Racism is big, but it is not bigger than all of us

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 »

Politics and the White House Hanukkah Party

I’m feeling conflicted about the lighting of the White House hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) by two students from Jerusalem’s Hand in Hand school. I think the school is wonderful, and I’m so glad it’s getting attention from the President of the U.S. His comments were beautiful, and giving publicity and support to such groundbreaking organizations is good for Israel and the Jews.

But I also feel like there’s a time and place to make political statements about Israel – which is unarguably the effect when you have students from an Israeli Jewish-Arab school light the President’s Hanukkah candles (including one student who is not Jewish), with a hanukkiah made by Jewish and Arab Israeli students.

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Jews Affirm That #BlackLivesMatter at #ChanukahAction in Brookline, MA

Editor’s Note: This post is the eighth in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
#BlackLivesMatter #ChanukahActionI spent the first night of Chanukah this year at Coolidge Corner in Brookline, MA. This was the Boston-area location for the multi-city #ChanukahAction: A Jewish Day of Action to End Police Violence event. I had a number of anxieties in advance, but it proved to be a powerful evening with moments of hope and inspiration.

My concerns began with a Facebook event wall littered with infighting that I feared would travel offline to the actual event. Could we focus on one issue, and keep the focus away from ourselves? Could we raise awareness in our own community without silencing and ignoring those who have already been marginalized? I had been to a protest organized by Black Lives Matter Boston in November, organized and led by people of color. I recognized why Jews needed to rally around the cause, but it was unclear how. Frankly, could we do this without damaging the larger movement?

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“Walk Like an Egyptian” Re-Tooled as a Chanukah Song by its Very Jewish Singer

Experiencing your annual frustration that all Chanukah songs suck?  Well, here’s a sweet surprise.  Check out Susanna Hoffs, pop star and former member of The Bangles, re-tool their 1985 mega-hit “Walk Like an Egyptian“, to “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” , a song all about Chanukah, here in performance with the great Aimee Mann* and Ted Leo. It’s not just that Hoffs is Jewish, by the way; she has yichus. She is the granddaughter of the late Rabbi Ralph Simon, who served Congregation Rodfei Zedek, in Chicago’s South Side Hyde Park neighborhood from 1943-87, was President of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), and was a leading founder of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and, therefore, the entire Ramah camping movement. He was a larger-than-life community rabbi for his historical moment of big house Judaism, and inspired countless people. See him here, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoffs’s uncle and cousin, Rabbis Matthew and Joshua Simon, were also prominent rabbisMore »

Marching for Racial Justice

Editor’s Note: This post is the seventh in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.

 

A little over a week ago, I was trying to make what felt like a huge decision. Several friends had invited me to the #EnoughIsEnough rally in Boston Common. I had never attended a rally with so many people, all over the country, behind it, and I also wondered if my presence and voice would truly make any difference. I had several discussions throughout the day about the pros and cons of attending. Etta, a colleague of mine, encouraged me to go in order to support those who are suffering from the injustices of the failure of the grand juries to indict Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s killers. As she said in a recent blog post, “In fifty years, we will look back on this moment. What will we see? How will we answer our children and grandchildren who ask about what we did to build a better future for them? Our predecessors have shown us that there are many ways to respond to the call for justice that is now resoundingly clear.” More »

Moses was a murderer.

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.

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From the depths I call to you

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 »

Jew Attacked in Prayer in Brooklyn; NYPD Kills Assailant: First Reactions

The New York Daily News is reporting that at around 1:45am today, a man named Calvin Peters entered a synagogue at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and, yelling, “I want to kill the Jew”, stabbed Israeli student Levi Rosenviat, while the latter was praying.  NYPD officers surrounded him, got him to put down the knife, and when he then picked it up again, an officer shot him in the stomach, which proved fatal. This stand-off and killing were recorded on video.

I’m just  reading this story; it’s too fresh to process and there’s a lot we don’t know.  Initial reactions and questions: More »

Jewish leaders arrested in NYC while protesting that #BlackLivesMatter

Courtesy of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JREFJ), video via activist Micah Weiss:

Late at night on December 4, 27 people, including four rabbis, were arrested following an Upper West Side protest in which demonstrators blocked traffic on 96th street. The protest was organized by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) in responses to the growing national outrage over the systemic lack of accountability for the killing and discriminatory and abusive targeting of people of color by the police. New Yorkers demonstrated last night as part of a national movement with five key demands to ensure#ThisStopsTodayMore »

“Ad Matay?”

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.

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Why I’m not going to say anything about Ferguson

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.

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Fearless Judaism: on affirmative Jewish unity

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 editor@jewschool.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:
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#TBT: Arlo, Thanksgiving, and Kippot (and Rabbi Arthur Waskow)

For this week’s Throwback Thursday, here’s zt’s Thanksgiving 2007 piece about Arlo Guthrie, Thanksgiving, Kippot, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, police brutality at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Chicago 7 trial, and the reactionary and self-hating Jewish Judge Julius Hoffman — all in a few short paragraphs.  Find it here.  Happy Thanksgiving, readers.

 

Fear, Fearlessness and Forward Movement: A Guest Post by Naomi Adland

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 editor@jewschool.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?

Sodomy on the Loose in Florida

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 »

The Terror and Joy of *Feeling*: Channah’s Legacy for our Spiritual Activism

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 »

Throwback Thursday: Rav Ovadia Yosef’s First Yahrzeit and when Heroes and Villains are the Same

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.

My Sukkot Wish for our Queer Jewish Community

Suzie and I are hosting the big Keshet and JP Shabbat Sukkot potluck again this year! (You should come!)

Boston is a great place to be queer and Jewish, so I really just have one wish for our fabulous local LGBTQ Jewish community this year: flirting.

Why bother having separate LGBTQ community events when many Jewish institutions have become more and more inclusive of LGBTQ Jews?

Because flirting.

Imagine you are a young queer Jew looking for a date. You’re bored with OkCupid and JDate, so you try going to a singles night sponsored by your local synagogue. You get all gussied up, maybe you drag along a friend as a wingman, and you head in to the venue. What do you see? A whole bunch of straight people. (Regardless of how inclusive the shul is, this is a numbers game. There are more straight people than gay people.)

Okay, so let’s say you’re not instantly discouraged by the fact that most of the people in the room are a) not what you’re looking for and b) not looking for you. Let’s say you don’t feel super weird about either feeling invisible or feeling like you stand out in the wrong ways. You’re resilient! You can do this! So you look around the room for other LGBTQ people. Hey there’s one! But that person is not a gender you’re interested in. Oh, there’s someone who might be the right gender for you! But that person seems significantly too old/young for you. Or perhaps you just don’t find them attractive. HEY! Over there! There’s someone cute, of an appropriate gender, the right age–and they turn out to be your ex. And now you’ve exhausted your supply of LGBTQ people in the room. Dang.

This is where the LGBTQ Jewish community comes in! After feeling like there is a dearth of romantic options available for you in your shul, wouldn’t it be nice to go to an event where everyone is Jewish and LGBTQ? So many more possibilities! You could date EVERYBODY! (Okay, well, at least a significant portion of attendees.) It’s like Jewish summer camp! Yayyyy!

This is why you should come to my house if you happen to be LGBTQ and in the Boston area on October 10th. (If you’re old and married like me, you should still come, because you’ll help introduce the single people to each other. It’ll make things less awkward, and we’ll all have a good time.)

This is why you should host an event like this if you’re LGBTQ and not in the Boston area on October 10th.

This is why Jewish LGBTQ organizations should still care about hosting local events for members once in a while.

This is why Jewish institutions who are welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ members should continue to help support Jewish LGBTQ organizations do their own things sometimes.

Because flirting.