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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Go to Hell! God’s Gracious Word to American Christians

Jul15

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on July 15th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

For every season, there is a message. “Do not be afraid.” “Let my people go.” “Take up your cross.” “I have a dream.”

In America today, I’ve come to believe, God’s Word for us is, “Go to hell.”

Unbeknownst to most Americans, our justice system changed radically in the late 20th century. Like most countries in the modern West, roughly one in a thousand Americans were in prison in the early 70s. Today, we incarcerate 1 in 107 Americans. Over 7 million adults are currently in jails, in prison, or on probation. More than 65 million US citizens now have a criminal record, while another 11 million undocumented people live outside the the law, subject to seizure and deportation.

Legal scholar William Stuntz has described the past 40 years as the “collapse of America’s criminal justice system.” Noting the ways “law and order” has landed more black men in prison today than were in slavery in 1850, Michelle Alexander calls it the “new Jim Crow.” Or, as Piper Kerman puts it, “orange is the new black.”

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Fasting for Peace

Jul15

by: on July 15th, 2014 | 9 Comments »

If you live in a major U.S. city chances are that you’ve heard of Ramadan, the sacred Islamic month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan used to be a strange and unknown religious celebration in the United States a few decades ago. Now, thanks to the negative and positive publicity American Muslims have received in recent years, everybody knows when and why we are fasting. Everyone from the White House to the local church and synagogue is holding interfaith iftar events (breaking of the fast) for their Muslim friends and neighbors. I should be proud and happy that my esoteric religious ritual is no longer looked upon as an undue hardship forced upon me by my religion. That finally the American public is ready and willing to accept me, with my five daily prayers and my fasting and my hijab, as one of them. I should be attending those interfaith iftar events with happiness and fervor. But I’m not.


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Compassion and Empathy: the Path to a Peaceful and Just Middle East

Jul14

by: on July 14th, 2014 | 27 Comments »

I have been struggling with how to respond to the current crisis in Gaza (and frankly, the craziness of so many things in the world right now – including the horrific reality that Obama is closing our doors to refugee children sending them back to their countries to face horrors unimaginable).

My heart is broken. At Shabbat services Friday night, as we sang a prayer for healing, my thoughts turned to all the victims in Gaza – images of their maimed and murdered bodies (that I had unfortunately seen on the internet) flashed before my eyes, resulting in tears running down my cheeks and sobs of sorrow and grief), just as I mourned the death of the three Israeli teenagers. I sometimes feel a sense of hopelessness at the current situation and know many people don’t have any idea what to do to stop this madness, nonetheless I am now working to expand our Network of Spiritual Progressives to help spread a different worldview and to bring a voice of compassion and empathy to the situation.

Israel, with its overwhelming power, has a moral responsibility to stop bombing Gaza. Israel is killing innocent civilians under the guise of wiping out Hamas when in fact, this sort of attack will only strengthen militant forces and voices in Palestine who will use the attacks to further their position that Israel (and “Jews”) are murderers and only care about controlling all of Israel and Palestine. In addition, this behavior by Netanyahu only perpetuates anti-Semitism and puts Jews at greater risk around the world. When the actions of the State of Israel are equated with the actions of Jews, Jews ultimately suffer.In fact, just today I read about pro-Hamas protesters in Paris trapping hundreds of Jews in a synagogue, chanting “Death to Jews” while throwing rocks and bricks at the synagogue. The police dispersed the crowd. The members left the synagogue – two were lightly injured. Anti-Semitism, like any form of racism, is always illegitimate. But when so many institutions of the organized Jewish communities around the world line up in solidarity with whatever military or political action the State of Israel takes, I can easily see how easy it is for some to equate the activities of the State of Israel with the entire Jewish people (unfair though that is).


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End the Violence in Israel/Palestine: Cease Fire NOW!

Jul14

by: on July 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Once again the violence of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza and the violence of Hamas and other extremist groups in Gaza have combined to create a spiraling violence that serves the extremists on both sides who can point to the intended violence on the other side to justify their own. We call upon both sides to agree to an immediate cease fire from both sides.

In my book Embracing Israel/Palestine, I show how both sides have co-created this mess, and why it is futile, stupid, intellectually lacking in credibility, and ethically perverse to try to pin the blame on one side or the other, because both sides have been incredibly tone deaf to the suffering of the other side and the most negative possible interpretation of the other side’s intentions increasingly prevails in the public perceptions on each side of the intentions of the other. Of course at the moment there is no equivalence in power or violence. Israel has already killed over 150 Palestinians, and wounded hundreds; Gazans have not inflicted any deaths and few injuries on Israelis (which I’m glad about–I don’t want Israeli blood to flow any more than I want Palestinian blood to flow! My fervent prayer: STOP ALL THE VIOLENCE, END THE OCCUPATION AND CREATE A LASTING PEACE AND A RECONCILIATION OF THE HEART.  This reconciliation does not deny the vast inequality of power between Israel and Palestinians, and the corresponding responsibility of the more powerful force to take the first major steps toward a real peace, NOT a “peace process” which goes nowhere, but a true resolution of the conflict.

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“Can We Forgive You?”: A Manifesto

Jul13

by: on July 13th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Though I have contemplated writing this for many years, I have continually put it off because it represents thoughts and feelings I never really wanted to make visible. I believed that if I relegated them to the recesses of my consciousness, over time, they would simply evaporate sparing me the task of putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, key strokes to computer screen). But no matter how hard I have tried to let go of the pain and hurt, nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings keep resurfacing. Maybe now if I write them down, I can let go.

Credit: Creative Commons

It began for me back in 1987 when I first learned that one of my favorite writers and personalities had died in France at the relatively young age of 63. James Baldwin, essayist, novelist, poet, playwright, activist, hero to many including myself, expatriated to France where he lived much of his later life. He was attracted to the cultural and political progressivism of the Left Bank, where he could escape the pressures of Jim Crow racism and the enormity of heterosexism in the United States, and where his creative energy could soar. His numerous works directly tackled issues of race, sexuality, and socioeconomic class with an unflinching and inescapable honesty, and with a clear indictment of the corrupt systems of power that dominated his native land.

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A Variety of Memories of Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi (z’l)

Jul12

by: Tikkun Community on July 12th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

We invited people in the Tikkun community to share some memories of their personal connections to Zalman. We cannot publish them all—so many hundreds of people pouring out their wonderful experiences and wishing to honor this great Tzaddik!  So we’ve selected a representative sample.

I have so many memories myself I didn’t mention in the earlier piece I sent out. One that comes to mind as I read the Israeli press describing mobs of Israelis roaming the streets of Israeli towns and beating up Israeli Palestinians that they come upon, while the Israeli army blows up homes of “suspected terrorists” though they have no plausible connection with the horrible murder committed against 3 Israeli youth last week, and reading about the Palestinian youth murdered by Israeli settlers (according to the latest information from the Israeli investigators of that crime).

Zalman and I spent many months in Jerusalem some twenty years ago, and we were talking about the distorting influence on young Israelis of having to serve in the IDF for 3 years before they could go on to college or university. The activities of enforcing the Occupation, often brutal, always discriminatory and implicit racist, generate in these young people the need to justify to themselves the activities they’ve been assigned to do, and this in turn leads many of them to accept either racist or at least fearful stories of who the Palestinian people really are, ideas which then they bring back with them into their lives as citizens after their army service is finished (well, not really finished, because most have to serve a month each year in the reserves, mee’lu’eem, till they are forty).

So Zalman proposed that we try to create a mikvah ceremony for young people finishing their active duty at which we would both immerse them in the healing waters of mikvah and simultaneously urge them to leave behind the ethos of domination (what I subsequently began to describe as “the Right hand of God) and instead embrace the loving values of Torah, including the notion that vengeance is forbidden and that Jews are commanded to Love the Other (which in the case of Israel today means Love Palestinians—rather than oppress them and treat them in ways THEY experience as oppressive). We proposed this to the Rabin government as something that we’d need government cooperation to do, but Rabin had not yet made his turn toward recognizing the humanity of the Palestinians though he was formally trying to make peace with them, so our proposal was never accepted. Here, as in so many areas, Zalman’s creative genius to make use of Judaism’s treasure-trove of spiritual wisdom, was not fully appreciated.

May his memory be always a blessing!

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Open Letter to Walmart on Camp Dachau Gate Poster

Jul11

by: on July 11th, 2014 | 6 Comments »

Dear Walmart,

It’s me, Warren.

I noticed you have beenmarketingon your website a black and white picture suitable for framing.For the bargain price of only $52.25, your loyal customers can now purchase a poster-size photograph of the front gate of Camp Dachau in Bavaria, Germany with its (in)famous inscriptionArbeit Macht Frei(Work Will Set You Free), which you declare”would make a great addition to your home or office.”

Credit: Creative Commons

So let me try to understand your psychology here. Are you employing the behavioral technique of negative reinforcement? Possibly, if we see the Dachau gate hanging in our bedroom when we first rise in the morning, we will be truly grateful to have the job we go to work to perform instead of the toil Jews and others were forced to carry out at Camp Dachau. Is that what we are supposed to take away from this? Or if we see the poster hanging in our work space, maybe we will more fully adhere to the Protestant work ethic by laboring as hard as we can right now, so we will be financially set in retirement one day? So, are you attempting to emphasize deferred gratification?

You do know don’t you that Camp Dachau was not like the Jewish camps in upstate New York? To have the opportunity of escaping the hot and crowded city and spend the summer at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel near Liberty, New York, for example, people had to work throughout the year. In this sense, work set them free to vacation. The opposite (well, actually the lie) was the case at Camp Dachau. If you were not aware, Grossinger’s was a vacation spot, whereas Dachau was a concentration camp.

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Haughty Eyes in Murrieta

Jul9

by: Alan Bean on July 9th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

(Cross-posted from Friends of Justice)

Proverbs 6:16-19 (NRSV)

16 There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that hurry to run to evil,
19 a lying witness who testifies falsely,
and one who sows discord in a family.

Everybody can define “hottie” these days; but the old-school word “haughty” doesn’t come up much in casual conversation.  If you’re not familiar with the term, the Merriam-Webster dictionary provides a simple definition:

Having or showing the insulting attitude of people who think that they are better, smarter, or more important than other people.

If you would like to see haughty eyes, look no further than the faces of the men and women protesting the arrival of migrants from Central America.  The woman who screamed, “we don’t want you; nobody wants you!” may have believed she was speaking for the entire nation.

She wasn’t.

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Mercy over Vengeance: Israeli Jews and Palestinians

Jul8

by: on July 8th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

“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.”

Credit: Creative Commons

Thus, Dennis Shepard, speaking for himself and his wife Judy during a gut-wrenching and terribly 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 cheeks, the sound of weeping throughout the courtroom, including both men and women in the jury box, Dennis Shepard called his 21-year old son his hero, and talked of Matthew’s special gift for reaching out and helping others.

McKinney and Henderson beat, tortured, and left Matthew for dead tied to a wooden fence near Laramie, Wyoming on the chilly night of October 6, 1998. Surrounded by his loving family and friends, Matthew died six days later in hospital succumbing to severe head and brain injuries.

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Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: The Holy Cobbler with a Secret

Jul8

by: Shaul Magid on July 8th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

 

Credit: Creative Commons

The day Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi left this world I happened to be mostly in transit. I took two books with me for the day; David Macey’s biography of Frantz Fanon, and R. Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch’s Hasidic work Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. When I heard the sad news on the train, feeling quite alone, I did what any hasid would do when he heard of the death of his rebbe. I took out a Hasidic work and began learning. I found myself somewhere in the middle of Maggid Devarav le-Ya’akov. It did not really matter where. The simple act of learning Hasidut on that lonely day enabled me to believe that somehow I was participating in the separation of body and soul that the tradition teaches occurs during those first hours after someone’s death. Naïve, perhaps maybe even a little delusional, but it gave me solace nonetheless. At some point I came across a teaching that jumped off the page in the way it seemed to capture what Reb Zalman gave to the world. Below I offer a translation of that lesson and a few observations as my parting words to him and, more importantly, as words to those of us who now have the responsibility to carry his message to the post-Zalman era of Jewish Renewal, may it live a long and healthy life. I dedicate this to Eden Pearlstein, Chani Trugman, Shir Yaakov Feit, Adam Segulah Sher, and Basya Schechter, Paradigm Shifters, each and every one.

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