Tikkun Daily button

Jewish Life Recharged Through Chai Mitzvah

Jan25

by: Audrey Lichter on January 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

Jewish organization Chai Mitzvah logo

Credit: Chai Mitzvah

Rabbi Tarfon, a member of the third generation of the Mishnah sages, once said “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to accept tochecha?” Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, a 1st-century CE Palestinian Mishnaic sage, added, “I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give tochecha?” (Babylonian Talmud, Arachin 16b). Tochecha, at times translated as reproach or admonishment, is the mitzvah of compassionate critique in the Jewish religion. The general injunction against negative speech, lashon hara, (“you shall not wrong one another” in Leviticus 25:17) does not negate tochecha because the latter is focused on how the correction is made. “Although you are required to reprove wrongdoers, you will be sinning if you do it the wrong way. Be careful not to embarrass them” (Rashi; Sifra).

“These quotes could have been written today,” says Ann Pava, Chair of National Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), as she recently reflected on her study of tochecha through her participation in her local Federation’s Lion of Judah Chai Mitzvah class.

Chai Mitzvah is an international adult Jewish learning initiative which encourages participants to combine group study with a set curriculum and with individual exploration of study, spirituality and social action. One of the topics in the curriculum is “Interpersonal Relationships”, addressing responsibilities between an individual and the community.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Dear President Obama: Please Invite Me to the White House During Netanyahu’s Congressional Speech

Jan24

by: on January 24th, 2015 | 9 Comments »

Dear President Obama,

You don’t know my name, though you know the names of those who represent hundreds of thousands of American Jews who, like me, publicly support your diplomatic efforts with Iran.

And while you don’t know my name, you know that I and those like me represent 52 percent of U.S. Jews who support your diplomatic efforts over those presented by Congressional Republicans and Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who are now shamelessly working in concert, behind your back, to undermine your administration’s historic gains.

As the leader of Israel, Netanyahu often claims to speak for all Jews, absurdly conflating his political ideals with those of American Jewry. But he does not speak for most of us. Indeed, there are over three million American Jews for whom he does not speak. Over three million voices in the American Jewish community who reject current efforts to scuttle historic nuclear negotiations with Iran. Who reject efforts to undermine peaceful diplomacy. And who reject John Boehner’s outrageous breach of protocol by inviting a foreign leader to deliver a response to your State of the Union address.


Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

From Ferguson to Palestine: Dispatch from the Troublemaking Frontlines

Jan23

by: on January 23rd, 2015 | No Comments »

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’ve been to any of the #blacklivesmatter protests, you may have seen the slogan “Justice from Ferguson to Palestine” on a protest sign. You may have wondered: Really? How are these struggles really connected? This December, I was in Palestine, and I found out first hand.

People at a conference raising their hands together

The audience at A Hole in a Brick Wall conference standing to show solidarity with #blacklivesmatter. Credit: Active Stills

I was asked to give a brief keynote about New York’s People’s Climate March at a conference on feminism and nonviolence in Jaffa, the port city that was once the thriving center of commerce in Palestine, now the neglected south end of Tel Aviv, Israel. Why fly halfway around the world to talk about the climate to people who live in a land riddled with its own share of environmental destruction? I guess, sometimes, you have to burn carbon to stop carbon. As I was preparing my talk, the #blacklivesmatter movement was erupting across America. I couldn’t ignore it. My task: illustrate the interconnectedness of climate justice, racial justice, and ending state violence? In, um, under 15 minutes.

Read more...

Bookmark and Share    Discuss

HaTikvah Slate for the World Zionist Conference

Jan22

by: on January 22nd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

When I received a phone call from my cousin Larry Lerner whom I deeply esteem asking me to be part of the slate of HaTikvah for the World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem, I had to decline. Though I am pro-Israel and brought my son to high school in Israel and supported him by living in Israel while he was serving in the IDF, I am equally pro-Palestine and have never described myself as a Zionist, so how could I become a delegate to this convention? Moreover, upon reading their platform, I know that I’ve been a strong critic of the Israeli Labor Party and its failure to attempt to educate Israelis about what kind of a peace settlement would actually work, much less endorsed anything like the one I’ve proposed in my book Embracing Israel/Palestine (which you can order at www.tikkun.org/eip).

Jewish students waving Israel flags

Credit: Creative Commons / Lilach Daniel

I am particularly unhappy with all those Jewish organizations which oppose the Occupation of the West Bank solely on “Jewish self-interest” grounds without ever really addressing the ethical issues involved in that Occupation causing so much pain and violence to the Palestinian people. When the Torah commands us to “love the stranger” and “do not oppress the stranger,” it must be read today as applying to the Palestinian people – and Meretz and the Labor Party should say that clearly in their platform. Nor could I sign on to a platform that summarily opposes the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement. I reject a general boycott of Israel and I am aware that when talking about their demand of “ending the Occupation” some activists in the international BDS movement believe that “the Occupation” started with the creation of the State of Israel and hence aim at ending its existence. On the other hand, I do support BDS in regard to the Occupation of the West Bank, and favor using that tactic against any products produced in the Settlements or any firm that produces goods or services that are used primarily to support the Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza (e.g. Caterpillar).

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Inescapable Network of Mutuality’

Jan20

by: on January 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

“My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, .’We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny…an inescapable network of mutuality….I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.’ Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

— Coretta Scott King, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference Plenary Address, Atlanta, Georgia, 2000

At this time of year, as we commemorate and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I am reminded once again of his vibrant image of the “inescapable network of mutuality” that links humanity. Dr. King envisioned an inclusive model of social justice because he believed that “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Though the concept of “social justice” has been defined a number of ways, I have constructed my definition as:

“The concept that local, national, and global communities functionwhere everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordinationbased onsocial identities.”

Yes, identities based on race and sexual and gender identities, for example, are very distinct, and the weight of oppression often falls on members of these groups differently. However, many argue that since “race” is an immutable biological trait that people are born with, certain protections must be provided to prevent the dominant group from persecuting minoritized “races.” They also assert that same-sex and both-sex attractions and gender identities and expressions outside the binary are not factors that people are born with but rather “choose” later in life, and therefore, they do not deserve nor require “special rights” for their chosen so-called “life styles.”

I see an underlying assumption to this argument: there are only limited rights to go around, and since there is such a scarcity of rights available, we must divide them among people on the basis of biology. This “scarcity” theory results in marginalized groups competing for what they see as the crumbs of a small and limited pie, rather than joining together to work for a larger and more equitable pie. This argument also fails in that it neither understands nor even acknowledges individuals’ intersecting and multiple identities or multiple positionalities from which they experience the world.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

‘Selma’ is True to the Story it Needs to Tell

Jan19

by: on January 19th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

After weeks of controversy over “Selma” and especially the scenes of head butting between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson, I was a little surprised when I finally saw the movie during this MLK day weekend (I do not live in a city that was graced with the pre-release). As I quickly learned, “Selma” is not essentially about MLK or LBJ. It is, of all things, about Selma.

Its 42-year-old director, Ava DuVernay, says of “Selma”, “It honors the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.” This it does faithfully and movingly. “Selma” illuminates a struggle – movement of church ladies, teenagers, and old men – that materialized in a small town long before King entered the picture.

Still, there are questions. These begin with the portrayal of Johnson but extend to other gaps in the film – including what I’ll describe for now as the case of the missing yarmulkes.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Understanding the Gandhi-King Legacy in Contemporary Terms

Jan19

by: Murali Balaji on January 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Martin Luther King, Jr. at Gandhi memorial

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Following his 1959 trip to India, in which he visited the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., noted that he was “more convinced than ever that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

The inspiration King drew from Gandhi and the Hindu concept of ahimsa is well-chronicled (including a piece last year in HuffPost by Gadadhara Pandit Dasa), but as we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s important to examine a deeper connection between both men: the idea that seva is a force for uplift and bringing communities in from the margins. King, like Gandhi, drew inspiration from his faith to inspire others to serve selflessly.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Are We Still Marching With King?

Jan19

by: Aryeh Cohen on January 19th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Every year, on this state-sanctioned day of reflection, we memorialize the Martin Luther King who was a peacemaker, a conciliator, a lover and not a hater. In reality, however, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the master of the thunderous cadences of righteous rage.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Credit: Creative Commons/Mike Licht/Library of Congress.

King preached nonviolence, he lived nonviolence. He had no illusions about the “valley filled with the misguided bloodthirsty mobs.” He agreed with Langston Hughes: “O, yes, I say it plain/America never was America to me,/And yet I swear this oath – /America will be!” Martin Luther King taught that nonviolence is the most powerful weapon we have to transform the world. Because the world is not only created by those with the guns and the truncheons.

As a Jew celebrating the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a quote from the sixth-century Babylonian Talmud comes to mind: “Any Sage who is not vengeful or does not hold a grudge is not a Sage.” (Yoma 22b-23a)

“But wait!” you might object, “Doesn’t Torah say ‘You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not harbor a grudge?!’” This is true. However, the Talmud is teaching us that there is an obligation and a place for righteous rage. The mishnaic Hebrew word for righteous rage is tar’omet, which has the same root as thunder. The rabbi who witnesses an injustice and does not burn with righteous rage is not a rabbi. The rabbi who does not carry the memory of unjust treatment, and does not rage against it is not a rabbi.

In his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” King said:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.”

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

#NousSommesHypocrites

Jan16

by: on January 16th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Today’s my birthday. When my husband asked what I wanted, I told him I wanted to feel young for a day. Spending the day in bed would have been one way to get my wish, but this is not what I had in mind: here we both are, in the grip of hacking colds. As I lie here, an adolescent spirit keeps whispering in my ear. I keep thinking about a feeling that animated much of my youth – and indeed the Sixties youth movement of which I was a part: outrage at the hypocrisy of power, whether in the little world of school and family or the big world of states and nations. Be careful what you wish for!

Huge crowds gathered in Paris on Sunday for a solidarity march with victims of the previous week’s terrorist attacks on the wildly offensive satire publication Charlie Hebdo and on patrons of a kosher supermarket. The victims were Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists, and along with phalanxes of world leaders, there were pictures of marchers declaring the unity of all faiths. Thousands of people tweeted and posted an image of a Jew and a Muslim arm-in-arm wearing signs that read “je suis juif et j’aime les musulmans” and the reverse.

Many of my friends responded with links to commentary and cartoons calling out the hypocrisy of world leaders whose symbolic gestures in support of free expression contradict their own actions – detaining, torturing, and killing journalists in their own countries, for example.

World leaders criticized for support of Charlie Hebdo #NousSommesHypocrites

Credit: @DanielWickham93 / Rich's Monday Morning View


Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

On “Selma” the Movie

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma march

Credit: Huffington Post / Stephen F. Somerstein via Getty Images

There is a moment in the movie “Selma” when Martin Luther King, Jr. says that Montgomery (bus boycott), Birmingham (desegregation of stores, public facilities, and accommodations), and Selma (voting rights) were all parts of the same struggle. I say: the struggle is the work of the moral evolution of humankind, and Selma is a mile marker on a road that reaches back to the dawn of human history and reaches forward beyond our sight and beyond our imaginations.

When I saw the movie, I was struck by how much things have changed and by how much they have remained the same. The movie tells the story of King, the Southern Christian Leadership conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lyndon Johnson, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. The purpose of the march was to push for a voting rights bill to follow quickly after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, one of the most sweeping pieces of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history.

To fully appreciate this movie, it is important to remember just how very nearly completely African-Americans were disenfranchised in the Southern states. The movie does a good job of showing the humiliation of being asked to recite the preamble to the United States Constitution, or having to know how many state judges there were, or having to name them. Such so-called literacy tests were not the only impediments placed before African-Americans and their right to vote after reconstruction. There were poll taxes and the necessity of character references from a registered voter. A person’s name and address would be published in the newspaper, and if one’s employer or landlord objected to one’s attempt to register and vote, one could lose one’s job, house, or both.

White voters did not have to face such impediments because of a grandfather clause in the law that exempted anyone who was a descendant of a person who had the right to vote before 1866 from poll tax and property requirements. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended poll taxes or any other tax in federal elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended poll taxes for state and local elections, ended literacy tests, and required pre-clearance by the federal government for any changes in the voting laws in states with a history of laws that disenfranchised African-Americans.

However, today, we face the erosion of voting rights. In June 2013, in a 5-4 decision in “Shelby County v Holder”, the United States Supreme Court said that section 4b of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. This is the section that contains a formula that would trigger section 5, the pre-clearance section of the law. Since the Court deemed the formula outdated, there is nothing to trigger section 5. The logic was that since African-Americans were able to register and vote in sufficient numbers in Southern states and various other areas in the country that pre-clearance was no longer necessary. Congress could work on a new formula, but there is little expectation that a Republican controlled Congress will address the issue.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss