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Games of Thrones and #NoConfederate

Aug6

by: on August 6th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

First, I must confess that I am a Game of Thrones fan. To be more precise, I am a Tyrion Lannister fan as interpreted by Peter Dinklage. I continued to watch Game of Thrones after the first episode primarily because I was fascinated by Tyrion. I love his wit and his joy of life. As the series progressed, I started to love his cunning, his morality, and his willingness to walk away from everything and to return again when he thought he could serve a leader who would be good for the people of the Seven Kingdoms.

I was and remain at once enthralled and deeply dismayed by the imagination of George R.R. Martin in the books and by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in the television series. They have conjured an entire world complete with history and religion and food. They have imaged flying dragons and a human queen who can withstand fire. They have given us a human being, the Three-eyed Raven, who can see everything past, present, and future. I enjoy the library at the Citadel, the warrior women and the dangerous queens. Games of Thrones earned an everlasting place in my heart for bringing back the great Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell. The Game of Thrones imagination imagines an army of the dead that is the ultimate enemy of the living, and the saying of the House Stark is correct: “Winter is coming.”

My disappointment comes with the rapes of women and the torture porn. It especially comes when I look at the world these wonderful imaginings have given us, and I see a world where African or Asian people hardly exist. We have seen a few minor black characters, but it seems beyond their imagining that there could be high born black people who would have something to say about who will sit on the Iron Throne. Perhaps this would be a good starting point for a sequel as Game of Thrones, the television show, comes to an end.

Rather than thinking with delicious anticipation about what a sequel to the series could be, we are instead faced with an HBO announcement that Benioff and Weiss will produce a show called Confederate. The premise of the show will be what would the world be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War and slavery existed to this day?

What? Who thought this was a good idea? (See: https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/535512/)

Here is where I reach the limits of my own imagination. I cannot image how anyone would think that what the world needs now is a fantasy about the enslavement of African American people continuing to the present day. How can anyone think that such fiction is appropriate when the truth of the aftermath of the Civil War is hardly known?

Let us consider the true history. After the Civil War, federal troops were stationed in the South to oversee Reconstruction. A Freedman’s Bureau was established to help the formerly enslaved to build new lives. We NEVER got our forty acres or our mule. We NEVER got reparations for hundreds of years of stolen work, but that is another essay. African Americans insisted on education, so people, black and white, can thank African Americans for the existence of public education in the South. African Americans served with honor and dignity in state legislatures and in the United States Congress. Do not believe the racist propaganda of the movies that depict freed men and women as pawns in the hands of corrupt carpetbaggers from the North.

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First Dispatch from the Jerusalem Film Festival

Jul17

by: Olga Gershenson on July 17th, 2017 | No Comments »

We at Tikkun have the good fortune to have U Mass Amherst professor of Film Studies and Jewish Studies Olga Gershenson reporting for us on the Jerusalem Film Festival. These are short snippets that give our readers some feel for what is being presented in Israel at the moment. We hope to have a longer analytic piece from her about the Jerusalem Film Festival in the Winter or Spring 2018 issue of the print magazine (which, as you probably know, is quite different from what we print on Tikkun Daily (which is not edited) or on our website wwww.tikkun.org (where the articles tend to be more focused on immediate realities, since the print magazine has a large gap from the time we get the articles edited till the time it is printed by Duke U Press, and hence has more articles about subjects that will still be relevant a half year later). Below is the first such report from Professor Gershenson:​

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Words, Harm, Blame, and Splintering

Jul10

by: Wade Hudson on July 10th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

[Jesus] recognized with authentic realism that anyone who permits another to determine the quality of his inner life gives into the hands of the other the key to his destiny. If a man knows precisely what he can do to you or what epithet he can hurl against you in order to make you lose your temper, your equilibrium, then he can always keep you under subjection.

Jesus and the Disinherited, Howard Thurman

Cruel words can trigger hurt feelings and anger. Individuals who speak those words need to be held accountable and we need to reduce their frequency. But a compassionate response avoids blaming only the speaker. Listeners share responsibility for their reactions, and social conditioning and other factors contribute as well.

The Dalai Lama said:

You have to think: Why did this happen? This person is not your enemy from birth…. You see that this person’s actions are due to their own destructive emotions. You can develop a sense of concern, compassion, even feel sorry for their pain and suffering.

Words do not directly cause harm like a hammer causes pain when it hits my thumb. Cause and effect is a linear dynamic; emotions are immersed in a holistic system. Words contribute to hurt feelings, but how I process what others say is another factor. I am partly responsible for how I respond. I can learn how to react differently.

So I no longer tell people, “You hurt me.” That phrase shifts all responsibility onto the speaker.

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American Jews Stand Up for Their Own Rights in Israel, but NOT for Palestinian Rights

Jul6

by: on July 6th, 2017 | 6 Comments »

The chair of the Union for Reform Judaism, Daryl Messinger, announced this past week that she will boycott El Al, Israel’s national airline. Like other Reform leaders, Messinger is protesting the Israeli government’s decisions to suspend the creation an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall and expand the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions. (1)

At the same time, the president of the Chicago Jewish Federation, Steven Nasatir, declared that Israeli lawmakers who voted for the Conversion Bill would not be welcome in Chicago. (2) And AIPAC board member Isaac Fisher will suspend his donations to Israel in protest of these recent Israeli government decisions. (3)

Under Hillel International’s Standards of Partnership, all three of these individuals would be barred from Hillel.

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A Declaration of Resistance

Jul4

by: on July 4th, 2017 | 6 Comments »

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for citizens to resist the immorality and unjust policies of their elected officials and to assume the responsibility of citizens to insist upon a course in keeping with the spirit and the letter of their founding documents, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the resistance.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all human beings are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. These Rights include those outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international declarations of rights that belong to human beings not by virtue of citizenship but rather by virtue of their humanity. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among human beings, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–that whenever elected or appointed officials become obstructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to resist and to work to elect new people who will provide policies leading to Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that elected officials ought not to face resistance for light or transient causes, and accordingly all experience has shown that human beings are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by consistent resistance. But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to resist and vote into office different leaders who will Guard their future security in the most expansive sense.

The history of Donald Trump is a history of repeated injuries and lies all having in direct object the weakening of our government and his own advancement at any cost. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He built his political career upon a malignant foundation of a pernicious lie, namely, that President Obama was not born in the United States of America. He lied to the public for years, saying that he had paid investigators to prove that President Obama was not born in the United States. We have neither seen nor heard from any of these investigators.

He ran a fraudulent “university” and conned people out of their hard-earned money.

He is a man who has disrespected women both before, during and after the presidential campaign. He bragged about sexually assaulting women, and when women came forward to say that he had indeed made unwanted physical contact with them, he insulted them personally and threatened law suits. He has called women names, body shaming them, and seems to have an unhealthy obsession with women and blood.

He started his presidential campaign insulting our fellow Mexican American citizens. Throughout the campaign, he has given us a divisive and mendacious discourse. He has debased the public conversation both as a candidate and as president by giving his opponents demeaning names and making fun of them. He called for violence against protestors at his rallies, even at one point offering to pay the legal bills of anyone who was charged with violence against protestors.

He has tried to bully and demean members of the media. Protection of the freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment of the United States Constitution. While the Constitution prohibits Congress from making a law that would abridge the freedom of the press, the spirit of the Constitution requires a person who takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution to show respect for members of the media. The media are not the enemy of the people as he has suggested, the media are the people.

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A Poem for this Holiday

Jul3

by: Philip Wolfson on July 3rd, 2017 | 3 Comments »

Happy Interdependence Day!

–Phil Wolfson

 

Karma is a useful concept – really:

Causation with indeterminate effects and consequences

That can be linked back

And forward to

the running ball of new causes produced

That explodes like the pellets of a shotgun

Moving into space

Yet always attaching to the

Befallen

And the what is to be

And the to me to be.

There really is not much control.

Take the myriad pieces that lead to Trump

The characters who play and played

Their own agendas and egos

The plow of profit

And the masters of profiting

The failure of true community

To overcome divisiveness and hate -

Still the great minority position:

Love is the answer for all

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The Four-Letter Word

Jun23

by: Uri Avnery on June 23rd, 2017 | 2 Comments »

When a Briton or American speaks about a “four-letter word”, he means a vulgar sexual term, a word not to be mentioned in polite society.

In Israel we also have such a word, a word of four letters. A word not to mention.

This word is “Shalom”, peace.

(In Hebrew, “sh” is one letter, and the “a” is not written.)

For years now this word has disappeared from intercourse (except as a greeting). Every politician knows that it is deadly. Every citizen knows that it is unmentionable.

There are many words to replace it. “Political agreement”. “Separation”. “We are here and they are there”. “Regional arrangement”. To name a few.

And here comes Donald Trump and brings the word up again. Trump, a complete ignoramus, does not know that in this country it is taboo.

He wants to make peace here. SH-A-L-O-M. So he says. True, there is not the slightest chance that he really will make peace. But he has brought the word back into the language. Now people speak again about peace. Shalom.

PEACE? WHAT is peace?

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Juneteenth 2017

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

June 19, Juneteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Major General Gordon Granger and United States troops landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and many slaves had heard the news then and had walked away from slavery. Many of them, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather among them, walked away from slavery and joined the Union army.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolishes slavery having already passed the Senate in 1864, passed the House of Representative on January 31, 1865. It was well on the way to confirmation by the time Maj. Gen Granger reached Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated from that day to this as a moment to pause and to remember the meaning of freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to education and to self-improvement.

However, on this Juneteenth, I think it is important to think about the character of freedom. The Juneteenth story is a tale of human beings remaining in bondage because they did not have the information that they were legally free. Masters kept that news from their slaves. Further, even after the enslaved human beings learned the news, military force was necessary to allow the reality of their freedom. This was also the case during Reconstruction, and at the end of Reconstruction, when federal troops left the South in great numbers, a kind of neo-slavery in the form of share cropping  and legal apartheid became common.

Freedom is a determination. It is not only physical, but it is a spiritual effort as well. It is a spiritual acceptance. Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus a prophet of Islam, Jesus the moral philosopher taught that those who follow his teachings would be free: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The Apostle Paul writes: “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (3:17) When we become aware of the existence of Divine Love in our lives that is not only beyond us but that also dwells within us, we are free.

Such an awareness gave enslaved persons the courage to walk away from slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth or the 13th Amendment. They recognized that the Creator of All loved them and wanted them to be free. However, freedom is not free. Free people have an obligation to work for the liberation and for the dignity of all of humanity because the image of God lives in humanity. A divine life force lives in all of nature and creation.

On this Juneteenth the United States is still in bondage to gun violence. We have reached a point in the nation where mass shooting happen so often that they barely rate discussion. On Wednesday, June 14, a lone gunman opened fire upon Republican lawmakers, some of their staff members, and members of a congressional security detail. It seems that the gunman targeted this group because they were Republicans. As of this writing, no one has died from that shooting.

On that same day, there was a mass shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco where an employee killed three of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Since that day, there has been precious little discussion about the horror of mass shootings, about the easy availability of guns, about the incredible number of mass shooting that happen in the United States. The discussion has been all about political discourse, how our political rhetoric is too heated and too divisive. Some of us have been making that case for years, especially since congress member Gabby Giffords was shot in January of 2011.

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Haitian Mourning Rituals and Just Don’t Wear Red!

Jun16

by: on June 16th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Upon hearing news of the death of an older cousin, I immediately recalled times spent in the lakou (yard) of his late grandmother, whom everyone knew as Aunt Boots – the family matriarch and piercer. I call her that since she had done all our ears at the most tender age to assure the making of girls in Haiti. I remember running around freely with the scent of roasting coffee beans swarming us. She had a coffee and peanut butter business. On Saturday afternoons, grownups sat on wicker ladder-backed chairs, catching up on the latest news, and family matters. This was a refuge where we, as children, were allowed to be children who played while being repeatedly told to stay clear of the huge cauldron that fumigated the entire neighborhood.

I had not spoken to this cousin in ages, yet felt the need to attend the funeral — shameful that I have been something of a delinquent family member because the last time I saw him eons ago was at another cousin’s wedding. Nearly a decade ago, his brother had made the trek to Boston from Montreal without fanfare to attend my maternal grandmother’s funeral. He came he said, “because you show up for family.” The diaspora may have spread us all over the Americas and the rest of the world, but that did not mean abandonment when it matters.

"Cendre" Painting and photo: Gina Athena Ulysse

Putting aside all my other responsibilities, I suddenly grew melancholic, focused on a sense of duty – a commitment to not only properly show up, but be fully present. I made the call to offer my condolences. His brother quickly pacified my obvious deep sense of regret. He was happy to hear my voice despite the occasion. It was a peaceful death, he told me. In the week that followed, I became hyperaware of some Haitian mourning rituals. Conversations with my mother were about who’s who in our large family tree as well as periods of mourning, cultural codes concerning dress and proper behavior at funerals. I found myself making tons of phone calls for plans for an extended family road trip. Who could take off work? Who would drive with whom? What kind of car should be rented? Of course, there would be a kotizasyon, give whatever you can. It’s not about the amount. C’est le geste qui prime. Indeed, it is the gesture that counts.

My first memory of anything related to mourning in the family ironically has to do with the food served at receptions held after wakes and funerals. I seem to only remember that we were served finger sandwiches or patés flaky savory pastries. The adults drank té jenjanm (ginger tea) or coffee, always black, with or without sugar. There was also Cola Champagne, Tranpé (moonshine with bitter herbs, usually cerasee), Prestige–our national beer, and Rhum Barbancourt. The young ones were guaranteed hot chocolate. Sometimes, our infamous pumpkin soup made its culinary appearance.

What color am I supposed to wear? I was uncharacteristically concerned with being respectable. Rebel me sought motherly advice. She had been shopping for stockings and trying to find the right outfit. “Well, it depends,” as she began a litany of mourning dress codes in Haiti, “If you are immediate family, you wear black. Young children can wear white, or black and white, or even grey. You could wear purple, if you want, or a print. Nothing too bold. Cover your shoulders. These days, these things don’t matter as much because people wear anything to funerals. Just don’t wear red!” I had a conversation with her godchild, the deceased’s brother who underscored this point, “absolutely no one should wear red unless you are the killer or assassin of the dead person”. In deeper mourning than I knew, I opted for black.

During the wake, as his pictures flashed across the screens, the weight of the loss was evident in the faces of his wife and children. Incessant tears welled up and streamed down already stained cheeks. Pictures of him with school buddies growing up in Haiti. Mother reminded me that his nickname was Little Lion, a play on his name Lyonel. Wedding pictures. More talk of the aunt who could not attend but had played matchmaker. Pictures of him holding his newborns, with friends, coaching a youth soccer team, at his job. He was always smiling and loved to laugh. As he peacefully rested in a casket, his youngest brother demanded if anyone knew whether Death was male or female. With his usual bravado, he dared anyone to answer. What would he do if there was ever an encounter? “Death keeps taking too many of your own,” he lamented. How would he express his anger? His brutal honesty and fierceness demanded our attention in different ways. In so many instances, I found myself choking up on tears. There was an abundance of love.

At the service, his pastor offered a beautiful sermon. A dear friend recited a fitting eulogy while his children and nieces paid him greater homage. Everything had been delayed by weeks. His family generously waited because people would be traveling from afar to pay their respects. Amidst this despair that resonated, some of us were reconnecting in new ways. It took this moment for us to gather again. There was also laughter among the tears as memories of siblings, cousins, came through to reveal the ties that bind immigrant communities despite the thousands of miles that separated us. To be sure, we are far from a monolith. These days, the diasporic lakou has been redefined composed of an even wider range of family structures, incomes, livelihoods, and tastes. We represent and inhabit different social worlds and religious practices. Now, there were new generations born on this side of the water who had never been to our beloved Haiti. Family stories became quilted tales that could only be woven together from different bits by those who had been there back in the day. We all know only too well that memories fade.

The last day, in a private chat with his eldest brother, I realized why I have been flooded with such sorrow. “Gina,” he said, “don’t you remember when we used to come to visit you and your sisters before we migrated? We use to bring you candy and cookies and we would hide them in our pockets, we made you run around looking, but you knew they were there.” I went to the funeral, not out of obligation, but the purest form of gratitude because my departed cousin was part of my most salient recollections of happiness in an elusive childhood.

Back on U.S. soil, in these times when we are too cavalier about the dead, his younger brother offered these last words, “in our culture when a death occurs, it becomes everybody’s business.”

On “Crossin’ Over”

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | Comments Off

I am blackwoman in America.

And, I love being a blackwoman in America. I agree with Zora Neale Hurston when she says:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

I know why I love every drop of my DNA, the African and the European. I love myself because I honor the story of my ancestors. I know what they endured to survive with their humanity in tact so that I could exist.
This past Sunday, I was reminded of this when I attended a sold-out performance of “Crossin’ Over: A Musical with a Measure of Silent Rebellion” mounted by The Black Rep in St. Louis, Missouri. [Full disclosure: My son is a brilliant actor and a skilled carpenter with the Black Rep] This production, crafted by Ron Himes and Charles Creath and directed by Himes, is billed as a musical, but it is not exactly that. There is no libretto, no dialogue that tells a story and provides the occasion for songs and dances. While it is all music, it is not opera. The music is a program of songs, but it is not a choir concert.

With all the dramatic elements of a good play, a tight ensemble cast of four men and four women and African drummers take us through the African American experience from pre-slavery Africa through the hell of the Maafa which includes the horrors of the trans-Atlantic middle passage and slavery. After slavery, we experience the blues and early gospel and then travel through the civil rights and black power movements up to the present day gospel that shouts praises in a way that takes us beyond the pain of the human condition in general and beyond all this pain plus the stress of living in a still racist United States of America. For those of us reared in the black church tradition, many of these songs are familiar and beloved. For me, this is especially true of the Dr. Watts, a kind of a cappella singing, that is as beautiful to my ears as Gregorian chants. It was thrilling and amazing to hear the house sing along with this call and response tradition.

In her poem, “What Do We Tell Our Children Who Are Black?” Dr. Margaret Burroughs reminds us that it is our responsibility to tell our children the truth of our history. Our children need to know the truth of global black history so that they will be “confident in the knowledge of his(her) worth.” According to Burroughs our history gives us strength. It gives our children the strength to survive. She writes:

“And survive he(she) must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for. . . cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he(she) must survive for the good of all humanity.

It is in this truth that “Crossin’ Over” returns theater to its origins in ritual and homage to the gods, creating sacred space in the Emerson Performance Center at Harris-Stowe State University. In the beginning of theater humankind wore masks to allow the gods to speak to humans through humans. Later, individuals would perform the various parts of a ritual in a theater like setting before audiences to allow humans to speak back to the gods and to each other. In this event, the lines between the sacred and the secular, between the human and the divine, become porous and we are able to cross over. This is its own transcendence. It is a deeply spiritual moment.

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