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Dangerous Values at Values Voters Summit

Sep30

by: on September 30th, 2014 | No Comments »

Values Voters Summit

Credit: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore

I perceive so many issues and so much material to critique from the recent so-called Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. that I find it difficult where precisely to focus.

I could talk about the cast of characters invited to present to the largely older, white, conservative Christian confab audience, with such notables ranging from current and former elected political officials including Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and David Dewhurst, to ultra conservative media pundits such as Erick Erickson (Editor-in-Chief of Red States) and Glenn Beck, to heads of far-right organizations like Gary Bauer (Pres., American Values) and Kelly Shackelford (Pres. & CEO, Liberty Institute).

I could center my comments on the “intellectual” and historical bloopers made by a number of the presenters. For example, Ted Cruz lambasted U.S. officials talking with Iranian leaders:

“This week the government of Iran is sitting down with the United States government, swilling chardonnay in New York City to discuss what [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu rightly describes as an historic mistake…setting the stage for Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability.”

Cruz, like President George W. Bush before him, shows his utter ignorance of Muslims and their cultures, in Cruz’s case, by his ignorance of their ban on consuming alcoholic beverages.


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I Rallied Against Anti-Semitism. Now What?

Sep29

by: Donna Swarthout on September 29th, 2014 | No Comments »

Central Council of Jews in Germany rally

"Never again hatred of Jews" was the slogan for Central Council of Jews in Germany rally against anti-Semitism. Credit: Donna Swarthout

“It’s a fortress mentality,” said my friend as we sat outdoors over a glass of wine on a mild September evening after attending a back-to-school night at the John F. Kennedy School of Berlin. “Jewish organizations in Germany are closed, restrictive organizations that don’t seek volunteers and don’t have the transparency of Jewish groups in the States.” Punkt. Period. “But I want to do something to address the rise in anti-Semitism and promote cross-cultural unity,” I said. Silence. A sympathetic nod. Time to move on, I thought.

Less than a week earlier I had attended a rally against anti-Semitism organized by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. About 6,000 people, a rather disappointing turnout, gathered around the slogan “Steh Auf – Nie Wieder Judenhass” (Stand up – Never again hatred of Jews). I had simmered with disgruntlement over this slogan in the days leading up to the rally. Why couldn’t they have chosen something more positive and inspirational? I’ve lived in Berlin for more than three years and never felt hated. Yes, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, but let’s rally for a more just society for Jews, Muslims, and other minorities. Our freedom is intertwined with every legitimate group that encounters hatred.


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What Happens when a Ritual Works: The People’s Climate March

Sep29

by: on September 29th, 2014 | No Comments »

People's Climate March 2014

Credit: Creative Commons/South Bend Voice

Originally published in National Catholic Reporter

Religious folk are not so good at a lot of things but we are experts at ritual. The mass. The wedding. The baptism. The Bar Mitzvah. The funeral. The Praise service.

At the climate march we multifaith types joined the rest of the people who love the earth enough to march and create a ritual. When a ritual works, people feel something. They are changed. They come in the door one person and go out another.

The best moment was at 12:58 p.m. when a call went out for two minutes of silence. It was real. Quiet in New York City? Very much so. And then a secular ritual – the wave – joined the quiet, starting from the back and waving all the way through the thousands gathered. Like an ululation – an Arabic shout that accompanies ritual – the sound built its joy and pierced the quiet with happiness. EVERYBODY I know says that was the moment worth the bus rides, the sleeping on the floor and the expensive packaged food. For me, it was an urban bliss, a sacralization of all that has been desacralized, a punctuation marking off the time before we had hope we could love the earth from the time when we forgot or did not. Hope waved its arms and its voice at us, and we waved back. I know this mostly happens at large sports events. So what? The blend of the sacred and the secular, the earth and the heavens was everywhere.


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Loss, Empty Space, and Community

Sep26

by: on September 26th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

aitzchayyim_0It’s been about two months since I posted a piece of my writing on this blog. I was deeply immersed in supporting my sister Inbal on her final journey, which ended with her death on September 6, 2014.

One day I will find the words to write about Inbal here. (You can read her obituary here). Over the last seven years I’ve on occasion mentioned Inbal and her ongoing challenge of living with cancer. I don’t recall writing in any significant way about what it has been like to accompany her way of facing cancer. I kept it mostly separate, except when it seemed almost inhuman not to mention it. Now, having accompanied her, being so profoundly involved, learning as much as I have, and anticipating continuing to learn, I know that accompanying Inbal was a way to reweave my personal experiences and my work in the world.

The period of sitting Shiva, the Jewish custom of gathering community for seven days after someone dies, is over. I am now ready to slowly emerge into the next phase of my life, and writing about this period is a small step in that direction.

Trusting Life

None of what I learned about myself and about life through this very demanding experience is new in its entirety; it is a deepening, at times surprising, of what I have known or intuited before; and it is an entirely new territory. I realized at one point that as little as we get prepared for parenting (ultimately everyone has to newly learn it with their own children), there is even less to prepare us for being with a loved one as they are dying. Moreover, this is a topic rarely talked about, whereas parenting is. Most of us don’t know what to say to each other about death, whereas so many easily share their opinions and experiences of parenting, and there are books, norms, and wisdom commonly available.

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Corporations as Tools for Social Change

Sep26

by: Rick Herrick on September 26th, 2014 | No Comments »

Solar Panels

Credit: Creative Commons/Intel Free Press.

In the late 1970s I read a fascinating article in the New York Times regarding the Mobil Oil Corporation. According to the Times, several African-American leaders purchased small positions in the company. Their ownership of Mobil Oil stock gave them the right to lobby for change.

Their target was South Africa. These black leaders began speaking at general shareholder meetings of the corporation. They also lobbied corporate officers. They had two goals in mind. The first was to integrate the dining facility in the South African plant. The second was to achieve equal pay for equal work. They achieved both goals. Their victory was an important symbol of change in the anti-apartheid movement.

At about the same time Leon Sullivan, an African-American minister in Philadelphia, came onto the scene. Reverend Sullivan was a board member of the General Motors Corporation. In the late 1970s he devised a set of principles requiring corporations with divisions in South Africa to treat all employees fairly. If the company violated the Sullivan Principles, American corporations were to cease doing business with them. Reverend Sullivan worked tirelessly to have these principles adopted and was able to achieve some notable successes.

Again, at about the same time, the anti-apartheid disinvestment campaign emerged. This movement required pension funds and college endowments to sell their equity holdings in companies with operations in South Africa. Students lobbied and protested boards of trustees in many universities to achieve these goals. Anti-apartheid activists made similar demands of state and local pension funds.

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Netanyahu Endangers Jews Everywhere with Anti-Semitic Trope

Sep26

by: on September 26th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

Netanyahu

Credit: Creative Commons/Wikipedia

Targeting and blaming Jews living in the United States or Europe for the actions of Israel is blatant anti-Semitism. For as a political state, albeit a ‘Jewish’ one, Israel clearly does not represent all Jews, nor does it embody Judaism.

However, many anti-Semites choose to conflate the two — Israel and global Jewry — so that they can use Israel’s actions as an occasion to target, sometimes violently, Jews around the world. This conflation is not just faulty, given the diversity of Jewish opinions on Israel, but dangerous as well.

One would expect both Jewish and Israeli leaders to refrain from championing such conflations, given their roots in anti-Semitic discourse. However, Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has done just that in a message directed to me, my family and world Jewry this Rosh Hashanah: he has conflated Jews and Israel in exactly the same way anti-Semites often do.

Now, Netanyahu’s intention is to promote Jewish unity and diaspora support for Israel. Unfortunately, what he has done is endanger Jews around the world by treading on familiar anti-Semitic ground to accomplish this. Here is how Netanyahu begins his holiday message:

Dear friends, as Jews celebrate the New Year around the world, we should take pride in all that unites us. The Jewish people indeed always unite when faced with great challenges, and the past year was no exception.

These past few months, three of our teenagers were kidnapped and brutally murdered, thousands of rockets fired at our country and too many of our bravest young men and their families made the most painful of sacrifices in Operation Protective Edge.


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Hindu Responses to the Confederate Flag Incident at Bryn Mawr College

Sep25

by: Murali Balaji on September 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Protestors link arms with one women wearing a sign that says, "Because I am brown."

Credit: The Bi-College News (http://www.biconews.com).

Last week’s Confederate flag incident at Bryn Mawr College, one of the nation’s top small liberal arts institutions, raised important questions about how colleges with progressive reputations are combating anti-Black racism. But the incident also highlighted the continuing struggle to develop and sustain interfaith efforts—particularly involving Dharmic traditions—to combat prejudice.

Given my own ties to the South Asian community, I’m personally most connected to the effort to persuade South Asian Americans—the majority of whom identify as Hindu—to become more active in combating racism. For college students of South Asian descent, the reluctance to join in anti-racism efforts can be from a combination of factors, including general apathy, a lack of recognition of the social histories of race and exclusion, or simply an unwillingness to speak out in fear of violating campus norms.

One Hindu American student, Shreekari Tadepalli, a freshman, said she was disappointed by the lack of strong response from the campus’ South Asian community to the flag’s exhibition. Many of Bryn Mawr’s South Asian American students are immigrants from countries like India and Pakistan, but even among those born and raised in America, the flag’s symbolism doesn’t hit home the way it should, Tadepalli said.

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What the Changing Face of U.S. Catholicism Means for the Interfaith Community

Sep24

by: Michael Powell-Deschamps on September 24th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Blase Cupich Cardinal Francis George

Bishop Blasé Cupich is greeted by Cardinal Francis George at a press conference in Chicago, where it was announced Cupich will succeed him. Credit: Creative Commons/WGN Radio

Pope Francis’ recent appointment of Blasé Cupich — a progressive bishop from Spokane, Washington — to replace the reactionary Cardinal Francis George as the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago shows that Pope Francis is intent on reviving liberation theology not just in the Vatican and in the developing world but also within the ranks of U.S. Catholic leadership.

The leadership of the Archdiocese of Chicago is a huge role, as it involves a position of authority over two million Catholics. The Pope’s new pick, Cupich, is the opposite of Cardinal George, a reactionary who had butted heads with the Obama administration and compared gay pride parades to the Ku Klux Klan. In sharp contrast, Cupich has used his pulpit to condemn as “provocative” the Catholics who protested against abortion rights in front of Planned Parenthood. And during the election cycle of a referendum on gay marriage in Washington state, Cupich even expressed concern about the high suicide rate among homosexual youth.

John Gehring from Talking Points Memo eloquently noted the significance of this move, writing:

 ”By appointing a social justice bishop who seeks common ground to a high-profile diocese, a reform minded pope has sent a clear signal to U.S. church leaders losing their way fighting the culture wars….San Francisco Bishop Robert McElroy has argued that Pope Francis’ emphasis on poverty and inequality ‘demand a transformation of the existing political conversation in our nation.’ Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, the most influential American Catholic because of his role on the pope’s council of cardinals tasked with reforming church governance, has called comprehensive immigration reform ‘another pro-life issue,’ and in a homily before the annual March for Life in Washington last January said ‘the Gospel of Life demands that we work for economic justice in our country and in our world.’”

What does Pope Francis’ bold revival of liberation theology in the Catholic Church mean for the interfaith community?


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My Response to President Obama’s Rosh Hashanah Greeting

Sep24

by: on September 24th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

President Obama

Credit: Creative Commons/Nick Knupffer

The White House has released President Obama’s greeting to American Jews on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year set to begin tonight at sundown. This greeting — extended to me, my family and the American Jewish community — comes at a time in which many Jews are collectively and individually reflecting upon those people we’ve wronged in the past year, and those apologies we need to extend.

This is one of the central tasks of Rosh Hashanah: to perform something called teshuvah (תשובה), which on an interpersonal level is the act of apologizing to those we have individually and communally wronged in the past year.

Obama’s greeting is appreciated as a nice gesture, as are his general wishes for reflection, which are wholly appropriate for the holiday. The problem is this: if there is one people President Obama, together with the larger American Jewish community, need to collectively extend an apology toward this holiday season, it is Palestinians. Unfortunately, Obama’s remarks, rather than offer such an expression, are actually an extension of our continued wronging of Palestinians, a wronging for which our government should apologize.

Allow me to explain. But first, Obama’s remarks:

Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.


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Instant Karma: Downwind Deaths from Nevada Atomic Testing

Sep23

by: on September 23rd, 2014 | 4 Comments »

atomic bomb

American military forces participating in Nevada Atomic testing.

I was only eleven years old when The United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. I remember the moment well for I was sitting across the street at the Thompson Club in Nahant, Massachusetts waiting for my twin brother to join me to play baseball. Suddenly I felt an immense sense of collective loss, and then a short time later my twin brother came running from across the street telling me that we had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan. Even at that young age, I somehow sensed we had released an evil, powerful genie that could eventually destroy the planet and ourselves.

Power corrupts. Absolute atomic power absolutely morally corrupts, particularly when it is in the hands of the Military/Industrial complex with the power to control and destroy the world – whereas human life eventually becomes collateral damage as it did with the atomic testing during the sixties in Nevada.


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