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.
In response to Naomi Adland’s incisive piece Fear, Fearlessness, and Forward Movement, we have started a series in which different writers articulate their visions for affirmative Judaisms. We very much welcome your voice to the mix and invite you to submit entries to email@example.com
Fear. It’s what stops us from imagining and building a better world. The deficit model of Judaism can no longer sustain itself. Too long we have been comfortable articulating what we seek to avoid and escape, but the time has come to embrace a Judaism with the vision and audacity to be about something worth believing and embodying.
As we know all too well from the devastating events of last week in Ferguson, fear fuels a viciously unjust legal system which perpetuates the subjugation and silencing of countless Americans. The subject of Ferguson merits its own treatment, and I look forward to hearing more progressive Jewish voices speak out against the systemic injustice and inequality.
Especially in light of the current news, part of me feels like writing about a fearless Judaism right now veers uncomfortably to the parochial. But upon further reflection, I am realizing that refining our own self-definition and collective visions will enable us both to grow internally and also to help others break from the shackles of their own limiting, stultifying, and potentially dangerous fears. For me, an affirmative Judaism has the drive and confidence to be proud and rooted in its particularism while also embracing vibrant difference and growth.
I was at the GA which Naomi describes in her post. One talk which felt a bit different than the others was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ keynote plenary address. In it, Rabbi Sacks emphasized the imperative of Jewish unity and accountability for each other. What struck me about his language was the refreshing optimism and opportunity for forward movement which he offered. I was especially excited because much of the vision of Jewish unity he advocated resonated deeply with what I wrote for the Yom Kippur sermon I delivered at Anshei Chesed of Cape Cod this past season. Below, I will share an excerpt from my sermon:
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 »
I haven’t told my children that their cousins’ cousin was brutally murdered last week by a knife-wielding terrorist. And I haven’t told them about the five men murdered yesterday in the midst of prayer, one of whom was the son of one of my favorite professors in college. About the mother who had to bury her beautiful daughter and the 24 children from the same street who were orphaned in one terrible moment. I can’t bring myself to share such horrendous, inhuman acts with them.
It’s different than with the rockets last summer. The rockets were terrible, but they felt somehow less personal, the people shooting them (though also horrible and murderous) a tiny bit less cold-blooded. I could talk about nameless, amorphous bad guys with my kids, though it was difficult and scary. But to tell my children about men who violated a house of worship with axes and a meat cleaver and shot people at close range during their silent prayer? About the man who picked up a knife and slashed the throat of an unarmed, kind-hearted young woman? I just can’t shatter their innocence that way. Not when they’re so young.
Nothing can justify such acts. Absolutely nothing.
Yet as much as part of me is being pulled constantly inward toward focusing only on my own Jewish family ever since this new wave of terror began, I have not been able to stop thinking about these powerful words:
Note: This is next in our series of posts on visions of fearless Jewish future, inspired by Naomi Adland’s dispatch from the GA, which we ran last week. We’ll be running one every week, and we want to hear from you – our creative, progressive readers- articulating a vision for a what a fearless Jewish future and community might look like. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Guest post” in the subject line.
Just now (it’s 6 am in Brooklyn), I woke abruptly from a dream that my MFA program was requiring us all to take a workshop in which we read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. As soon as one of the workshop members started reading from the novel, the faces of everyone in the room became ghoulish, sharp toothed, black eyed. Terrified, I ran out the door of the building and into the street, but as I ran, I thought, you’ll go back, you have to go back. And I did. I turned around and went back into the building, which I think was a church, and as it turned out, there was a small group of people gathered in the lobby who had also decided they could not be in the room with the vampires.
I have a history of anxiety dreams, and of solving problems, literary ones of my own making, in my sleep. I might have been worrying about writing this piece for this series when I dreamt about the vampires, because in the awake version of myself, it’s obvious what the dream was about. It’s so obvious, it’s laughable: You are afraid, but you’ll go back. The vampires (self hate inflicted anti-Semitic imagery or result of watching too many horror movie trailers?) might be in the same building, but we can be in another room. They can’t have the whole structure. There are more of us than of them. We’ll get it all in the end. Maybe.
Here is where my painfully obvious dream parallels end. Judaism, particularly the observant part of it, and I are not on the best of terms right now, we have not been for a while. I could not build an organizational strategic plan based on my vision of a fearless Jewish community, but I am one hundred percent on the fact that it includes an active ingathering of those who scare us. Those who pose those questions that we can’t and/or don’t want to answer, they get a big space at whatever the table of the future is. Let everyone in, without a political or religious litmus test, if we say we want to be there, even if we’re not sure where exactly “there” is, even if we’re not sure if we can figure it out together, but that’s fine. Certainty is not a need any longer.
The future table isn’t convened by Islamophobia, or racism, capitalism, homophobia, misogyny, or people who have spent all their time sharpening one relentlessly narrow vision of a Jew. Men who claim to have beautiful politics but can neither listen nor hear simply don’t get space anymore, because it turns out, we don’t owe it to them. In the fearless future, that shit is over, because we are calling people out, and we don’t have to worry about what that calling out will do to our livelihood. Risk, intellectual and political, will be a value, but maybe even more important than risk will be accountability and challenge and, maybe here’s the center of it all : not running away, and not becoming a room or an organization or a building or a country full of panicked ghouls, powered by fear.
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 »
This Shabbat’s Torah portion is Hayei Sarah, which begins with Avraham’s purchase of land in Hebron to bury Sarah. In contemporary Israel, it is also a weekend of aggressive, nationalistic pilgrimage for the settler movement, in which hundreds of national-religious Jews converge on the Jewish-Israeli settlement in Hebron to flaunt Jewish national power and domination, and, of course, freedom of movement is further restricted for Palestinians. In partnership with Project Hayei Sarah, an initiative of young Jewish activists keen on generating honest, communal conversations, rooted in Jewish text and tradition, about the situation in Hebron today, Jewschool has published Torah pieces reading Hebron in a different light. For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here is my devar torah from last year, Hebron — City of Refuge, Where Violence Goes to Die. For more Jewschool writing from the past several years about Hebron, click here.
If we are killed, be it terrorism or just murder; If we are stabbed, bombed, run over, or burned to the ground where we stand; If we are cut down one of these days or all of them; If we are the victims of a person or a system
If then our ashes are turned into ammo,
That would be terror.
This originally appeared here.
A. Daniel Roth is an educator and journalist living in South Tel Aviv. You can find more of his writing and photography at allthesedays.org and follow him on twitter @adanielroth.
I’ve been thinking today about the ways in which facebook and other online discourse can be constructive or destructive. I try to engage people with diverse opinions in thinking through vitally important issues – in the hopes (as grandiose as this might sound) of moving all of us, in some small way, toward a better future. As opinionated as I might be, I hope and believe I’ve remained open to changing my opinions based on other peoples’ respectful, well-thought-out responses and alternative views, and that I make that clear in the way I engage others. And I know I’ve learned a lot and grown tremendously from dialogue with people who disagree with me.
But then I end up on a facebook friend’s thread on how to respond to Palestinian stone-throwing where real live people make comments like this: “penalty should be public stoning. tie them to a post and allow the local populace 30 minutes of free stone throwing. or they could choose option B which is a public caning by a female IDF officer (10 should suffice) while standing in a bucket of pigs blood.” How does one even begin to respond to such a statement? I took a friend’s advice to report the comment as hate speech, but hearing things like that from a person who is only a couple degrees removed from me shakes me up, probably more than it should. It makes me hesitant to engage in further discussion, and I find it also makes me respond less rationally and thoughtfully to other topics. The experience (and others like it) is making me wonder how much to open myself up to hearing from people who strongly disagree with me, versus how much to maintain a smaller circle of people with whom I am open to conversation on these issues.
This experience affected me especially harshly since it came on the heels of a recent decision to relax my usually stringent criteria for accepting facebook friend requests: the “friend” on whose wall this was posted is not someone I know in real life. But he sent me a friend request and I decided to accept because, although our opinions in general seem to be very different, I had been impressed by his thoughtful and respectful mode of discourse on a number of facebook threads. And then this.
I would love to hear suggestions of constructive and positive ways to respond to such vitriol, beyond defriending people, ignoring, or anonymously reporting hate-filled posts. Is it worth it to respond when people make such emotional and vile comments? In what ways, and whom, does it help?
We don’t notice it here in the quiet neighborhood of Katamon. If it weren’t for my newsfeed and the sounds of firework-like explosions and helicopters I hear each night, I might not know anything out of the ordinary was happening in Jerusalem. I can’t honestly say I wish this were different. I invested so much emotional energy this summer in trying vainly to protect my children’s innocence as sirens wailed and rockets were mercifully blasted out of the sky. Now that Jerusalem is quiet, I’m incredibly grateful that my children have returned to their routines, their biggest anxieties caused by the mean girl in class and the upcoming math quiz. The last thing I want is for their blissful ignorance to be shattered again by violence. I get why so many people here just want to enjoy the renewed calm.
Except that things are not calm. Ever since the horrific killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir last June, the rioting throughout East Jerusalem has been nearly constant – so much so that it has become the background noise that many of us simply tune out. Until the internal violence explodes into our West Jerusalem world, we feel like it’s just not our problem.
But this is not just “their” problem. It is ours, and not only when “our” innocents are killed.
I’m sure Hamas and other groups bear much of the responsibility for inciting the current violence. I’m upset and angry about this, but there is little we can do to wipe out that influence at its source. What we can and must do is take responsibility for our own part in creating and perpetuating the increasingly bleak atmosphere of frustration, despair and hopelessness which has served as the breeding ground for the current unrest:
This week marked the first yahrzeit of Rav Ovadia Yosef. Last year, in the aftermath of his death, and in the midst of a media storm including wildly varying assessments of his life, I posted this piece, “On Heroes and Villains and when They’re the Same: Thoughts on Rav Ovadia“. It got a lot of traction, receiving, we think, the most social media shares in Jewschool history (subsequently eclipsed by Rabbi Oren Hayon’s guest post about BDS campus campaigns). The challenge of fully acknowledging a person’s misdeeds and merits is as relevant a year later. Specifically, in the Rabbinic realm, the past couple weeks’ revelations of Rabbi Barry Freundel’s outrageous violations of privacy and abuse of power at the D.C mikveh have likely been confusing for D.C. Jews who have ever been inspired by Torah taught by Freundel or helped by his pastoral counsel. How can we square the corruption with the inspiration? For this, we bring you this week’s Throwback Thursday, to last year’s post about Rav Ovadia.
I contributed a blogpost to our friends at At Big Questions for this month’s theme of Seeing and Being Seen, which they encouraged me to cross-post here. Check out more of their work!
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except me.”
– Ralph Ellison, Prologue to Invisible Man
We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words. But which words? And how do we know? And what is it, exactly, that we know?
To continue, click here.
I am afraid.
I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.
I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.
I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.
In this week’s Throwback Thursday, we’re going back to July 2013, when Aryeh Cohen wrote about Trayvon Martin. If you’re wondering about why this post now, visit #Ferguson on Twitter.
by Aryeh Cohen [➚] · Monday, July 15th, 2013 · Edit
crossposted from Justice in the City
Yesterday, in the Jewish tradition, was the “Sabbath of vision.” It is named after Isaiah’s bleak vision described in Chapter One of his eponymous Scripture. Isaiah, speaking, no, screaming at those who would sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem declares in the name of God: I am tired of your sacrifices, I am sated already with the fatted calves that you offer, your offerings are now abominations to me. I no longer wish for you to celebrate festival days and Sabbaths. When you reach out to me, when you raise your voices in prayer, says God, I will ignore you, I will turn a blind eye. Why? First you must “Learn to do well; demand justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Finally, Isaiah turns to the city of Jerusalem and wails: “O! How the city full of justice, where righteousness dwelt, now dwell murderers!” It was not a true question, of course, it was the strangled scream of a prophet pointing to the everyday injustices, which led to the larger injustices, all hidden behind a veil of righteousness, of holy celebrations and fatted calves upon the altar and the smell of spices in the Temple.
As Sabbath finished and I performed the ceremony of differentiation with wine and candle and spices with my family, I turned on my computer to news of the acquittal in the George Zimmerman case. How do we answer Isaiah’s lament? What were the steps that led from there to here? From the quotidian racial injustices to the loosening of gun laws to the ignoring of the history of racial discrimination.
We cannot make believe that we do not know how murderers came to dwell in our midst and how murders came to be accepted as normal. We cannot make believe that young black men grow up with the same chance of making it to adulthood, to college, to a life which was not interrupted by a bullet or incarceration as young white men. When we turn to face Isaiah we cannot answer that we did not know that over 6000 people were killed by guns in the past six months and that most of them were black or brown. When we try to answer Isaiah’s accusation we cannot say that we did not know that loosening of gun laws, that creating laws which escalate violent situations would lead to more deaths.
On another day we need to spend time thinking of Isaiah’s solution: “Zion will be redeemed in justice, and her penitents with rightousness.” For now we must grieve for Trayvon Martin and all the young black men who will not reach adulthood because of a bullet. We must rage against a legislative system which supports and promotes the death-industrial complex of gun manufacturers and the NRA gun lobbyists.
We must all come together and say finally enough.
New York City: Join the Jewish Multiracial Network on August 21st at their second parlor meeting (read about the first here) on allies, change making and privilege:
From the JMN:
“Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Being an ally is deliberate choice that requires intention and understanding. Join JMN in a frank dialogue on the “role” of allies, and how to effectively act to support of Jewish diversity issues. Our facilitators will assist participants in learning ways Allies can develop strategies to assist their understanding of the issues facing the Jews of Colors and Multiracial Jewish families.
We seek to assist allies in supporting a Jews of Color to create a Jewish community where ideas and strategies for enhancing diversity awareness are embraced.”
You must get tickets on Eventbrite, and this event is limited to 20 participants.
The Forward has a short piece online about the changing nature of Social Media news coverage and its impact on the public perception of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza. This article – like every article bemoaning the rapid fire, limited nature of the platform – notes that the speed at which information is disseminated changed the way we experience conflict. But that isn’t it alone. The fact that both sides have these tools, I have to say I don’t think it is the platforms “fault” for the way we see this conflict.
The New Yorker published the translated Yediot Ahronot piece by Etgar Keret about the degradation of the civil discourse in Israel. In “Israel’s Other War” Keret laments the perversion of the deeply held value of true democratic (and Jewish) societies: that the voice of the minority has value. The phrase “Let the IDF Win” has again become a popular refrain in Israel during this conflict. Keret notes this phrase has nothing to do with the external enemy but rather the subversive voices on the home-front. Lefties and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are lumped together with Hamas terrorists for simply disagreeing with their elected officials or expressing concern for the dead children in Gaza.
I encourage you all to read this piece but the thesis delineates that Israelis “are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism, and lack of empathy mean love of the homeland, while any other opinion—especially one that does not encourage the use of power and the loss of soldiers’ lives—is nothing less than an attempt to destroy Israel as we know it.”
But as an American living a charmed life in California I still feel this false choice forced upon me by the Jewish world. The anonymity of the key board and safety of our curated social networks insulate us to a degree that we only see and experience this conflict in the way we want to believe that it is happening. More »
As increased attention is being paid to the problematic incarceration complex in the United States, especially in light of Michelle Alexander’s sobering book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, policy makers, social service providers, educators, and law enforcement officials are also considering the vertical effects of criminal stigmatization on the children of the incarcerated. Last year, Sesame Street even saw fit to release a segment on its web site about children with incarcerated parents, which aroused ire from some observers appalled that this normalized criminality. Though it is unclear that children of incarcerated parents engage in any higher levels of criminality than their peers, stigmas often cling to such children from the outside. In that context, it is instructive to consider a brief, four-word aside in this week’s Torah portion. In the context of a census taken after two brutal acts of Divine carnage, the Torah matter-of-factly claims (Numbers 26:11), ”And the children of Korach did not die. וּבְנֵי קֹרַח לֹא מֵתוּ. Why didn’t they die, why might that surprise us, and why does the Torah bother to mention it? More »
Jews Standing With the South
Honoring the 50th Anniversary of Mississippi Freedom Summer
“Step-by-step, day-by-day, and community-by-community we are working to build a new economy that will transform Jackson and the South. This transformation will be rooted in creating an economy based on worker ownership, worker self-management, and worker democracy in the form of cooperative enterprise. Together these are the foundations for creating economic democracy, which is the next step in the long march to create a just society based on human rights, human dignity, social equality, and economic equity. We encourage everyone who believes in these social aims to stand with us in creating a national network to support Cooperation Jackson, the Southern Grassroots Economies Project and the movement for economic democracy.” — Cooperation Jackson
In Jackson, the rest of Mississippi, and throughout the South, those most marginalized in our present economy are at the forefront of a grassroots movement to build the next economy. This is part of a larger global vision to create financial mechanisms that do not profit off of inflicting harm upon oppressed communities, but instead explicitly serve their interests.
Cooperation Jackson and the Southern Grassroots Economies Project are two organizations modeling this vision. Their efforts are grounded in a tradition of Black collective action built on aspirations to challenge racism and build community power. This practice spans from mutual aid societies to the Underground Railroad, from desegregation efforts to rural agricultural cooperatives, from legal challenges to nonviolent direct action. More »