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Archive for the ‘Politics & Society’ Category



What Kind of Peace Plan Is Trump Trying To Sell?

Dec7

by: Michael J. Koplow on December 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Whatever one thinks of the Trump administration and its approach to Middle East peace, you have to give the Trump team high marks for its ability to keep a secret. Speculation has abounded for months about what Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and their colleagues are working on and what their peace initiative will contain, whenever it is unveiled. For those who wish their efforts to be successful, Sunday’s New York Times reporting on the details of the Trump plan are not encouraging.

According to the Times story, following Kushner’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) summoned President Abbas to Riyadh and presented him with a plan that sounds like something out of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s wildest dreams. It would involve sovereignty over non-contiguous territory in the West Bank – presumably Areas A and B, and some parts of Area C – with a Palestinian capital in Abu Dis rather than East Jerusalem, and no evacuation of settlements from Area C. It is unclear whether this would be a final status agreement or an interim accord that could be expanded later, but its terms are more in line with maximalist Israeli positions rather than any sort of compromise. The Times further reported that MBS heavily pressured Abbas into not only sitting down at the negotiating table but accepting a deal on these specific terms, and that he is prepared to use his financial leverage to reward Abbas for accepting or pressure him to resign if he rejects it.

This report is curious in a lot of ways. For starters, Kushner himself publicly caused reason to doubt its veracity at the Saban Forum on Sunday by extolling the importance of a final status agreement that will put many of the issues between Israelis and Palestinians to bed. The terms as described by the New York Times story do none of that, and instead sound like a series of half measures in preparation for something else down the road. The problem, of course, is that trying to convince the Palestinians to sign off on something to which literally no Palestinian leader could acquiesce will doom any later part of this plan, since it will never get past the first step. If the Trump administration used MBS to float a trial balloon, it backfired spectacularly, but it also goes against the grain of Kushner’s preference for a comprehensive deal – a preference that he expressed so strongly that he even endorsed the concept known as linkage, which holds that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will make the region’s other problems go away. President Trump’s qualifier in his recognition of Jerusalem’s capital yesterday that it does not prejudice final status issues also points toward a desire for a comprehensive deal over interim half measures.

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Who Gets to Speak about Anti-Semitism? “Anti-Semitism and the Struggle for Justice” at the New School for Social Research

Nov30

by: Shaul Magid on November 30th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

Editor’s note: Shaul Magid answers below a set of criticisms being published in other Jewish publications about a forum on anti-Semitism sponsored by JVP, the leading Jewish organization supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the Jewish world. Tikkun has not endorsed BDS, and our readers have a wide variety of different opinions about its wisdom as a strategy to achieve what we do endorse–peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians–but we do support the right of others to support those versions of BDS that do not seek to end the existence of the State of Israel. We plan to have a fuller discussion of BDS in a forthcoming Tikkun focused mostly on its wisdom as a strategy.

-Rabbi Michael Lerner

On the evening of November 28th, 2017 the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, an institution long devoted to progressive politics and cultural critique, held an event entitled “Anti-Semitism and the Struggle for Justice.” It was in part a celebration of the book On Anti-Semitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice published in 2017 by Haymarket Books sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace. There were four panelists in attendance; Leo Ferguson who works for Jewish for Racial and Economic Justice, Lina Moralis a Chicago-based Latinx-Ashkenazi Jewish activist who identifies as bi-racial and who is openly anti-Zionist, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, a progressive Jewish organization that supports BDS against Israel, and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. The event received sharp criticism in the Jewish media days before it took place, claiming, among other things, that these panelists have no right, nor are sufficiently equipped, to speak about anti-Semitism. Outside the New School auditorium stood a crowd of protesters from the wide swath of the Jewish center-right to far-right, some calling for de-funding the New School for staging such an event. The event went off without a hitch, save two small disruptions during the Q & A period.

I attended the sold-out event and below I share a few reflections that I hope will be informative and foster further conversation. I will not be too descriptive as a video of the event is on-line for those who are interested to judge for themselves. Below I make five basic observations.

First, to the question as to why these four people should have the right to speak about anti-Semitism? This was not an academic panel, nor a panel of “experts.” This was a panel of activists, progressive people working in the streets of America on a variety of issues dealing with inequality, injustice, bigotry, and hatred. Anti-Semitism is one of those. So there were no clever readings of Foucault or any intricate critical analysis comparing Gavin Langmuir to Robert Wistrich (two historians of anti-Semitism) or discussions of historical precedent or comparative genocide. No clever Lacanean, Deleuzean, or Zizekean twists. Everyone on the panel was very clear about who they were, what they do, and how this issue impacts their work and their lives and why it matters.

As Annette Yoshiko Reed said to me, this was about positionality in the best sense. And here perhaps the biggest lesson for me was why many American Jews have such a hard time understanding where these people, many of whom are also American Jews, are coming from. For the panelists, anti-Semitism is not sui generis (at this point many American Jews just stop listening); it is one of a variety of forms of unacceptable hatred. Yes anti-Semitism has its own long and painful history, as does racism in America, and I do not suggest collapsing all forms of hatred into one neat package. But for these panelists anti-Semitism is not something that has to be examined as categorically distinct from other forms of bigotry. This very point remains a point of contention in the academic study of Holocaust and genocide studies. And anti-Semitism is certainly not only about Israel but also about the Jew more generally. The fact that this point needs to be made, and it does, is itself indicative of the problem we face today. The underlying premise of the panel is one of intersectionality, a notion that drives American Jews crazy, a notion that subverts simultaneously championing Black Lives matter and AIPAC, the idea (not new by the way, it already existed in a different form in New Left “internationalism”) that all forms of oppression are connected, in principle and in practice (note: this may be different than the original definition of “intersectionality” coined by feminist civil rights activist and race theorist Kimerlie Williams Crenshaw but is nonetheless a definition that is often used in today’s activist communities). This strikes at the heart of an often reflexive Jewish exceptionalism and harkens back to the difficult challenge for Jews in America that they are not the most othered other; coming to terms with the fact that race trumps anti-Semitism in this fruited plain, that racism, and not anti-Semitism, is part of the very structure (legal, cultural, political) of our country, that a person of color is more likely to be harassed in the streets of one of our cities than a white Jew, more likely to be arrested by our police, and imprisoned by our system. There is certainly anti-Semitism in our society that needs to be addressed, each panel readily acknowledged that; but it is not what threatens to tear this country apart the way it did in Weimar Germany. Race does.

These panelists have right to talk about anti-Semitism the same way they have a right to talk about gender disparity, and racism, and police brutality, and poverty. Because in all of those, and more, they are in the streets fighting every day. Did they make “mistakes”? Yes, certainly. When they ventured too far into history, or even the analytical realm, they made factual and even descriptive errors. But I kind of liked the ragged edges of it all; they made no claim to be experts and their errors did not undermine their basic message.

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Redemption

Nov29

by: Michael Nagler on November 29th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

When the US Holocaust Museum was being erected in Washington, D.C., the German government asked permission to create a museum of modern Germany nearby to show that Germany had repudiated its Nazi past.  That permission was denied.  This I regard as a tragic mistake, against an even more tragic background: our mass incarceration and increasingly drastic systems of “justice” that also arise from the failure of Americans – not all of us, but a controlling majority at present – to believe in the possibility of redemption.

Five years before the Museum’s opening in 1993, the U.S.S. Vincennes, operating in the Persian Gulf, mistakenly shot down Iran Air flight 255, killing all 290 people aboard. Minor technical improvements were made to the radar equipment to prevent mistakes of that kind in future (it seems the captain had misinterpreted some radar readings), but nothing was done to address the tragedy that had already occurred.  In fact, the then Vice President, George H.W. Bush, publicly stated, “I don’t care what the facts are; I will never apologize for the American people.”  The statement is as shocking for its jingoistic arrogance as its disregard of truth, but the man who said went on to become President and the posture that it represents is part of our national attitude.  It explains why, for example, it has been nearly impossible to discuss rationally reparations for African American or Native American people.

The refusal to allow Germany to escape from a dark past and the refusal – or inability – to apologize for tragic errors of our own are of course connected.  If you don’t believe a nation or a human being can change, that is, in the possibility of redemption, you will not be emotionally able to take responsibility for your own mistakes (as practicing Jews do annually at Yom Kippur).  In effect, you will deny yourself, as you have denied others, the possibility to grow.  One can almost hear the echo of Martin Luther King’s prophetic words that we may be becoming a nation that is “approaching spiritual death.”  But there is a way out. 

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Healing a Disconnect that Contributed to Trump’s Rise

Nov28

by: Noah Tenney on November 28th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Many considered Donald Trump’s election to the presidency unthinkable before it happened. However, it becomes more understandable when one looks more closely at the various factors that built up a perfect storm over a long period of time and contributed to his victory. It would be a mistake to exaggerate or downplay any of those factors or oversimplify the narrative surrounding the election. If we are to successfully turn the tide against Trump-ism, it’s crucial to recognize the ways in which these factors are interconnected to address them at their roots. Many on the left have primarily ascribed Trump’s success to bigotry and cultural anxiety, minimizing the roles of economic anxiety and distrust in the system. In reality, both economic and cultural factors played an important role.

Tikkun’s editor Rabbi Michael Lerner responded to the 2016 election with a call to a new broad strategy for progressives as articulated here, encompassing new directions for both policy and a way of reaching beyond policy to speak to people’s hearts. His approach emphasized the importance of the Left embracing a unifying ideal that should be a guiding light for each particular progressive project–what he calls a New Bottom Line that would judge our economic and political systems, our corporations and government policies, our educational system and our legal system by how much they enhance our capacities to be loving and caring for each other, generous and empathic toward those experiencing pain not just economically, but also psychologically and spiritually, how much they promote environmental and social responsibility. He critiques capitalism not solely because of the inequality and economic deprivation it causes to some, but because of the ways list system generates pain and deprives people of meaning in their lives beyond maximizing money. And he believes that while some of those who supported Trump were doing so because they agreed with his racism, sexism, xenophobia, fear of immigrants, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism, a significant section of his support came from a feeling among many Americans that the left disrespects them and shames and blames them without knowing much about their lives.

Tikkun advocates for a new foreign policy based on replacing the strategy of “domination” with a strategy of generosity, embodied in a Global Marshall Plan (www.tikkun.org/GMP) and a comprehensive way to stop corporations from continuing to pollute the earth and use its resources to create lots of useless things just because they can be sold to make a profit for the owners of those corporations (it’s called the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (please read it at wwwl.tikkun.org/ESRA). I’m proud to have been associated with Tikkun as a volunteer in their office for the past year.

I’d additionally like to call your attention to the Green New Deal, an ambitious and comprehensive collection of policy proposals supported by the Green Party. The concept contains numerous solutions to the country’s many problems, including the incorporation of ideas presented in the GMP and ESRA. It also fits into the vision Mohammed Mesbahi in his book Heralding Article 25 regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Meshabi advocates sharing resources to meet Article 25’s goal of guaranteeing basic needs to all. The Green Party version of the deal is composed of an economic bill of rights, a green transition, real financial reform, and a functioning democracy. I also support some proposals not specifically included in the Green version, such as converting the country’s road network to generate solar power and reinvesting in apprenticeships and training for trades. This article from the Nation focuses specifically on taking on agribusiness in order to fare better with rural voters. The labor movement can receive a much-need infusion of new life through a new workers’ bill of rights, which covers issues from basic protections to organizing abilities, and could be seen as an expanded version of the labor policies covered in the Green New Deal.

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#GivingTuesday is tomorrow!

Nov27

by: on November 27th, 2017 | No Comments »

Giving Tuesday logo superimposed over image of people gathered for Tikkun Conference 2016

Thank you for your support! Without you, we cannot continue to spread a vision of a world based on love and justice.

Tomorrow is#GivingTuesday–would you be willing to take a few minutes to help us? If you haven’t done so already, it’s not too late to set up a fundraiser on your personal Facebook page. Clickherefor more information about how to do that. Or, if you’d rather just donate, you can do that directly through theTikkun Facebook pageor theNSP Facebook pageby clicking on the donate button below the cover photo.Remember:starting at 8:00 a.m. EST, Facebook will be matching any donation you make–and we’ll give a free subscription toTikkunto anyone who donates $50 or more!

It’s also not too late to sign up for our next Spiritual Activism Training: Beyond Resistance – Strategies in the Age of Trump, which beginstomorrow! Clickhereto learn more. Want to know what people have to say about the training? Here are just two testimonials:

  • “I am pretty much blown away, in a very, very good way. I am grateful beyond words for the work you have done to create this most amazing (and so very necessary) course. Thank you for your vision, your work, your courage and your ongoing commitment.”~ Heidi Van Ert
  • “The Spiritual Activism training is a vital step for building the world we value and reversing the world-wide slide into anti-democractic and even fascistic ways of thinking. This training and the movement behind it deserve generous financial support and far greater visibility and participation.”~ Rabbi Michael Zimmerman

We hope you’ll consider setting up a fundraiser or donating tomorrow–and please think about registering for our upcoming training! We couldn’t do this work without you, and we greatly appreciate your support.

With warmth & in solidarity,

Rabbi Lerner, Cat, Rev. Carolyn, Simon, Rebekah, and Chris

How to be Effective at Your Thanksgiving Table This Year

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Ever had a frustrating experience on Thanksgiving with friends or family? Your progressive ideas are dismissed as unrealistic or seem to offend people? Here are some tips on how to navigate that at your Thanksgiving table 2017.

First, remember that there is a lot to give thanks for in our world today.  We ought not let our celebration of all that is miraculous in the universe, our celebration of the continuing bountiful reality of planet Earth, and our appreciation of all the good people in this would be undermined or ruined by having all the conversation focusing on the Trumpists.

So step one: encourage friends and family to spend some time celebrating the good, even at the expense of not watching the t.v. or focusing on everything wrong with the world. Ask your host or your friends to give some time to expressing out loud some of what people assembled appreciate about each other, about themselves, about our mother Earth, and about the tens of millions of people (the numerical majority of voters) who did not vote for Trump and would not support those (in both major political parties) who blindly put the needs of corporate America above the needs of the rest of the population. We can also celebrate the growing outrage at the sexual abuse of women–an outrage that wasn’t there in the past and which is a further testimony to the huge impact of the women’s movement (whose struggle against patriarchy benefits men as well as women, and which is in my view the most important revolution of the past two thousand years at least, even as men must join with women in this struggle because there is so much more to accomplish!).

And challenge those liberals and progressives who are putting down everyone who voted for Trump or didn’t vote. Remind people that a section of those who did vote for Trump were NOT racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.  but people who were voting against the Democratic Party that they perceived as having abandoned them (sometimes with good reason–you can reread Tikkun’s critiques of the way the half-hearted steps taken by Presidents Clinton and Obama, supposedly pragmatic and realistic, actually raised hopes that they did not fulfill and helped create a growing discontent about paying taxes to a government that wasn’t coming through for many many people, e.g. the flawed Obamacare which did not create any serious controls on health insurers or pharmaceuticals or for-profit-hospitals’ ability to raise their charges dramatically, as people have been discovering this year and will feel even more intensely next year).

Ever since the 1960s a growing number of voters have been angry at a Left that looks down on anyone not already in their ranks, assuming that these others are all haters or racists, sexists, homophobes, etc., or that they are all stupid, or that sees them as a ” bundle of deplorables” (in Hillary Clinton’s words). Many of them have experienced liberals and progressives dismissing all people who are religious as ignorant or just plain stupid. The Left reeks of religiophobia, not just from people like Bill Maher but from a pervasive belief that religious people are reactionary or psychologically retarded. This pushes many people who would agree with everything else we stand for into the arms of the Right.

Another problem:  since the election of Trump more and more people in the liberal and progressive world, particularly on college campuses, have turned the important and legitimate struggle against patriarchy and racist practices into a discourse that suggests that ALL men are sexist and have “male privilege and all whites are racist and have “white skin privilege.”. In so doing, they are driving more and more people into the arms of right wing demagogues who use the opportunity this discourse presents to convince people that these lefties are elitists who hate them and know nothing about the real struggles that most Americans face in their lives (even whites and men).

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A modest measure to prevent cruelty and improve food safety

Nov21

by: on November 21st, 2017 | Comments Off

It’s not easy to think about the animals behind the eggs and meat that end up on our plates. If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard something about the troubling ways animals are raised for food. Some of the most upsetting examples are how factory farms cruelly confine mother pigs, egg-laying hens, and veal calves in cages so small they can barely move. These systems are deny farm animals virtually every instinct most natural to them. Surely, inflicting such pain on animals is a violation of the Jewish values and laws that call upon us to prevent unnecessary suffering to animals, or tzaar baalei chayim.. In addition to the blatant cruelty, numerous studies show that animals raised in extreme confinement are more likely to carry disease, requiring the worrying overuse of important antibiotics.

Fortunately, there is an important measure on the November 2018 ballot that will end this type of cruelty and alleviate threats to human safety: The Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act. This simple measure would upgrade California law by requiring not just more space, but cage-free conditions for farm animals. It would also require that all eggs, veal, and pork sold in the state be sourced from farms that comply with these modest animal welfare and food safety rules.

This groundbreaking campaign has already been endorsed by prominent faith voices throughout the state, such as Reverend Richard Mouw, former President of Fuller Theological Seminary and myself, Rabbi Michael Lerner, of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue. Other endorsers include the Center for Food Safety, Evangelicals for Social Action, San Francisco SPCA, the Humane Society of the US, Jewish Initiative for Animals as well as dozens of family farmers, veterinarians, and public health professionals who believe in safeguarding animal welfare and improving food safety.

As a conscientious consumer, I urge you to join me in supporting this important measure by getting involved here: www.preventcrueltyca.com/volunteer.

Why A Ramah Counselor Spoke-Out About the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters Last Week

Nov17

by: Sylvie Rosen on November 17th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters
Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters. Image courtesy of author.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up at Ramah. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Ramah is a holy community, a Kehilah Kedoshah, as we say. This summer, when a fire burned down our main building, people posted on Facebook, donated money, and reached out to me individually. I felt supported by the entire National Ramah movement.

But where is that same support, community, and strength in our conversations, actions, and education on Israel/Palestine? Although Ramah changes me and lifts me up in so many ways, it fails me every year in one way: by perpetuating lies about the Occupation.

Not once, in my combined ten years at Ramah in the Berkshires and Ramah in the Rockies, did anyone mention the Occupation. We don’t talk about it because we want to pretend it doesn’t exist every summer.

In my three summers on staff, none of our programming ever attempted to address the Occupation. Instead, on Yom Israel in 2016, staff instructed campers to build mock settlements as a fun competition that demonstrated how Jews built Israel from nothing. No one mentioned that people lived on that land before. In our dining tent, we have a map from The Nachshon Project showing where all the famous Biblical characters lived in Israel/Palestine — stealthily laying claim to the idea that only Jews have a historic right to the land. We have maps of Israel across the camp to emulate the Israel Trail, but not one of them outlines the Green Line. This past summer, during our staff training session on Israel, we talked about our feelings and relationship to Israel, but never about the Occupation. The unspoken agreement about the Occupation was: it’s complicated, difficult, and not appropriate for a summer camp.

This is an educational and moral disaster.

Rabbi Cohen responded in Haaretz to our campaign the day of the Speak-Out and Teach-In I participated in last week: “We [Ramah and IfNotNow] don’t differ on the importance of teaching our teens and staff about the difficulties of the occupation.”

But if that is true, then the attempts made have been at best inconsistent and inadequate. In the past I’ve made excuses for Ramah because I want it to be the leader in the American-Jewish community that it claims to be. I told myself that the rest of the work Ramah does outweighs these issues. I was scared to disagree with the place is so central to my identity.

But I can’t maintain this lie anymore, which is why I went to the Speak-Out and Teach-In outside the National Ramah Commission last Tuesday. I joined because I want to see systemic change, and I know our community can do better than individual private meetings that superficially deal with this issue. We have to hold Ramah accountable and we can’t do that in a private setting. We want change for this summer, and we need public support for that. This is why we have invited Rabbi Cohen, to a public forum to talk with alumni and members of the Jewish community.

When I return to Ramah this summer along with 11,000 other people, I want our work and community to truly be holy, Kedoshah, by truthfully and thoughtfully educating campers and staff about the realities of the occupation.

I also want to address how we should educate campers and staff on the Occupation this summer. We must acknowledge the reality that millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. IfNotNow has compiled a list of some resources we can use to teach campers and staff how to think critically about Israel. But this is just a start, it shows that this kind of education is possible and that other Jewish educators are doing it.  We need to upend the idea that Israel education and all Jewish education cannot include discussions about the Occupation. For those at Ramah who are professional Jewish educators, addressing the Occupation is as part of their job as teaching campers how to lead shabbat services — and we must hold them responsible for that.

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Sylvie Rosen is an IfNotNow member and Ramah camp counselor.

Written Testimony of Kenneth S. Stern

Nov15

by: Kenneth S. Stern on November 15th, 2017 | Comments Off

WRITTEN TESTIMONY OF KENNETH S. STERN

Executive Director

Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation

Before the

UNITES STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

November 7, 2017 Hearing on

Examining Anti-Semitism on College Campuses

 

Dear Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and honorable members of the Committee:

My name is Kenneth Stern. I am the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation, which works to increase understanding of hatred and antisemitism, and how to combat them, with a particular emphasis on college campuses.

I have also taught a full semester class on antisemitism at Bard College as a visiting assistant professor of human rights, where I am currently a fellow of its Center for Civic Engagement.

I am honored to have been invited to speak with you today.

Antisemitism has been around for thousands of years, and it is no surprise that it appears on our college campuses too, as do all other forms of hatreds and prejudices.

The questions before the Committee today are multi-faceted:

1) How do we understand antisemitism on campus?

2) How is it manifested?

3) What works to combat it?

4) What might, despite the best of intentions, make the problem worse?

I began working on issues of antisemitism in 1980s, when I was a young lawyer in Portland, Oregon involved with politically progressive cases.

While protesting the 1982 War in Lebanon, I was shocked to hear antisemitism from some of my progressive colleagues. They seemed not to care that they were vilifying Israel in terms reminiscent of how members of the white supremacist Posse Comitatus – who used to hand out antisemitic tracts around the Multnomah County Courthouse where I practiced – demonized Jews.

I began working as a volunteer with the Oregon Jewish community on issues of antisemitism, and in 1989 joined the national staff of the American Jewish Committee as its antisemitism expert, where I worked for the next 25 years. The campus was part of my portfolio.

One of my earliest projects – at the height of the hate speech code craze in the early 1990s – was to research effective ways colleges and universities should address bigotry. With the help of the late Brooklyn College President Robert Hess, I convened a group of college presidents to advise my research, and wrote a monograph that was a blueprint for action. I then trained over 200 presidents around the country on this topic1 . The key points were: do not violate academic freedom or free speech; speak out with your own voice strongly and promptly against bigotry; punish conduct where appropriate; review curriculum; train staff; survey how students perceive the climate on campus.

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Embracing the Stranger, Part IV: Knowing Ourselves to Know Others

Nov9

by: Lauren Bodenlos & Madeline Cook on November 9th, 2017 | Comments Off

At Tikkun Magazine, of the many posters of quotes and inspirational images on the walls in our office, we also find this passage from Exodus. “Do not oppress the stranger,” it says. This passage serves as a reminder that we must work to know and understand the other as our collective liberation is intertwined with others as well. The mission of this series, Embracing the Stranger, is based on the commitment of activists, changemakers, and visionaries across different causes to create a more inclusive and loving world. Through a series of interviews, we worked to explore the personal and spiritual motivations behind their work. With the many issues present in the world, and much to be done, we wanted to know how people became involved in the activism they dedicate their time to. Would there be any connected ideas? Any connected struggles? Would there be commonalities among people even if they differed in identity and origin story? We atTikkunfeel that it is vital to do all in our power to highlight and support individuals and groups that work to heal the World. We hope to further the Movement of healing, repairing, and transforming the world. Through this project, we aimed to paint a picture of the unified human desire to heal pain and turn our world into one of peace, empathy, and love. By discussing the missions of different groups, we hope to discover possible connections across a variety of causes to show where our struggles can be connected, to further the creation of a world influenced by peace, love, and empathy that creates liberation for the diverse world we live in.

Click here to read part I in this series, here for part II, and here for part III. This is the final installment.

Knowing Ourselves to Know Others: Reflections of an Interview with JR Furst

Coming to do the work of social justice is a journey that people travel based on their identities and experiences. It is many individual people that create a community striving for change as they bring their own unique perspectives. However, even within this, there are points of connection and common cause for those who dedicate their time and energy to challenging, systems and norms that maintain deep division. A friendship and a connection between two individuals has been the foundation for the work of Beyond This Prison, a project started by JR Furst and Glenn Robinson to work with at risk youth by developing leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, and positive confrontation.

After this, JR began writing with multiple inmates, but made a particular and long term connection with Glenn Robinson. Glenn has been serving a forty year sentence in a Louisiana jail for a non violent crime since the age of 17. When JR first read Glenn’s response When Glenn first began writing back to JR, “It felt like there was an underlying tone of ‘I’ve been waiting for your letter, let’s gets started, we have a lot of work to do.’” Glenn believed that the connection between these two practical strangers was destiny. Through the development of this relationship, JR began to tell Glenn’s life story to others. “[Glenn said] If he’s going to sit here rotting in a cell he might as well find someway to connect with the outside world and to have his experiences, life, wisdom, and perspective not be in vain.”

Slowly, Beyond This Prison was formed as a way to share Glenn’s words of wisdom and insight. The project, which works with the organization, Youth Spirit Artworks, has developed workshops that have given participants the chance to be vulnerable about their own lives and discuss the metaphorical prisons that they experience and feel trapped by. Using the insight from Glenn’s letters, JR uses the inspiration and wisdom to form workshops for youth who are on the same possible track that led to Glenn’s incarceration. JR stated that these workshops create an opportunity for people to showcase their amazing capability to open up. “Give someone a creative prompt, they can step outside of themselves and their reality. Amazing things emerge just naturally.”

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