JVP.

Thank G-d for a community of Jews that remind me of why I converted in the first place: ethics, egalitarianism, social justice and tikkun olam. I have found myself rediscovering my love for Jewish ritual, now uncoupled from tribalism and dreams of conquest. Once when I saw a group of Israelis dancing an aggressive hora in mockery of a Nakbah protest, I jokingly told my husband I was thinking of turning in my 6 pointed star. “Keep dancing,” he said firmly. “Just lose the fascism.” He’s right.

We have as much right to Jewish culture, history and faith as The Establishment. We should take joy, not just pride in being Jewish. And as long as I have my JVP comrades, I will never turn in my star.

Una Osato

Member Since: 2014
New York, NY

Why are you a JVP member?
I believe deeply in the work that JVP does and am proud to be part of this organization. As an artist, so much of my and our work can happen in isolation or apart from the movement, where we don’t always know of or get to see how our work impacts the world; but being part of JVP, I can see and feel the ways we’re really part of a movement that is moving!!! It’s so exciting to know that the work I do is part of and contributing to something greater then myself, and that our collective efforts are having a real effect.

I haven’t been part of a national organization in many years, and I am so thrilled to be part of one again. It’s so powerful and inspiring to feel like all parts of who I am and the world I believe in are possible together. Integral to doing social justice work, for me, is that I need to be excited about what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, and the people I’m working with.

Everyone I’ve met in JVP – fellow artists/members/staff – have become important parts of my community who I look to to help make sense of the world, dream with, and organize together.

What do you see as the role for art in this movement?
I see art as being an essential part of our movement. Art is simultaneously things we can use in our organizing and ways to organize. Art is the world we’re fighting for and how we’re doing it. Art allows for us to have cathartic experiences together. Art allows us necessary outlets for and reminders of our collective humanity. The movement for liberation of all peoples is one we’re committed to for the long haul, so we need the space art allows us for being seen and heard, we need the time it allows us for reflecting, releasing, and re-energizing together, so that we can create the world that we know can be real.

Born and raised in NYC, I’ve been writing, performing, and producing my award-winning original work for over twelve years, touring nationally and internationally in theaters, festivals, universities, community organizations, classrooms, and prisons. (To find out about my upcoming happenings: facebook.com/una.aya.osato • www.unaosato.com • @thisisuna )

Like everyone, I have many parts: I’m a queer Japanese Jewish (self-loving anti-zionist) femme artist from NYC, raised culturally Jewish and taught that our culture is based on fighting for social justice for all.

I’m a performer/writer/educator who often collaborates with my sister, Michi Ilona Osato aka sister selva (also a performer and educator, and part of the JVP Artists and Cultural Workers Council), as well as with a number of other artists.

The work I create is aimed at continually merging my art and politics. My art is my response to a world where marginalized bodies and experiences get silenced; a world where the only option is to write myself into my own parts.

I tell stories with my whole body in meaningful, colorful ways that make The Movement irresistible as I combine the many art forms I love: theater, burlesque, dance, stand-up, storytelling of every kind.

Everything I do and create is rooted in how I view the world — and how the world views and responds to me. Through fully embodied performance, I create and explore my own reality — which celebrates my wholeness along with my brokenness.

Art is how I survive, how I breathe, how I share love. It’s how I communicate, how I connect with others, how I create opportunities for as many stories to be shared as possible — especially those we don’t usually get to hear and value. Art is how I build community and counter the sense of isolation that capitalism breeds — within ourselves and between each other — through laughter, joy, and collective catharsis. In collaboration with other artists and countless communities, I create work that seeks to speak to people’s truths, to be action, to move others to action, because art should be useful to all of us.

There isn’t just one stage that can have only one center. There are stages everywhere — we create them, and there are as many centers as there are stories.

Ethan Cohen

Member Since: 2015
Livingston, NJ

I believe in decolonization. Whereas some Jewish political organizations endorse Palestinian human rights but fall short with their support of antiracism, feminism, and anti-Islamophobia, others demonstrate a nominally intersectional dedication to social justice but tacitly exclude the question of Palestine, and others yet overtly espouse colonialism and its ideological offspring. JVP has emerged as one of the sole radical Jewish forces substantially and openly dedicated to no-exceptions decolonization.

Furthermore, as a Mizrachi Jew, I am personally disconcerted and hurt by the anti-Arabness that Zionism propels in Israel and beyond, even against Arab Jews like myself. Long story short, telling mainsteam Ashkenazi (and sometimes Mizrachi) Jews that I am a member of Vassar’s Middle Eastern Students Collective often raises eyebrows. Why should it?

What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice is more than politics. It is quite simply a matter of good and evil, but a little more than just acting according to conscience. Acting in a socially just manner might be the act of finding a balance between conscience and self-critique. It’s not something that should be done for credit or success.

What connection(s) do you see between your work on campus and the larger goals of JVP as an organization?
Both work to engage the Jewish community politically and culturally, and by blurring and exploring the line between the two. For example, a couple months ago, Vassar JVP members and I led a Shabbat service at the Vassar Jewish Union that explored histories of Jewish socialism. What inspires you, gives you hope for the future? Resistance through art constantly reminds me of the difference between power and control. Colonial governments may wield great power over their subjects, but they can never control resistance. In the words of Bob Marley, “You can fool some of the people sometime, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.”

Judith Butler

Member Since: 2007
Berkeley, CA

Jewish Voice for Peace is a courageous organization that offers a place of belonging and a chance for activism for Jews who seek to help realize social and political justice in Palestine. I was much more alone in the world before I joined JVP. It is one of the very few social movements about which I have no ambivalence. The world is better because JVP exists.

We face a very brutal regime in Israel and organized Jewish groups in the U.S. who abuse the allegation of antisemitism and use slander and blackmail and seek to pass laws that will censor views such as ours. So we are always chocked by the injustice of the Israeli state but also by those who would whitewash its crimes, accusing us of hatred and seeking to stop our surging strength. But if it is true that JVP is the fastest growing Jewish organization in the U.S., then we are the future. And we feel that exhilaration and hope.

Ken Barger

Member Since: 2015
West Tisburry, MA

I joined JVP in the Fall of 2015. After Netanyahu’s partisan speech to Congress, I started investigating the role of Israel in Middle East conflicts, and became concerned about what I was learning about violence in the occupied Palestinian territories.

I was very impressed by JVP’s activism and organization on this issue, and joined! I have been an active in Veterans For Peace for years. When Prime Minister Netanyahu came to a partisan Congress with the assumption that American troops can be sacrificed for his agenda, I started investigating the role of Israel in Middle East conflicts.

I became very conscious that a core rationale of extremists regards Israeli treatment of Palestinians and how the U.S. supports Israeli “aggression.”

I have been a part of a military occupying force myself, and have seen firsthand the harsh consequences of martial force on innocent people, and how oppression can drive people to extremist causes.

In talking with former IDF soldiers who have questioned their roles in similar circumstances, I have found we share an inner conflict between the values with which we are raised and what we are called upon to do in the use of military force. A Jewish friend introduced me to JVP and the work it does to realize the values which we share. I was very impressed with the way JVP is focused and organized in seeking substantive changes that produce greater peace and justice.

From the beginning, I have found a meaningful and relevant context with JVP where I can be active in supporting human rights. It is exciting to work with others who are committed to realizing the best we can be as human beings, whether we are Americans, Israelis, or Palestinians.

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