Counting and Community Gun Violence

This past Thursday, June 2, would have been Hadiya Pendleton’s 19th birthday. She was killed before her sixteenth in a Chicago park on January 29, 2013 – making news at the time because she’d just returned from performing in Obama’s second Inaugural Parade.

That spring, Hadiya’s classmates at King College Prep started a nonviolence effort, known as Project Orange Tree, in her memory. That evolved into #WearOrange for Gun Violence Awareness Day, now observed nationally on June 2. In the spirit of this awareness day, I offer a glimpse into the world of Hadiya and the three friends who were with her when she was shot,  taken from a 2013 Chicago Trib article:

Kyra

The next day, Kyra was back in gym class. As always. The teacher was taking attendance. As always.As he proceeded through the alphabet toward the P’s, she wondered: Would he call Hadiya Pendleton?

When he didn’t, students cried.

…And like the rest of Hadiya’s friends, Kyra counted the Tuesdays since Hadiya died.

Tuesday, week one.
Tuesday, week two.
Tuesday, week three…. ….

Danetria

…For years, [Danetria] had fought depression.

“If you do run away,” Hadiya promised, “you can come to my house. I can tell my mom the whole situation, and she’ll understand.”

With Hadiya gone, Danetria wondered, “Who am I going to talk to now?”

….A month after Hadiya died, Danetria turned 16. It was coincidentally, Tuesday, week four. No balloons, no sweet 16 cake, just a quiet birthday dinner with [her boyfriend] Lawrence and his mom…. ….

Klyn

…Over the next few weeks, [Klyn] wrote letters to Hadiya in a notebook.

One day, bored in math class at [her new school], she was writing a letter when she started to cry.

“What’s wrong?” her classmates asked. If she were still at King, she thought, they’d know.

She wrote letters to the two young men charged in the killings, too. She told them she feels bad for them, bad that they have been so warped by a system that would make them think killing was OK.

She never sent the letters, and she lost the notebook, but it felt good to lay her anger and confusion out on the lined pages.

The Tuesdays passed, her loneliness didn’t…. ….

Conclusion/Citation

…[The three teens no longer saw each other regularly when they met up in spring 2013.] It was, coincidentally, the 13th Tuesday after Hadiya’s death, but they don’t count Tuesdays so much anymore. They count months. Monday made three months.

— Jennifer Delgado, Bridget Doyle and Mary Schmich
much more in the thorough Tribune article, including video links

The article’s time-counting motif seems fitting for the period of the Omer, when we enumerate the days and the weeks between Passover and Shavuot. June 4, for example, was 42 days of the Omer, making six weeks. Some would also call it the day of malchut b’yesod — translated as something like “nobility in bonding” — based on a mystical counting system.

Similarly, the losses associated with Hadiya’s death were reckoned in small and large ways – in gym class and in long-term desolation — as well as in ways harder to express.

“That bullet did a lot more than just kill my baby,” Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton has said.

But we can also count the ways, small and large and harder to express, that Hadiya’s bright spark continues to inspire conversation and thought, prayer and action. The toll of shootings like Hadiya’s — psychologically, economically, educationally, and otherwise — is staggering. But the blessing of her memory is enormous, too.

Learn More, Connect

Remarks given at Temple Micah (DC), June 4, 2016
See also 2013 post and yahrzeit remarks 2014
Visit Hadiya’s Promise for more on the Pendleton’s work
See “OrangeOut: Race and Gun Sense” for more on Project Orange Tree and the need for community-sensitive responses to gun violence
See also  Community-Sensitive Gun Sense
Resources: Holistic Approaches and People of Color

(Beyond 48)

This particular Omer journey was designed to move from Oppression — a place where Pharaoh does not know his own past and Israel and God have ye to honeymoon — through learning more about oppression and liberation to Sinai. The goal was to “reach Sinai more able to hear divine values, serve God’s liberation work.”

I was reminded by my study partner, Amy Brookman, this afternoon that Martin Buber describes Sinai as a “lowly” kind of place — not unlike the thorn bush where Moses met God earlier in the Exodus story. We learn from this that humility is absolutely key in gaining anything from Sinai.

We learn, too, from the Sinai narrative that communicating (with God) is not a simple or straightforward matter. Moreover, I believe we learned on this journey that communicating about racism and related issues is difficult: To really learn anything new about oppression and how it works in general, and how it is affecting people today, means letting go of old (probably more comfortable) perspectives. And that means experiencing some sense of loss and pain.

Amy also shared a piece of Torah from Gilah Langner, “Revisiting the Ten Commandments” (From Kerem 13):

The midrash tells us: God sent along two angels to each and every Israelite, one to lay a hand upon the heart to keep body and soul together, and the other to lift up the head of each Israelite to behold God.

It’s a beautiful image, especially if you like angels. But set aside the
angels for a moment, and notice that the midrash is keying in on the life-and-death quality of Sinai.

Who Counts 50?

I suggest we take these these thoughts with us as we enter the holiday of Shavuot:

1) humility to hear,
2) the challenge of real communication, with associated loss and pain,
3) the life-and-death quality of this communication.

I’ll add, too, a commentary relayed to Fabrangen West by David Blumenstein this month: We are told both to count 50 days and to count seven full weeks. We carefully count the 49 days and seven weeks, but what about that last day? That, midrash [sorry citation missing], suggests is counted by God.

So I close this 49-day journey with a prayer:

May what we have learned so far on this 49-day/seven-week journey bring us to where we need to be, individually and collectively, so that God can count in that last day. And may the angels holding us up give us strength to risk serious communication, with one another and with God.



Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

We counted 48 on the evening of May 21. 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-nine days which are seven weeks in the Omer.
Hayom tish’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shiv’ah shavuot 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.


God expresses concern that divine communication with “break forth upon them [פֶּן-יִפְרֹץ בָּהֶם יְהוָה]” (Exodus 19:22).

Even the priests have to exercise caution lest “[THE NAME] break forth upon them [אֶל-יְהוָה–פֶּן-יִפְרָץ-בָּם] (Exodus 19:24).

When God has already “said” the Ten Commandments, THEN we learn 1) that the People perceived a jumble and want Moses to speak with God in their stead, and 2) that God “already spoke to you [plural] דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם.”

And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses: ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.’ And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
— Exodus 20:14-18

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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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Reaping the Omer (Beyond 46)

In her book, The Other Talmud, Rabbi Judith Abrams notes that “Nowadays, we count the days of the Omer, but in the days of the Temple, they reaped the omer.”

Let’s give Shavuot the makeover it deserves….

We can transform the Omer counting from the dolorous business it’s become to what it probably was before: a countdown that gets more and more raucous the closer we get to the holiday….It could be a celebration of our history, from biblical times right up to the present.
— Abrams, The Other Talmud: the Yerushalmi, Unlocking the Secrets of the Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2012), pp. 159-160

These weeks of “Making the Omer Count” have offered thoughts and resources designed to widen our reaping during the omer and our perspectives as we approach Sinai for the giving of the Torah.

Oftentimes, on this journey that makes so clear how much work is still to be done to make the harvest equitable to all, I think rather irritably: Aren’t we there yet?

As we get closer and closer to Shavuot this year, however, I appreciate the vision Judith Abrams presents: A countdown that becomes more raucous with every voice added to it, streets wider and wider as more and more perspectives are added.

If you’re ready….

We counted 46 on the evening of May 19. 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-seven days which are six weeks and five days in the Omer.
Hayom shiv’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot vechamishah 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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Malcolm X and the Power of Small Things (Beyond 45)

“The fame we get from fighting for the freedom of others creates a prison for us,” Malcolm X wrote in 1964 to Azizah al-Hibri, then a college student at the American University in Beirut. Their brief in-person connection and subsequent correspondence are still treasured by Dr. al-Hibri, now retired as chair of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, the international organization she founded. Moreover, the papers and their story illustrate some important things about leadership, race, gender, and media.

from correspondence between Dr. Azizah al-Hibri and Malcolm X

from correspondence between Dr. Azizah al-Hibri and Malcolm X

As president of the college debating society, al-Hibri arranged for Malcolm to speak on campus while he was touring and also had the opportunity to get to know him during his brief visit. A shared ice cream at the airport launched a correspondence between the two that continued until his death in February 1965. At his request, al-Hibri kept her correspondence private for over 40 years.

In 2012, al-Hibri released a few pieces of correspondence and donated other papers (still private for now) to America’s Islamic Heritage Museum. She said then, in a speech at DC’s Masjid Muhammad, that she wanted to ensure that Muslims are “proud” and “happy” about connections with the slain leader and to forge bonds between the African American Muslim community, with historical connections to the Nation of Islam, and what many call the “immigrant” Muslim community, with different historical roots.

Here’s more from the July 2012 East of the River Magazine story:

From his correspondence it is clear that he already suspected that his life and work were coming to an end. But he knew, even though al-Hibri didn’t yet, that her future as a leader was ahead of her.

It was unusual in 1964, for a woman to be president of an organization like the college debating society, al-Hibri notes. And she, like many women of that decade, had not yet envisioned for herself anything like her role today as professor of U.S. law and international human rights advocate. It was similarly odd to consider that women might be leaders of Islam. But Malcolm X saw beyond the confines of his time, says al-Hibri, pointing to words of encouragement – to her as a woman and a Muslim leader – inscribed in a book he gave her: “You have and are everything it takes to create a new world – leadership is needed among women as well as among men…”
full article here


The Power of Small Things

Of all the stories I covered for East of the River Magazine, this is one that sticks with me as most fascinating and important —

  • the young al-Hibri’s not knowing about U.S. racial dynamics, what her college dean meant about “airing the country’s dirty laundry”
  • al-Hibri’s struggle to reconcile the man she met with the picture she later saw portrayed in the U.S. media
  • the race-sensitive context of her later decision to share her experience, while keeping most of the correspondence private
  • Malcolm X’s interest in corresponding with someone outside the “prison” of his work
  • his recognition of the need for women leaders in politics and in Islam, before many saw it in 1964

I share this today, in honor of Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (born Malcolm Little, 5/19/25-2/21/65). I share it in recognition of the work of Dr. al-Hibri and KARAMAH — a small, powerful organization. I share it as a shout out to the too-little-known Americas Islamic Heritage Museum. And I share it to acknowledge the hard and complex work of overcoming racism between religious brothers and sisters.

Perhaps most importantly, I return to this story again and again as an example of the power of small interactions to shape our world.

We counted 45 on the evening of May 18. 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-six days which are six weeks and four days in the Omer.
Hayom shishah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ve-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.


Race and Religion

I am sure many readers are aware, as I am, of anti-racism, police-brutality protests in Israel as well as in the U.S. and of the shameful legacy there; not being Israeli or particularly closely connected with Israeli culture, I have chosen to leave that topic for the better informed. I do believe, however, that Muslims and Jews face similar issues and can learn from one another on these issues, even as problems BETWEEN communities persist.
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Range of Possibilities (Beyond 44)

1

“The media we consume has a profound impact on the range of possibilities we can imagine. Therefore, centering Black female narratives in our reading habits should be a central practice for anyone trying to envision a world in which Black Women are respected, honored, supported and loved.” — So writes Aaron Goggans in his post, #ILoveBlackWomen Day One: Read, and I gratefully accept the suggestion.

from Aaron Goggans' "Well Examined Life"

from Aaron Goggans’ “Well Examined Life”

Important in its own right, focusing on women seems also a good antidote to this week’s all-male Torah portion (Bamidbar [“in the wilderness”], Numbers 1:1-4:20), and to the masculine-centered Sinai narrative of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. (In which “the people” are told “don’t go near a woman” [Ex 19:15].)

Deep as erasure, sexism, and misogyny has been for Jewish women and women in Western culture generally, Black women face, in addition, misogynoir. It is, therefore, as Aaron Goggans points out, particularly important to “intentionally consume art, music and literature created by and about Black Trans* Women, Black Women and Black Girls” to counteract this reality.

half-bloodMoreover, any life missing out on Black female voices is simply deprived. And so, in the spirit of #ILoveBlackWomen: READ, I share a few favorites:

Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues. NY: Picador, 2011.
An engaging novel which also offers a glimpse into some often-overlooked bits of history, including the experience of Afro-Germans and France’s “Rhineland Bastards,” following WWI and through WWII. (See U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for historical background.)

Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Personal reflections — too young, at 30, IMO for a “memoir” — from the creator of the web comedy series by the same name as well as a number of other comedy projects. Rae reports taking out some first-draft material in deference to family feeling, but the result is still honest and insightful, and — like her video work — humorous without cruelty.

Sonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
A collection of “haiku” in the sense of spare, powerful verses (not necessarily of the 5-7-5 pattern). Verses are written for varied individuals, from Emmett Till to Ras Baraka, Sarah Vaughn to Oprah Winfrey. See below for an excerpt from 21 Haiku for (Odetta).

A number of other authors, filmmakers, and other powerful Black female voices have been mentioned over the course of this Omer journey from oppression to Revelation. Here is a sampling:

Rain to the Desert

You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?
— Sonia Sanchez (see below)

Thanks, again, to “The Well Examined Life” for the reminder of how many songs, with how much potential to bring rain, we might miss without making a conscious effort to hear from Black trans women, women, and girls. Check out the blog for additional #ILoveBlackWomen activities.


We counted 44 on the evening of May 17. 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-five days which are six weeks and three days in the Omer.
Hayom chamishah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ushloshah 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.

Misogynoir
Although the concept is not new to me, the word is. For more on this term — meaning “how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically” — see Gradient Lair and Wikipedia.

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21 Haiku (for Odetta)
from Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku

1.
the sound of
your voice thundering out
of the earth

2.
a drum
beat summoning us
to prayer

3.
behold
the smell of
your breathing

4.
dilated
by politics
you dare to love

5.
You opened
up your throat
to travelers

6.
exhaled
Lead Belly on Saturday
nites and Sunday mornings

7.
your music asked
has your song a father
or a mother?

…10. You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?

[fuller version at Google Books]
RETURN

(Beyond 43)

Honestly, I’m pretty much with Murray here in this 12-second commentary on…all of it, from the 1965 film, A Thousand Clowns with Jason Robards:

But I also share this tentative — and therefore, I think, fitting and inspiring at this point — sing-along “prayer-eoke” for the opening lines of Psalm 121 —

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where will my help come?
My help comes from HASHEM, who made heaven and earth.

We counted 43 on the evening of May 16. 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-four days which are six weeks and two days in the Omer.
Hayom arba’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ushnay 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.