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Just How Far Right Is Spiritgrow? Odd Goings On at Wheeler and Ari Shavit Demolishes Anti-Zionism

May 25, 2014 – 4:14 pm8 Comments

From the Editor:

anti-IslamWhile Galus usually avoids the Israel Palestine issue, preferring to focus on issues Antipodean, we believe three recent stories bring the conflict in the Middle East closer to home and warrant our readers’ attention and discussion.

The first story concerns Rabbi of Spiritgrow, Laibl Wolf, opining on Islam’s inherent tendencies towards extremism in a shul lecture and on the suspect nature of those believing in the two state solution in a piece on the Spiritgrow website.

While Rabbi Wolf has denied that he was directly comparing proponents of two states to Nazis or Jewish capos, many who have read the piece feel otherwise and are very angry.

A number of people have suggested that Spiritgrow itself is disingenuous inasmuch as it markets itself as open and small [p] progressive, while in reality, it adheres to a staunch religious right ideology which it propagates to its congregation. You can read Rabbi Wolf’s piece here.

Meanwhile, Melbourne was alight over the past week with rumour and innuendo regarding a Wheeler Centre debate/panel on Israel/Palestine.

It is unclear what actually transpired; initially a debate was scheduled which would have included BDS proponent, Samah Sabawi, Geoff Bloch, and ADC’s Dvir Abramovich.

At one point, Ms Sabawi – a vocal critic of Israel who openly calls it an apartheid state – received an email from The Wheeler Centre that allegedly uninvited her because the alternative was that other debaters would pull out if she appeared.

The Wheeler Centre then announced that the debate had been cancelled and a panel would take place instead. This panel would include Ms Sabawi, but not Geoff Bloch or Dvir Abramovich.  Geoff Bloch denied that he had threatened to pull out if Ms Sabawi appeared.

You can read more about the panel controversy here and get more information on the event here.

And finally, Israeli writer, Ari Shavit was interviewed by Jon Faine and Raphael Epstein and then debated Ms Sabawi on 774 radio. Mr Shavit’s spirited defence of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination was quite extraordinary and definitely worth a listen if you missed it.

You can listen to the interview and debate here.

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  • Water of Life says:

    If we take Rabbi Wolf’s thought to its conclusion that would make the current US administration the Nazis. And we know that is true because we saw it on Fox News.
    This is the standard part of Chabad philosophy. Nothing should stand in the way of the Rebbe’s proclamation that Israel should not give the Arabs any land. Anyone who stands opposed to this idea stands against the will of G-d.
    Strip away the thin veneer of spiritual mumbo jumbo and Spiritgrow becomes just another Chabad house and nothing remarkable at all.

  • Alon Cassuto says:

    Spiritgrow is an open and progressive place and I would be weary of anyone who propagates that a leader of an open and progressive congregation shouldn’t speak their mind or hold political views- whatever they may be.

    As for the Water of Life comment above, Chabad as a movement is remarkable. I have been welcomed in Chabad houses in Milan, Kathmandu, Hong Kong, Phuket, Bangkok… the list goes on. I have seen Chabad host a wedding for an Israeli couple in the middle of the Himalays in India and I have seen chabad Rabbis in Australia run Bar mitzvas for Jewish university students who never had the privilege in their teens.

    If you believe the spiritual element of Spiritgrow is nothing but mumbojumbo you are clearly unaware of the positive impact this congregation has had on the lives of hundreds in our community.

    Oh and I have the fortitude to put my name to my comments.

  • yochi says:

    Laibl wolf is a self made Guru and Menachem wolf is just trying to clone his actions

    Spiritgrow is a [potentially defamatory term removed] covering up True Judaism

  • Adam Krongold says:

    We have to learn to feel comfortable hearing and listening to things that we may disagree with. To get the whole story you should see the other perspective. I’m not referring to hate or vitriolic speech but rather difference of opinion. There will never be any peace if we cannot discuss rationally.

  • Water of Life says:

    Of course anonymity definitely makes an argument false. Just like Deep Throat all those years ago. His anonymity definitely damaged the truth of his arguments.
    Please play the ball and not the man.

    As to your other comment – do not confuse ‘open and progressive’ with ‘welcoming’. They will open up their doors but it will only ever be on their terms, and it is a one way relationship.

    I am glad that the mumbo jumbo means something to you and others, but it is still only repackaged Chabad philosophy. And today that has only a passing relationship with Judaism.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Wolf is engaged in amateur psychologizing and reductionism of the worst sort drowning in pompous rhetoric about the Stockholm Syndrome in order to dismiss the concerns of a growing proportion of the Jewish world, from liberal Zionists and further to the universalist left (for want of a better term).

    But I’m surprised that no-one took him on for a similar step in the wrong direction in an article on Jwire the week earlier, where he attacked Amoz Oz for his use of the term Nazi to describe settler extremists.

    It is clear, for all his casuistry, obfuscation, and attempt to cover it with a kind of new-age gloss that he has sympathies with the violent path taken by these Jewish thugs, and I quote him “This is not the place to speculate about those emotions [speaking of Amos Oz]: hatred of ‘hilltop’ youth, self-hating embarrassment of ‘what the world will say’ about politically-pointed graffiti, intense dislike for those who fight for a strong and Biblically endowed Israel, personal inner conflict about Jewish identity”.

    Why isn’t it the place to examine not just the emotions, but the clear political judgement as to why the occupation is a disaster at a spiritual, emotional, and political level?

    The flip side is obvious from what he is saying : he has pride in hilltop youth (why the quotation marks, as if he doubts it?) pride in racist graffiti, love of those who fight for a strong and Biblically endowed Israel (i.e. settler youth and others), and a very particular take on Jewish identity”. Biblically-endowed Israel is of course ethnically pure Israel on (imagined) biblical boundaries, devoid of Amalek (Palestinians) and probably under restored monarchs as well.

    Twisting a political issue into a non-rational emotional approach to religion and biblical imagination that excludes the other’s rights, he can’t approach political issues beyond metaphysics. Wolf is locked into a very, very dangerous view of the world one that is lock stock and barrel (literally) in line with the rejectionist and insurrectionist front in Israel.

    As for the Wheeler fiasco: a total own goal by our community geniuses who apparently fear an articulate Palestinian woman.

    And if Shavit was so fantastic, why was he heckled and booed in Sydney? It appears that he couldn’t spin the message enough and people saw the limits of his message and limited narrative approach very quickly. As sophisticated hasbarah, it didn’t go over well (he also misbehaved on Jon Faine’s ABC program).

  • realquestions says:

    Can the editor address the question “Has Limmud lost its luster?”

    I have noticed that there is a considerable community feeling that it has been hijacked by the Shira/progressodox crowd. And one person told me this week that limmud is pretty much a shmooze session of what people carry on about at shabbos tables in the bagel belt and that if you want real torah study better look up torah center, bes hatalmud, the lubavtch kollel or (dare i say it) spiritgrow – i think they all have queens birthday weekend learning programs. )

    Now i don’t particularity subscribe to these views and i have gone every year to at least one session of limmud and usually enjoyed it immensely. yet i have noticed the decline over the last few years in terms of numbers and community excitement. Some are argueing this has coincided with a focus on “political” sessions and a shift away from old school Torah Study.

    Would love to hear a response from the galus/limmud crowd.

  • letters in the age says:

    Spiritgrow progressive?


    For those who like to espouse positive propaganda , I suggest you join Josh et al in Canberra soon?

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