Editor’s Note: This post is the ninth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
By guestposter Yavilah McCoy
The Call to Action….
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
My daughter spoke before a crowd of over 350 mostly White Jews who gathered in Brookline last evening to march, affirm and say together the simple slogan that has been sweeping our country: “Black Lives Matter.” My daughter, with tears in her eyes and a voice filled with emotion, shared what was at stake for her in a world where increasingly militarized police forces in our communities feel free to target unarmed people of color not just with guns but with deadly stereotypes and assumptions around what constitutes a criminal in our country. She spoke of not wanting to continue being scared for her brother and father’s safety. She talked about how much she worries about them walking home alone through the wealthy, White suburban communities of Boston that we live in to be in close proximity to other Orthodox Jews. As we have been asked, by the youth leaders of Ferguson, I stood behind by daughter last evening and supported the use of her voice. I listened while my heart was breaking, to my child describe and decry the failure of our community and country to make a space where all our children can feel safe. I felt proud, but I also felt a deep and compelling question emerging in my breast: What now? Hadn’t I been working for most of her lifetime to open the doors and minds of our community to a broader consciousness of the multiracial and multicultural constitution of our membership? Hadn’t I surrounded her with role models of family, people and leaders, who lived justice with their lives and hearts, and that she could call “uncle” and “auntie” and mean it, whether she was related to them by blood or not? Hadn’t I spent tireless hours working with the schools and institutions that she and her siblings navigate revealing the nuances of racism and providing tools for them to race forward and not backward in the way we educate and provide services to an increasingly diverse constituency of our people? More »
Editor’s Note: This post is the fifth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
Max Socol is an organizer and educator in North Carolina.
Moses was a murderer. How infrequently we speak of him that way. In its enormity, the decision to take the life of another person seems character-defining, yet the episode in Shemot when Moses, acting to defend an Israelite slave, kills an Egyptian slavedriver rarely comes to mind when I think of Israel’s greatest prophet.
As the turmoil over unchecked police brutality in American cities grows, I find myself confronting the raw edge of political nonviolence and political violence. I know I’m not alone. Even within the Jewish community, where so many of us (but not all of us, not by a long shot) are insulated from daily police harassment, those of us who are searching for a meaningful, moral role as allies in the struggle against racist oppression are met with competing demands that feel impossible to reconcile.
Thsi is a guest post by Zach Carstensen, the Government Relations and Public Affairs Director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. For the last nine years Zach has led the Jewish community’s work in issues ranging from the freedom to marry to gun responsibility. (Above: Congregation Beth Shalom of Seattle members gather around Cheryl Stumbo, center right, a survivor of a 2006 shooting at the offices of the Seattle federation, in support of Washington state gun control Initiative 594.)
Pundits are debating the winners and losers of the 2014 election. Some point to Republican gains in Congress as a sign of conservative ascendancy. Others cite successful ballot measures to raise the minimum wage as a sign of increasing economic populism. More than a few mined voter data, proclaiming the death of the once-effective coalition of young voters, people of color, and women.
What these pundits miss are the lessons for the Jewish community from the success of Washington state’s Initiative 594, which closes a loophole in state law by requiring a background check for all gun sales.
The central lesson from I-594 is that, in the 21st century, there is still need for Federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils (JCRC) to lead the Jewish community in action-oriented social change. More »
Editor’s Note: This post is the fourth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
Maharat Rori Picker Neiss serves as the Director of Programming, Education, and Community Engagement at Bais Abraham Congregation in University City, MO. She is one of the first graduates of Yeshivat Maharat, a pioneering institution training Orthodox Jewish women to be spiritual leaders and halakhic (Jewish legal) authorities.
I didn’t know who to call.
That was the thought that kept coming back to my mind. More »
Standards of Partnership turn Hillels from gateways to Jewish identity into discriminatory gatekeepers
Dear Mr. Fingerhut,
In recent weeks, events at Hillel affiliates across the country have highlighted the inherent flaws of Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership (the “Standards”). The Standards, which you recently assured the Knesset are enforced “rigorously,” have been deployed to silence Jewish students and communities that oppose Israel’s occupation. Recent events at Princeton University and University of Michigan Ann Arbor demonstrate that the exclusionary Standards will not stop us, as Jewish students, from exercising our right to create politically pluralistic Jewish communities. Recent events have shown that the “Standards” are not standards at all, but rather are deployed arbitrarily by Hillel staff to discriminate against and exclude Jewish students based on political ideology. More »
Editor’s Note: This post is the third in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
MaNishtana is an Orthodox Jewish blogger, author of “Thoughts From A Unicorn: 100% Black. 100% Jewish. 0% Safe” and “Fine, thanks. How are YOU, Jewish?”. He blogs at www.manishtana.net.
Before I get into the topics of Michael Brown or Eric Garner which have been dominating the news cycle these past couple of weeks, I’d like to discuss something entirely different first.
As the recent massacre in Yerushalayim two weeks ago have shown us, the world is experiencing an unprecedented spike in anti-Semitism, and I’d like to direct you to just some of the alarming amounts of incidents involving the mishandling of justice when it comes to Jews.
Dear Raphael Magarik (and other students at Berkeley participating in the vote today),
Thank you for bringing attention to the debate going on at your campus. I would like to respond to a few assertions that you make in the article
, and urge you to reconsider your vote against BDS at Berkeley. I am not a student at Berkeley, but I am a graduate student elsewhere,* and have also been thinking through my own participation in a BDS movement, should it ever arise on my campus.When you say that “BDS may well create the hard-right, recalcitrant Israel it imagines already exists,” I can’t help but question it’s ever a good idea to condition intervention on the possibility that someone doing something wrong will throw a temper tantrum in response. BDS aims to non-violently de-fang a national military industrial complex of what is already a country that has proven time after time that “asking nicely,” even when done by its most acquiescent and milquetoast of political allies, doesn’t work. More »
Editor’s Note: This post is the second in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
Dr. Carolivia Herron is an author and educator living in Washington, DC. Her works include “Nappy Hair,” “Asenath,” and the opera libretto, “Let Freedom Sing: The Story of Marian Anderson.” She has held professorial appointments at Harvard University and the College of William and Mary.
I have nothing to say.
I know you want me to say that the things I know about Ferguson have nothing to do with this specific case of Big Mike and the policeman and can’t be admitted by law so I should just shut up about them or else I’ll be just inciting folks to riot or protest and I shouldn’t even mention that you don’t know the difference between protesting and rioting. I don’t have anything to say because 45 years ago, when I was a black teenager, before I was Jewish right out loud I was a summer missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention there near Ferguson in St. Louis County. I almost got my head shot off by the Klan because I was walking with three other summer missionaries two black, two white, evenly divided by gender and I, like a fool, when the four of us were walking on the wrong side of town (that’s the white side), ran up to the car that was slowly driving beside us, me thinking that the guy wanted directions or something so I just ran up to the car window and there was the Klan man with the sawed off shot gun pointed at my head. Every time I try to say about Ferguson, obey the law, accept the findings of the hearing, my voice chokes because I remember that gun and because the Klan man and I lived in different worlds I ran toward the man with the gun. I had no better sense than that. And why should I say something just because it pops up in my head. That shot gun at my head happened in the late 1960s, what’s that got to do with today? And back then it was the Klan. It’s not the Klan today, so I’m not saying anything.
This is a Guest Post by Dana Mandler.
Taken seriously, the idea of democracy threatens every
established elite of privilege or power,
all hierarchy and deference. “On Participation”
Hanna Fenichel Pitkin and Sara M. Shumer
Democracy is a way of life
. It’s the way we relate to people, to places, to ideas. Democracy extends far beyond a political system – it travels through our society, runs into our schools, our media, and into our consciousness.John Dewey wrote, “In the broad and final sense all institutions are educational in the sense that they operate to form the attitudes, dispositions, abilities, and disabilities that constitute a concrete personality.” He calls on us to be mindful of the society that we participate in, create and reinforce, and to be self-aware fighters for democracy.
So what happens when our society educates us towards hate, violence, racism?
This guestpost is by Jonah Rank and is part of our Fearless Judaism series. Jonah Rank is a musician, and, as of May 2015, a rabbi ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary, where Jonah is currently studying for an M.A. in Jewish mysticism. Jonah is the student rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel (in Amsterdam, NY) and the rabbinic intern at the United Synagogue of Hoboken (NJ) for the 2014-2015 year. Since 2006, thon has worked on new liturgical projects for the Rabbinical Assembly, most notably as the secretary to Mahzor Lev Shalem (released in 2010) and Siddur Lev Shalem (forthcoming).
Grounded in a life of learning, my affirmative Judaism centers on tikkun olam—building a universe of peace once shattered by our limited capacity to transmit chesed, loving-kindness. In order to build further the universe our Divinity only started to build, we must steep ourselves in the values of the Jewish tradition. In this affirmation of Jewish tradition, the altruism of humanity must act as a conduit for the Divine Flow that seeks to inundate the world with sacred love.
When guided by Jewish wisdom, the affirmative Jew must accept that affirmation is a process of borer—picking and choosing. For as long as there have been Jews, there have been disagreements between Jews. This requires us to learn from all teachings of the Jewish tradition and to acknowledge at least three categories of Jewish teachings. More »
Editor’s Note: With this post, Jewschool begins a series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
This is a guest post by Janaki Kuruppu, a practicing physician in Baltimore, MD. She and her husband are raising two boys, who were born in Ethiopia, and who joined their family 5 years ago. They are active members of Tikvat Israel, a Conservative congregation in Rockville, MD.
Last Monday morning, like most mornings, my commute was in the company of NPR, which, like all the news outlets, was describing the preparations in Ferguson, MO, anticipating the announcement of the Grand Jury decision.
My last patient of the day was a man I have taken care of for some time, but this appointment would be his last visit, as the infection we’d been treating for so long, was finally resolved. After giving him the good news, we got to talking, as we always have done, about current affairs. He is a well-educated black man, retired from a middle-management career. He described, laughingly, being mistaken for an underling, and asked on job sites to be taken to his supervisor, when he was actually the boss on the site. He would play along, and go get one of his staff, always a white employee, who the client had expected to be in charge. My patient seemed to delight in the subsequent discomfort of the client on being shown the error of his assumption. More »
Ri J. Turner is a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, MA, as well as a student of Yiddish at the YIVO Institute in New York.
As we inch towards the end of the secular year, I find myself reflecting on the events of the past summer. As things heat up again in Jerusalem, I am sure I am not alone in feeling concerned about the events that took place during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.
I won’t try to talk right now about the ethics of Operation Protective Edge as a whole. Instead, I want to talk about something much smaller: the way we, the Jewish community and the Jewish press, talked about the Operation, and specifically, the many calls to the Jewish community to feel empathy for the Palestinian victims of the Operation.
This call to empathy is both common and understandable. In fact, it is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. However, as I read article after article this summer calling the American Jewish community to show empathy for the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, I began to question the premise that a call to empathy is the correct starting place for ethical behavior. More »
Jerusalem. The city of gold. The city of peace. And sometimes the city of violence. But not the type of violence that you might expect.
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and just last night 40 women and men gathered in a local Jerusalem cafe for Verses Against Violence, an evening of poetry to raise awareness about the plight of domestic violence in Israel. The evening featured twelve readers and a live music performance, and raised funds for Bat Melech, the only kosher and Sabbath-observant shelter for victims of domestic violence in Israel.
According to WIZO, there are 200,000 victims of domestic violence in Israel, but not nearly enough services to meet demand. There are 14 shelters in all of Israel – 10 for secular Israelis, 2 for Arab Israelis and only 2 that cater to the religious Jewish population, both operated by Bat Melech. More »
Sarah Stern is originally from Washington D.C. and currently works at the Mossawa Center in Haifa.
This summer, as I considered from far-away in Haifa what it would be like to live in Gaza or Southern Israel, many of my American Jewish friends on the East Coast were considering what it would be like to live in Ferguson. My friends in America and I were both watching each other’s dramas, with many Jews very emotionally invested from overseas in what was happening in Israel. For young Jews like me who began forming opinions on Israel/Palestine during Operation Cast Lead in 2008, we were frustrated that in our short adult memory, we could vividly recall three all-too similar wars in the past six years. More »
Editor’s Note: Inspired by this guest post, we’re looking for submissions from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at email@example.com with “Guest post” in the subject line. Look for posts on this subject from the Editors starting next week!
This is a guest post by Naomi Adland, a graduate student and Jewish professional living in Brooklyn, NY.
Three years ago, I sat down to write a personal statement for my application to the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, and poured out my heart in an essay about the importance of honoring and respecting the work of those who came before us, as those communal roots are the ones that support our future endeavors. This week I had the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America with my Wexner class – my first serious introduction to the world of Federation professionals and lay leaders, and a real chance to explore what it might look like to engage with an institution that has shaped what it means to be a Jew in the Diaspora. And 45 minutes before I left the conference yesterday, I was still waiting for someone – anyone – to articulate a compelling vision for the Jewish future that wasn’t rooted in fear.
In its own words, the GA is meant to “inspire and engage current and emerging Jewish leaders, tackle the most critical issues of the day and showcase the best of the Federation movement.” Despite the inherent complexity of programming for a varied Jewish community, it seems to me that delivering a compelling narrative at the GA should not be so hard. After all, the work of the Federation is integral to the health and wellbeing of our community. The Federation funds some of our most vital programs and institutions – social services for a vast array of populations, summer camps, schools, synagogues and more. I have heard the Federation system explained as the government of the North American Jewish community, meaning the GA is a three-day State of the Union address – a chance to articulate a vision for the coming year.
I was surprised to discover that the overwhelming narrative at the GA was not one of communal successes and impact, but rather one of fear. Ostensibly, the theme of the GA was “the world is our backyard.” Meant to evoke the importance of collective action, the exhibition hall was decorated like a backyard replete with picnic tables and fake picket fences. However, the three plenaries I attended over the course of two days and in breakout sessions, meals, and discussions in the hallway, the theme of collective action was consistently couched in the vocabulary of crisis. Be afraid of the imminent fall of the State of Israel. Be afraid of the dwindling Jewish population. Be afraid of BDS on campus. Be afraid of anyone who disagrees with our narrative. Be afraid of change. Be afraid.
Fear was present in the words of Michael Siegal, Chairman of JFNA, when he said he was “concerned that we have reached a plateau with interfaith families. Being Jewish is very much a numbers game, and some of the numbers should be keeping us all up at night.” It was in Vice President Joe Biden’s comparison of Israel to a survivor of domestic abuse, and it was in the words of the three young women, all campus leaders, who vocalized anxiety about being Jewish on campus while standing in front of a banner branded with a swastika underneath the words “Boycott Israel.”
Perhaps there are moments when it makes sense to turn to a narrative of fear. After the complex events of the summer’s war in Gaza, the tensions of the past few days in Jerusalem, and with rising anti-Semitism in Europe, it is understandable that our communal conversations touch on themes of conflict and survival. When we are concerned for our own safety, we tend to act swiftly and respond from a place of deep emotion.
Despite the recent indications to the contrary, the Jewish community is living in a context of unprecedented safety and opportunity in a larger number of places than ever before. In committing to a narrative of fear, we miss an opportunity to elevate what Judaism and the work of the Federation is actually about. In caring for an aging population, supporting Jewish education, and strengthening the global Jewish community, the Federation is living out deep Jewish values of justice rooted in the notion of b’tzelem elohim (that we are all created in the image of God), and creating and supporting communities of joy and vitality.
Arguing that “we must support the Federation because if we don’t, Judaism as we know it will disappear” assumes that Jews who support the Federation are incapable of recognizing the value of the sacred work the Federation system is doing, and makes it impossible for those who don’t already feel a connection to the community to create one. Rather than operate from a place of fear, the Federation should be fearless – articulating a vision for the coming years that includes not just the power of collective action as a defense strategy, but the power of collective action as a way to build relationships between disparate parts of the Jewish community, that engages with complex value questions in a serious, thoughtful fashion, and that roots the work of caring for members of our community in rich Jewish values and traditions. The Federation already has a powerful legacy and a compelling narrative. Why try and supplant that with a message that is so far off the mark?
by William Friedman
“This was the sin of your sister Sodom . . .”
If you’re familiar with the way the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is used in America nowadays, you’d probably complete this sentence by saying “homosexuality.” But the story, which we read this week in Parashat Vayera(Genesis 18:16-19:38), never clearly spells this out. Last week, when we read about Lot’s decision to live in Sedom (Hebrew for Sodom), the story was foreshadowed: “The people of Sedom did evil things and sinned greatly against the LORD” (Gen. 13:13). And this week we read: “The scream of Sedom and Amorah [Hebrew for Gomorrah] was great, and their sin extremely severe” (Gen. 18:20). But the Torah is pretty sparing with the details of their evil and the severity about their sins. More »
Editor’s Note: Following yesterday’s post by Sarra Alpert, here is another piece about the Rosh HaShana Torah readings, re-visited as we read those passages again this coming Shabbat. This piece was given by Mary Otts as a derasha at the Mishkan Chicago community. –aryehbernstein
by Mary Otts
As a child, I spent lots of time on my knees, glass rosary beads floating over my fingertips, staring at paintings of saints on the walls of holy buildings. Prayer smelled like the incense wafting through the cathedral and sounded like the reverberation of the kneelers being dropped onto the tile floor. While my mouth moved—still moves—effortlessly around the words, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” this Mary was distracted by a clumsy inadequacy around what it was I was really supposed to be doing in these moments.
Many years later, I’ve found G!d in the hum of the Bet Midrash, in the gentle correction of my chevruta, in the letters of the Gemara, in every single time someone who thought they couldn’t learn Talmud is empowered into finding their place in our Tradition. I find joy in P’sukei d’Zimra, community when we stand together during the Amidah, and revelation in the melody of Eitz Chayim Hi, but prayer—that magical thing that is supposed to happen in between the lines of liturgy—prayer is hard for me still. And, yet, particularly this past summer, I have needed to pray. More »
Editor’s Note: This Shabbat we will read VaYera, including the birth of Isaac, expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, and binding of Isaac. These are also the readings from Rosh HaShana and provide us an opportunity to revisit ideas that might have inspired, goaded, soothed, or chastised us during the holiday, now, a month later, when we are just back into our regular routine and may need those ideas the most. Here is a piece for Rosh HaShana submitted for this purpose by Jewschool friend Sarra Alpert, shared originally with the Kolot Chayeinu community in Brooklyn. –aryehbernstein
by Sarra Alpert
In approaching Rosh Hashanah this year, I have found myself particularly aware of its unique type of split personality. On the one hand, this is a celebratory holiday — a happy-birthday party for the world, days whose customs mirror those of all of our joyful holidays, only with added sweetness. On the other hand, these are supposed to be days that open a particularly solemn chapter as we enter the Ten Days of Repentance. In our prayers today, we ask to be written in the Book of Life for a year of health, peace and blessing. We recite the tragedies that may befall us this year, asking to whom they will occur. And we are urged to reverse the potentially harsh judgments awaiting us by turning to prayer, repentance and justice, with the idea hanging there that our fates will be sealed in ten days, on Yom Kippur. These are difficult ideas for a modern person to relate to, and particularly odd ones to couple with a birthday party and honey-dipped apples. More »