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Section 14: Tikkun

Timeline: 1986- present

Historical Context: In 1986, prominent voices in the organized Jewish community were beginning to articulate neo-conservative ideas one both foreign policy and domestic issues. Commentary Magazine, a monthly journal of politics, Judaism, social and cultural issues founded by the American Jewish Committee in 1945, had initially provided a strong voice for the anti-Stalinist left, then 1960s mainstream liberalism. It played an influential role in this transition, becoming a bulwark for neo-conservatism by the mid-1970s. There were few Jewish publications providing a voice for the many liberal and progressive voices that had emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, fewer still that would unequivocally embrace a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and be willing to engage in sustained critique of the Jewish neo-cons.

Brief Description: Tikkun: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture and Society was founded in 1986 by Nan Fink Gefen and Michael Lerner.  A Jewish periodical reflecting the values of the 1960s and 70s progressive movements, it also challenged the left for its inability to understand the centrality of religious and spiritual concerns. Lerner and his intellectual partner Peter Gabel previously led a research project on the psychodynamics of American society, concluding that a major reason why so many were moving politically rightward was the left’s inability to understand that most Americans sought not only economic entitlements and political rights, but also a sense of meaning and higher purpose for their lives, i.e., “a politics of meaning.” They shaped Tikkun Magazine to include the liberal/progressive agenda, as well as to address this hunger for the spiritual dimension of life.

Michael Lerner retains the title of editor in chief of Tikkun, now an on-line magazine. His educational work is entwined with his role as a writer, organizer and rabbi , reflecting the voice of a visionary on many social and faith issues including Israel-Palestine.

Israeli-Palestinian peace-related issues, largely though not exclusively focused around two states, have always been featured prominently in the magazine.  This has included articles  by Israeli and Palestinian left-wing intellectuals as well as Diaspora Jews involved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace issue. Tikkun was the first American publication to print the innovative Israeli “New Historians” and their challenge to many aspects of the traditional Zionist account of the founding of the State of Israel and subsequent wars. As a pioneer in presenting these views to American Jews, Tikkun was subject to attacks by the mainstream Jewish media, which portrayed the magazine as anti-Israel.

Tikkun presented itself as both a magazine and, after New Jewish Agenda folded, as a movement. It held major conferences in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Its authors began to be accepted into the op-ed sections of major American newspapers and broadcast media, presenting alternative Jewish perspectives on American and Israeli politics. In 1991, Tikkun held an international conference in Jerusalem that brought together representatives from the Labor and Meretz parties, Peace Now, Yesh Gvul, and Sephardic/Mizrachi Jews who felt excluded by the Ashkenazi leadership of the Israel peace movement. In 1994, Lerner published “Jewish Renewal:  a Path to Healing and Transformation,” which included a theological critique of what it called “Settler Judaism.”

In February 2002, Lerner formed a national Jewish organization, “The Tikkun Community,” initially populated with readers who supported his politics of meaning and especially interested in Israeli-Palestinian peace issues. Rejecting the narrative that “there is no partner for peace in the Palestinian world,” The Tikkun Community continued to push for a negotiated settlement and promoted “the Geneva Accord” which detailed what such a settlement might look like.

In his 2003 book, “Healing Israel/Palestine,” and in its subsequent update and expansion in 2012 as “Embracing Israel/Palestine: a Strategy for Middle East Peace,” Lerner brings together many of the major themes of Tikkun: a fundamental global change of consciousness similar in scope to that which accompanied the women’s and civil rights movements is needed in order for Israel and Palestine to achieve peace. His central contention is that the major powers of the world can best achieve “homeland security” by replacing the militarist “strategy of domination” with a spiritual “strategy of generosity.”

In the mid-2000s, The Tikkun Community reformulated itself as The Network of Spiritual Progressives, joining forces with others from a variety of religious and faith traditions. The magazine continues to publish a High Holiday supplement that focuses on the transgressions related to the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank. It also offers a Passover Haggadah supplement focusing on why Jews celebrating Passover must simultaneously support the liberation of the Palestinian people.

The Tikkun Community, and then the Network of Spiritual Progressives, brought hundreds of people to Washington, D.C. to lobby for a new government approach to Israel/Palestine; one that would try to meet the justice, peace and security needs of both Palestine and Israel.

Members/Chapters: The Tikkun Community began as a chapter-based organization, encouraging local initiatives around the many issues addressed by the community with a particular focus on Israeli-Palestinian peace issues. Today, The Network of Spiritual Progressives has over 100,000 members. 

Activism Strategy: Members of the Network promote a two state peace and reconciliation-of-the-heart approach to Middle East Peace with a goal framed as: “The Caring Society: Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.”

Contributions: Tikkun has provided an intellectual venue for the exchange of ideas around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1986. Editor Michael Lerner’s books on Israel/Palestine have been influential, inspiring many to become activists.  “Embracing Israel/Palestine,” which sums up much of the Tikkun approach on how to achieve Middle East peace, has been widely praised by prominent Israeli and international peace-oriented activists and politicians. Tikkun continues to affirm the possibility of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, including a process of genuine open-hearted atonement for the sins committed by both peoples against each other. It remains a major voice of liberal and progressive Jews and non-Jewish allies.

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