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Let Your Voice Be Heard

Dec11

by: Tikkun on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Berkeley Protests /Credit: Annette Bernhardt

A vital aspect of the ongoing Berkeley Protests (along with those around the country) is the undeniable power of voice. We at Tikkun believe in the voice of the people, from that of an individual blogger to the harmonious chants of thousands in the streets. We know, as these protests have shown, how powerful a group of citizens can be when they come together to let their voices be heard. And we know the importance of each individual within the crowd.

Over the years both Tikkun and the Tikkun Daily blog have expanded their writer base, drawing in brilliant younger writers and increasing interfaith diversity. We’ve created a platform for individuals to let their voices free. This grants them the opportunity to gather momentum and support and turn their single cry into the chant of many.

Below we have two examples of writers who have graced Tikkun with their voice and in turn found a home:

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Rabbi Fills Long-Vacant Spot: Spiritual Leader of Jews in Jamaica

Dec11

by: Maayan Jaffe on December 11th, 2014 | No Comments »

Shaare Shalom shul

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan (left) is spiritual adviser to Nigel Chen-See, who came to Judaism later in life. Shown here, Chen-See celebrates at his conversion service by reading the Jewish declaration of faith and other prayers. Photo credit: Provided.

Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan is a man of much faith. Three years ago, he left his Reform synagogue in Albany, Georgia, to take a rabbinic position that had sat vacant for more than three decades: the spiritual leader of Jews in Jamaica.

The rabbi, who is shorter in stature and just beginning to gray, says he has a vision, one that is rooted in more than 300 years of Jewish history on the island, but that aims toward a future that he hopes will “inspire brethren around the world.”

“My vision is to open up the synagogue and bring people in … to make Jamaican Judaism more accessible, more modern, more spiritual,” said Rabbi Kaplan during a recent meeting at an upscale hotel in Kingston. The city is home to the majority of Jamaica’s Jews and its only synagogue, Shaare Shalom, and Hillel Academy.

Shaare Shalom shul

A congregant meditates during the Friday night Shabbat service. Around 20 people come to prayer at Shaare Shalom on Friday nights. Photo credit: Maayan Jaffe.

A Friday night service at the combination Sephardic-Ashkenazi shul averages twenty people. In Kaplan’s mind, the approximately 400-seat shul, with its sand-covered floor, high beams and almost-majestic turquoise window coverings, could be full of spiritual seekers, converts, followers of Rastafarian faith who relate to the Jewish message, and lost Jews who are slowly returning to their religion. Many Jamaican Jews, he said, were long ago assimilated – likely intermarried – but they still have a Jewish spark.

The Jews of Jamaica arrived with Columbus in 1494. They were not practicing Jews at the time, having been given the choice by the Spanish government of converting to Catholicism or going into exile. These Jews were known as Conversos. Some managed to escape Spain for Jamaica, in search of religious freedom. While there are not good records from that time as a result of natural disasters, it is assumed that some tried to practice their faith on the island, albeit discreetly.

Over the course of the next decades, Conversos found their way out of Spain and Portugal to communities in Germany, England and the Netherlands. From there, over the next 150 years, they continued northeast to the Caribbean, including to Jamaica. The earliest known outwardly Jewish settlers made their homes in Port Royal after the capture of the Island by the English in 1655, and then in Spanish Town and Kingston. Pockets lived in smaller island towns, like Falmouth and Montego Bay.

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Black Lives Matter: Go to an African American Church in Solidarity This Coming Sunday Morning

Dec10

by: on December 10th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Tens of millions of Americans are deeply disturbed by the racism that has recently gotten the focus that it should have had for the past many decades. The failure of juries to indict police who kill African American males was not new, but the awareness of this reality which has been just one of the many faces of racism that weigh down the lives of African Americans in this society was quite unusual and momentarily broke through the dominant discourse that “that problem has been solved decades ago after Martin Luther King, Jr. saved his people by ending segregation and winning the voting rights laws.”

Of course, even now there are many in the media who try to deny the ongoing significance of racism in our society. Yet the outpouring of anger that we’ve seen on college campuses and in the streets of the U.S. is a reason for hopefulness that when the media turns its attention away from this issue some of the consciousness about racism will remain alive beyond the peoples of color who can never forget it as long as it is shoved in their face by police, unemployment, hunger, poverty, harassment, and endless opportunities to experience the contempt that many whites feel toward them.

Is it any wonder that some young African Americans find it hard to believe that there is a strong connection between how hard they work and how well they will be treated in this society? Does anyone really think that if a Black cop had killed a middle class white youth or strangled and then let die a white man that the grand jury would not have indicted him? What we have been hearing more clearly than ever in the past few years is the tremendous fear that African Americans carry with them at all times — fear of white majority and their occupying force in communities of color that we call police and some of us call “pigs,” and fear of the way the system keeps on undermining them, manifesting contempt for them, and treating them as though their lives did not matter.

That’s why I am so glad that this Sunday, December 14, the Progressive National Baptist Convention has called for a morning of standing in solidarity with African Americans. I strongly urge you to find a Black church near you and show up in solidarity. The focus is not only on mourning but in publicly proclaiming: “Black Lives Matter.” That afternoon, we at the Network of Spiritual Progressives will be holding a strategy conference to assess what needs to change in the way the liberal and progressive forces have developed in the past few decades that has rendered them less influential and hence less able to defend the mini-steps that were taken in the past to overcome American racism. I’m hoping that our event will spur dozens of others.

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‘I’m a resident of a nation that don’t want me’

Dec10

by: Melissa Weininger on December 10th, 2014 | No Comments »

One of the first acts of the 112th United States Congress was to stage a reading of the entire constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. The reading was planned as a way of acknowledging the strength of the new Tea Party faction in the House and its ideological commitment to upholding its particular understanding of the Constitution. There was just one problem: the U.S. Constitution, despite having been modified since, still contains references to its own codification of the anti-democratic beginnings of American democracy. Namely, the Constitution makes distinctions between citizens and “other persons,” or slaves, in counting population numbers for the purposes of apportionment of representatives and taxation. Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution provides that population will be counted “by adding to the whole Number of free Persons…three fifths of all other Persons.” Not wanting to be reminded of the imperfections in our Constitution, or the contradictions encoded in our democracy, the House leadership decided to read a redacted version that eliminated all language later superseded by amendments.

Simply removing the language that codified the dehumanization and disenfranchisement of African-Americans, however, can’t make it disappear. This week brought further evidence that despite Constitutional amendments and other forms of political and judicial reform, the lingering effects of Article 1 remain. Last month’s decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, not to indict the white police officer who killed the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August was a reminder that our country was founded on the principle that African-American lives are worth less (three-fifths, according to the Constitution) than white ones. That sentiment was everywhere evident at protests decrying the grand jury decision, on signs that read “Black Lives Matter.” The fact that we still need to be reminded that black lives have worth brings us back to the way the founding documents of our democracy have, in a sense, written some American citizens out of it from the start. As a line from the Ferguson tribute song “Don’t Shoot” puts it, “I’m a resident of a nation that don’t want me.”


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Good Morning to thee, Brother Prisoner: Volunteering with Olive Farmers in Palestine.

Dec10

by: Brian O’Callaghan on December 10th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Olive Grove Palestine

Credit: V.Paes

We live in a culture based on images, none more powerful than those of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. In this age of the armchair activist, a voice of dissent is a click, a tweet or often just vitriol in a comment box. We can happily surf away to another distraction from the safety of our sofas. What if you took your solidarity and you turned up, in real time, to the trouble spot on the screen? This is exactly what activist Victor Paes did when he recently joined The International Solidarity movement (ISM) in Palestine for the annual olive harvest. Unsatisfied to merely click and share, many politically engaged citizens of the world are showing solidarity for issues in revolutionary new ways. Compassion is being translated into action because the passivity of social media often numbs feeling.

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Blue on Black Violence, Racial Bias, and Societal Psychosis

Dec9

by: on December 9th, 2014 | No Comments »

Racism causes racial bias and derangement of mind.

Racism can make a large portion of society crazy.

Now I know that many people who either suffer from mental illness or have loved ones who suffer from mental illness will not appreciate the use of the word “crazy.” I know that when we look at the reality of mental illness that causes great stress on individuals and families that the idea of racial bias as a societal psychosis may seem as if it is a stretch. I want to use this disturbing word because it is this craziness that creates a life and death situation when African Americans meet police officers who misperceive them as a threat, and in a matter of seconds may shoot them dead, or choke them to death or beat them viciously by the side of the road.

And the crazy is so crazy deep that many people affected by the crazy do not realize how crazy they are. The insanity causes us to misperceive reality, so we see what is not really real and do not see what is really real.

In the current discourse around the rash of police killings of unarmed African-American men and the failure of two grand juries to indict the police officers, we are necessarily having a conversation on race. This essay is about societal mental health. These killings are a result of how too many white police officers perceive and misperceive African-American men. When people have limited contact with members of another group they very often see members of that group through the lens of stereotypes. The super-physical black man is one stereotype of African-American men. He is the large, brute Negro who is capable of doing physical harm. In some circumstances even small African-American men are perceived to be larger and stronger than they actually are.

A recently published psychological study demonstrates this racial bias. This study – “A Superhumanization Bias in Whites’ Perception of Blacks” -published in Social Psychological and Personality Science describes five studies and their results that support the idea that very often European Americans often misperceive African Americans as either subhuman or superhuman but not as human. And when they do perceive African Americans as superhuman it is not a favorable perception.

I say this distorted view is the content of a societal psychosis. It has made crazy ordinary.

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I CAN’T BREATHE!

Dec9

by: William E. Douglas, Jr. on December 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Kansas City Protest Rally Eric Garner

A protester holds up a sign at the Kansas City Protest Rally. Credit: William Douglas, Jr.

When I went to the protest rally in downtown Kansas City after Eric Garner was strangled to death in New York City on camera, the gathered crowd was still and silent, until suddenly the constriction I had felt watching the video of an innocent man being strangled by a system commissioned to protect and serve him roiled through my soul. I began to wail at the walls of the skyscrapers surrounding me, “I CAN’T BREATHE! I CAN’T BREATHE!” The crowd was at first stunned, and then electrified, all beginning to wail from their souls, “I CAN’T BREATHE!”

After returning home, I watched on television as people of all races had gathered in cities all across America, watching them howl, “I CAN’T BREATHE!”

I felt this was larger than that poor man, a father and grandfather, being suffocated by the institutions meant to protect and serve him. I felt this howling wail issuing across the country was an expression of something deeper we have felt, but remained unconscious of. We had felt the tight constraints of a mental and spiritual straight jacket we had all been wearing for a long time.

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Cultural Equivalence and Implicit Bias

Dec9

by: on December 9th, 2014 | No Comments »

The demonstrators who are stopping traffic, occupying public spaces, and marching through busy shopping streets want to disrupt business-as-usual in the hope of awakening conscience and action.The tags for every demonstration at Ferguson Response tell the story: #WeCantBreathe, #ThisStopsToday, #JusticeforEricGarner, #JusticeforMikeBrown.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area – specifically in Berkeley and Oakland, two centers of activism – there have been incidents of vandalism, arrests, tear gas lobbed by police into crowds (and sometimes lobbed back). These loom very large in mainstream media coverage, of course: if it bleeds, it leads. They loom large in some people’s minds too. I’ve been hearing concern expressed that these demonstrations will discredit the movement for justice: if they turn violent, some have said, they lose moral force.

I want to parse that response because it reveals something about embedded cultural attitudes that are part of the problem. How do we become aware of and correct for racist frames that have shaped our perceptions and attitudes? Let me see if I can help to break it down.

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Sport as Socio-Political Institution

Dec4

by: on December 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

1968 Olympics Tommie Smith and John Carlos

Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute all the human rights workers and the victims of injustice.

I still clearly see in my mind’s eye the raised black-gloved fists of gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos soaring into the air of history during the track and field medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. As the Star Spangled Banner blared throughout the stadium, Smith and Carlos stood to salute all the human rights workers and the victims of injustice in the United States and throughout the world.

They both ascended the winner’s platform shoeless wearing black socks to highlight black poverty. Representing black pride, Smith wore a black scarf around his neck, and Carlos unzipped the top of his tracksuit in solidarity with all working class blue collar workers in the United States. He wore a strand of beads, which he declared, “were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.”

I watched the ceremonies from my university dormitory lounge with other residents, while tear tracks of pride streamed down my face, not merely because of my connections with Smith and Carlos as undergraduate students at the same institution, San José State University, but because they clearly demonstrated not only the political potential, but more importantly, the very political nature of sport to forever transform minds, hearts, and souls for the betterment of society.

Not everyone, though, even at my university, supported their actions, stating that the purpose of sport is for entertainment only, and not to advance a political policy or agenda. Avery Brundage, International Olympic Committee president, scolded the athletes and the U.S. Olympic Committee for bringing domestic politics into “the apolitical, international forum [of] the Olympic Games.” Soon following Smith and Carlos’ actions, the U.S. Olympic Committee suspended them from the team and barred them from the Olympic Village. My university, however, gave them a hero’s standing ovation when they returned to campus, and we honored the two athletes with a 22-foot high statue in 2005.

I suggest to those who assert the “apolitical” nature of sport to ask President Jimmy Carter why he chose to have the U.S. boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Ask the athletes and spectators at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia why they proudly waved rainbow flags and wore rainbow garments, held placards, and publicly embraced and kissed others of the same sex as Russian authorities passed legislation and cracked down on so-called “homosexual propaganda.”

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Engaging with Privilege: A Personal Journey

Dec4

by: on December 4th, 2014 | No Comments »

unfaircampaignLast week, when I sat down to write in response to the situation in Ferguson, I ended up writing much about my own journey of learning about how to engage the topic of race; I wrote more about that than directly about Ferguson. The difference between that first draft and the piece that finally got posted was dramatic. It was made up of feedback from Dave, my editor and supporter, that initially knocked me out completely in its depth and intensity. This was the point at which I turned to Uma and Ya-Ping for support, as well as my colleague and friend Roxy Manning. After about ten rounds of back and forth with some combination or another of all four of them, the piece that is now on the website came into final form.

As much as I like the result, I was left with all that was cut out of the original piece. Although I wholeheartedly agree about taking it out from that piece, I still want to share it. This is what this piece is. If nothing else, for anyone who is like me, I have always had the experience that understanding a process in addition to seeing the results deepens my understanding and increases the chances of integration and personal application. Also, because I want to spell out what I learned as part of my own continuing learning, and in the hopes of supporting others’ learning about the very complex questions involved in these topics. Lastly, because I want it known that this learning process is neither easy nor comfortable. The two days of feedback were, at times, excruciating and nonetheless I am in awe, I am grateful, and I found immense beauty and depth along the way.

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