Enough, yet? (Beyond 47)

Singing Dayenu [“enough for us”] is a 1000-year old Passover tradition. The 15-stanza poem thanks G-d for 15 blessings bestowed upon the Jews in the Exodus. Had G-d only parted the seas for us, “It would have been enough” we say for each miracle or divine act, thus humbly appreciating the immensity of the gifts. KB Frazier’s reworking of the poem addresses us, rather than G-d. It calls us to greater action for justice, saying “lo dayenu” (it would not have been enough) in recognition of the work still unfinished.

1. If we had sparked a human rights revolution that would unite people all over the world and not followed our present day Nachshons as they help us part the sea of white supremacy and institutional racism
Lo Dayenu
….

10. If we had truly listened to the stories, pain and triumphs of our brothers and sisters of color without feeling the need to correct, erase or discredit them and did not recognize the Pharaohs of this generation
Lo Dayenu
11. If we had worked to dismantle the reigns of today’s Pharoahs and had not joined the new civil rights movement
Lo Dayenu
12. If we had marched, chanted, listened, learned and engaged in this new civil rights movement and not realized that this story is our story, including our people and requiring our full participation
Lo Dayenu
jfrej_blm_cropped13. If we had concluded that our work is not done, that the story is still being written, that now is still the moment to be involved and that we haven’t yet brought our gifts and talents to the Black Lives Matter movement
Lo Dayenu

— from the #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice


We counted 47 on the evening of May 20. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-eight days which are six weeks and six days in the Omer.
Hayom shmonah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot veshishah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

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Coates and Tyfereth, Algren and Mobley (Beyond 33)

“Passover is a time of remembrance but also one of renewal — of looking ahead toward the spring and new growth that will sustain us through the seasons to come. Once we spent spring in the desert. It was harsh and difficult but from that journey grew a people who have endured for centuries. What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?”
— from JFREJ Haggadah

from Baltimore, 2015, and Chicago, mid-20th Century.
In stereo.
With no comment:

2015

part 1: “Family Breakdown”

Jim Crow was one heck of a barrier to entry, but it hasn’t been legal for decades. If legal barriers are no longer restraining African-American wealth growth, then what is? A cycle of poverty, but why? Coates dismissed family breakdown, but I suspect that’s closer to the truth than white supremacy.
— “Tyfereth,” on-line commenter at Atlantic Magazine, responding 4/30/15 to “Nonviolence as Compliance” by Ta-Nahisi Coates
—- See “In the Wake of Baltimore” — scroll, past the picture of two-year-old Ta-Nehisi, down to Tyfereth’s comments

part 2: “Out-of-Wedlock”

…I’ll leave it to the commenter to define, specifically, what they mean by “family breakdown.” I assume the commenter means children born out of wedlock. As the product of such a family—and as a Dad who fathered his only child out of wedlock—I reject the label. Nonetheless, whatever we call it, the “out of wedlock” theory has a serious problem—the out of wedlock birthrate in the black community is at its lowest point since the CDC began keeping stats. Indeed the gap between black and white women has been shrinking for the last 15 years. (I suspect that much of that shrinkage is the result of the rapid decline in teenage pregnancy in the black community.)

If the main driver of black poverty is black out-of-wedlock birthrate, and yet that birthrate is in decline, what explains the yawning chasm between black and white America?
— Ta-Nehisi Coates, responding to Tyfereth (see above), 5/6/15

1960s

part 1: “Illegitimate…All and on Welfare”

These 200,000-plus fatherless children…equal the combined populations of [Chicago suburbs] Arlington Heights, Evanston, and Oak Park.

No records are kept of how many of these children become public charges. A conclusion may be drown, however, from welfare figures….

In the 1950s my work took me into the homes of many disadvantaged persons. It was common — and shocking and frightening — to walk into a living room and confront 8 or 10 children and women, representing four generations, all on welfare, and more on the way.

…Do men and women, in or or out of marriage, unable or unwilling to emotionally and financially support a child have a moral and legal right to produce that child?
— Columnist Jack Mabley
from a 1970s column in the Chicago Tribune, similar in content to Mabley columns in the long-gone Daily News and longer-gone Chicago American

part 2: “Like Guinea Pigs”

To say “Each man’s death diminishes me” today only rouses cries of “they’re like guinea pigs out there.”

WhoLostNot to be surpassed in public service, the Evening [Chicago] American offers a new crusade by Chicago’s most heavily decorated fink; one whose honors are all self-awarded. While keeping an eagle eye on the broken brutes of Skid Row’s broken walks, he also finds time to expose mothers of illegitimate children found in movie houses while receiving state aid. This Malthusian revisionist’s cry is, “They’re multiplying like guinea pigs out there!” Implying that his kind of people have hit upon a method of reproducing themselves different from that of guineas pigs.
— from Nelson Algren, Chicago: City on the Make (1961 addendum, see also) and Who Lost an American? (NY: Macmillan, 1963)

“What would happen if we took that journey again, not alone in the wilderness but surrounded by friends and allies, leaving no one behind?”

We counted 33 on the evening of May 6. Tonight, we count….

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Empathy: Withdrawing Ego (Beyond 28)

from JFREJ in NYC May 2

from JFREJ in NYC May 2

“withdrawing the ego to make room for another”

A key element in cross-racial, and every other kind of, understanding is the focus of this week’s omer journey.

Hod” [literally: “glory”] is understood as representing empathy in the system of thought that relates an attribute/energy of God with each week of the omer. For example, The Holistic Haggadah offers this explanation:

Hod is the attribute of empathy, of withdrawing the ego to make room for another. Aaron was the High Priest, the one that stepped out of the way to let the Divine blessing flow through to the people. He was the peace-maker, the mediator, the mouthpiece for his brother Moses….Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prayed for a child and then withdrew her own desires by giving the boy up to the High Priest for Divine Service.

So how is your Divine service? How well do you listen to others? Do you know when to follow rather than lead?
— Michael L. Kagan, The Holistic Haggadah (Jerusalem: Urim, 2004)

We counted 28 on the evening of May 1. Tonight, we count….

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Oppression as “Normal” (Beyond 4)

“We are descendants of slaves who do not yell back that Moses had a Black wife and Black children and that #BlackLivesMatter to our people whether or not we acknowledge it.” So concluded yesterday’s post. And we know, from the Exodus story, that yelling is a key element in redemption:

And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.

And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.
וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם, וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה.
וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב.
וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיֵּדַע, אֱלֹהִים.
— Exodus 2:23-35, Old JPS translation via Mechon-Mamre

It’s only after the yelling starts that God responds. Moreover, it’s only after the crying out that God “knows,” another layer of “not knowing” at the start of the tale.

And why weren’t the people crying?

A common explanation is that the people were crushed by years of oppression, perhaps even treated their circumstances as normal.

Circumstances: Normal?

Not long after the police murder of Walter Scott, on April 4, in North Charleston, SC, the Mic shared the following:


13. Right now, justice seems to be escaping us, while tragedy continues to befall us.

14. Be vigilant, people say. Death by police should not be common.

15. But black people dying after being shot or choked by police should not be moments we must be on the ready to capture on smart phones.

16. Now is time for change, people say. This is a 21st-century American tragedy of epic proportions. None of this should be normal.

17. And yet, it already is.
— “17 Honest Thoughts from a Black Man After Watching that Walter Scott Video,” by Darnell L. Moore, senior editor at Mic

In addition, poverty, lack of education, and mass incarceration of Black people are all so long-standing as to seem “normal.”

Last November, when the non-indictment of Darren Wilson was followed by unrest in Ferguson, MO, Jay Smooth expressed wonder at the people’s “human limit”:

…For the people of Ferguson a lifetime of neglect and de facto segregation and incompetence and mistreatment by every level of government was not their limit

When that malign neglect set the stage for one of their children to be shot down and
left in the street like a piece of trash that was not their limit…

When he came out and confirmed once and for all that Mike Brown’s life didn’t matter,
only then did the people of Ferguson reach their limit….

How did these human beings last that long before they reached their human limit?

How do Black people in America retain such a deep well of humanity that they can be pushed so far again and again without reaching their human limit?


Their Cry Rose Up

At least one midrash suggests that the Hebrews actually needed God’s help to cry out:

Immediately, as their cry rose up, salvation begins. Till then, they had not had any arousal to cry and to pray. But since God wanted to save them, He roused in them a cry — and that is the beginning of redemption. For before God wants to save, one does not see one’s own lack, one is unaware of what one has not. But when God wants to save, He shows one the root of one’s lack, so that one sees that all the complexity of one’s needs is rooted in this basic lack. And He gives one the power of prayer, of crying out to God. One begins to rage to God about it…
Mei Hashiloah (Shemot 2), quoted in Avivah Zornberg’s Particulars of Rapture

If U.S. Jews are, indeed, “descendants of slaves who do not yell back,” what will it take to arouse in us the rage that begins the process of redemption rolling?

(More in coming days.)

We counted 4 on the evening of April 7. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is five days in the Omer.
Hayom chamishah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

Are (any) Jews White? (Beyond 3)

1

Yesterday’s focus, in this Omer journey away from oppression, was on how individuals of different hues are viewed within Jewish communities in the United States. But it is impossible to explore that topic very thoroughly without addressing another one limning its edges: Are (any) Jews “White”?

“…and everybody hates the Jews…”

A passage early on in the #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement from Jews For Racial and Economic Justice begins “White Ashkenazi Jews have a rich history but are only a part of the Jewish story….” At our seder table — and I would imagine many others — the question arose as to whether Ashkenzim are, in fact, “White,” by self-definition or as viewed by others.

VHidaryBookCoverFINALThis called to mind a passage that Vanessa Hidary, Sephardic Jew and author of The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega, added to her signature poem after touring beyond her native New York City:

To many we are seen as part of the white majority

From the standpoint of a white racist

we’re considered part of that other party

Don’t get twisted because you might think of New York City

where you can buy knishes at stands for $1.50

We only make up 2.2% of the population. You see,

many other parts of the country are not feeling me.

–from second version of “Hebrew Mamita”

I thought too of the “…and everybody hates the Jews” line in Tom Lehrer’s old, but not necessarily out-dated, “National Brotherhood Week.”

Is Persecution Past?

Returning to the #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement:

As Jews we share a history that is overburdened with tales of violent oppression. Though different Jewish communities have varying experiences, none of us have escaped painful legacies of persecution, including genocide. This past is real, and part of why we gather today to remember it. But the past is the past.

–Leo Ferguson, a Jew of color and the Leadership Development & Communications Organizer at JFREJ.

As William Faulkner famously said, however: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” (Requiem for a Nun, 1950).

And for Jews with family and friends living outside the United States, risk and threat can be an all too contemporary concern.

Moreover, Dr. Carolivia Herron, educator and author, spoke of anti-Israel sentiment in her “Why I’m not going to say anything about Ferguson” last November:

And I’m not saying anything about Ferguson because my soul aches when you use your support of Big Mike of Ferguson as a way to hate Israel. I don’t understand why you use your love of my people to hate my people. I love my people African American, Ferguson, US American – keep trying to get it right, and I love my people Israel – keep trying to get it right.

In my own experience, anti-Semitism — something deeper and of different tone than politically-based anti-Israel sentiment — appears in some #BLM-related activities, sometimes via black nationalist rhetoric and sometimes from the ANSWER Coalition. Therefore, participation in some racial justice efforts means running with, or up against, groups espousing anti-Semitism.

This forces allies into complex, sometimes untenable, situations. It’s problematic, of course, and many movement leaders are working to address the irony of anti-Semitism in a racial justice movement. Even at its worst, is this, given the power dynamics involved, “oppression” or “persecution”?

Conditional Whiteness

To close out today’s exploration, below is the introduction to “After the Maggid: When We Imagine Ourselves Allies” followed by one of six passages exploring different positions in the shifting desert sands:

Having now told the story of Jews’ Exodus from Mitzrayim we have come to know Miriam, Moses, Pharaoh, Tzipporah and the role each of them played. Sarah Barasch-Hagans & Graie Barasch-Hagans use these roles to help us understand our roles in the fight against oppression — when we are strong allies and when we still struggle to be our best selves.

 

…If everywhere is a desert then the sand we stand is always shifting, and so is our relationship to each other. Let us take a moment to imagine ourselves thus…

Sometimes we are Miriam…

…hoping our brother Moses survives the river, knowing danger and feeling unsafe in our Jewish skin, knowing what it means to be hated because of who we are. And then we are Miriam who, given time, a few chapters later mocks Moses’ Black wife Tzipporah [Numbers 12:1]. She confounds us because she is us, Ashkenazim with conditional whiteness and generations distanced from legal discrimination, not seeing the contradictions in our own character. We are white-skinned Jews celebrating Fifty Years

of Freedom Summer and putting on commemorative panels but escorting out anyone who yells #BlackLivesMatter. Or, acknowledging Tzipporah but refusing to defend her interracial, interfaith family when Jewish talking heads warn that families like hers are the end of Judaism. We are descendants of slaves who do not yell back that Moses had a Black wife and Black children and that #BlackLivesMatter to our people whether or not we acknowledge it.

Jews For Racial and Economic Justice‘s #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement, p.7

(Download your own copy)

We counted 3 on the evening of April 6. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression

A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is four days in the Omer.

Hayom arba’ah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

The Facts of Jewish Diversity (Beyond 2)

1

Continuing the theme of “not knowing” as a form of callous, insensitive “moral deficiency,” one we seek to leave behind this Passover season, let’s explore some facts about diversity in the Jewish community.

Upwards of 435,000 Jews — possibly as many as 400,000 in the New York City area alone — identify (also) as African American, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or mixed-race, for a total of about 435,000 individuals. (See Be’chol Lashon; Bnai Brith).

And yet, the assumption in too many of our communities remains — even if many of us believe, or would like to believe, otherwise — that Jews mostly look like a Central Casting crew of Eastern European Ashkenazim. Most of us believe our communities are inclusive and welcoming, but the experience of many Jews belies this.

Central Casting Sent the Wrong Type

Jews of lighter hues, such as those of Scandinavian or Celtic background, are regularly assumed to be “other,” addressed as visitors or called out as converts, an attitude that is specifically forbidden in the Talmud: “Do not wrong a proselyte by taunting him with being a stranger to the Jewish people seeing that ye yourselves were strangers in Egypt.” (Baba Metzia 59b)

Jews of color across the country continue to tell stories that shame every Jew:

“Many people who are Jews of color have very painful stories to tell about having not been accepted in their congregations and having the veracity of their Jewishness questioned,” says Rabbi Appell, of the URJ. “Some tell of being shown the kitchen because someone assumed that they worked there.”
— from “Jews of Color,” March 2015

A few years ago, women from Washington, DC found a photo of their Rosh Chodesh service plastered in national media with a caption reading: “A non-Jewish woman is among those at a Torah reading at Adas Israel Congregation.” (See Who is a Jew and How Would the Forward Recognize Her?“) JTA and the Forward pulled the photo after widespread complaint without ever apologizing or explaining whom they assumed was a non-Jew. But it seems that at least several pairs of editorial eyes thought it more likely that a non-Jew was wearing a kippa and tallit [ritual garb] and actively participating in the Torah service at a Conservative synagogue [something the movement does not sanction] than that a Jew might vary from the assumed “look of a Jew.”

At Jews United for Justice‘s recent community seder, Michael Twitty of Afroculinaria spoke of fellow Jews demanding to be told how he came to be there, assuming he would want to share the particulars of his spiritual journey with complete strangers. His story surprised many who assume the relative diversity in the DC area would preclude such behavior, but such stories are common to Jews of color.

Jews Have Work to Do

We have much work to do, to make even our more diversity-assuming Jewish communities welcoming to all.

Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in suburban Bethesda, Md., who is also the father of two adopted African-American sons, is emphatic that this mindset must change: “We must create the norm where we assume that people belong, and never inadvertently ostracize someone whom you may think ‘doesn’t look Jewish.’ Anyone looks Jewish, potentially.”
–from “Jews of Color” (linked above)

And one step in that work is ensuring that our Jewish organizations, congregations, and schools acknowledge the experiences of all parts of the community:

Jews of color are diverse, multihued and proud of it — proud of our Jewishness and proud of our Blackness. But though our lives are joyous and full, racism forces us down a narrow treacherous path. On the one hand we experience the same oppression that afflicts all people of color in America — racism targets us, our family members, and our friends. On the other hand, the very community that we would turn to for belonging and solidarity — our Jewish community doesn’t acknowledge our experience.
— from JFREJ‘s #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement

jfrej_blm_croppedBe’chol Lashon offers Diversity Training and Community Conversations through its Race Project. Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and several other organizations offer pertinent learning opportunities. How many of our communities are in need of such organized work?

One way to make this Omer count is to begin necessary conversations to ensure that all experiences within our Jewish communities are acknowledged and honored.

We counted two on the evening of April 5.
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