Norm Finkelstein: My offer to teach you Hebrew still stands

Dear Dr. Finkelstein,

Remember when I met you at CSU Fullerton? I didn’t recognize you, and greeted you in Hebrew, “Shalom, ma shlomcha?” thinking you were an Israeli. You replied, “I don’t speak Hebrew.”

After your lecture, which I filmed and am posting here some clips, I was approached by an angry African American man in dreadlocks who yelled at me that all of us Zionists are Nazis. Which was strange because I had not uttered one word the entire evening. I was just filming your performance presentation.

I approached you afterwards and offered my advice that if you were to learn Arabic and Hebrew your chances for tenure would dramatically increase. I remember that one of the questions that night was about why you have not yet achieved tenure, and you replied that it was due to pressure from pro-Israel forces. Was that pressure from Zionists? I don’t remember who got blamed (I guess I can go back to that tape).

But back to my main point. I offered this advice because during my time in academia I discovered that experts on the Middle East read things written in those languages. I guess there are lots of scholarly things that scholars would want to read that are not translated into English, or maybe another language that you may speak.

I also offered my own services to teach you Hebrew, which you politely declined, saying you “were too old for that.” Then I asked you about Arabic, offering a few kind words in colloquial Jerusalem Arabic, that I was sure you understood, from your intense dealings on the whole Arab-Israeli conflict. I did not mean to embarrass you of course, but you also told me you don’t speak Arabic. I have sadly forgotten much of the Arabic I learned as a student at Hebrew University (That is only that name of the University- I took classes there in English and Hebrew.)

I know that you are up for tenure at DePaul, and just wanted to let you know that my offer still stands to teach you Hebrew. It is never too late. Heck, Rabbi Akiva didn’t really start learning anything till age 40. Lots of people take Hebrew during Elderhostel programs at universities. New Israeli immigrants as old as 90 even study Hebrew. I am sure that a man of your intellectual integrity and discipline will have no trouble. You can even now learn Hebrew on-line if you prefer that way of learning.

As far as Arabic is concerned – there are TONS of places and online ways to study Arabic. Or you can do a summer session in Riyahd or Cairo. Oh, well, maybe only Cairo, since you are Jewish you cannot study in Saudi Arabia. (Did you ever wonder why American Jewish students can never go on exchange programs to Saudi Arabian Universities, but tens of thousands of Saudi students study here in America? Did that ever bother you and strike you as racist?)

I wanted to just add that I agree with Zachary Lochman, the President of the Middle East Studies Association when he writes, “We urge you [The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D., President De Paul University] and your colleagues to ensure that that evaluation henceforth proceeds in a manner that conforms to generally accepted procedures, such that Professor Finkelstein is evaluated solely on the basis of his scholarship, his teaching, and his service to the DePaul community and to the academic fields in which he works.”

Since your field of expertise, according to your website and your dissertation is “the theory of Zionism,” I believe that learning Hebrew, both in written and spoken form, will inform your scholarship, teaching, and service to the DePaul community and the academic field you have chosen. In fact, you might even be able to uncover some more fascinating information on this theory of Zionism that is rarely translated into English!
For example: Jews have prayed in Hebrew for nearly 2000 years to return to their homeland Israel, for and in-gathering of the exiles, for the rebuilding of the Temple, and the restoration of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Cool, eh?

Seeing that your tenure process is nearing an end, I wanted to reach out to you ASAP, so that you can inform the committee that you have started studying Hebrew with me, and that will, I am sure, add great weight to your argument that you are an expert on this stuff.

I have even some ideas for He

brew word games we can play that I used at Zionist Summer Camp as a kid, like acting out the scene: “Hey I love that house, I want to BAYIT!” Or “OMG there is a fork in MAZLEG.”

Wishing you a Chag Sameach, a Happy Independence Day— the day where we celebrate a tiny country that if it had existed before 1939, would have most likely averted the Holocaust.

Best wishes and peace,

Rabbi Yonah

Jewflix for Israeli Independence Day

castCast a Giant Shadow (1966) Part fact, part fiction, Cast a Giant Shadow powerfully dramatizes Israel’s historic 1947-1948 struggle for independence. Both realistic war story and passionate romance, it features an all-star cast including Kirk Douglas, Senta Berger, and Angle Dickenson, as well as Yul Brynner, John Wayne and Frank Sinatra in notable supporting roles. From the liner notes.

Cast a Giant Shadow is a 1966 film, that’s right, BEFORE the reunification of Jerusalem, the occupation of the territories, and capturing of the Sinai and Golan. It was still two years after the founding of the PLO. The epic film was produced and directed by Melville Shavelson and distributed by MGM.

It is a story based on Ted Berkman’s biography of Colonel Mickey Marcus. Marcus (played by Kirk Douglas) served as an adviser in the war to establish the state of Israel in 1948. Marcus falls in love with a beautiful Israeli soldier in Palestine, but oops, he is married. Filmed mostly on location, Cast a Giant Shadow is not entirely historically accurate but is based on actual events.

If you love the classic actors: Angie Dickinson, Yul Brynner, John Wayne, and Frank Sinatra, you will enjoy! Don’t forget some Zionist Popcorn from Dale and Thomas Popcorn (aka Popcorn, Indiana)!

You look wonderful today!

This weeks Parsha (Tazriah – Metzorah) is about the way we talk. Speech reflects our attitudes and is such a powerful tool. Words, more than anything else, affects our homes, our families, our entire environment and our well being. A negative word causes destruction while a positive word has the power to bring peace to the world. That is the simple lesson of the Parsha.

The Torah teaches that if a spiritually afflicted leper wishes to purify himself he must bring a sacrifice of two birds. Why two birds? The Zohar, quoted by the Sfas Emes, explains that one bird is brought to atone for the lashon hara or negative words said. The other bird is brought to atone for the positive words that could have been said but weren’t. Even if a man or women never uttered a negative word, yet he or she held back a good word i.e. ‘you look wonderful today, great job, I think your fantastic, aren’t the Jews a holy people?’ – there is a sin of omission that needs to be atoned for.

If we could have made peace and we didn’t; if we could have made someone’s day and we suddenly have nothing to say, we are guilty of a form of loshon hara! Why do we sit quietly when we could be building the world or creating a positive feeling about the Jewish people?

From Rabbi Yaakov Haber