by: Aryeh Cohen on April 20th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
We are on a journey. This period that we are now moving through, the seven weeks that start on the second day of Passover and end at Shavuot or Weeks, the next holiday in the calendrical cycle, is a journey from Egypt to Sinai. It is deeply symbolic that as the first day of Passover was waning this year, we were marking the 47th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This year that anniversary was marked amidst the outcries of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, amidst the sounds of gunshots and the cries of unarmed black and brown men killed by officers of the law, of the state.
We are on a journey—but where are we going?
We know where we are coming from. We are coming from the Egypt of the three evils, as Dr. King described them, racism, poverty, and militarism. As the Yiddish proverb goes: any place can be your Egypt, any place can be your Promised Land. Today in the United States we are facing these same interrelated issues. Poverty overwhemingly impacts communities of color. Communities of color are impoverished by mass incarceration. The United States incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Those people are then barred from the right to vote, have a harder time getting housing, or a job. As Michelle Alexander has argued, this is the new method of social control, of racist social control. A new Jim Crow in impact even if not in explicit intention. The police and incarceration regime are more and more militarized. While there are exceptions, the pictures that the whole world saw of police officers in Ferguson, MO in camouflage uniforms pointing assault weapons at unarmed civilians, is more often than not the rule.
Craig Wiesner and Derrick Kikuchi are co-founders of Reach And Teach and manage Tikkun/NSP web operations.
As we waited to check our luggage and get our boarding passes at the Charlotte NC airport we watched as couple after couple got to the counter, handed over their tickets, chatted with the agent, and then went on their way to their gates.
All seemed normal.
Then, when we stepped up to the counter, the agent looked at me and said “You, get back in line!” Pointing at my travel mate, and husband, I responded “We’re together.” She very loudly said “No. You have to come up here separately.” I responded quietly “You’ve had couple after couple come up here and check their bags and get their boarding passes.” She boomed out “You ARE NOT a couple.” “Yes, we are.” “Not in my line you’re not.” She then asked me if I wanted to travel at all that day, because if I didn’t get back in line she would make sure I didn’t fly anywhere that day.
This was around 20 years ago. Humiliated and near tears, I quietly stepped away from the counter while my husband checked his bag.
by: Amy Gottlieb on April 17th, 2015 | No Comments »
Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree
by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Erika Steiskal
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Skinner House Books, 2015
For over a generation, National Jewish Book Award winner Sandy Sasso has blazed a trail in the genre of children’s spiritual literature. While her work is steeped in Jewish tradition, her books are popular with readers of all faiths. She has a remarkable talent for rendering complex theological ideas into accessible narratives that appeal to a child’s sense of wonder. She has written about universalism (God’s Paintbrush), the human-divine encounter (In God’s Name), process theology (And God Said Amen), Edenic awe (Adam and Eve’s First Sunset), and eternal life (For Heaven’s Sake), to name a few. All of her books share the common theme of radical empathy, and in her latest work, Sasso applies this vision to a story about tolerance.
I’ve heard of love at first sight many times. Friendship at first sight was an unimagined occurrence, and yet it happened to me with Sami Awad, Palestinian nonviolence visionary and founder of the Holy Land Trust, when we met in December 2013. Sami was translating a four-day workshop on Convergent Facilitation I was conducting for Israelis and Palestinians in Beit Jala on the West Bank. Ever since then, we’ve kept in touch, dreaming of working together on some project or another, in awe at the alignment of our visions, despite all indoctrination to make us enemies. (If you want to read more about that encounter and that training, it’s called Israel, Palestine, Home, Me.)
Shalom and Peace! Today on Holocaust Remembrance Day I would like to share a recent experience that changed my perspective in an unexpected way. My perspective about Jews, about the Holocaust, about myself. Sounds mysterious? I didn’t mean it to be. Let me go back a couple of weeks and start again.
Throughout the ages, individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.
Proponents of the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” (RFRA) recently passed in states like Indiana and Arkansas argue that these laws promote religious freedoms and freedom of speech – two tenets already covered by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court opened the flood gates for the enactment of new and enhanced RFRA laws in its 2014 decision Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. While human and civil rights anti-discrimination laws primarily have never covered bone fide religious institutions, the Hobby Lobby ruling extended such exemptions to “closely held” (where no ready market exists for the trading of stock shares) for-profit corporations when these owners claim that to follow anti-discrimination statutes would violate their religious beliefs.
by: Elena Blackmore on April 13th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Could society be rebuilt around understanding and compassion instead of shame? The effects would be revolutionary.
Though it creates vicious cycles that stifle creativity, shame is piled onto those perceived as undeserving of social support programs while consumerist advertising bolsters a "not-enough" mentality. Credit: uldissprogis.com.
The binary rhetoric that currently surrounds the welfare state reflects a deep moral narrative with a crippling social impact. ‘Strivers’ and ‘skivers’ are two sides of the same coin. That coin is shame.
One side represents the deserving, and the other side the undeserving. Rachel Reeves, the UK Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, recently said that: “We [the Labour Party] are not the party of people on benefits.” She faced some criticism for these words, but these are messages we hear daily, from government and opposition alike.
We’re here for hard-working families. We’re here for the taxpayer.
In this narrative, employment equals worth, while unemployment casts you into the world of the untouchables.
Economic policies are created around this notion of worth. Unemployment must be a choice — you’re shirking — so let’s coax you out of it. You don’t need benefits in your first week of unemployment since you should be looking for work. We’ll put sanctions on you if you’re unemployed for too long.
Shame on you for being unemployed.
“I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.”
Thus, Dennis Shepard, speaking for himself and his wife Judy during a heart-wrenching and nearly unbearable emotional court-room speech to one of his son Matthew’s convicted murders, Aaron McKinney, 22, spared both McKinney and his accomplice, Russell Henderson, 21, of the death penalty. As he spoke, his voice often breaking as he wiped tears streaming down his face and falling to the floor, the sound of weeping throughout the courtroom including men and women in the jury box, Dennis Shepard called his 21-year old son his hero, and he talked of Matthew’s special gift for reaching out and helping others.
Last Friday, on the first night of Passover, I was asked to share a teaching on Moses, who led our people out of slavery in Egypt. A friend suggested I share it with you:
The idea that always arises for me when I think of Moses and many other leaders of spiritual or political revolutions is Amilcar Cabral’s concept of “class suicide.”
Cabral was the revolutionary socialist leader of the national liberation movement that freed the Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau. “Class suicide” describes the act of dying to the privileged class of one’s birth – for instance, by taking a step with no return – and thus sacrificing one’s own privileged position and power in favor of full identification with the oppressed.
In either political or spiritual history, a large proportion of such trailblazers were born into privilege. Siddhartha was the son of chieftain; Mao Zedong was the son of a wealthy farmer; Ho Chi Minh was the son of a Confucian scholar and magistrate; Gandhi’s father was the chief minister of a princely state and Gandhi himself received law training in London. And Moses was raised as a prince of Egypt in Pharaoh’s house.
Clicking my way through a Google search for Cabral’s term, I happened on the work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a freeborn African-American abolitionist and author born in 1825. Her life story is pretty remarkable. One of her books was Moses: A Story of the Nile.
by: Elana Baurer on April 8th, 2015 | 3 Comments »
Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”
Each year, we retell the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt as if it were our own liberation. Jews and non-Jews alike gather around the seder table all over the world and go through the steps of the seder. Some choose to commemorate the enslavement of the Israelites under the Egyptians as though it really happened, while others approach the story as symbolic. Exodus is an empowering, joyful story of freedom, liberation, and journey from the small, narrow places to expansiveness.