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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



‘Selma’ is True to the Story it Needs to Tell

Jan19

by: on January 19th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

After weeks of controversy over “Selma” and especially the scenes of head butting between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Baines Johnson, I was a little surprised when I finally saw the movie during this MLK day weekend (I do not live in a city that was graced with the pre-release). As I quickly learned, “Selma” is not essentially about MLK or LBJ. It is, of all things, about Selma.

Its 42-year-old director, Ava DuVernay, says of “Selma”, “It honors the people of Selma, but it also represents the struggle of people everywhere to vote.” This it does faithfully and movingly. “Selma” illuminates a struggle – movement of church ladies, teenagers, and old men – that materialized in a small town long before King entered the picture.

Still, there are questions. These begin with the portrayal of Johnson but extend to other gaps in the film – including what I’ll describe for now as the case of the missing yarmulkes.

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Understanding the Gandhi-King Legacy in Contemporary Terms

Jan19

by: Murali Balaji on January 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Martin Luther King, Jr. at Gandhi memorial

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Following his 1959 trip to India, in which he visited the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., noted that he was “more convinced than ever that non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.”

The inspiration King drew from Gandhi and the Hindu concept of ahimsa is well-chronicled (including a piece last year in HuffPost by Gadadhara Pandit Dasa), but as we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s important to examine a deeper connection between both men: the idea that seva is a force for uplift and bringing communities in from the margins. King, like Gandhi, drew inspiration from his faith to inspire others to serve selflessly.

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Are We Still Marching With King?

Jan19

by: Aryeh Cohen on January 19th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Every year, on this state-sanctioned day of reflection, we memorialize the Martin Luther King who was a peacemaker, a conciliator, a lover and not a hater. In reality, however, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was the master of the thunderous cadences of righteous rage.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." Credit: Creative Commons/Mike Licht/Library of Congress.

King preached nonviolence, he lived nonviolence. He had no illusions about the “valley filled with the misguided bloodthirsty mobs.” He agreed with Langston Hughes: “O, yes, I say it plain/America never was America to me,/And yet I swear this oath – /America will be!” Martin Luther King taught that nonviolence is the most powerful weapon we have to transform the world. Because the world is not only created by those with the guns and the truncheons.

As a Jew celebrating the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a quote from the sixth-century Babylonian Talmud comes to mind: “Any Sage who is not vengeful or does not hold a grudge is not a Sage.” (Yoma 22b-23a)

“But wait!” you might object, “Doesn’t Torah say ‘You shall not take vengeance, and you shall not harbor a grudge?!’” This is true. However, the Talmud is teaching us that there is an obligation and a place for righteous rage. The mishnaic Hebrew word for righteous rage is tar’omet, which has the same root as thunder. The rabbi who witnesses an injustice and does not burn with righteous rage is not a rabbi. The rabbi who does not carry the memory of unjust treatment, and does not rage against it is not a rabbi.

In his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” King said:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.”

The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

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#NousSommesHypocrites

Jan16

by: on January 16th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Today’s my birthday. When my husband asked what I wanted, I told him I wanted to feel young for a day. Spending the day in bed would have been one way to get my wish, but this is not what I had in mind: here we both are, in the grip of hacking colds. As I lie here, an adolescent spirit keeps whispering in my ear. I keep thinking about a feeling that animated much of my youth – and indeed the Sixties youth movement of which I was a part: outrage at the hypocrisy of power, whether in the little world of school and family or the big world of states and nations. Be careful what you wish for!

Huge crowds gathered in Paris on Sunday for a solidarity march with victims of the previous week’s terrorist attacks on the wildly offensive satire publication Charlie Hebdo and on patrons of a kosher supermarket. The victims were Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists, and along with phalanxes of world leaders, there were pictures of marchers declaring the unity of all faiths. Thousands of people tweeted and posted an image of a Jew and a Muslim arm-in-arm wearing signs that read “je suis juif et j’aime les musulmans” and the reverse.

Many of my friends responded with links to commentary and cartoons calling out the hypocrisy of world leaders whose symbolic gestures in support of free expression contradict their own actions – detaining, torturing, and killing journalists in their own countries, for example.

World leaders criticized for support of Charlie Hebdo #NousSommesHypocrites

Credit: @DanielWickham93 / Rich's Monday Morning View


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On “Selma” the Movie

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Martin Luther King Jr. at Selma march

Credit: Huffington Post / Stephen F. Somerstein via Getty Images

There is a moment in the movie “Selma” when Martin Luther King, Jr. says that Montgomery (bus boycott), Birmingham (desegregation of stores, public facilities, and accommodations), and Selma (voting rights) were all parts of the same struggle. I say: the struggle is the work of the moral evolution of humankind, and Selma is a mile marker on a road that reaches back to the dawn of human history and reaches forward beyond our sight and beyond our imaginations.

When I saw the movie, I was struck by how much things have changed and by how much they have remained the same. The movie tells the story of King, the Southern Christian Leadership conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lyndon Johnson, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. The purpose of the march was to push for a voting rights bill to follow quickly after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, one of the most sweeping pieces of civil rights legislation in the nation’s history.

To fully appreciate this movie, it is important to remember just how very nearly completely African-Americans were disenfranchised in the Southern states. The movie does a good job of showing the humiliation of being asked to recite the preamble to the United States Constitution, or having to know how many state judges there were, or having to name them. Such so-called literacy tests were not the only impediments placed before African-Americans and their right to vote after reconstruction. There were poll taxes and the necessity of character references from a registered voter. A person’s name and address would be published in the newspaper, and if one’s employer or landlord objected to one’s attempt to register and vote, one could lose one’s job, house, or both.

White voters did not have to face such impediments because of a grandfather clause in the law that exempted anyone who was a descendant of a person who had the right to vote before 1866 from poll tax and property requirements. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended poll taxes or any other tax in federal elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 ended poll taxes for state and local elections, ended literacy tests, and required pre-clearance by the federal government for any changes in the voting laws in states with a history of laws that disenfranchised African-Americans.

However, today, we face the erosion of voting rights. In June 2013, in a 5-4 decision in “Shelby County v Holder”, the United States Supreme Court said that section 4b of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. This is the section that contains a formula that would trigger section 5, the pre-clearance section of the law. Since the Court deemed the formula outdated, there is nothing to trigger section 5. The logic was that since African-Americans were able to register and vote in sufficient numbers in Southern states and various other areas in the country that pre-clearance was no longer necessary. Congress could work on a new formula, but there is little expectation that a Republican controlled Congress will address the issue.

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The Circle of Care, the Circle of Trust, and Nonviolence

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

It is nonviolence only when we love those that hate us.Gandhi

Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday. I am happy to honor him today and every day by continuing to dedicate myself to a deep exploration of nonviolence.

I have written before about the idea of expanding what I called the Circle of Care, the collection of people in our lives that we care about. I suggested expanding it in two directions. One is to include ourselves as a way to overcome deeply ingrained habits that lead people to give up on their needs in relationships. Instead of caring only about the other person’s needs, expanding the circle of care leads to putting my own needs front and center while also caring for the other person. The other direction of expanding the circle of care is about including more and more people and groups within it.

Expanding circleMore recently, I was struck by the connection I saw between this notion and my continued investigations into the implications of nonviolence. It now appears to me that one way of understanding nonviolence is as having an infinite circle of care: there isn’t any person or group that is beyond the pale.

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Ten Things You Should Know About Selma Before You See the Film

Jan14

by: Emilye Crosby on January 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

In this 50th anniversary year of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the Voting Rights Act it helped inspire, national media will focus on the iconic images of “Bloody Sunday,” the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the interracial marchers, and President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act. This version of history, emphasizing a top-down narrative and isolated events, reinforces the master narrative that civil rights activists describe as “Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, and the white folks came south to save the day.”

But there is a “people’s history” of Selma that we all can learn from — one that is needed especially now. The exclusion of Blacks and other people of color from voting is still a live issue. Sheriff’s deputies may no longer be beating people to keep them from registering to vote, but in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that the Justice Department may no longer evaluate laws passed in the former Confederacy for racial bias. And as a new movement emerges, insisting that Black Lives Matter, young people can draw inspiration and wisdom from the courage, imagination, and accomplishments of activists who went before.

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I Just Don’t Know

Jan11

by: on January 11th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

The physicist Niels Bohr said it very well: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”It occurs to me that prediction is just a short sidestep from analysis. Saying what you think will happen has got to be grounded in some interpretation of whatever is happening now. Maybe Bohr should have said this too: Analysis is very difficult, especially about the present. The problem is, it takes a rare human to being to admit that he or she doesn’t know what may happen, and rarer still to admit to not knowing what it all means right now.

I’ve been sending myself a long chain of links from people who have something to say about the assassinations in New York, Paris, Yemen (if you haven’t seen it, here’s the roster of targeted assassinations), and the NAACP bombing in Colorado. Many commentators are certain in their attribution of causes, which drives me a little crazy whether or not we share a general worldview and values. My problem is the persistent category error that confuses correlations with causes.

It happens I’ve been listening to Think Like a Freak, the recent book by the Freakonomics duo, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. I love this stuff, not because I always agree with the authors, but because learning about the pitfalls of the human brain is one of the most empowering forms of study I have found. Especially in a time like this – when there is so much to mourn, so much to feel enraged about, and so much opportunity to feel small and powerless in relation to the changes needed – I take a good deal of comfort from understanding that inside my own skull, where I control the means of production, there are things I can do to improve my own perception, judgment, and therefore action.

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On the Survival of Our Human Species

Jan9

by: Fred E. Katz on January 9th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

hands on planet

Credit: Creative Commons / PublicDomainPictures

Website | Blog

The Spiritual Progressive agenda of creating a caring society presupposes that our human species will actually continue to exist. Yet, by our own actions, our human species is endangered. During the past century we managed to kill over 100 million of our fellow-human beings. We produced genocides and ever-more sophisticated forms of warfare, including nuclear weapons that may yet put an end to human life on this earth. We attempted to put a stop to social horrors by creating the League of Nations after the First World War and the United Nations after the Second World War. Those attempts did not stop the endangerment of our species. Neither did the efforts of the psychological and social sciences (my own background) produce a viable end to our social impotence.

From Henry Margenau, a highly respected theoretical physicist of the past century, we have the lesson that the most basic tools of science are Constructs. What are constructs? The Periodic Table is a construct in chemistry. Gravitation is a construct in physics. DNA is a construct in genetics. What do all of these have in common? Each takes something that exists in nature and adds the Mental Leap to make sense of it! The resulting constructs can become mainstays of a very real and practical science.

For the past decade I have operated from the conviction that we need better science about the Social Space in which we humans operate. Only then can we achieve better control over our actions and, with it, work toward a more secure and humane social existence. We can do so by developing, and seeing the power of four constructs: Links, Transcendence, Closed Moral Worlds, and The Second Path. I am going to give you a brief taste of each of these below.

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Mourning the Parisian “Humorists” Yet Challenging the Hypocrisy of Western Media

Jan9

by: on January 9th, 2015 | 6 Comments »

Tribute to victims killed in Charlie Hebdo shooting

A tribute at the Place de la République in Paris to victims killed during the attack at Charlie Hebdo. Credit: Aurelien Meunier/Getty

As the editor of a progressive Jewish and interfaith magazine that has often articulated views that have prompted condemnation from both Right and Left, I had good reason to be scared by the murders of fellow journalists in Paris. Having won the 2014 “Magazine of the Year” Award from the Religion Newswriters Association, and having been critical of Hamas’ attempts to bomb Israeli cities this past summer (even while being equally critical of Israel’s rampage against civilians in Gaza), I have good reason to worry if this prominence raises the chances of being a target for Islamic extremists.

But then again, I had to wonder about the way the massacre in Paris is being depicted and framed by the Western media as a horrendous threat to Western civilization, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I wondered about the over-heated nature of this description. It didn’t take me long to understand how problematic that framing really is.

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