A fair reparation

NPR’s bold headline reads that after 522 years, Spain is inviting me home.  It feels good; it feels like something is being done to right a historic wrong.

A Sephardic Jew, most likely an ancestor of mine, taking part in havdallah. (via Wikipedia)

About 15 years ago, we discovered that my maternal grandfather’s family fled Spain during the Inquisition to Meppen, a small town in northern Germany, a few miles across of the boarder with The Netherlands. He chose to buy a Sephardic burial plot and his family heirlooms include allusions of a Spanish heritage. Beyond this loose collection of genealogical evidence, I have no claim to the Sephardic tradition but in this news I feel the intense pride.

It is a visceral and irrational sense of accomplishment that comes from this announcement. I am positive my grandfather would have had his tight lipped, nearly-smug smile on his face upon reading this news; the same expression I had while reading it. I wonder if black Americans felt a glimmer of this gut-based justification when reading The Case for Reparations. More »

USY Changes Expectations for Youth Leaders

USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement, has long had policies demanding that kids in regional and international leadership positions follow particular standards. Three of these standards have always risen to the top of the list of those that are the most enforced and the most discussed: keep kosher, keep Shabbat, don’t date outside of the faith. These standards were adopted by youth leaders for youth leaders, although they were generally adopted by kids of a previous generation. This week, at USY’s International Convention, the board debated reframing the standards around both Shabbat observance and interfaith relationships. They voted to retain the Shabbat standard as is and reword the dating standard to encourage (rather than require) endogamous dating while also adding important language about teens treating those whom they date with respect. Although JTA reported this as USY dropping the ban on interdating, USY leadership asserted that is not the case.

As a former USY regional president (who didn’t really date at all in high school, due in no small part to my decision to stay in the closet thanks to a different set of Conservative Movement rules that made me sure a gay kid wouldn’t be welcome in USY leadership), I want to publicly applaud the current teen leaders of USY for taking this step. (I wish they had gone further and dismantled the entire concept of standards, but that’s a post for another day.)

Apparently, USY alumni have been up in arms about these proposals for weeks. I didn’t hear about them until after the JTA article came out, which caused another wave of USY has-beens freaking out. I don’t think my take on this is going to surprise any long-time Jewschool readers, but I’m going to lay it out anyway.

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STARS OF DAVID sing in new recording

originally published on CastAlbums.org

On the surface, Stars of David sounds like a cynical cash-grab show: a small-cast revue based on journalist Abigail Pogrebin’s 2005 collection of interviews with prominent Jewish Americans sounds like it was designed to tour the Jewish Community Centers of this country ad infinitum. Whether it was any good or not would have almost no bearing on whether Jewish grandparents would buy tickets by the bushel. So, I was surprised and delighted when I saw the show in its off-Broadway incarnation last year to discover that the show was also entertaining and at times moving. Now, a year later, Yellow Sound Label has released a “World Premiere Recording” featuring the off-Broadway cast (Janet Metz, Alan Schmuckler, Aaron Serotsky, and Donna Vivino) plus three performers from the world-premiere production at the Philadelphia Theater Company, Alex Brightman, Joanna Glushak, and Brad Oscar.

If you saw the Philadelphia Theater Company production and are perplexed by my description of the show as a revue, there’s a reason. While that production has a book by Charles Busch, the book was later discarded in favor of the revue format. The opening number (by Gaby Alter, who shares lyric credits on this song with Pogrebin and director Gordon Greenberg) retains a hint of the story that once was, in which Pogrebin sets out to interview prominent Jews attempting to gain some insight into her own Jewish identity, but once that’s out of the way, the rest of the album offers a collection of sung monologues in the voices of each of these celebrities, with an equally impressive array of songwriters taking turns in musicalizing Pogrebin’s interviews. (Only one song, “Who Knew Jew,” about Gwynneth Paltrow, is not based directly on an interview from the book. For this one, Gaby Alter teamed with lyricist Jill Kargman, a friend of Paltrow’s who wrote the song based on her firsthand knowledge of the subject.) More »

Throwing My Boys into Joseph’s Pit

BBR is a father of 7- and 10-year old boys living in DC who has been a supporter of Shovrim Shtika and the Refuser Solidarity Network.  This post originally published on DailyKos.

As the conflict in Gaza raged this summer — as each day brought reports of more Palestinians dead and injured, more Israelis injured and living in fear of the worst, more Internet screeds and requests for urgent funding – after I felt off-setting rage and sorrow, one thought kept creeping back in to my mind:

“Please let this end by August 26.”

Not because of any importance on the Jewish or Muslim calendar, not because it represented a specific number of days or likely number of dead.  Not even because of a particular tragic anniversary, whether in the region or my own family.

No, I wanted it over because my boys began the school year at their Jewish day school on August 26, and I could not bring myself to think about how hard it would be for me to be a parent of kids at a Jewish day school during a hot conflict.

This was my first sign that, for the first time in close to 20 years of activism and engagement around Israel and Palestine, I have come close to losing hope and am searching for refuge.  And I am struggling with what that means for me and for my family.  More »

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 »

Making Allyship More Than Just Hacktivism

By now you’ve probably read about Rachael Jacobs’ story in Sydney after the hostage crisis in the Lindt cafe.
In case you haven’t, here’s a quick summary: Jacobs and a woman in a hijab were both getting off a train in Brisbane at the same time after the news of the hostage situation broke. The woman in the hijab, fearing anti-Muslim violence, took off her scarf. Jacobs went up to her and said, “put it back on; I’ll walk with you.” The woman broke down and cried, Jacobs and the woman hugged for a moment and then went their separate ways.
After this, a movement was sparked in Australia to preemptively halt Islamophobic sentiment in the wake of the hostage situation. People in Australia began using the hashtag #illridewithyou in solidarity with Muslims on public transit, and by now the hashtag is worldwide.

Here’s why #illridewithyou is so powerful: it is the essence of allyship. More »

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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Things I said today (#BlackLivesMatter)

This afternoon CLUE-LA together with a wide coalition of other community groups organized a protest and die-in at Los Angeles police headquarters, opposite the former site of Occupy LA. I was one of the local clergy who was asked to offer some thoughts about where we might go from here.

Eric Garner
Michael Brown
Tamir Rice
Ezell Ford
Dante Parker

We are here today to say that Black Lives Matter. We are here to say that Brown Lives Matter. We are here to say that the attitudes and the policies which contributed to the deaths of these unarmed black folks must stop today.

We are here to demand that when a cop shoots a civilian, the shooting will not be investigated by the people that work with those officers. We are here to demand that all officer involved shootings of unarmed civilians will be investigated—from crime scene forensics to grand jury indictment—by an independent prosecutor. If the police force is not seen as being accountable it will not be seen as legitimate. The accountability must come first. Only then will the legitimacy come.

At the same time, if we focus on the murder of young black and brown men and women, as if this problem exists in a vacuum, not impacted by other things happening in our communities, in our cities right now, we are doing ourselves, and the families of these victims a disservice. We are not telling the whole story. More »

Going my Way?

Part of our Fearless Judaism series.

 

We live in a moment of transition. It is not the first, of course: the Temple is destroyed, the era of the sages has gone, the vast and varied Jewish life spread throughout Europe and the Middle East was decimated by the holocaust and other historical events, and today, the day of the great movements, these movements are fading. Many people are frightened by this – what will happen? And not without some reasonable cause.

Our numbers are shrinking, and many people who identify as Jewish treat Judaism as an ethnicity -like being Italian, or a hobby – something to be done when there is time and it is convenient.

But the “ever-dying people” will once again find a new wave to ride, and will continue.

 

And what will it look like?

Many religious speak of “the way” – and Judaism, too, has a “way,” – Halacha. But maybe instead of thinking of it as “the” way, maybe we should speak of it as “the Going,” or better yet “A way” or “A going.” More »

Throwback Thursday: Ending Torture, the CIA, and the Obama Administration

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee finally released its report on torture as practiced by the CIA on terrorism suspects in the post-9/11 years, opening and re-opening much national debate about the controversial interrogation practices, such as waterboarding.  During the years when revelation of these practices first came to light, Jewschool writers posted and organized passionately against these practices.  For today’s Throwback Thursday, we are re-running this 2008 guest post by Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, of T’ruah (then RHR-NA), urging President-Elect Obama to stand by his campaign promise to ban and end torture.  Her question whether people would oppose torture on moral grounds even if it were found to be effective (which it generally is not) is particularly poignant in this week’s debates.  Read the post here.

How Seattle Jewry helped pass gun responsibility bill I-594

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 »

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 »