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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



A Multicultural Immigrant Christmas

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Decades ago, nudged by subterranean wishes and memories, I hesitantly stepped into the nave of a Protestant church in my neighborhood. Like many of its kind, this congregation was small, old, and white. The only diversity it expressed, pretty much, was diversity of sexual orientation – and some diversity of opinion about diversity of sexual orientation. It was in many ways, an activist church, and for a time, gradually gathered to itself more young folk like me, gay and straight, and overwhelmingly white, who raised funds for AIDS programs, protested nuclear weapons, and pressed for inclusion of gays in the ministry.

A different church, but similar

For financial reasons, the church shared space with renters, a robust Asian congregation, far more conservative in theology, overflowing with young families who sat through a loud, hour-and-a-half sermon without blinking an eye. Despite our proclamations of diversity and multiculturalism, I’m sorry to report the two congregations remained quite separate, and some in our social justice-oriented church commented quite vehemently on diapers left in the nursery, heating bills, and I don’t remember what. We lived in two different worlds without a lot of warmth and welcome on our side. Eventually, divisions yawned even within our group, and I stopped attending.

I moved to another city. Decades passed. A friend began attending that church again. Reluctant and ambivalent, but curious, I agreed to visit one Sunday. The physical side of the church was little changed, same clay roof, dark pews, stained glass. But, mercy, how the constituency had changed! Now, the minister of the “white” church was a Korean-American immigrant. A South Asian guy led music, and the choir featured Koreans, Chinese, Latinos, and just a sprinkling of old white women and men. The children’s minister was African-American, and a family of African immigrants took up an entire pew. Suddenly, the congregation was as multicultural as a community college.

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Clay Feet Abounding: The Presumption of Progressive Virtue

Dec23

by: on December 23rd, 2015 | 1 Comment »

There’s a scandal swirling around progressive organizing circles right now.An impressively large number of women have come forward to accuse Trevor FitzGibbon, principal of a large and widely respected public relations firm employed by countless movement organizations, of sexual harrassment and sexual assault. Find the story on Vox and elsewhere.

The FitzGibbon charges have stimulated lively and painful discussions online and in person. Over the last few days, I’ve read dozens of posts from women who now feel invited, even impelled, to share stories of offenses committed against themselves and their colleagues. I’m certain the patterns will be familiar to you, dear readers: women who endured repeated humiliation but feared speaking out because of reprisals; women who spoke out and were ignored; women who rebuffed advances from men at work who had power over them, and found themselves tacitly stigmatized and denied opportunity until they moved on; women who were fed up to the breaking point with the daily repetition of mundane offenses – men who steal your ideas for their own, being ignored in meetings, casually offensive comments on one’s body or dress, and so on.

Before I move on, let me stipulate that women can be abusers and men can be victims too. It just doesn’t happen nearly so much as the other way round.

I recognize that gender-based offenses are widespread and can easily feel like a separate matter from all the other injuries of class, race, and so on we humans mete out. But the heart of the matter is always abuse rooted in power differentials, whether those stem from the instrinsic privilege granted white skin or male gender in this society, or from other gaps in social and personal status.

I’ve been engaged in social justice organizing for my entire adult life. At two critical points, I had to learn a lesson about the ubiquity of clay feet. The first was when as a young artist I was forced to recognize that great creative skill and capacity don’t equate to either goodness or kindness, that talent, self-love, and recognition from others can inflate egos to the bursting point. The second was when as a young organizer I was forced to recognize that working for a good cause doesn’t make you a good person, that a great love for The People and Justice as categories doesn’t guarantee that you will treat individual members of the species with compassion and respect – let alone justly.

The first step to addressing abuses of power is always the same: let go of the illusion that people whose politics you find virtuous are going to be more ethical, compassionate, or just in their behavior than people whose politics you find objectionable.People are people, full stop.

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Normalizing The Extraordinary in Medellín, Part One

Dec22

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

I arrived in Medellín, Colombia a few days after a man who claimed to be acting with divine guidance killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.The very next morning I learned that 14 people had been killed and 22 seriously injured at an attack on a holiday party at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

A day or so later, “The Daily Show” ran a montage of clips of President Obama responding to a series of mass shootings. Watching that, you start to ponder the normalization of terror.

Many people in the U.S. like to think of Americans as civilized. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone righteously condemn the barbarism of another society without noticing the scale of our own. So I can’t imagine a better place than Medellín – whose name evokes in the minds of my fellow citizens images of the narco-terrorism that allowed drug lord Pablo Escobar to hold sway over the city until he was killed in 1993 – to explore the question of how to transform a society in the grip of fear and violence into a functioning civil society.

Are you surprised that the answer is art and culture?For decades, I’ve been asking people to envision the commitment to communal creativity fully expressed in public programs, to dream into a future shaped by their largest vision.

Are you surprised when I tell you that in Medellín, I saw this future and felt as if I had walked into a dream, the extraordinary made real? I promise you I am not romanticizing: Medellín is a city of 2.5 million with a significant share of poverty, gangs, and crime. For some of the poorest, Escobar was seen as a Robin Hood and “civil society” doesn’t exactly ring a bell. The challenges of class, race, and gender privilege persist. I am not claiming to have discovered heaven on earth, but something almost as extraordinary for an observer coming from the U.S. circa 2015: a public sector that has embodied and supported the public interest in culture with tremendous forethought, intentionality, and caring; and results to match that intention.

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Humiliation is the Root of All Terrorism

Dec17

by: on December 17th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Editor’s Note:We at Tikkun have long advocated for the adoption of a Strategy of Generosity in US foreign policy, decisively shifting our perspective on how we relate to the rest of the world from the “power over” approach which has failed miserably for 7000 years and produced nothing but violence and counter violence to a deep spiritual approach that recognizes the humanity of others and demonstrates our care for the well-being of all who live on the planet. In the following piece published on Truthout yesterday, our Editor-at-Large Peter Gabel offer a philosophical foundation for that vision that shows the relationship between healing and repairing the wounds that separate us and ending the otherwise unending cycle of violence that causes so much human suffering. If you find this compelling, help us spread the message.Join our interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressivesordonate to Tikkun. Read our proposedGlobal Marshall Planwhich would be a massive step toward implementing what Gabel calls for in this article. Don’t just read and love this article–join us in making it happen! Ifyou have a strategy or want to argue against ours, please send it in an email to me in exactly the form that you’d wish it to be published on our Tikkun Daily blog or website, including a one sentence bio.–Rabbi Michael Lerner, EditorTikkunrabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

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The recent killings in Paris and San Bernadino have many people at once scared for themselves and their families, angry in a way that makes some susceptible to anti-Muslim rhetoric, and also utterly shaken that people in our own midst can be drawn to ISIS and others who want to do us great violence for seemingly no reason. How could anyone wish to start shooting and killing large numbers of innocent, anonymous people in the name of restoring a patriarchal Califate from a thousand years ago? Syed Farook was a seemingly normal county employee, an environmental specialist earning $77,000 per year living in relative economic comfort in southern California, recently married, and the father of a six-month old daughter. How are we to make any sense of his and Tashfeen Malik’s secret devotion to ISIS and their decision to suddenly become mass murderers who simultaneously effectively committed suicide, leaving their little child with her grandmother? And how could tens of thousands of such people like these two be massing in Syria and Iraq, ready to become martyrs for such a cause?

As compelling as these questions are, one would have to infer from the public discussion of these killings and from the mass media that we do not really want to know the answers. The idea that ISIS and other radical jihadis are simply “evil,” or that they “hate freedom” or are simply incomprehensible purveyors of a “hateful ideology” (to quote the repeated formulation of Barack Obama) just begs the question of why they are the way they are and why they believe what they believe. To actually understand Farook and Malik and those who engage in violent terrorism, and based on that understanding begin to do something to change the conditions that have produced and will likely continue to produce so much human suffering and loss, we have to attempt to grasp the terrorists’ experience of life from the inside, to see them as human just as we are, and to see what shaped them such that their thoughts and actions make sense to them.

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The Quran Speaks: ISIS and Islam are Opposites

Dec10

by: Delilah Leval on December 10th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

They have names like ISIL, Al Qaeda, Taliban, and so on. We Americans are being told by mainstream media sources that they belong to one religion: “Radical Islam.” The terrorists insist on calling themselves “Islamic,” and the media repeats this claim, but this label is a false equivalence and a very harmful false association we should be quick to avoid. Let the public not be fooled — the peace-loving, pious adherents of a beautiful faith that translates to “Submission” do not share a faith, values, or philosophy with terrorists, homicidal maniacs. The ultimate measurement of who or what is Islamic is universally accepted to be the Quran. It is by the Quran that one can determine who/what is really and truly Islamic, and whom/what is wearing a stolen name. The first “I” in ISIS is an affront to Muslims around the world, and we prefer to call these rampant killers “Daesh” which means “to crush.” Empowered with solid information, Progressives can refute the stolen name, and the frightening attacks by politicians like presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Breaking, disobeying, and doing the opposite of every major moral requirement of the Holy Quran means ISIS are certainly not Islamic. Not one iota.Terrorists are criminals, and their crimes are crimes against all of humanity. The perfectly-honorable and pure faith, based on a Holy Quran that encapsulates the words of Almighty God himself,preaches only peace. So what is today dubbed “Extreme Islam” in the mainstream media is in actuality, Anti-Islam. ISIS is Anti-Islamic, the polar opposite of Islam.

“Islam” is Arabic short-hand for “Submission to the Will of the Creator.” That means accepting everyone and everything in the world — just the way they are. Terrorist groups are not members any form of “Islam,” extreme or otherwise; they have invented their own religion. ISIS and their kind operate against the sacred core tentants of the Holy Quran, and to disobey the Quran or choose another source besides makes one’s actions patently un-Islamic.The Holy Quran is an unchanged, consistent sacred manual to religious life for all Muslims, and the timeless Arabic text is the same today as it was 1400 years ago at revelation to the Prophet Mohammad. Actions taken against the commandments of the Quran are unauthorized by God, rejected by Muslims, and denounced by our community. Terrorists are rightfully called “extreme” — extremely sinful, extremely wicked, and extremely deplorable. In their sinful, depraved acts, ISIS represent only themselves, not Islam. And Muslims decry the association of their destructive activities with the Muslims, Islam, and the God of Abraham, Most Gracious, Most Merciful God.

The Quran commands God’s followers specifically and unequivocally to reject violence against others, reject harm against the self, and to get along with people of various faiths (or no faith at all).

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Education for a Sustainable Planet

Dec9

by: Jonathan Granoff on December 9th, 2015 | Comments Off

World leaders gathered in the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, 2015 and on September 25th they met in a special summit to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda. On September 24th, in recognition that quality education is necessary to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there was a First Ladies High Level Forum on Education at the UN for the spouses of the world leaders. The Forum, organized by U.S. Federation for Middle East Peace, was chaired by its President Salwa Kader and broughtforward leaders in both education and gender equality to discuss endowing youth of the world with the resource and opportunities needed to accelerate achievement of Millennium Development Goals and development of the post-2015 agenda of the United Nations. Presenters included H.E. Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, First Lady of Haiti Mrs. Sophia Martelly, and H.E. Dr. Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi.
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This address by Tikkun Editor Jonathan Granoff can be viewed at 1:21-1:34 at the web cast of the entire event by clicking here.

We are the first generation of human beings challenged by the choice of being the last. We are passing this weight to the next generation. Our educational foundations did not prepare us to properly reign in the capacities for destruction or creativity and benefit gifted us by science and technology. In addition to enormous wealth and abundance, not justly distributed, but in existence, we have set our own destruction in motion.

We have created weapons, nuclear weapons, which provide less security the more they are perfected – a malevolent enormous paradox – and systematized an economic order which rests on perpetual growth without regard to the limits of the natural world – a strange denial of the sacred bounty and blessings of nature.

Science and technology in the service of fear and the pursuit of security has placed over all of our heads 16,000 swords of Damocles. In the service of the market and unlimited appetites – properly called greed – we are melting the polar ice caps, cutting forests faster than they can be replenished, and destroying species at 100 to 1,000 times the normal evolutionary base rate. In other words, the horse is out of the barn and galloping without sufficient constraint. Law and morality are the reins we have neglected, and education is the key to their proper use.

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For many Jews, anti-Arab racism hits home

Dec9

by: Keren Soffer Sharon on December 9th, 2015 | 12 Comments »

Following the devastating attacks in Paris, right wing forces have been fanning the frightening flames of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia. There have been calls for increased surveillance of Muslim communities, unconstitutional registration of American Muslims, and religious tests for Syrian refugees seeking safety in the United States.

A transit camp (maabarah) for Mizrahi immigrant refugees in 1952

I am Mizrahi. I’m a Jew, and like many Mizrahim, I’m also an Arab. We Arab Jews have a unique perspective to offer on the Syrian refugee crisis, and on the Islamophobic and anti-Arab backlash that we are seeing in this country and across the globe. For me, anti-Arab racism is not something abstract. It’s not something that needs a historical analogy to feel visceral. The hatred and fear directed toward our Arab and Muslim friends is an attack on the Arab heritage of Mizrahim and on our rich history as Jews.

Mizrahi Jews (meaning “Eastern”) are Jews who for over 2,500 years were indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Asia and the Balkans. For much of this time, Mizrahim were deeply rooted in the Muslim-majority societies in which they lived. Our ultimate displacement was the result of several historical forces, including the establishment of the state of Israel by Ashkenazi (European) Jews with the support of imperial powers.

In the late 1930s, Ezra Haddad, an Iraqi Jewish author and historian, proclaimed, “We were Arabs before we became Jews,” in Al-Akhbar, an Iraqi daily newspaper. Before British and French colonialism, Arab Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians shared communities, identities and homes – in the deepest sense. My mother’s maiden name is Soffer, which means “scribe.” My ancestors were Torah scribes in Basra, Iraq, dating as far back as anyone in my family can remember. There was no place my family would have called home before Basra. Like other Iraqi Jews, my family was part of a thriving Jewish community living among other religious minorities in a society that was widely tolerant of non-Muslims. We shared the physical, cultural and psychic space that made us all Arab. It is only recently, through the centralizing of the Ashkenazi narrative as the dominant Jewish story, that our identity as Jews is supposed to override our identity as Arabs.

There is no history to support the claim that Jews and Muslims are, or have ever been, perpetual enemies. Let us not forget that when both religious groups were expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, it was Muslims who welcomed Sephardi Jews (meaning “from Spain”) into Morocco and parts of the Ottoman Empire. And contrary to the notion that Jews were never safe in Muslim-majority territories, it was actually the Christian territories where they faced the most virulent forms of Antisemitism. Jews and Muslims were both demonized and targeted during the Spanish Inquisition under the same system of Christian hegemony that would later form the political foundations of white supremacy as we know it today.

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Nonviolent Communication, Christianity, and Notions of Right and Wrong

Dec4

by: on December 4th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Recently, I received a question from a student about the compatibility of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) with Christianity given that the NVC worldview speaks of a world beyond right and wrong, and this person’s understanding of Christianity is rooted in those very notions.

Although I have often received and addressed similar questions, this time, because the focus was so squarely on Christianity, and I am neither Christian nor a theist, I chose to engage with others: fellow NVC trainers and friends. Thirty something emails on the topic later, this quest culminated in a conversation with my friend Nichola Torbett, Founder of Seminary of the Street, with whom I often have deep discussions about theology. With all this help, I am now both ready to respond to the question I was asked, and ready to share here some specific discoveries Nichola and I made today, informed, also, by what I learned from others.

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View from the Ladder

Dec3

by: Irwin Keller on December 3rd, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Eighty years ago, the United States debated whether it would open its doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the terror of the Nazis. It did not. And this historical echo was not lost on me, as I’m sure it was not lost on Jews throughout this country.

These have been weeks of significant gravity. Serious things have happened. We have been weighed down in their aftermath, by sadness, fear, and anger. What happened on a Friday evening – the Shabbos! – in mid-November in Paris captures our imagination and won’t let go. And the attacks last week on the tourists in Mali just add to our fear and helplessness.

All of this would be enough to burden us heavily. But then comes a second wave of injury, as we watch politicians turn tragedy into cheap rhetoric. Two dozen American governors saying they would close their borders to Syrian refugees: the very people who are fleeing ISIS. Offering terrorists their victims back. And knowing that the public is insular and racist enough to believe that we couldn’t possibly tell refugees and terrorists apart.

So what can we do? What course do we take? Maybe a first thing is to climb out of this morass for a higher view. But how do we climb, when the drama and trauma hold us so tight, when gravity weighs so strong?

We dream a ladder. That’s what we do. It’s what Jacob did, in last week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayetzei. He was fleeing danger too, running scared. He was escaping his brother, but in the world of Torah, violence between siblings is meant to point also to violence between nations. So Jacob’s moment was not so dissimilar to ours.

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Selective Empathy by Rabbi Zalman Kastel

Nov19

by: on November 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Selective empathy and relationships with ‘others’ – Vayetzei

Terror has struck us’ again. I write us’ referring to Westerners who identify with the Paris victims. I feel angry about this attack against ordinary people in a Western city. A terrible destruction of life perpetrated against people who live in a‘normal’city like I do. I am surrounded by outrage and solidarity expressed in French flags, on Sydney‘s Harbour Bridge, the OperaHouse and all over Facebook. But surely, every life of a non-combatant taken violently is an utterly unacceptable violation of the sanctity of life?

I am disturbed to read Facebook posts by my Arab and Muslim friends rightly expressing their hurt at the implication that French lives appear to matter more to Westerners than Arab or Muslim lives. Some posts list the names of places where Arab or Muslim blood has been spilled, including the terrible attacks in Beirut. Yet, none of these posts mention the recent stabbings of Israeli civilians. I feel a deep sadness about the selective empathy so much in evidence right now.

The term selective empathy‘ is almost a tautology because researchers in this field explain that empathy is by its very nature geared toward people we see as being like us. We can overcome this natural tendency to limit our circle of empathy either by calling on increased compassion (which is not naturally restricted to people like ourselves) or by changing our relationships with ‘them’ so that they become part ofus’.

The inclusion of those we are unfamiliar with and whom we regard as alien can feel quite threatening. After the Biblical Jacob left his village and the people familiar to him he put rocks around his head when he stopped for a nap along the way. This act is considered highly symbolic. Jacob protected his mind from the influences of a new place. Only his hands, symbolising action, were to connect with the new place, but his mind had to remain ‘unpolluted’(1).

Despite the fear some people have about how they might be changed or lose their identity, they do often make efforts to connect with the other. When Jacob met the ‘strangers’ among whom he would live he addressed them as my brothers (2)“.It is easier to regard people as abstract threats when you are not interacting with them face to face.

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