One Seven Times Seven Reality (Beyond 9)

“What the deaths of Garner, Brown and Scott do have in common are individuals who didn’t want to go to jail and cops who wanted to take them there,” wrote Peter Moskos, in yesterday’s Washington Post.

“[They] didn’t want to go to jail.”

This may seem too obvious to mention.

And Moskos’ suggestion that our country “stop criminalizing so many people” as “one logical way to reduce potentially deadly arrest situations” may also seem obvious.

Before moving on to solutions, however, it’s important to stick with our exploration of oppression. Let’s pause to consider just a few of the basic realities of imprisonment in this country.
prisongraph
As we continue our 7 X 7 (seven week) journey in the omer, let’s just make sure that we absorb these realities:

  • Black children are seven times more likely than their peers to have an incarcerated parent.
  • Children with incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to end up in prison themselves.
  • Here is a a link to four pertinent reports with much more on this topic.

Blu Greenberg’s comment quoted yesterday, about this week’s Torah portion suggests that we might try — for one evening at least — not to analyze or prescribe but instead simply mourn for the suffering across generations that this represents.

We counted 9 on the evening of April 12. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading One Seven Times Seven Reality (Beyond 9)

In Praise of Silence (Beyond 8)

We’re coming to the end of the eighth day out, the first full day of this omer journey in which we are not celebrating Passover and/or Shabbat [written on April 12, 2015]. The Torah portion for this week is also called “Eighth [Shemini]” and speaks of the eighth day of ritual in the wilderness, one which turns tragic, as two priests offer “strange fire” and are lost:

Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before [YHVH] alien fire, which had not been enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from [YHVH] and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of [YHVH]. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what [YHVH] mean by saying:

Through those near to Me I show Myself holy,
And gain glory before all the people.”

And Aaron was silent.
— Leviticus 10:1-3 (translation in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary)

The Deepest Response…

In her commentary on this portion, Blu Greenberg links Aaron’s loss in the Torah portion with her own loss in 2002, when her 36-year-old son JJ was killed in a bicycle accident:

What could have happened? We struggle to understand? Was this a punishment from God, or a random accident? What crime could they have committed that was so heinous as to warrant death by flash fire?

…Aaron responded with a profound, shattering silence, a stunning silence, a shocked silence. He does not justify the cruel decree by blaming his sons and accepting their fate as punishment for their sins. Yet neither does he revolt or protest God’s action. Total silence.

…[Some visitors after JJ died] tried to justify God or soften the loss by giving it some meaning. “He was so good that God needed Him by His side” was one such attempt…I responded, “But we on Earth need him more!” Most people understood at the deepest level that there is nothing that could justify, nothing that could offset the pain or soften the blow, and they wisely remained silent. We ourselves were silent, as there were no words we could speak that would make any sense of it.

Jewish laws of bereavement…stipulate that the shiva [mourning] visitor should not speak until the mourner speaks. I had always thought that the point of that precept was to ensure that the conversation would flow to the place the mourner needs it to reach. But I now understand that the halachah [law] enjoining the comforting visitor to hold back in silence serves a different function: to caution against offering a rationale for the decree of death. The deeper human religious response is to be silent, to live with the contradiction, and to affirm that we need not force meaning into tragedy. Sometimes, the deepest response of love is to be silent.
— Blu Greenberg, The Torah: A Women’s Commentary
(NY: 2008, Women of Reform Judaism), p. 632-633

…Is Silence

Throughout the centuries, commentators reading about Nadav and Abihu have rushed — as Greenberg notes above — to either assign guilt, thus justifying their deaths, or exonerate them and so vilify God. Similarly, our nation reacts to the seemingly unending litany of black deaths at the hands of police and others:

  • she was armed;
  • he shouldn’t have run;
  • he was a “good” kid;
  • she was going to college;
  • the officer felt threatened;
  • the whole damn system is guilty as hell.

This week’s Torah portion reminds us that each individual whose death becomes part of this on-going discussion about racism, policing and state violence was first a person.

And, somewhere in the midst of all that is to be said, we must make space and time, too, for silence.

We counted 8 on the evening of April 11. Tonight, we count….
Continue reading In Praise of Silence (Beyond 8)

Strength and Boundaries, Imperfection and Hope (Beyond 7)

With the close of Shabbat and the end of Passover, we move into the “gevurah [strength, boundaries]” week of the omer, on our journey away from oppression.

In the spirit of gevurah as strength, I suggest we begin this week by honoring the strength of individuals of color, persevering in a society that too often sees them in ways that do not celebrate their humanity. In the spirit of gevurah as boundaries, I suggest we begin this week by honoring the many different routes such perseverance can take.

At the close of Shabbat, we mark the division of holy and mundane, and Rabbi Jonathan Saks says:

By inviting human beings to engage in Havdala [dividing] at the end of Shabbat, God invites us to create worlds. Creation involves the ability to make distinctions, to rescue order from chaos, to respect the integrity of creation….The message of Havdala is: if we respect the integrity of boundaries, we can turn chaos into order, darkness into light.
— commentary to Havdala prayer, p. 726 Koren Saks Siddur

In addition, R. Saks teaches that the moment of lighting a candle to mark the transition from Shabbat to the weekdays also recalls the exile of Eve and Adam from Eden and how God showed them how to make light, so that they could become partners in the on-going work of creation.

Letting go of Shabbat is a moment of deep realization that the world is still imperfect and that we have work to do. But it is also a moment of special yearning and hope, as we breathe in the spices to fortifying us for the week’s work ahead. Havdala, and the going out of Shabbat, is thus a great time for considering strength and boundaries.
Continue reading Strength and Boundaries, Imperfection and Hope (Beyond 7)

An Old Pattern Caught (Beyond 6)

With the final days of Passover, we come to the end of the omer’s first week, focusing on God’s attribute of Chesed [loving-kindness]. We began this week considering the “not-knowing” at the start of the Exodus story, what David Silber called “callousness and a lack of sensitivity,” a “moral deficiency.” We explored Moses’ “capacity to twist his neck,” to see what others missed, as an impetus for redemption. Meanwhile, the news conspired to graphically illustrate — for all to see in ways that seem impossible to refute — how easy it has been for police to create, and much of the population to acquiesce in believing, an oppression-affirming view that is the opposite of the “trouble to see” with which redemption begins.

An Old Pattern Caught

For some, the story of Walter Scott — a Black man apparently gunned down in cold blood by police and then vilified in police and subsequent media reports — is a shock. For some, however, it’s an old pattern that just happened to be caught by video this time:

[A piece of fiction:]
Earlier today DC police fatally shot a mentally ill man in Petworth after a brief stand-off in front of the man’s home….

…Witnesses say that police stopped the recent transplant from the South-Side of Chicago for unknown reasons. “The dude was clearly nervous. From across the street it looked like he was scared of police and was wearing a dark hoodie,” says neighbor and eye witness Mark St. Claire….

*update: post originally said that victim was armed….
*update: post originally identified the victim as only 3/5ths of a person.
*update: post was originally titled “Another Dead Nigger.”
— from “Mentally ill man fatally shot in Petworth,” by Aaron Goggans
on the Well-Examined Life, December 2014

Continue reading An Old Pattern Caught (Beyond 6)

“The Trouble to See” (Beyond 5)

‘I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’ (Exodus 3:3)

…this “turning” is a torsion of the neck, a deliberate motion out of the straight, the stiff:

Moses said, Let me turn aside to see…Rabbi Jonathan said, “He took three steps;” Rabbi Simeon ben Levi said, “He took no steps, but he twisted his neck. God said to him, ‘You went to trouble to see —as you live, you are worthy that I should reveal Myself to you.’” Immediately, “God called to him from the midst of the burning bush…” Tanchuma Shemoth 9

God chooses to reveal Himself to Moses, because he has “gone to trouble to see.”…it is his capacity to “twist his neck,” to turn his face in wonder and questioning, that brings him the voice of God.

The neck in torsion—an image for desire, a counter image to the stiff-necked intransigence of those who set themselves against the new. Within Moses himself, within his people, within the Egyptians, even within the representations of God in the narratives of redemption, the tensions of Exodus will seek resolution, the momentary equilibrium that again and again is to be lost and reclaimed.
— Avivah Zornberg, Particulars of Rapture (NY: Doubleday, 2001), p.79-80

Have we “gone to the trouble to see” what needs seeing in order to make real liberation manifest in our world?

What still needs seeing? and What form must our trouble take?

Can we help one another see? How?

What Are We Not Seeing?

The American Civil Liberties Union, an an email today, writes:

What would the current conversation around Walter Scott** be if there hadn’t been this video? What would you be reading in the news? And how often does this happen in America, unseen by a camera?

Camera_Unseen**The ACLU shares a NYT story about the Walter Scott case, complete with video. They add “Please read more and watch, if you haven’t seen it yet. But be warned, it’s graphic.”

Seeing on the most basic level.

Going beyond the one incident — Ezekiel Edwards, Director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, notes that the Walter Scott case helps illustrate the picture we don’t have as a nation…

  • …because the data has not been collected or shared.
  • …because the public narrative was designed to distract.
  • …because too many of us for too long couldn’t quite see.

In a way, he asks us to “twist our necks” to see what we might otherwise miss.

Edwards writes:

It’s déjà vu. And it’s also a nightmare.

Police gunning down unarmed black men and boys is an American horror film that keeps getting replayed. Except that it isn’t a movie you can turn off: It’s a painful, outrageous, and unacceptable reality….

Sadly, we only know part of the story because we have no uniform, comprehensive reporting requirements of police shootings. The data just doesn’t exist. Indeed, even after the many discussions of police force generated by these incidents in recent months, and notwithstanding the DOJ’s documentation of widespread problems around use of force in Cleveland and the use of unreasonable force and racial profiling in Ferguson, we have not been able to reconcile the mandate of fair, constitutional, and humane law enforcement with the current status of American policing.
— read the full article, Walter Scott’s Killing Is a Direct Result of the Current State of Policing in America Today

“The data just doesn’t exist” (Read more on this — “Scant Data Frustrates…“) There is plenty more “to see” on the ACLU website, if you have not already.

Have we “gone to the trouble to see” what needs seeing in order to make real liberation manifest in our world?

What still needs seeing? and What form must our trouble take?

Can we help one another see? How?

We counted 5 on the evening of April 8. 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 six days in the Omer.
Hayom shishah 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.

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)

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)

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.
Continue reading The Facts of Jewish Diversity (Beyond 2)

Pharaoh and the Callousness of Not Knowing (Beyond 1)

As the story of Exodus begins, we learn that a new Pharaoh appeared on the scene, who “did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). This is when the trouble between the Israelites and Egyptians begins: this not knowing eventually becomes Pharaoh’s destruction.

In “Rereading the Plagues,” David Silber writes:

Pharaoh’s “not knowing” carries with it a sense of ingratitude, as Joseph was the savior of his nation; it also suggests callousness and a lack of sensitivity, and the Torah implies that it is not just an intellectual lapse but a moral deficiency.
— p.56, Go Forth and Learn: A Passover Haggadah. Phil., PA: JPS, 2011.

Continue reading Pharaoh and the Callousness of Not Knowing (Beyond 1)

On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression

The Passover journey is launched in “not knowing” — as when a new Pharaoh arises who does not know Joseph (אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף, Exodus 1:8) or God (לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אֶת-יְהוָה, Exodus 5:2) — and it aims for “knowing”:

…You shall know that I am YHVH, your God…
וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Exodus 6:7).

The Exodus experiences and our travels in the wilderness are meant to increase our knowledge of the divine so that we can better serve God. (See Silber “Rereading the Plagues”).

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.

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