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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at https://www.planetizen.com/user/63 and http://www.cnu.org/blog/194

The overwhelming majority of Americans consider themselves pro-Israel — and I suspect the overwhelming majority of politicians do too, in both parties.

And yet Israel is a political football; the party that doesn’t hold the presidency (today, the Republicans) typically attacks the party in power for being insufficiently pro-Israel- and these attacks hit home for many pro-Israel Americans, but not for others.  How come?  One obvious reason is that Republicans are always ready to believe any attack on President Obama, just as Democrats were equally enthused about attacking President Bush.

But I think there is something else going on as well.  Supporters of Israel, like fans of a sports team, fall into two general categories: ordinary fans and superfans.

An ordinary fan of a sports team wants the team to win, but generally trusts the players and the manager/coach to do their best.  He/she simply isn’t that involved in the details of who should be playing what position, or who should be traded for who.  Similarly, the ordinary fan of Israel is generally sympathetic with Israel.  But he/she tends to have a favorable opinion of any Israeli prime minister and to generally trust American politicians to support Israel; he/she pays close attention to Israeli politics only when a war is going on, but rarely otherwise.

A sports superfan, by contrast, knows the game so well that he/she is quite willing to criticize the manager or coach if the team is doing badly.  And because the sports superfan is emotionally wrapped up in the game, he/she can become steamed if the team is making mistakes, even if only one game out of many is involved.  Similarly, the American superfan of Israel is more likely to have strong opinions about Israeli politicians, more likely to be worried about hazards that (in a non-superfan opinion) are trivial, and more critical of American politicians’ behavior towards Israel (especially, of course, the politicians they did not vote for!) .  

I don’t think one is better than the other.  The superfans get on my nerves sometimes, but without them I wonder if there would be an Israel. 

When I was at Limmud, someone asked me an interesting question: what type of Jews are most likely to live in cities as opposed to suburbs?  For example, are Orthodox Jews more likely than other Jews to live intown because they value walkability, or in suburbs because their large families need more space?  Is the aging Conservative movement more suburban than other movements because younger Americans tend to prefer city life?  I don’t think I have the resources to do a full demographic survey, or even to dig up accurate information, since there are not that many cities that have recently conducted surveys of their Jewish population. 

However, I can do an informal survey of mid-sized cities I know something about (that is, cities that aren’t New York, Philadelphia or Chicago, since those places seem to have a little of everything downtown).  So let’s look at a few places:

Washington- In close-in Washington (within two miles of the White House) most congregations seem to be Orthodox or nearly so.  Kesher Israel is the closest full-service congregation, while Rosh Pina and DC Minyan straddle the boundary between Orthodox and Conservative.  In addition, there is a Chabad in Dupont Circle.  On the other hand, in the “outer city” (between downtown and the city limits) Jewish life becomes more diverse: there are two Conservative shuls (Adas Israel in Cleveland Park and Tifereth Israel in Shepherd Park), three Reform in upper NW DC (Temple Micah, Washington Hebrew, Temple Sinai) and Orthodox Ohev Shalom (also in Shepherd Park).   So I would say there is a strong Orthodox presence close in, but there is a strong non-Orthodox presence in places that aren’t downtown but aren’t quite the suburbs.  (Having said that, the red hot center of Orthodoxy in Washington is in close-in suburbs like Rockville and Silver Spring).   

Atlanta- In Atlanta, unlike Washington, there is no downtown Jewish life.  In the “intown but not downtown” neighborhoods of Midtown, Virginia Highland and Morningside 2-4 miles from downtown, there is a fairly even denominational split: Chabad (Orthodox), Anshei Sfard (ditto), Shearith Israel (Conservative) and the Temple (Reform).  Again, the Orthodox heartland is in the inner ring suburbs of Toco Hills and Sandy Springs.

Buffalo- There is no downtown Jewish life, but here the liberal branches of Judaism tend to be a bit closer in.  Beth Zion (Reform) is two miles or so from downtown, Beth Abraham (Conservative) is a bit further out, and the Orthodox synagogues start five miles out and go from there. 

Cleveland- When I lived in Cleveland there was only one synagogue within the city limits, Beth Israel (Reform) on the West Side, However, there is now a Chabad at Case Western at the eastern edge of the city.  But from the webpage its not clear to me that they even have a Saturday morning minyan, so I’m not sure they count as the functional equivalent of a shul.

St. Louis- The only congregation of any sort in the city of St. Louis is Central Reform Congregation (Reform).  The inner suburbs are pretty diverse though, with a strong Orthodox presence in University City and a conservative synagogue in Richmond Heights.

Seattle- Seattle has two synagogues almost right next to each other about a mile from downtown: one Orthodox, one Reform.  In the “intown but not downtown” areas about 4-6 miles out, there is a real mix of congregations: Orthodox synagogues clustered in the Seward Park area of Southeast Seattle, a Reform congregation in Southwest Seattle, one or two of everything in North Seattle. 

Miami- According to its website, Chabad now has a minyan at 11th and Brickell in the heart of downtown Miami (!) – though I don’t know how often they actually have the minyan. Temple Israel (Reform) and Beth David (Conservative) are a mile and a half or so from downtown. 

Summary- I’m not sure there’s any real pattern. There are some cities where Orthodoxy has a stronger intown presence, other cities (especially the dying cities of the Rust Belt) where Reform has held out. 

 

Last weekend I went to Limmud, a weekend devoted to all manner of Jewish activities (including but not limited to Torah study).  Rather than taking notes and turning my memories into a post , I decided to tweet and just paste all my tweets here.

 

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    morris says reform should become traditional-but they’ve been trying that for a generation haven’t they? But I have no answer

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    in this generation reform grew because replenished by lapsed cons reform- not true in future

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    only 35 pct of ppl raised conservative married out-81 pct reform

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    Leon morris- hard to state ideals but welcome Jews who won’t meet them (my thought- not so hard for chabad)

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    morris-everyone knows they are autonomous so emphasize commitment

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    Leon morris- reform Jews used to err on insisting judaism just a religion, now must insist judaism a religion as well as people

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    29 pct of americans with one jewish parent don’t think they are jews

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    held-Rambams agenda- combating idolatry, heschel’s- combating indifference

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    held- why is rambam important? Fearlessness, belief in applying other disciplines to Torah, humility about divine will

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    heschel deity not so comforting-. Means we are all implicated

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    heschel- divine anger only way that atrocities matter

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    held- does heschel emotive deity make metaphysical sense?

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    held- “Zeus lives women but God loves widows”

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    held on heschel- tanach says God “feels”, seeks relationship

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    held- heschels book on prophets veiled criticism of rambam

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    heschel vs rambam- heschel wonders how rambams deity can be deity of tanach

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    held- 800 yrs later still no consensus on what rambam meant

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    held on rambam- why love deity? For creation

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    shai held on rambam- moses told us to remove eternal images of deity, we should remove internal images

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    rambam says to describe God as “merciful” – if you acted that way it would seem merciful (problem- how consistent with torah?)

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    shai held- rambam worried about thinking of God as “big person”- seems idolatrous to him

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    held- God “cosmic black box”, philosophy “learned ignorance” says rambam

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    shai held- rambam says reason for prayer is to help nonphilosophers connect

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    shai held- when rambam says “god not x” it means god beyond categories such as good-bad, smart-dumb

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    “ontological xenophobia”- inability to worship something radically different

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    It is official– celebrates its 10th bday tonite! May there be many more yrs of good learning ahead!

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    lopatin- innovations happen in haredi world too- some rabbis will revoke a get if divorcee not frum enough

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    lopatin- according to aruch hashulchan tiny bugs in vegetables nullified if widely considered disgusting

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    asher lopatin- brilliant theorist shouldn’t make day to day halachic rulings- different skills says netsiv

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    says she used to think everyone shaved head to be married

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    said growing up yeshivish her “identity was to be tznius”- felt women discouraged from having opinions

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    Eli reiter- in his yeshivish community women had ok secular education while he only read one secular book in high school

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    internet has affected haredi communities – easier to leave

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    ex-haredi panel-best thing about new lives more creativity

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    shavit- bibi to left of 1970s labor, in terms of allowing palestinian to take over territory

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    Ari shavit- Arabs don’t want 1967 boundaries they want all of israel

     
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    Ari shavit- Jews did some ethnic cleansing in 1948 but Arabs did more- where they took over not one jew left

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    Ari shavit- why aryeh deri went haredi – haredim were willing to educate sephardim while secularists neglected them

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    Ari shavit- when he wrote about inhumane prison conditions for Arabs defense minister wanted to talk to him about fixing it

     
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    many arguments about “competing intuitions”

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    David ingber-best thing about judaism “our story”

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    pts out Jews not leaving judaism for other religions, mostly leaving it for secularism

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    “why judaism” panel seems focused on Buddhism, as if tons of Jews were turning buddhist

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    shai held- experience more powerful than theological argument

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    shai held_ “confessional theology”- not trying to convince, just “here’s what world would look like if you did follow my path”

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    David ingber refers to “post traumatic God disorder’- anticlericalism based on idea of vengeful deity

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    “refuse to have an opinion” about other religions- hard enough to fully understand our own huge tradition

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    great phrase by “bar mitzvah factory farm”- I’ve been there

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    why shorter hallel on rosh chodesh? Texts unclear but rosh chodesh related to atonement so maybe similar to skipping on yom kippur

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    why no hallel for rosh hash-yom Kippur? Talmud says “books of life and death. Open”

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    Why only part Hallel for most of Pesach? Death of egyptians- moral ambiguity

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    “The moment you, as an individual or a nation, think that you are wise enough and do not want to learn any further, you are doomed.  You stop growing” – Nehru

    Before we begin our Tu’b’Shevat seder, let me explain a bit about what Tu’b’Shevat is.

    Tu’b’Shevat is the 15th of the month of Shevat, the middle of the Jewish month of Shevat.   Why is this date significant?  The rabbis of the Mishna and the Talmud chose it as the new year for the trees.

    Why do trees need your own new year? Essentially, for tax purposes.  The Torah says you can’t eat from fruit trees during the first three years of their life.  In the fourth year, you pay a tithe or tax on them, using the fruits in Temple ceremonies.  In deciding what year a tree was (so to speak) born, you use Tu’b’Shevat as your guideline- that is, if the tree was planted after Tu’b’Shevat it was born in the new year, and if it was planted before it was born in the old year, which means you could pay taxes on it a year earlier and start using it a year earlier.

    In the 16th century, mystics living in the land of Israel created a special meal for this holiday, the Tu’b’Shevat Seder.   Because this seder is too new to have become required by Jewish law, we have a lot more flexibility in creating a Tu’b’Shevat seder than for most Jewish rituals. However, there are certain elements that are common to nearly all such seders: it is customary to discuss four different worlds (sometimes defined mystically, sometimes defined in other ways).  It is also customary to use four different types of wine, and four different types of fruit.  (For a longer, mystically oriented, Orthodox Seder go here; for an aggressively environmentalist version go here; for a Conservative Zionist verson go here; for the version I based this seder on go here).

    Accordingly, I have decided to create an urban planning seder, designed to acknowledge not just the bounty of nature but the interaction of man and nature.  My four worlds are the four different types of environments- some of which have very few trees, some of which have lots of trees.

    What I am going to try is to use both the four cups and the four fruits to symbolize a progression from most intense to least intense, but in different ways- the wine cups will start with undeveloped rural land and become more urbanized, and the fruits will go in the other direction.

    We begin with the first cup of wine, which traditionally symbolizes winter, when many trees are dead and the earth seems lifeless.  And yet God’s energy infuses this winter with initial life.  From a planning perspective, winter means rural, undeveloped land; there is some life, but not yet any people- and not even many trees either during the winter.  Many urban planners have created something called the Transect, which lists the types of development from most intese to least intense; this cup of wine symbolizes T1 and T2, where land is essentially rural.

    In honor of winter, we begin with white wine, and say the blessing over wine:

    Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolam, borei prei hagefen.  Blessed are you, sovereign of the universe, who has created the fruit of the vine.

    Then we begin with the fruits.  First, I’d like to give some language from the Torah about fruit, and about nature.

    Reader: For ____ our God is bringing you into a good land.  A land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths springing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land wherein you shall eat without scarceness, you shall not lack anything in it; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you may dig brass. And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless God for the good land,,which is given to you (Deut. 8:7-10).

    Now we start with the first fruit, which is traditionally hard on the outside, such as various forms of nuts.  At a theological level, the hard shell can symbolize the protection that the earth gives us.   From a planning perspective, the hardness of nuts sounds a lot to me like the urban core where I live now, which to many people seems hard on the outside.  In the transect, the urban core is T6.  Just as the earth protects us in more obviously natural rural areas, it protects us in T6 as well.  And in the world of religious reality, T6 need not be a purely secular place, it seems to me that in ancient Jerusalem, the Temple was essentially T6, the heart of the city.

    Before eating these nuts we say the blessing over all fruit:

    Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melech haolom, borei pri ha-aytz.  Blessed are you, Source of all life, creator of the fruit of the tree.

    (Eat a few nuts).

    Now we come to the second cup of wine.  This cup is mostly white with a little red mixed in, to symbolize the passing of the seasons and the concept of formation and birth.  From a planning perspective, this may symbolize the initial development of a place; imagine New York in the 1600s, turning from pure nature into a small town where people where starting to live.

    (Say blessing again, Drink second cup)

    Before we start talking about fruits again, we read a Torah verse mentioning people and agriculture and cities.

    Reader: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.  Blessed shall you be in the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land, and the fruit of your cattle, and the young of your flock.  Blessed shall you be in your basket and your kneading trough.  Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out (Deut. 28:36).

    Now we come to the second fruit.  This fruit is soft with a pit in the center.  This fruit can symbolize the life-sustaining power emanating from the hard rock at the center of the earth, or the spiritual strength within us.  From an urban perspective, it symbolizes what the transect calls T5, an urban but somewhat more low-key neighborhood:  a place that is still part of the city and is full of buildings (and thus has an element of hardness) but where you start to see more trees and low-rise housing, a place that is a little less of a business district and a little more of a neighborhood.  I think of the commercial and high-rise streets of such a neighborhood as the pit, and the residential streets as the soft fruit. So for example, in New York’s Upper West Side, the hard, peach pit of the neighborhood is the major commercial streets like Amsterdam and Broadway that are full of buildings T6 – but these streets intersect with the soft streets, the numbered residential streets that have more trees.

    (Say blessing again, eat second fruit)

    Then we come to the third cup of wine. The third cup is mostly red with a little white mixed in, symbolizing the change of seasons into spring.  From an urban perspective, the village is becoming a city, with buildings becoming taller at the center, and tree-lined residential streets cropping up in all directions- I think of New York in the 1800s, or Atlanta at the dawn of the 20th century.

    (Say blessing again, drink 3rd cup)

    Now we read a Torah passage about the birth of life:

    Reader: Then God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into the nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living soul (Gen. 2:7).

    Now we come to the third fruit.  This fruit is soft throughout and is completely edible.  From a theological perspective, this might symbolize our own ties with the earth and with God, which are everywhere like the fruit’s softness.

    From an urban perspective, this is T4- the streetcar-created suburbs of generations past, general urbanism like BrooklynHeights and Park Slope and Boston’s Brookline and Jacksonville’s Riverside.  These places somehow seem softer and more relaxed to me; yes, they are parts of big cities, but the tree-lined streets are the public face of the neighborhood in a way that they aren’t in Manhattan.

    (Say blessing again, eat 3rd fruit).

    Now we come to the fourth and last cup of wine, which is all red.  A mystical seder would treat this as the mystical concept of fire and the idea that within all living things dwells a cup of God.  A naturalist perspective treats it as the heat of summer.

    From an urbanist perspective, I think of the evolution of my small city into a major metropolitan area, which to me is like a fire.  Like a fire, the city, if mismanaged, can become an all-consuming, scary place- whether through violence as in Detroit, or through pollution as in the automobile-choked sprawl of Los Angeles. But going back to Jerusalem, the city can be the place of purity and holiness as well.   Just as the burning bush that Moses looked it did not consume itself, the fire need not consume us.

    (Say blessing, drink 4th cup).

    Now we read a Torah passage about fire:

    Reader: And the angel of God appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush and Moses looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire and the bush was not consumed (Exodus 3:2).

    Now we go to the fourth and last fruit.  This has a tough skin on the outside but sweet fruit within.  From a theological perspective, this can symbolize the mystery of the world and the study of Torah.  We constantly seek to uncover its secrets and are nourished by its fruits.  From an urbanist perspective, this symbolizes T3, or the suburbs.  The suburbs can be very tough places if mismanaged; they can become just as car-choked and ugly as any big city, and in the United States usually are.   On the other hand, a walkable, tree-lined suburban neighborhood, a place like Great Neck or Cedarhurst or Orlando’s Winter Park, can be a pretty beautiful place.

    (Say blessing, eat fruit).

    finally, we say the blessing after eating fruit (borei nefashot

    A common environmentalist theme is that we are all benefactors of the good earth that is ours and therefore responsible to preserve it. Secularists may think that this has nothing to do with religion, but believers see the land as a gift from God the Creator and view themselves as partners with the Creator in the work of creation.

    Precisely because we are partners in the work of creation, the built environment is just as much part of creation as the natural environment.  And thus, we are responsible for preserving and improving what we build, just as we are responsible for what nature provides directly. That is part of what Tu’Bishvat should mean to us today, and why all of this matters.

    And with this we end our Tu’b’Shevat seder.  Whether we are in city or country, urban core or suburb, may we minimize the toughness of our lives and maximize the sweetness.

    This weekend I attended large chunks of the AALS (Association of American Law Schools) conference, a gathering of law professors from around the nation.

    The first panel I attended was on reading comprehension among students.  Much of the discussion struck me as common sense: ask students where they got something in the text, give lots of feedback, etc.  But one exercise called a “think-aloud” report was kind of interesting.  We broke out in groups, and each of us had to read something in a case file; my group was assigned a complaint.  We had to answer the following questions:

    1.  What is this document? What techniques did we use to identify the document and its subject matter?

    2.  How is it structured? How do we get the “lay of the land” about the document as a whole?

    3.  What is important about the document?  What information am I supposed to be gathering from it? What techniques did we use to identify the key pieces of information?

    4.  If I had to give a 30-second “elevator pitch” about the content of the document to someone unfamiliar a with it, what would I say?

    Then I attended an environmental law panel; the most interesting speaker was Dr. James Cervino, explaining the link between sea ice melt, sea level rise, and violent storms.  He argued that cold water makes storms less violent, and that warmer water and melting Arctic ice were likely to turn smaller storms into hurricanes. In addition, sea level rise destroys vegetation, which is dangerous because vegetation protects areas from storms: that is, areas with lots of trees, etc. are less likely to be devastated by storm surge.

    Later in the weekend, I went to a joint panel of the sections of Islamic and Jewish law.  The most interesting discussions were about Turkey, which has followed a very different model from both the more militantly Islamic Arab states and the secular west.  First Russell Powell of Seattle discussed Turkish public opinion: only about 20 percent of Turks favor Sharia law, and when asked to detail what that meant, many of them favored fairly moderate interpretations of this concept.  And yet Turkey is governed by a more or less religious party.  How come?

    Asli Bali of UCLA explained the history of post-Ottoman Turkey: rather than separating religion from the state (like Western democrats) or attacking it (like communists) early 20th century Turks were faced with an ethnically diverse but heavily Muslim state, since Muslims had been ethnically cleansed from Greece and exported to Turkey (just as many Christians were forced into Greece).  How could Turkey turn this mix of peoples into a nation?  The Turks responded by having the state take over religion.  On the one hand, public schools were always full of religious education, indoctrinating young Turks to be Sunni Muslims and thus creating a religious Turkish identity.  On the other hand, religion in the public sphere was frowned upon; women were discouraged from veiling themselves, Islamic political parties were nonexistent.  Imams were licensed by the state, which regulated the contents of sermons. Turks were to be Muslims, but not too religious.

    In mid-century, Turkey emphasized religion a little more as a response to Communism – perhaps one reason for the growth of the AKP (Turkey’s dominant, sort-of-Islamist party).  One example of AKP policies: alcohol. In a truly Islamic state, alcohol would be banned.  In Turkey, the AKP taxes it heavily and forces package stores to close at 10 pm, which is somewhat controversial.  Even though these policies would probably be considered moderate in the U.S., supporters and opponents both referred to these policies as examples of Sharia law – a view that I suspect would surprise most Saudis! (I note, however, that the overwhelming majority of Turks do not drink alcohol).

    P= urban planning related, J= Jewish interest/Torah,F= fiction

    - some of the most memorable books I read included 25, 27, 33, 43, 47, 53 (also 8, 9, 13, 21, 58 but I know the authors of those books!)  

    1. Between Friends, Amos Oz (J)

    2.  The Book of Genesis, A Commentary by Shadal (J)

    3.  Reshaping Metropolitan America,Arthur Nelson (P)

    4. Completing our Streets, Barbara McCann (P)

    5. Measuring Urban Design, Reid Ewing(P)

    6. The New York Nobody Knows, by William Helmreich (P)

    7.  Human Transit, byJarrett Walker (P)

    8.  Never Tell, by Alafair Burke (F)

    9.  Designing Suburban Futures by June Williamson (P)

    10. Book of Proverbs: A Commentary by W. Gunther Plaut (J)

    11.  Spies Against Armageddon, by Dan Raviv (J)

    12. Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson

    13.  A CurableR omantic, by Joseph Skibell (F)

    14.  Koheleth: The Man and his World, by Robert Gordis (J)

    15.  The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton (F)

    16.  I Am Nujood, Age 10 And Divorced, by Nujood Ali

    17. The JPS Torah Commentary – Deuteronomy by Jeffrey Tigay(J)

    18.  Urban China, by Xuefei Ren (P)

    19. Radical Hope, by Jonathan Lear

    20.  Torah of Reconciliation, by Sheldon Lewis (J)

    21. The Metropolitan Revolution. by Bruce Katz and JenniferBradley (P)

    22. The End of the Suburbs, by Leigh Gallagher (P)

    23. An American Bride in Kabul, by Phyllis Chesler

    24. Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Brezmen

    25.  The Miracle of Intervale Avenue,by Jack Kugelmass (J)

    26.  Woodrow Wilson,by Arthur Link

    27. How Jews Became Germans by Deborah Hertz (J)

    28. Farewell Babylon,by Naim Kattan (J)

    29-32.  The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers (J) (misc authors)

    33. The Power Broker, by Robert Caro (P)

    34. Tomorrow’s Lawyers, by Richard Susskind

    35. Kosher, by Timothy Lytton (J)

    36. The Iggeres of Rav Sherira Gaon by Sherira Gaon (J)

    37. Dubliners, by James Joyce (F)

    38.  The Faith of the Mithnagdim, by Allan Nadler (J)

    39. A Heart of Many Rooms, by David Hartman (J)

    40.  My Mother’s Wars,by Lillian Faderman (J, sort of)

    41. Redefining Suburban Studies, by Daniel Rubey (P)

    42.  A Place in History, by Barbara Mann (J)

    43.  Becoming Frum, bySarah Benor (J)

    44.  The Rebirth of Hasidim, by Jacques Gutwirth (J)

    45.  Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman (J)

    46. Jujitsu Rabbi and the Godless Blonde, by Rebecca Dana(J)

    47.  The Birth of Conservative Judaism, by Michael Cohen (J)

    48.  Plutarch, Masters of Rome

    49. Lest Innocent Blood be Shed, by Phillip Hallie (J, sortof)

    50.  Solomon Maimon:An Autobiography (J)

    51.  Moses Mendelssohn and the Religious Enlightenment, by David Sorkin

    52. The Struggle over Reform in Rabbinic Literature during the Last Century And A Half, by Alexander Guttmann (J)

    53. Founder of Hasidim, by Murray Jay Rosman (J)

    54.  The Bronx, by Evelyn Diaz Gonzalez (P)

    55.  We’ll Always Have Cleveland, by Les Roberts

    56. How Judaism Became a Religion, Leora Faye Batinsky (J)

    57. Jewish Orthodoxy and its Discontents, by Marta Topel (J)

    58. Walkable City, Jeff Speck (P)

    59. Pushing Time Away, Peter Singer (J)

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