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Nine Stops on a Long Road: One Jew’s Journey

May21

by: Judith Mahoney Pasternak on May 21st, 2018 | 3 Comments »

1. The Yom Kippur Transgression 

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Religious Jews fast and pray all day, focusing on repenting the sins of the past year.

On the Yom Kippur before my sixteenth birthday, I was at the neighborhood drugstore-soda fountain, probably buying cigarettes.

I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be at home, not to fast or think about atoning for anything, but to stand with all Jews by not publicly flouting the Yom Kippur practice.

It was in the decades after World War II. The Jewish High Holy Days were not yet school holidays even in New York State, with its large Jewish population. American Jews were still assimilating. The process had been accelerated by the war and the Holocaust, the genocide attempted and almost achieved by Germany’s Third Reich, yet those same events made us more than ever conscious of our Jewish identity. So it was that my mother, daughter of two militantly secular, even anti-religious, socialist-anarchist Russian Jews, kept her children home from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a sign of respect for, and solidarity with, observant Jews. My visit to the drugstore was behind her back, sneaking out for something I needed, which is why I think it must have been cigarettes.

Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Judy! What are you doing here?” It was a Jewish high-school classmate, and when I said I was getting cigarettes, she added, “No, why aren’t you in school?”

“It’s Yom Kippur,” I said. If I was breaking the rules, so was she.

“But Judy,” she protested, “you look so Catholic!”

She was mixing up religion and ethnicity. She meant I looked Irish, which I did, because I am. Half Irish, also half Jewish. Standing in the aisle at the drugstore, I explained that to my classmate. Then I went home and announced that for my upcoming birthday I wanted a gold Star of David and a chain to wear it on. I got it and wore it for years afterward, wanting never again to be taken for not Jewish.

 

2. My Mother’s Hagadahs

The Hagadah is the account of the Jews’ servitude in Egypt and escape—exodus—from it, traditionally retold during the Passover dinners called seders.

To be precise, I’m half Jewish by matrilineal ancestry, if not by religion, which gets me the Right of Return under Israeli law and would have gotten me death in Nazi Germany. The other half is Irish—my father was born in County Cork—and that’s the half I more resemble. My birth name was Judith Mahoney, and I’m blue-eyed and, through my teens, was fair-haired.

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Our Toxic Civil Discourse

May21

by: on May 21st, 2018 | No Comments »

A Love/Hate Relationship: What Can Be Done?

We complain about the toxic level of our public discourse even as we practice and indulge it. We genuinely want that toxicity to go away, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves from promoting it. We are, it seems, both habitual perps and frustrated victims, advocates for civility in our public conversations while, at the same time, unapologetic advocates for standing up for what we believe and for passionately “calling-it-like-it-is” in language of our choosing. I have been thinking about this lately and have become uncomfortably aware that, if I don’t at least own up to my personal duplicity, my hypocrisy, I ought, in good conscience, not complain; I’m not totally without principle. I can’t have it both ways; at least, I shouldn’t.

No longer willing to turn a blind eye to my moral dishonesty by shuttling between these two positions, and chagrined by my naively waiting for someone to come and fix the problem, I’ve begun pondering this conundrum. I have some thoughts and insights I’d like to share, starting with the observation and experience that life consists of speed-bumps wherein we are continuously finding ourselves caught in binds that force us to choose between competing principles we value and having to then live with the consequences of those choices. These binds can be between principles that are petty and personal, (e.g. Do I park illegally to catch the end of my granddaughter’s soccer game, or obey the law and disappoint my granddaughter?) They can be personal and consequential. (e.g. Do I look the other way at the malfeasance of my boss to ensure my paycheck that will send my children to college, or do I risk the latter for the sake of an abstract notion, justice?) These binds are often communal (e.g. Do I shout down and silence that public speaker spewing lies and hatred, or do I support his right to free-speech and do nothing as he befouls the spirit and decency of my community?) Finally, they can be national and political. (e.g. Do we crush an emerging nation’s efforts at self-determination to insure they don’t opt for a governing system that might threaten our status as global leader, our commerce and, with that, our national security, or do our democratic values of fairness and freedom come ahead of those values?) In short, betrayals of principle are neither abnormal nor rare: they are a normative part of our daily lives.

Nonetheless, we manage to live with the consequences of these betrayals. We accept them as inevitable or out of our control. We feel bad for a moment, even feel guilt and remorse, but we promptly forget and move on. We don’t berate or flog ourselves; we learn and grow from this experience. We become wiser to the ways of the world and of mankind and about ourselves. We see and understand that life is neither simple nor easy. We forgive ourselves and accept that we’re not perfect and life isn’t either. We see that for everything there is a season. So we do the best we can and truck on.

But there’s a problem regarding our current betrayals: we may be getting older, but we are not becoming wiser. We do berate and flog, only this time, the other fellow – not ourselves. We are certainly not moving on, not in the sense of growth and wisdom, we are missing a step. We’re missing that step where we feel bad. We don’t feel bad, not even for an instant, and we neither notice nor care. It is as if, for that learning and growing step, there must first be some reaction to our infidelity, at least some acknowledgment that our choice had consequences, that there’s a principle we value that we’re dishonoring.

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Stepping off the Line into Freedom and Interdependence, Part 2: How

May20

by: on May 20th, 2018 | No Comments »

In my last blogpost, I introduced the idea of stepping off the line we all live on, where most of us are constantly trying to get ahead, and described the value I see in aiming to step off the line and what we can gain by doing it: reclaiming our freedom to choose for ourselves, from within, aligned with our deepest needs and values, and reconnecting with our place in the vast web of interdependence. In this piece, I focus on the actual process, the inner and outer spiraling dance of transformation we can engage in, from where we are, to move in that direction, knowing full well we cannot dismantle the line.

Freeing our consciousness

We can start with cleaning up our own consciousness from the effects of our own socialization. This means examining our internal landscape, facing the helplessness we inevitably feel about the existence of the line, and transforming and releasing any judgment we find, of self or other. We can focus on remembering that this problem is not of our choosing; that it existed before any of us were born; that our choices have been scripted by the existence of this line; that even our capacity to resist the line is scripted.


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On A Royal Wedding Sermon: The Power of Love or When Love is the Way

May20

by: on May 20th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

When the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, prepared the address he delivered at the wedding of the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex, he knew he would not only be speaking to the couple about to be pronounced married and to the 600 guests in the building and thousands more outside. He knew he would be speaking to millions of people across the globe, and he did not miss his opportunity to preach the good news about God who is Love.

There was no title for his address published in the order of service that I saw, but I say: we can title his remarks the “The Power of Love” or “When Love is the Way.” When Meghan married Harry, the couple brought elements of an African ethos into the proceedings, a way of being in the world born from the history, beliefs, philosophy, and spirituality of a people. An African ethos is one that values community and a spirituality that comes from the participation of the community in ritual.

Within an African, African-American, African-Caribbean, African-British, context the preaching moment is an oral performance that invites and even requires audience participation. The task of the speaker is to bring speaker and audience together into a spiritual community that unifies head and heart, intellect and emotion, to hear the voice and the will of the Divine. The truth cannot come forth from a passive listening to a speech stripped of emotion for the sake of decorum. Within a pan-African ethos, the voice of the Divine comes from the affirmation of the people. It is not given to a consecrated individual who tells a passive audience what God wants. It does not come through a sovereign, constitutional or otherwise. It is bottom up, not top down.

Bishop Curry brought emotion and logic to his sermon in a way that baffled and or amused some in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle who were not accustomed to the African-American preaching tradition. No one there would break decorum and give Bishop Curry the out loud “Amens” that he would have received in a black church setting. However, this did not stop the power of his words from reaching millions across the globe. The truth of his sermon resonated anyway.

He started by quoting a part of the scripture reading from the Song of Solomon that speaks of the power of love, that speaks of love as a fire that cannot be extinguished. Next he quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. on the power of love. He told his global audience that God is Love and that Jesus commanded his followers to love God with all of their hearts, minds, souls and strength, and to love the neighbor as we would love ourselves. Such love is deeper than the love between lover and beloved. Such love is revolutionary.

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Mourner’s Kaddish for Gaza Palestinians

May18

by: Andy Ratto on May 18th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

On Friday, March 31st, tens of thousands of Palestinians, living as effective prisoners in the Gaza strip, launched mass protests against Israeli policies. On that first day of protests for the Great March of Return, at least 18 Palestinians were killed, and hundreds more were shot by Israeli snipers. In the week following this violence, I thought often about the Palestinians who were killed. I also thought about how I, as a Jew, could honor their deaths, and their struggle for independence and self-determination, and how the American Jewish community should respond.

My initial mourning was private and personal, as I thought about the Palestinians who I knew in the West Bank, and what their life is like under Israeli occupation. I have shared meals and slept in the home of Palestinians in the West Bank. Every time violence breaks out between Israelis and Palestinians, I worry about their safety.

But private and personal mourning wasn’t enough, and leaving it at that would betray my Jewish values. In Judaism, mourning is often communal. In the days after the death of a close relative, observant Jews sit shiva in their homes, as friends and neighbors come to pay their respects. In the period after a loss, many Jews recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, often in the presence of at least ten Jews, a religious quorum or “minyan”. This honors the dead by making clear that their loss is felt by the community as a whole, that any loss of life requires healing and reflection by the living.

One week after those 18 Palestinians were killed, I attended services to share the names of Palestinians killed in Gaza during the Mourner’s Kaddish, in order to mourn them according to Jewish values and tradition.

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STOP Calling the Police – Engage Instead

May17

by: on May 17th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

Yet another incident of a white person calling the police or security on a black person came to my attention today. In this instance, it was a man walking with his son in a stroller in D.C. #ParentingWhileBlack. I immediately thought of a situation that seemed relevant to this incredible barrage of circumstances in which white people call the police (or security) on a black person for no reason other than being black.

One day I was walking into a pet food store (the pet food store shares a parking lot with a grocery store and a few other establishments – I had just come from the grocery store), and I noticed a baby (maybe 6 months old) sitting alone in his car seat in the back of the car. There was no adult in the car or nearby. The sky light to the car was open and the window near the baby was cracked open. The doors were locked.

I felt concerned and did not know what to do. The child was African American. I knew one thing for sure, I would not call the police. I called out loud and no one responded. There were enough stores around that it seemed futile to begin walking into different stores, and I did not want to leave the child alone. So I decided to wait. I was hoping that the parent (or caretaker) would arrive shortly. I went up to the window next to the child, who was happily playing in his car seat and enjoying himself, so I knew he was fine. I called my husband on my cell phone because I noticed the discomfort in my body and I wanted to have support to manage my discomfort so I didn’t do something stupid – like call the police!

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URJ’s Statement on Gaza and IfNotNow’s Response

May16

by: Tikkun on May 16th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

We thought our readers might be interested in the Union of Reform Judaism’s statement on Gaza and the response from people aligned with the young people’s activist group “If Not Now.”

Here is the statement by URJ: https://urj.org/blog/2018/04/09/urj-president-rabbi-rick-jacobs-escalation-gazan-border-tragic-and-dangerous.

Here is the response from If Not Now: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdm8oQS73YGw8bY7nSdy0smL4-4qjlIyOoD-vJ7SL06N_gDsg/viewform.

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Letter to the Editor: Response to Thandeka’s “Creating a Spiritual Practice to Heal and Transform the World”

May7

by: Noreen Dean Dresser on May 7th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

Dear Rabbi Michael Lerner,

Your Winter/Spring Issue of Tikkun’s Exploring Identity Politics presented a number of provocative points of view. Identity Politics, in redrawing self/community, retraces colonial thought and its accompanying theological compromises, as today’s Democratic Institutions are being threatened by ideology

Thandeka’s Creating a Spiritual Practice to Heal and Transform the World brought into laser focus the white community, that across class, economics, age, education and gender, voted Mr. Trump victorious.

Thandeka asks us to consider carefully this whiteness, particularly the wealthy whom she sees as the prime arbiter who mixed the white paint. She asks us to see the need for a redemptive forgiveness of the whites ensnared. She parses out the lead content in the white paint and its real self-harm to the poor who participated. For Thandeka, the white rich force of law which brings thirty lashes on a black bare back or on a shirted Caucasian is still 30 lashes, tearing flesh and sinew to make of itself a raw display of power.

Her analysis then follows this white demarcation line in American History from its creation in the 1600’s when indentured servants/slaves stations were altered to hue, moving on to the Constitution’s three fifths cocktail for the landed rich, to the black face assimilation minstrel coaches for desperate rural European immigrants, bringing us to the Tea party and their Evangelical Protestants with Bannon’s conservative Catholics tagging along.

Recalling Dr. King’s Riverside speech April 4, 1967 Thandeka raises again King’s problem with the power of property over and above the people’s welfare, and what he perceived so clearly that if not corrected, racism, materialism and militarism would be uncontrolled.

Thandeka sees the unabated responses to Donald J Trump rise and his rhetoric- the White Lives Matter Movement and the Resistance Movement with Tea Party tactics as destructive to our democracy. Thandeka’s pastoral experience is evident in her call for an “organization of a spiritual vision quest for Progressives in concrete racial, political and experiential terms”.

Thandeka pastoral call echoes the religiously based reform movements such as Abolitionist, the Shakers, the Quakers, the long line of African American Orators and Preachers, the Jewish Federations… that shape our American history. For generations of Americans the Synagogue and Church has bound up the wounds from the unfettered power of property and Capitalism. The American Social fabric wove in compassion from these charitable institutional trusts.

Thandeka wants Progressives now to embrace spirituality for the white-hot embers of forgiveness to address the broken heartedness in the White Power Movement and to give sustenance to the Resistance. The one question that this raises for me may be the depth of the wound and for whom. Thandeka covers brilliantly a broad historical overview of racial training opportunities for Caucasians to be White and the motivating divisive intention of class. She postulates as to what an individual would gain and would be lost in embracing whiteness.

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Hate Speech, Violence, and Sacred Texts

May7

by: on May 7th, 2018 | 4 Comments »

In the Winter 2017 edition of Tikkun, Rabbi Michael Lerner and Peter Gabel wrote of rising racism, sexism, and xenophobia in the current political and social face of America. Much was made of attempts to narrow today’s divisive gap between “Trump-ism” and the progressive political movements. Among the valuable suggestions made on how to achieve this goal was an emphasis on Tikkun‘s Network of Spiritual Progressives. Speaking truth to power was mentioned more than once.

However, if there is one area in which speaking truth to power is simply not acceptable, it is what the world embraces as spiritual. This is true not only of religions of which we are not a part, it is true of our own spiritual texts.

In the long history of the spiritual fracturing of these three great Biblical religions, each tradition has pointed to problematic texts in the religions of the others. But the response is not the same when criticism is leveled at our own. There are texts of hatred and racism in the sacred texts of other traditions, but that is another essay. I am interested in dealing with our sacred texts because when it comes to our own, we have all sorts of red herring excuses, dogmatic apologetics, and other evasive responses to any who would point to racism, sexism, and xenophobia in our Torah. It is easy to focus on the problems of the others, but almost impossible to do so when we are challenged about our own bits of the spiritually abhorrent.

One of the things I have admired about Tikkun and its writers is their willingness to challenge Israel when it violates the greatest of our moral teachings. Perhaps that is easy because it can be seen as a political issue rather than one rooted in parts of our spiritually foundational texts. I suggest that without an honest examination of the roots of these spiritual forms of hatred, we will accomplish little.

As Jewish children attend regular religious schools and services, Torah passages where “God” commands genocide, texts of racism, xenophobia, and sexism are judiciously avoided. They don’t learn them. Many a rabbi, including myself, don’t read them the whole meghillah; we stop the hanging of Haman, thus avoiding the rampage of our Israelite ancestors who killed tens of thousands of the evil Haman’s followers. We rush past the extermination of other tribes in our passage to the Holy Land. We teach them “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” Noah and the rainbow, Jacob’s dream, and Elijah’s chariot in the sky. The “rest of the story” gets no mention, or is rapidly glossed over.


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Why I am Participating in the National Day of Prayer

May2

by: on May 2nd, 2018 | 3 Comments »

I must confess that I am suspicious of a National Day of Prayer (the first Thursday in May), especially when it is a matter of law and is proclaimed by the president. My suspicion predates the current political moment. It existed before Donald Trump and before the acquiescence and complicity of the so-called religious right to Trumpism. (https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2010/04/27/the-dangers-of-a-national-day-of-prayer/9027)

I am suspicious of the National Day of Prayer because it opens the door to a civil religion that in my judgement is idolatry. It is a worship of the state as an ultimate entity when the state is not and cannot be ultimate. To worship a created thing rather than the creator is idolatry. The civil religion therefore is idolatry that has the danger to make various religious traditions denominations of itself.

Last year, the presiding elder of my church asked me to organize a National Day of Prayer service in cooperation with a local consortium of Christian churches. I said yes because I do believe in the worth of prayer, and it is the duty of religious organizations and communities to pray for the nation. Christians are instructed to pray for leaders of the nations: “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (I Timothy 2:2)

While the National Day of Prayer is supposed to be for people of all faiths, the National Day of Prayer Task Force website is run by people who call themselves Christians. When I looked at the staff, it was clear that these were some of the same people who support President Trump. There is a statement of faith that is exclusively Christian in its orientation. There is information on voter registration and an exhortation to encourage friends and family to vote. I am not mad at this. I think churches and religious communities ought to encourage good citizenship, and voting is an important duty that comes with living in a free society.

What makes my participation difficult this year is because I do not understand how anyone who calls themselves a Christian can support Mr. Trump. A Christian is a follower of Christ. It means to belong to the party of Christ. The people who support Trump are not followers of Christ, but they have become followers of Trump. Let us set aside Mr. Trump’s past sexual behavior. Let us set aside his bragging about predatory behavior and the several women who have come forward to say that he did what he said he did without their consent. Let us set aside his unscrupulous and possibly illegal business practices, and his vulgarity. Let us set aside the ways that he demeans the office of the presidency on a daily basis with his disrespectful name calling of his enemies. Let us set aside his attacks on the free press, the FBI, his own Department of Justice, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What no person who claims to follow Jesus ought to overlook is his slander against President Obama and his continual lying.

Jesus of Nazareth taught in the Gospel of John: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Jesus goes on to say that the people who do not believe him cannot hear him because they are not of God.

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