This new year, we enter Yom Kippur amidst a period of great divisiveness about a large number of social issues. The lines polarizing the greater community seem more severely drawn, and clear expressions of what in the past would have been immediately labeled as hate speech have become a commonplace even within the presidential election process. Perhaps, this year, contemplating these matters is a necessary theme for the high holy day period.
In antiquity, and preserved within our textual rites, the central moment of the Yom Kippur experience was the set of sacrifices that the High Priest brought at the Temple in Jerusalem, as an act of healing for the people, its leadership, and its priesthood. Noteworthy about the rite on Yom Kippur as opposed to the sacrificial rite of the rest of the year was that the High Priest performed this rite in simple white clothing rather than the usual gold embroidered uniform (the bigdei lavan vs the bigdei zahav). Many reasons have been given for this, but one resonated with me for this year.
The Kedushat Levi explains that on Yom Kippur, the ritual is performed in white symbolizing white light, white light being made up of the full spectrum of colors, as is seen when white light is refracted through a prism. He explains that on Yom Kippur, all the different forms of spiritual efflux come together into a unified whole, rising above their usual differentiation in the material worlds.
Yom Kippur is marked by the practice of withdrawal, for a full day, from eating, drinking, sexual intimacy, high end (leather) shoes, and tending to appearances (washing). As we have written, this is not meant as punishment, but as a practice of reaching beyond. Our deeper selves are given a chance to reach beyond our limited mundane desires and primitive unmediated appetites.
This year, perhaps more than in years past, as we contemplate the spiritual process of Yom Kippur as ritually signified by white rainment, white clothing, the special white Torah ark covers used for these days, we should meditate upon the true nature of white light, a light made up of all the possible colors of the spectrum. All the colors of the spectrum, as a praxis, means we need to overcome all obstructions that hinder our vision from attaining the highest light, recognize the unity of all mankind, consciously transcend all the seeming limitations of politics, nationalisms, race, faith, and gender that keep us apart. Let us in our Yom Kippur experience learn to transcend hate.
In the past week, Republican presidential candidates have turned hatred for Muslims into a principle campaign platform. Donald Trump gave sanction to a questioner calling for the United States to “get rid of” all Muslims, and Ben Carson said Muslims are inherently unfit to lead this nation, a notion with which 40 percent of Americans agree.
That these two figures are leading in the polls – and that a call to get rid of all Muslims is actually reverberating in America – reveals just how normative Islamophobia has become within large swaths of our society.
As a Jew whose surviving family sought shelter in America after the Holocaust, I shudder at the hatred being directed today at Muslim Americans. Last night around the dinner table, we all shuddered at this question:
Can you imagine if they were talking about Jews?
Dear Dr. Carson,
I write to express my disappointment at best for your statements on the NBC Sunday broadcast of “Meet the Press” on September 20, 2015. Host Chuck Todd raised the controversy surrounding Donald Trump’s failure to correct an audience member in a town hall meeting in New Hampshire last week who asserted that President Obama is a Muslim, and then he advocated for the forceful deportation of Muslims from the U.S. Todd then asked you about your take on the controversy, to which you replied that a Muslim should not become president of our country: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”
As a highly educated person, as a candidate for the presidency, and as someone who has co-authored, along with your wife Candy, a book titled A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties, you should have a more enlightened understanding of our nation’s foundational document.
In the book you write generally about the “basic principles” of the Constitution and how “they relate to our everyday lives.” You go on to state: “I believe that making a difference starts with understanding our amazing founding document, the U.S. Constitution.” You assert that both you and Candy wrote the book to “help defend” the Constitution “from those who misinterpret and undermine it.”
by: Robert Cogan on September 18th, 2015 | 3 Comments »
Robert Heinlein, a Libertarian Science fiction writer, popularized the phrase “TANSTAAFL.” He was expressing colloquially, by the words “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” a principle popularized in economics by Milton Friedman. The principle, somewhat oversimplified, is that whenever there is an exclusive choice whichever alternative is taken has an opportunity cost associated, the opportunity to choose another alternative. Reality is often a little less simple. There is no free lunch but there are many relatively governmentally highly subsidized lunches and many much lower or totally unsubsidized ones. That is the case with seeking to reduce harm from the presence in America of between its’ possibly 270 – 300 million firearms. A gun redemption program can only be successful under the motto “Go Big, or Go Home.”
The dialog over harm reduction from firearms is stagnant. The Liberal side says: “Guns facilitate crime! Pass Ban Laws!” and the Conservative one says: “Guns don’t commit crimes! Just enforce the laws that already exist!” The criminal use of guns not in proper custody leads to enormous medical and legal costs (recently estimated at $233 billion per year.) These costs are borne not just by the victim but also by non-firearms using taxpayers for medical and legal expenses including long incarceration. Neither side is willing to ask the questions “How, practically, can further harm reduction occur?” “What will further harm reduction cost?” and “Who will pay what amounts for it?” These debate positions amount to each side asking for a free lunch from the other. Enforcement would cost a lot either way. It is little noticed that to maintain this oversupply and too – great ease of access, further harm reduction requires much greater expense in detection and treatment of mental illness, control rather than freedom of persons, including surveillance and sometimes prolonged custodianship of the ill, as well as in hardening sites where potential masses of victims can be found (court houses, malls, theatres, schools.) Furthermore, it was recently revealed in a study that in addition to insane persons there are also a large number of persons who have access to firearms and admit to being quick to anger and impulsive and carry guns outside the home (1.5%, as many as 3.6 million people). Many of these persons may not have committable mental illnesses. Such would be the costs, unless there is a less costly, voluntary, market – based way of getting excess guns out of circulation.
Thank you so very much for your help in making it possible for the the major powers of the world, the U.N. and most of the people of the world to confirm the deal with Iran which will prevent them from developing nuclear weapons for the next ten to fifteen years.
Your support for the Tikkun position, (a position we articulated in full page ads we bought in the NY Times, the Hill magazine read by most Congressional people and staffers), plus your willingness to share your reasons for supporting the nuclear deal, eventually became part of a powerful surge of voices that created the context critical to the ability of Democratic Senators to feel that they could reject the pressure from the right-wing of the Jewish world, represented by AIPAC, The Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress, and many local Jewish Federations and synagogues and instead embrace a deal which, while flawed in some ways, was far better than any achievable alternative. (See, sometimes us little guys can make a difference if we pool our energies and resources.)
It was sad for us to see the Reform movement in Judaism unable to take a stand on this issue–the movement that had once proudly proclaimed itself a voice for tikkun olam, but we can have compassion for the leadership that feared it might lose some of its support in being in favor of a deal that raised fears among many Jews who had been influenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s manipulation of PTSD flashbacks from the Holocaust. Yet this is the same reason why so many Jewish leaders and rabbis fail to take courageous stands countering Israel’s horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people, behavior in sharp violation of the Torah’s commands “Do Not Oppress the Stranger/the Other.” The excuse of fear of breaking your organization apart or losing some of their supporters starts to wear thin, don’t you think, as we approach the 50th year of Occupation (in 2017)? It would be great if American Jews could push for an end to the Occupation (not just for less abuses inside the Occupation) with a focus on demanding that it be ended by 2017. And, as in the campaign for the nuclear treaty, such a campaign would necessarily require powerful involvement of non-Jews and the next President of the U.S. so check to see if your candidate, whoever that might be, would join such a campaign (the terms of a peace treaty to end the Occupation are spelled out in detail in my book Embracing israel/Palestine which you can get on Kindle from Amazon.com or in print from www.tikkun.org/eip).
Editor’s note: The two perspectives articulated by Uri Avnery and Rabbi Arthur Waskow below deserve to be well known and discussed. We at Tikkun have a slightly different approach: we believe that the hate-filled and barbarous approach of ISIS will continue to manifest in a world that is fundamentally unjust, creates huge amounts of suffering in daily life for at least 2 of the 7 billion people on the planet, and privileges military power over kindness in its expenditures of money and in the organization of nation states. We have long argued that what we need is to convince the Western powers to privilege generosity over domination, and to launch as a first step in this process a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all eliminate global poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and health care, repair the global environment, resettle refugees, and eliminate the unjust global trade arrangements (read our proposed version at www.tikkun.org/gmp). Yet Uri Avnery and Arthur Waskow, both strong allies of Tikkun, have proposals which differ from our approach and from each other, though because they fit into the “realistic” dialogue of power politics both might be achieved sooner than our plan, though Arthur’s seems much closer to us precisely because it does not envision the direct use of force but only the power of the US to implement it. In my view, it is more likely to get the US population behind a fundamental change in worldview called for by the Strategy of Generosity than to get a piecemeal acceptance of Iran as an ally in the Middle East reconciled to Israel, unless we were simultaneously challenging the notion that their security depends on power over enemies (the Strategy of Domination). But these are the kinds of debates that ought to be taking place in national elections in 2016, so you decide if any of the candidates are even approaching this level of discourse on foreign policy—and if not, what you could do to get them to address this kind of discussion. Rabbi Waskow and Uri Avnery present important ideas for your consideration. –Rabbi Michael Lerner email@example.com
September 12, 2015
The Real Menace
I AM AFRAID.
I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid.
by: Henry A. Giroux on September 17th, 2015 | No Comments »
Editor’s note: As a non-profit, Tikkun does not take stances on candidates or political parties during election periods, but our authors and readers are welcome to do so! Henry Giroux is one of the most creative theorists on the Left these days, so it is an honor to publish him here.
Donald Trump and the Ghost of Totalitarianism
Henry A. Giroux
In the current historical moment in the United States, the emptying out of language is nourished by the assault on the civic imagination. One example of this can be found in the rise of Donald Trump on the political scene. Donald Trump’s popular appeal speaks to not just the boldness of what he says and the shock it provokes, but the inability to respond to shock with informed judgement rather than titillation. Marie Luise Knott is right in noting that “We live our lives with the help of the concepts we form of the world. They enable an author to make the transition from shock to observation to finally creating space for action – for writing and speaking. Just as laws guarantee a public space for political action, conceptual thought ensures the existence of the four walls within which judgment operates.”[i] The concepts that now guide our understanding of American society are dominated by a corporate induced linguistic and authoritarian model that brings ruin to language, politics and democracy itself.
Missing from the commentaries by most of the mainstream media regarding the current rise of Trumpism is any historical context that would offer a critical account of the ideological and political disorder plaguing American society – personified by Trump’s popularity. A resurrection of historical memory in this moment could provide important lessons regarding the present crisis, particularly the long tradition of racism, white supremacy, exceptionalism, war mongering, and the extended wars on youth, women, and immigrants. Calling Trump a fascist is not enough. What is necessary are analyses in which the seeds of totalitarianism are made visible in Trump’s discourse and policy measures. One example can be found in Steve Weissman’s commentary on Trump in which he draws a relationship between Trump’s casual racism and the rapidly growing neo-fascist movements across Europe that “are growing strong by hating others for their skin color, religious origin, or immigrant status.”[ii] Few journalists have acknowledged the presence of white militia and white supremacists groups at his rallies and almost none have acknowledged the chanting of “white power” at some of his political gatherings, which would surely signal not only Trump’s connections to a racist past but also to the formative Nazi culture that gave rise to the endgame of genocide.[iii] Another example can be found in Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the mainstream media’s treatment of Trump’s attack on Jorge Ramos, an influential anchor of Univision.[iv] When Ramos stood up to question Trump’s views on immigration, Trump refused not only to call on him, but insulted him by telling him to go back to Univision. Instead of focusing on this particular lack of civility, Greenwald takes up the way many journalists scolded Ramos because he had a point of view and was committed to a political narrative. Greenwald saw this not just as a disingenuous act on the part of establishment journalists but as a weakness that furthers the march of an authoritarian regime that does not have to be accountable to the press. Trump may be bold in his willingness to flaunt his racism and make clear that money drives politics, but this is not new and should surprise no one who is historically and civically literate.
by: Rethinking Schools on September 16th, 2015 | No Comments »
The hunger strike in Chicago by parents and their allies at Dyett High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood has passed Day 31.
Despite the recent announcement from Chicago Public Schools officials that Dyett will reopen as a school with a focus on the arts, parent and community hunger strikers there have vowed to continue the strike until the school district agrees to their demands. “I will continue to be on this hunger strike until we get the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology school,” said Irene Robinson. “This is not right.”
The hunger strike at Dyett is not an isolated incident of disgruntled parents and community members; it is part of a grassroots movement to challenge corporate school reform, which evaluates and punishes students, teachers, and schools based on standardized test scores. The efforts of Dyett parents and grandparents in Bronzeville are joined with other acts of defiance throughout the country: parents withholding their students from standardized tests, teachers burning their evaluations and refusing to administer tests that they deem harmful, students walking out of school to protest the test and punish regime, communities fighting against the privatization of their public schools.
The hunger strikers in Chicago join with other courageous hunger strikers throughout the world who have sought to dramatize injustice through self-sacrifice.
The Dyett hunger strikers led a silent march to President Obama's Chicago home followed by a vigil. Credit: Bob Simpson
What makes this struggle especially inspiring is that not only is the community opposing unjust treatment, it is working to effect an alternative that is the product of grassroots deliberations about the kind of school and the kind of education their community’s children deserve. We also note that at a time when the world urgently needs to abandon the use of fossil fuels, the revitalization of Dyett school that parents and the community is fighting for includes a commitment to green technology.
This struggle is about much more than the 12 parents and community leaders in Bronzeville. It is about the kind of schools we want our children to attend. And it is a fight for democracy: that the future of public education should be in the hands of the public – not controlled by wealthy corporations and their foundations.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett offers the following open letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:
by: James Vrettos on September 15th, 2015 | No Comments »
An intriguing, thoroughly readable, and timely new book has just been published by the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative, containing a collection of the recent writings of Willie Baptist, their Scholar-in-Residence and Coordinator of Poverty Scholarship and Leadership Development.
Those unfamiliar with neither the center nor the initiative should know that the mission of Kairos: Center for Religion, Rights and Social Justice housed at Union Theological Seminary in New York is to contribute to transformative movements for social change that can draw on the power of both religious and human rights. The cornerstone program of the center is the Poverty Initiative whose mission is to raise up generations of religious and community leaders dedicated to building a social movement to end poverty, led by the poor.
And Willy Baptist certainly fits the bill for the center and this book – a formerly homeless father of three who came out of the Watts uprisings and the Black Student Movement, he has 50 years of experience educating and organizing among the poor and dispossessed, including working as a lead organizer with the United Steelworkers, the National Union of the Homeless, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights campaign, as well as many other networks.
by: Lubna Qureshi on September 15th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Credit: Flickr / robertsharp
The horrific image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body is considered a wakeup call for humanity. Alan, his 5-year-old brother, and their mother were among at least a dozen who drowned crossing the Aegean Sea to reach Greece from Bodrum, Turkey. Though the crossing from Bodrum to the Greek island of Kos is only two miles long, the suffering associated with death on these waters is immeasurable. The Kurdi children and their mother are among thousands who have drowned in an attempt to flee Syria, according to a UN report, yet only a few make headlines.
Countless Syrians, among other refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, have fled their war torn homes in hopes of rebuilding their lives abroad, mainly in Europe and other western countries. Alan’s unfortunate death shook the world and pressured some European countries, namely Germany, Austria, and Sweden, to open their doors to the refugees. Germany went so far as to suspend the Dublin Regulation, which requires EU countries to examine an asylum seeker’s claim in the country in which he or she first arrived. With widespread support from its citizens, Germany alone is expected to admit 800,000 refugees this year. Moreover, The European Union and its member states have mobilized a sizable amount of financial aid while Kuwait and Qatar are among the top donors from the Gulf countries providing aid to refugees.