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Passover, Parenting and Pardons

May2

by: Kathryn Frey-Balter on May 2nd, 2016 | 1 Comment »

This year, I have exhausted Passover’s eight days writing love letters to President Obama.  My letters all close with the same refrain:  “Let my clients GO!”   Is it a prophecy that Passover’s final day – April 30 – coincides with our clemency deadline?

In 2014 the Justice Department announced an Obama initiative to invite inmates with no significant criminal history, a record of good prison conduct, no history of violence before or during the term of incarceration, who have served over ten years on a federal sentence for a non-violent offense to apply for clemency.

Obama’s clemency project seeks to right the wrong.  Some days it feels more like he’s hiding than seeking.

The more the clemency love is withheld, the more singularly determined we become to part the Red Sea of the Pardon Committee.  It started innocently enough – laws in the 1990s aimed at ending the war on drugs.   The inevitable result however, was the mass incarceration of a generation of young people, mostly of color, and not too many degrees of separation from Egypt’s enslaved Jews.  True, Israelites hadn’t profited from kilo quantities of cocaine, but they also hadn’t been born into slavery: the slavery of being in utero addicted to crack, the slavery of poverty, the slavery of, well, a history of slavery and oppression. 

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Dissent and Dissension: Approaching Ultra-Orthodoxy

Apr29

by: Roslyn Bernstein on April 29th, 2016 | No Comments »

Sandra Kahn Wasserman
Jewish Studies Center, Baruch College
Spring 2016 Conference

 

Off the Derech

The program called for an all-day conference, culminating with a keynote address by author Nathan Englander, but my calendar said that I could just squeeze in a noon panel on “The Body and Selfhood: Gender, Identity and Ultra-Orthodoxy.” The panel was moderated by Lani Santo, the Executive Director of Footsteps, the only organization in North America that assists people who wish to leave the ultra-Orthodox community. The panel especially interested me because I had wrestled with that subject for more than two decades and had not come up with any conclusive answers.

My own daughter, now a mother with a with a family of seven, had become Haredi when she was barely twenty, settling in a Haredi community some twenty minutes south of Jerusalem. I had spent years pondering how she got there, moving from her former life as an artsy, Stuyvesant High School young woman who wore two different color socks to a woman who covered her hair with a tichel and wore skirts that scraped the floor.

I sat in the audience awaiting enlightenment. Maybe I could learn something from folks who had moved in the opposite direction.

Ayala Fader, a professor of cultural and linguistic anthropology at Fordham University and the author of Mitzvah Girls, spoke about her new research on Off the Derech (OTD) girls who have lost their faith. Social media, Fader admitted, was playing a significant new challenge in this crisis of emunah (faith). Fader acknowledged that men who have doubts have an easier time than women. Why? Because they have greater mobility and they are better connected. They drive cars and they have smart phones. They go to shul. Women, who lead double lives and are consumed with doubt, have a much harder time. Many fear losing their children.

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Prince

Apr23

by: on April 23rd, 2016 | No Comments »

There are not many singers whose songs captivate the imaginations of both me and my children. When we play Prince in the car, both my son and I sing along. The only time I saw Prince live in concert was with my daughter and her father. Prince broke down generational barriers with the power of his musical truth. His was a life and artistry of radical love.

Since the sudden, shocking, unexpected and as of this writing unexplained death of Prince Rogers Nelson– musical cultural icon, philanthropist, and sage– at the age of 57, much has been written about his genius that transcended easy, simplistic, and lazy categorization. He was a virtuoso performer on several instruments, among them key boards, drums, and guitar. He wrote music that became hits for himself and for other artists that was his own genre, a combination of R&B, funk, pop, rock, and jazz. His self-presentation was androgynous and beyond racial category.

Such a way of crafting and living one’s humanity requires both imagination and courage. Too, too many of us would not recognize our faces in the mirror without a group definition to tell us who we are and therefore who we are not. Our group identities tell us on whose side we are. It tells us who to love and who to fear. It gives us a false sense of self, either of inferiority or of superiority. We so often have to work against the definitions the world would impose upon us. These definitions very often constrict our humanity. Prince refused.

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​Politicians Invading Our Unconscious?

Apr18

by: James S. Gordon on April 18th, 2016 | No Comments »

The other night I dreamt about Donald Trump. I hadn’t planned to and hadn’t wanted to. I don’t know him personally and I’ve never before dreamt about a presidential candidate or a politician.

But there he was, large and urgent, washing his hands at a sink with ornate golden faucets in a very big marble bathroom in one of his residences. As I waited to use the sink myself, I could hear the noise of a party.

Mr. Trump is, of course, becoming a central figure in the daily drama of our national life. He’s there whenever we open the paper or turn on the news. And virtually every day, he is being described, discussed, and analyzed in the op-ed columns. He’s an uninvited presence at dinner table conversations and on phone calls from friends everywhere on the planet.

A few days before my dream, I’d received an email from a philanthropist who was congratulating me on The Center for Mind-Body’s work with population-wide psychological trauma. Just before he signed off, the philanthropist observed that if the Republican primaries were any indication, our work with psychological trauma might become even more necessary.

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Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Manufactured Illiteracy

Apr18

by: Henry A. Giroux on April 18th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

The dark times that haunt the current age are epitomized in the monsters that have come to rule the United States and who now dominate the major political parties and other commanding political and economic institutions. Their nightmarish reign of misery, violence, and disposability is also evident in their dominance of a formative culture and its attendant cultural apparatuses that produce a vast machinery of manufactured consent. This is a social formation that extends from the mainstream broadcast media and Internet to a print culture, all of which embrace the spectacle of violence, legitimate opinions over facts, and revel in a celebrity and consumer culture of ignorance and theatrics. Under the reign of this normalized ideological architecture of alleged commonsense, literacy is now regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data, and science is confused with pseudo-science.

Thinking is now regarded as an act of stupidity, and ignorance a virtue. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. For instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and most of the Republican Party in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity, making the U.S. the laughing stock of the world.  Politicians endlessly lie knowing that the public is addicted to extreme violence and shocks, which allow them to drown in overstimulation and live in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. News has become entertainment and echoes reality rather than interrogating it. Unsurprisingly, education in the larger culture has become a disimagination machine, a tool for legitimating ignorance, and it is central to the formation of an authoritarian politics that has gutted any vestige of democracy from the ideology, policies, and institutions that now control American society.

I am not talking simply about the kind of anti-intellectualism that theorists such a Richard Hofstadter, Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky, and more recently Susan Jacoby have documented, however insightful their analyses might be.  I am pointing to a more lethal form of illiteracy that is often ignored.  Illiteracy is now a scourge and a political tool designed primarily to make war on language, meaning, thinking, and the capacity for critical thought. Chris Hedges is right in stating that “the emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture.”[1] Words such as love, trust, freedom, responsibility, and choice have been deformed by a market logic that narrows their meaning to either a relationship to a commodity or a reductive notion of self-interest. We don’t love each other, we love our new car. Freedom now means removing one’s self from any sense of social responsibility so one can retreat into privatized orbits of self-indulgence. And so it goes.  The new form of illiteracy does not simply constitute an absence of learning, ideas, or knowledge. Nor can it be solely attributed to what has been called the “smartphone society.”[2] On the contrary, it is a willful practice and goal used to actively depoliticize people and make them complicit with the forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.

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Liberals Are the Future of America

Apr18

by: James A. Haught on April 18th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

In the chaotic presidential campaign, the remarkable popularity of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders spotlights a large, not-always-recognized vein of liberal political sympathy in America.

Suddenly, the L-word is popular again — not an embarrassment to be avoided. That’s great, I think, because progressives have been the driving force behind most social improvements in western civilization.

Look at the historical record:  In the three centuries since The Enlightenment, democracy, human rights, personal liberties and family wellbeing have blossomed.  Life gradually became more decent and humane.  Virtually all the advances were won by reform-minded liberals who defeated conservatives defending former hierarchies, privileges and inequalities. 

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Tikkun’s Passover Liberation Seder Haggadah Supplement

Apr15

by: on April 15th, 2016 | No Comments »

"The Seder Table" by Lynne Feldman (lynnefeldman.com)

We are proud to present to you Tikkun magazine’s Passover Liberation Seder Haggadah Supplement, which you will find at the top of our home page tikkun.org or by going to tikkun.org/nextgen/passover2016.

Feel free to download and print it out and/or to use any part of it in your Passover Seder or any other liberation-oriented celebration. It’s not just for Jews, as you’ll see if you read through it. Share it with your friends, place it on your website and send it out on Facebook or other social media!! You don’t have to believe in God or be Jewish to get a lot out of just reading this supplement to the traditional Passover Haggadah. And let me know after you’ve used it what parts worked for you or your family or your friends and what parts didn’t so we can modify it for future use.

And have a joyous holiday celebration! Many blessings to our many friends and readers!
–Rabbi Michael Lerner (RabbiLerner.Tikkun@gmail.com)

Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

Apr11

by: on April 11th, 2016 | 10 Comments »

If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.

But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”

Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?

I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.

As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).

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​Ideas for Going Forward by Some Progressive Activists

Apr6

by: Michael Albert on April 6th, 2016 | No Comments »

Around the world powerful and diverse possibilities are in struggle. We the signers of “Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward” think one high priority for progress is activists developing, discussing, and settling on priorities around which to organize multi issue activism in coming months and years. We hope this document can help inspire more conversations within groups and movements that, over time, come to a synthesis. We do this in the spirit of self organization – and as a rejection of preformed inflexible programs and agendas imposed on activists from above. We believe only program that is fully understood and owned by grassroots participants can win lasting change.

To try to help, we have assembled some familiar programmatic ideas rooted in diverse movements and projects. We signers do not each individually necessarily support every single programmatic suggestion given here. Indeed, perhaps none of us supports every single suggestion much less all the specific wording. Instead, we all support having a widespread discussion of these worthy ideas and of other ideas that emerge from the process, to arrive at widely supported program for left activists.
Some Possible Economic Programmatic Ideas

A left agenda might, for example, pursue four central economic goals – better quality of daily economic experience, more fairness, better production priorities, and increased mutual compassion.

For example, new economic program might seek: (1) a law forbidding capital export and relocation without community and worker agreement, and (2) a law delineating punishments for employers who impede nationally mandated economic reforms. Likewise, it could seek controls on work day and work week length – for example seeking 30 hours of work for 40 hours pay. It might demand that the maximum penalty for owners violating the spirit and intent of such laws would be nationalization of their businesses under the management of currently employed workers.

Similarly, new economic program might propose: (1) reducing inequality, (2) reorienting productive potentials to meet social needs, and (3) enlarging economic democracy.

For example, new economic program might propose sharply progressive property, asset, and income taxes, with no loopholes, as well as a dramatically-increased minimum wage, say $20 an hour, and perhaps a guaranteed income for all, coupled with a new profit tax that would be proportional to inequities in each firm’s pay scale. The more oppressive the pay scale, the higher the profit tax.

Due to a new minimum wage law, minimum pay would rise dramatically. Due to a new pay equity tax, industries with a more equitable pay scale would have more after-tax resources. Not only could more equitably structured firms use these extra funds to further improve work conditions and increase their social contribution, they could generally out-compete less socially responsible firms. New property and asset taxes would dramatically diminish differences in wealth.

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Fiddler on My Mind

Apr5

by: Roslyn Bernstein on April 5th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Theatre Marquis. Photo: Shael Shapiro

Fiddler on the Roof has been on my mind these days, the plaintive strains of the violinist leading me uptown to the New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY), then midtown to experience the current revival of the musical on Broadway starring Danny Burstein, and finally back to the MCNY on March 28th to hear a lively panel on Reimagining Fiddler.

The lights dimmed and the actors who play Tevye’s rebellious daughters, Chava, Tzeitel and Hudel, appeared on stage, belting out Matchmaker, as the warm-up act for a panel moderated by the exhibit’s guest curator, Edna Nahshon, a Professor of Jewish Theater and Drama at The Jewish Theological Seminary. The lyrics were perfect, Sheldon Harnick at his best, with clever rhymes—”I’ll bring the veil, you bring the groom, slender and pale”—and puns at the end. The audience smiled when the sisters delivered the line: “Playing with matches a girl can get hurt.”

My memory flashed back to 1965 when I saw the original musical, one year after it opened in 1964, with Zero Mostel commanding the stage. Fiddler broke records and ran for over 3,000 performances.

The big question of the evening: Why was Fiddler such a sensation?

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